‘Fall Wanderings’ are close to home getaways that you can enjoy on one tank of gas but they are a distant world away from the city.
These are the fall days when you'd like to shout: "This is why I live here;" especially when you are on a journey high on the spine of a ridgeline atop Bald Peak State Park, according to OPRD Manager, Bryan Nielsen.
“This park was bald – really! It got it’s name from the large meadow here - there were no trees in the 30's, but that’s sure changed. Trees everywhere now, except the meadow.”
Bald Peak has been a parkland since the 1931 and offers competing views that may steal your heart:
Willamette Valley to the east where Cascade Mountain peaks dominates the horizon on a clear day.
Plus, Tualatin Valley to the west - with farms nestled on rising flanks of the Oregon Coast Range Hills.
Both views may inspire you at a state park day-use site that soothes the soul during Fall’s quiet times.
Bald Peak facilities include a small picnic area, small restroom but not much more - No bike trails, no overnight camping - it’s a restful wayside, a stop on a mountain top to give you a pause on your journey from here to there.
The sweeping views to the Willamette valley are just part of the reason to make Bald Peak State Park a getaway.
Towering doug fir trees provide a sheltering canopy to all kinds of picnic tables that stretch out across this seven acre parkland.
A perfect place for a picnic lunch; even a family reunion but it may also serves as a launching point for a daylong adventure.
From atop Bald Peak, a wavy ribbon of asphalt carries your four-wheeled land schooner south to Dayton, Oregon. From Dayton, stay on Oregon State Highway 221 for approximately eight miles and pull into Maud Williamson State Park.
“Another great place to pull off with absolutely wonderful scenery,” noted Nielsen. A place to get out and stretch your legs, let the dog out and maybe have some lunch. One of those Sunday drive stops that we all enjoy and we don’t do often enough.”
Enormous Doug firs shelter the picnic sites and a rough-hewn post-and-beam timber shelter can be reserved for larger groups.
This is a park that’s entertained families since 1934, when the Williamson family donated the land to Oregon.
“There is an old residence on site that’s no longer occupied and it is the original family farmhouse. Of course, the park is very close to the Wheatland Ferry.
In fact, a quick dash down an intersecting lane to the Wheatland Ferry dock where the Daniel Matheny drops her steel gate - unloads passengers and quickly takes on more for the short ride across the broad Willamette River.
There was a time when ferry travel was a common and necessary experience across and along the length of the Willamette River, but not anymore.
While auto drivers and cyclists will have to pay a small fee for the short journey from shore to shore, pedestrians still ride for free. So consider parking in the adjacent lot and simply walk aboard for a ride across and back.
Once you’ve landed on the Willamette River’s eastern shore, it’s little more than 25 miles to reach a place where bird song replaces the auto sounds.
If you like to hike, you’ve many trails to choose at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge – just south of Salem and off the busy Interstate Highway.
Try on my favorite route called the “Rail Trail” where a wooden lane keeps your feet out of the mud and stretches several hundred yards to reach a wooden view blind. The blind provides shelter but also has a large windows so you can watch the wildlife show in the adjacent ponds and wetlands:ducks, geese, shorebirds – perhaps even a rare peregrine falcon.
“We try to keep any structures low key, low stature and camouflaged,” noted wildlife biologist Molly Monroe. “We even paint them up so they’re not a huge eyesore, but it offers a nice place to get out of the elements for a break.”
That’s the nature of Ankeny Wildlife Refuge - one of three Willamette Valley refuges established in the 60's to protect habitat. Each consists of wetlands and ponds and open grassy fields, framed by crew cut stubble fields and towering oaks.
From wild lands to parklands, fall wanderings put you in touch with a different pace of Oregon travel.
“Land is becoming scarce in this part of the valley,” added Nielsen. “I really think it’s important for us to treasure these and take care of them and protect them.”
Wildlife viewing opportunities at Ankeny continue into spring and don’t forget Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Areas too – places like Sauvie Island near Portland and Fern Ridge Wildlife Area near Eugene; each provides plenty of wildlife viewing.
When it comes to fall colors, be sure check out something new: the Oregon Fall Color blog and Facebook with regular updates from forest rangers, biologists and leaf peepers from across the state. You can also call 800-547-5445.