I’ve a favorite adage that goes, “it is the journey that supports the destination!”
It is an insightful phrase that I have lived by when I travel throughout Oregon’s great outdoors.
This week: a journey to savor along a coastal byway that offers leaping salmon and spectacular fall colors – all within a 90-miinute drive from Portland.
Join me on a trip guaranteed to set your clock back as you slow down to enjoy the views along the Lower Nehalem River.
If the roadway flanking the Nehalem River has a number, I surely cannot find it on a map.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve such a love affair with this backdoor byway that takes a bit longer to get from this place to that.
It breezes along nearly 30 miles beginning at a small whistle stop village called “Elsie” (turn-off to Lower Nehalem River Rd is located near mile post 20 on State Highway 26) and bounds down a narrow lane, past limb-framed farms that cry “photo opp.”
It zips past softly rounded hillsides whose trees sport what calendars told us nearly a month ago: the seasons are changing!
The Nehalem River’s tributaries also show you the changing times: some start as tiny, spring fed streams that trickle across spongy moss and grow giant-sized and where husky salmon have muscled their way back from salty sea to find their birth homes in time to spawn.
“It is so exciting, you just don’t want to leave, can’t stop watching them,” said local photographer Don Best who was perched above popular Nehalem Falls at the Oregon Dept of Forestry’s Nehalem Falls Campground. (Note: the campground has closed for the fall-winter season, but the trail to the falls remains open.)
Nehalem Falls does so in a short, 30 yard series of churning drops that give salmon little choice but a gang- up approach to leaping for their lives.
Best is an avid fan of the site and tries to capture the salmon show each fall.
“I’ll be here for hours trying to get that ‘oooh-ahhh’ shot,” said the longtime outdoor photographer. “They jump high and they jump low and you never know where they’ll show up. Plus, they’re only in the air for half a second so you don’t always get them in the perfect shot. Some people take fish pictures underwater and they turn out really great – but to get them flying thru the air is a different story – that’s fun for me.”
The water does hand springs over unseen rocks through the falls while other river spots show off a distinct rhythm that provides a source of restoration for life that grows streamside.
The Nehalem River is always by your side on this scenic drive and you can enjoy a break from the roadway at Spruce Run Campground.
Here, abundant picnic tables provide a perfect site to stop and rest and breathe in relaxation before you continue on your way.
It is the colorful, wonderful show along this back road that I cherish the most - where the big leaf maple leaves, already mottled brown or gray, sometimes fall gently, gliding by the way.
While other times, a breeze kicks up a blizzard and the leaves drop and stop on placid pools where barely a ripple marks the moment.
The giant leaves also collect and build in piles along the road providing a ‘drive through’ too inviting to refuse.
So, hurry here soon and then slow down on a back road without numbers that is one of the very best around!
You might consider the Oregon Fall Foliage Hotline (operates Sept-Nov) and offers weekly reports on the status of the fall colors across Oregon.