Discovering Dunthorpe

Just before August ended, I dug out my guidebook of urban hikes and headed for a part of town I’d otherwise have no reason to visit.

This would be Dunthorpe, a wealthy enclave of homes in unincorporated Multnomah County, just south of the Portland city limits and a few miles north of Lake Oswego, the affluent suburb that lies in Clackamas County not far from Tryon Creek State Park and Lewis & Clark College.

On this particular weekday morning, I set out to see two public gardens about two miles apart on opposite sides of Oregon 43, the state highway running along the west side of the Willamette River. I wound up seeing one.

No big deal, though, because I saw plenty in my two-hour hike following the directions outlined in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks.” She does an amazing job of providing ground-level detail and historical context no matter which neighborhood walk she is describing.

This walk was titled “Dunthorpe Gardens.” And so here we go:

***

Starting at the intersection of SW Riverwood Road and Military Road, a stone’s throw from the river, I headed west, up a hill toward a leafy neighborhood full of big homes and lots of gated driveways. A plaque nearby informed me of what had been there long before: an 1870s-era structure called the White House that featured a casino, dining room, dance hall and racetrack. It was destroyed by fire in 1904 and the area was later developed with homes.

In recent years, the area has become popular with the Portland Trail Blazers, as players have bought homes here or further south and east in Lake Oswego and West Linn. I didn’t see anything that screamed “NBA player lives here” but I had just barely begun my walk when I spotted an open garage with a silver Jaguar. Talk about the Dunthorpe stereotype.

Moving forward, I heard the banter of a Spanish-speaking crew hired to maintain the grounds of one of these sprawling homes.

(Quick aside: Military Road is an old American Indian trail that once ran across the Tualatin Mountains. Farmers would bring their produce via this road to the ferry landing, whose owner so happened to be a business partner of the man who owned a mill directly across the river in Milwaukie. The pair would offer free passage to any farmer who ground his grain at the Milwaukie mill. Can you say “monopoly”?)

It wasn’t long before I turned onto a quiet side street, SW Military Lane. Beyond two giant sequoias at the end of the lane was my first destination: Bishop’s Close.

According to Foster, close is a Scottish word that refers to a road, usually with private homes, that vehicles can enter only from one end. A bishop’s close is a cloister area set apart from but still accessible to the public.

In this case, a wealthy couple who moved into this area in the early 1900s are the ones responsible for the lovely garden found beyond the end of the lane. Peter Kerr, a grain merchant from Scotland, and his wife Laurie built a home on an estate that also included a garden, tennis courts, swimming pool and golf course. The grounds were designed by the stepson of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous designer of New York City’s Central Park.

After the couple died, their two daughters set up an endowment to provide for maintenance and gave the property to the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon with a stipulation that the grounds remain forever open to the public.

And that’s how I found myself visiting Elk Rock Garden with its impressive collection of trees, plants and flowers, and a footbridge.

The sun was still rising and the automatic sprinklers were going, keeping everything green and misty. I followed a small stone staircase that took me onto narrow gravel and dirt trails that passed through the rock garden. At the southernmost end of the trail I came to the Point.

The Point is where you can peer carefully over a low wall built on sheer cliffs and see down to the Willamette River. Here at the Point the view is somewhat narrow — a 180-degree panorama at best — but you can get a good view of Milwaukie on the east side of the river as you walk back to he main garden. Also plainly visible is Elk Rock Island, which the Kerrs owned and later gave to the city of Portland in 1940 on the condition it be preserved as a natural area.

***

With my garden tour completed, I headed back out to Military Road and resumed my hike. I crossed the busy highway and soon came to Riverdale Grade School (pre-K through eighth grade). The grade school and its sibling, Riverdale High School, are the only two schools in the exclusive Riverdale School District, which serves about 600 families in the neighborhood.

Leaving the grade school behind, I was grateful for the shade as I made my way up the twisting two-lane road without sidewalks. As with residences nearby the river, the homes in this area are characterized by luxury and privacy. At one point, I came upon a cluster of streets carved out of the former Henry Corbett estate, named for a U.S. senator who served during the 19th Century.

I turned off Military Road onto a side street and headed for my second destination: Berry Botanical Garden.

According to the guide book, the garden is known worldwide for its species plant collections and conservation efforts. The garden is named for Rae Selling Berry, a Northeast Portland resident. She and her husband bought nine acres of previously logged-off land here in 1938 after she had run out of gardening space at the family’s home in Irvington, the neighborhood where we live.

There was no sign for the garden and as I reached the end of the street, just past the last house, the road headed downhill, as if I were about to walk down someone’s private driveway. That’s when I spotted the “No Trespassing” sign.

Turns out the garden is closed.

After Rae Berry’s death in 1976, a nonprofit group bought and maintained the property but sold it in 2011 because of funding problems. The new owner? The Environmental Science and Management Program at Portland State University.

Foster’s book was published in 2005 and reprinted in 2006 and 2007. How was she to predict the Berry Botanical Garden’s fate?

I was only mildly disappointed to learn the garden had closed. After all, I had enjoyed the solitude at Bishop’s Close and got in two solid hours of walking up and down hills. I turned around, took a few more photos on SW Summerfield Lane, and headed back to my car, this time going downhill.

I was grateful to have Foster’s guidebook. Without it, I would have never known about these public gardens in Southwest Portland. More to the point, it’s been an indispensible resource as I’ve ventured out beyond my neighborhood and learned more about the history and topography of this city I’ve adopted as my own.

I may have missed Berry Botancial Garden, but I will gladly return to Bishop’s Close for another visit to Elk Rock Garden.

Three hikes in one

I like variety. I’m not one of those who thrives on routine. I intentionally mix things up, whether it’s working out on a bike or in a pool, walking my dog on different routes, or choosing something new on a menu.

So it came as a pleasant surprise that Friday’s urban hike felt like three walks packaged into one.

Once again following “Portland Hill Walks,” I chose a route that began 12 miles from where I live — out to Southeast Portland and up to the Willamette National Cemetery on Mount Scott.

Starting at the city-owned Leach Botancial Garden just off SE 122nd Avenue, I walked through what I’d call a working class neighborhood, with wide streets, no sidewalks, houses set back into the woods, and an abundance of pickup trucks and not-so-new Hondas and Fords.

From there, I trudged up the hill to the national cemetery, a sacred space where more than 116,000 men and women have been interred on an expanse of 269 acres straddling the Multnomah and Clackamas county line.

On the way back down, I found myself in a more affluent neighborhood with luxury homes, many with spectacular views of the West Hills and downtown Portland and other trappings of exclusivity.

These two neighborhood walks sandwiched around a tour of the cemetery grounds made it seem like three-in-one. And now I can add another part of town to those I’ve become familiar with, thanks to “Portland Hill Walks” author Laura O. Foster.

***

Truth be told, I did this urban hike backwards. No, not literally. What I mean is for some reason, I turned west instead of south from the lush, shaded Leach Botanical Garden. As a result, I began with the working class neighborhood instead of the higher-elevation affluent neighborhood.

No harm, no foul, though. I enjoyed the solitude in both places.

Except for a woman who was walking far ahead of me and eventually turned off onto a side street, I was alone on Brookside Drive and adjoining streets as I passed a number of oddities. Here are a few:

On the return trip to my car, I was completely alone as I walked through the upscale neighborhood, passing by homes with strikingly different facades. Take a look:

The real highlight of this hike was the time spent at the cemetery. It’s the second time I’ve walked among the dead on these urban hikes and I have to say it’s good for the soul. To be alone with my thoughts in a beautifully cared-for space, lush and green and quiet, is something to appreciate in this hurly-burly world.

And if death is the great equalizer — between rich and poor, between young and old — then it’s doubly true at a national veterans cemetery.

According to Foster, there’s a reason why you don’t see huge, ornate monuments like you do in private cemeteries. It’s because the flat, unadorned grave markers, no matter a service member’s rank, provide the national cemeteries “with a deep and humbling sense of democracy.”

To me, that equal treatment honors the service to country performed by each of one of the thousands laid to rest in parallel rows stretching as far as the eye can see.

They all sacrificed, whether they were named Floyd, Chester, Cyrus, Arthur, Benjamin, Margaret or Isidro. Whether they served in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. Whether they served in the Second World War, Korea or Vietnam.

When I visited at mid-morning, Old Glory was at half-mast in memory of the victims of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the latest stains on this country’s character.

Near the entrance on SE 112th Avenue, there was a racket from weed wackers and leaf blowers — a necessary aspect of keeping up the immaculate grounds. Similarly, there was a crew with a backhoe in another part of the cemetery, working on a minor construction project.

Away from those two areas, it was quiet and peaceful. I could walk alongside the grave markers. I could pause and take in the west-facing views of downtown. I could linger at the amphitheater beneath the U.S. flag, hanging limp. I could focus on the bios of four Medal of Honor winners buried nearby. I could watch from a distance as a young woman and child laid fresh flowers at a grave — that of her husband or father or some other loved one? Who knows?

I left the shade of Willamette National Cemetery and headed back out to the entrance road. Walking downhill, I learned from Foster’s book that the land had been originally owned by Harvey Scott, a former editor of The Oregonian and the person for whom Mount Scott was named. Scott cleared the land over two decades and sold it in 1909 to the Mount Scott Cemetery Corporation.

According to Foster, the hillside was graded by hand — imagine that — by WPA laborers from 1935 to 1936. Eventually, the property was given to the state of Oregon just before World War II. Congress passed a bill in 1941 authorizing the cemetery but no money was appropriated for several years. Finally, construction began in 1950 and the first burial occurred in 1951, the same year Oregon deeded the land to the federal government.

Since then, Willamette has become one of the busiest of the 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico with about 3,500 burials a year.

On this day, I felt privileged to walk among these veterans and appreciate their patriotism. At the same time, I felt humbled to tour the grounds of an emerald jewel that wouldn’t exist without the painstaking labor of ordinary workers whose names and faces we’ll likely never know.

Up, up to Pittock Mansion

During the first nine months of 2016, I got into a great routine of doing weekly urban hikes.

Using “Portland Hill Walks” as my guide to assorted explorations in city parks and neighborhoods, I logged 15 of these hikes — each one of them enjoyable and educational. And then I stopped.

I took on two part-time jobs, then three, and found I no longer had time for these Friday morning hikes.

Yesterday, I got back to it. And, boy, did it feel good.

I did a 4.75-mile hike that began in the flats of Northwest Portland, near Wallace Park and Chapman Elementary School, and took me up into the tony Nob Hill and Kings Heights neighborhoods, into Forest Park, up to Pittock Mansion and back down again via a labyrinth of terraced hillside streets laden with BMWs, Jaguars and Range Rovers.

Little did I suspect that I’d find a backdoor entrance to Forest Park and hike for a ways on the Upper Macleay Trail and Wildwood Trail. Little did I suspect I would emerge at the end of this loop into a parking lot leading to the elegant Pittock Mansion and its spectacular view of downtown Portland.

Had I not taken along the book, written by local author Laura O. Foster, and followed its precise directions to take this left and that right, and to follow a handful of easily overlooked staircases, I would still be wandering those hilly neighborhoods.

Friday’s urban hike took me about 2 1/2 hours, much of it on steep sidewalks and forested switchbacks, reaching up to about 930 feet elevation at Pittock Mansion, the former home of Henry Pittock, the legendary publisher of The Oregonian, and his wife, Georgina. Coming down to level ground, my quads got quite the workout.

Here are a few takeaways from the walk:

Weather. Friday brought an unexpected but welcome drizzle. I stayed cooler than I would have otherwise, but the tradeoff was sacrificing a clear view of the Northwest Portland industrial area that included the hulking building that formerly housed Montgomery Ward. On a clear day I would have been able to see Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams, all in Washington state.

Staircases. I must have taken at least five shortcuts from one residential area to another, following Foster’s explicit directions. I’d probably never notice them on my own, even if I were walking past. But I find them to be little neighborhood jewels, ranging from 24 in one spot to a total of 280 steps on two staircases used for training by Portland firefighters.

Big-ass homes: Undoubtedly, I was traversing through neighborhoods where the city’s doctors, lawyers and business executives make their homes. While the gargantuan Pittock Mansion stands out as a historic home museum, jointly preserved and operated by the city and a nonprofit society, there are plenty of massive homes in Kings Heights. Many are constructed on stilts that I sure wouldn’t trust during an earthquake. Among those not on stilts, I passed by the former homes of Oregon Gov. Oswald West and U.S. Senators Richard and Maurine Neuberger. When he died suddenly in 1960, she ran for his seat and won a six-year term of her own.

Forest Park: Any time spent in this wooded wonderland is always good. I entered the park from a residential street and followed the Upper Macleay Trail to its intersection with the Wildwood Trail. I passed by a man and his dog; a dad with his daughter and their dog; and said hello to a runner as he passed me going uphill. It’s such a nice break from the concrete environment to pad softly on these trails and have your senses filled with fresh air and the sounds of a creek or two.

I hope to do another one or two these walks in August, so I can check off another couple of these on Foster’s list of 20 hill walks.

Yesterday’s hike was not only invigorating but, more importantly, it added to my repository of knowledge about Portland, a place that is abundantly blessed with topographical variety, neighborhood diversity and beautiful vistas.

Rollover resolutions

bananas

More water, more fruits (and veggies) in 2019.

Three days into the new year and I’m thinking about what to put on my list of intentions for 2019.

I’ve got it: Rollover resolutions.

Since I did only moderately well on last year’s three, why not roll ’em over like rollover minutes on my cell phone plan?

For the record, here’s what I pledged to do a year ago:

  • Drink more water.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Lighten up on the iPhone.

When I checked on myself in July, I acknowledged slippage in all three areas.

Read “About those resolutions” here

This year, I’m rolling over the first two and subbing in a third one:

  • Drink more water.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Reclaim my Fridays.

The first two make a lot of sense. Coupled with a vow to resume regular exercise, they will do me good. More water, less coffee. More bananas, fewer cookies. More salads, fewer fries.

The third one makes sense in a different way. I see it as a dedicated one day a week when I do something for my mental or physical health as opposed to letting my four-day work week slop over into a fifth weekday.

60 hikes-Cover

The first thing that comes to mind is doing my urban hikes again, with my tattered copy of “Portland Hill Walks” as a guide. When the weather warms up again, I’d like to go a step further and break in the “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles” I received as a gift last year.

Blast from the past: A catalogue of urban hikes

Other ideas that come to mind: daytime bowling, an afternoon matinee, breakfast or coffee with a friend, lunch with Lori (she works every Friday), a longer-than-usual walk with Charlotte.

As I write this, I know I’m giving myself some leeway to say yes to work-related events. Already, I’m committed to a lunch this Friday with school and work colleagues. Two weeks later, I’m going to speak to a group of student journalists at WSU Vancouver, something I committed to long ago.

This year, I’m going to hold myself more accountable on all three. Wish me luck.

 

Return to Healy Heights

HH keller house

A 1956 Colonial once owned by Portland businessman Ira Keller is a prominent sight in the Hessler Hills neighborhood.

In April, a friend and I set out on an urban hike that was supposed to take us on a 4-mile loop from Hillsdale to Healy Heights, a posh hilltop neighborhood in Southwest Portland.

I screwed up. What should have been a 2-hour hike became 5 miles and 3 hours because I didn’t pay close enough attention to directions in my guide book and we veered off course. Making matters worse, light drizzle turned to steady rain as we plodded along, culminating in a steady downpour at Council Crest Park, where supposedly unrivaled views of Portland were obliterated by cloud cover and a pounding rain.

I scolded myself and vowed to come back on a sunny day.

On the last Thursday in August, I did just that. And I was amply rewarded.

This time, the hike did take just two hours. Although I saw plenty of familiar sights, following the correct route took me into areas of Healy Heights I’d missed before. Plus, I made it to the 1,000-foot summit of Council Crest, trekking to the end of a dead-end street where you come to the locked gatehouse of the Stonehenge radio tower. The antenna rises 607 feet and is easily visible from Portland’s east side.

Enough chatter. Here are the highlights of my second trip:

Keller Woodland: Reached via a dead end on Northwood Avenue, this beautiful greenspace is owned by the Three Rivers Land Conservancy, according to Laura O. Foster, author of my well-worn copy of “Portland Hill Walks.”

Portland businessman Ira Keller originally owned the nearly 40 acres, but sold it to the Nature Conservancy, which later gave it to Three Rivers, Foster says. It’s too bad it’s so secluded. Then again, light foot traffic is what keeps the forested area so lovely.

Hessler Hills: The woodland trail leads into what Foster calls “the isolated and tony” Hessler Hills neighborhood. Except for the forested path, there’s only one way into this area of gaudy homes and panoramic views of the Willamette River, stretching from the Fremont Bridge to Ross Island.

Walking here and along Fairmount Boulevard, another forested route in this hilly area, I spotted a handful of “for sale” signs with asking prices ranging from $1.1 million to $2.2 million.

Not for sale is the spectacular home once owned by the aforementioned Keller. It stands alone across a ravine on Northwood, with a commanding view of the Willamette and the Cascade Range. This is the same Keller who served as chairman of the Portland Planning Commission and for whom a fountain across from Civic Auditorium is named.

Fairmount Boulevard: This 4-mile-long, two-lane road without sidewalks is popular with joggers and cyclists. Sure enough, I saw people on foot, more with and without dogs, and on bicycles.

If anything, the homes along this road are even more ginormous than in Hessler Hills, with three- and four-story homes built on stilts on wooded hillsides.

Healy Heights: Unlike the April hike, when I lost my way and wound up at Council Crest Park, this time I walked up steep residential streets with constantly changing views of the city.

From Foster’s book, I learned that the area was developed in the 1930s by Joseph Healy, who called it “the Switzerland of America.” A bit of an exaggeration. Healy named the streets after various family members: Carl, McDonnell, Patrick and Bernard. A nice gesture, I suppose.

On one street corner, I saw a number of crushed cardboard boxes spilling out of a recycling bin. Hmm, I wondered, does a Nike executive live there?

Further up the bill, a funny coincidence. I had just started up Carl Place, the dead-end street, when I heard a Spanish-language commercial for a local car dealer, Carl Chevrolet, coming from the vicinity of one of these big-ass homes. One Latino laborer was on the ground using a leaf blower while another above him was tossing roof shingles and other materials into a trailer. They were, of course, listening to the radio as they worked.

Descending the summit, I came across more of the same: Latino men cutting tree limbs by hand, mowing lawns and building new homes for even more well-to-do owners. Where would this country be without the myriad skills provided by mi gente?

Healy Heights Park: If anything symbolizes the isolation and exclusivity of this area, it’s the neighborhood park. It’s owned by the city but it has the look and feel of a private playground.

Barely more than an acre, it has climbing equipment, a soccer goal, a baseball backstop, and a basketball court with a surface made from recycled shoes donated by Nike. Sure enough, the trademark swoosh is found at center court. Signs advertising a neighborhood potluck added to the private vibe.

Hillsdale: The trek back down to flat land took me back along a previously traveled route, from Fairmount Boulevard to a series of hidden staircases descending to a range of midcentury homes along SW 19th Drive and Sunset Boulevard.

Even after two visits here, I still have unfinished business. Gotta come back one more time to hike the Marquam Nature Park trail connecting Council Crest with the Oregon Health & Science University campus.

 

Walking among the dead

MP entrance

Hard to believe you’re in the middle of a city when you’re all alone on this path.

I didn’t know what to think when I leafed through my urban hiking guide and spotted the 4.5-mile route called “Marshall Park Canyon and Cemeteries Loop.”

I’d never heard of Marshall Park. Walking through multiple cemeteries, let alone one, seemed like an odd wrinkle. But after completing the hike in Southwest Portland in mid-August, I’ve got to say it ranks among the most interesting I’ve done this year.

This particular route, outlined in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks,” has a little of everything going for it:

  • A spectacular urban park with giant trees, shaded paths and pristine creeks tumbling over rocks.
  • Quiet streets off the beaten path in neighborhoods with few sidewalks.
  • Cemeteries offering solitude and a space to reflect on the thousands of lives represented by so many graves.

Since January, this gold mine of a book has led me into neighborhoods I never knew before, enriching my appreciation of a city I thought I knew rather well. My recent hike revealed yet another major gap in my knowledge of Portland.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Let’s start with Marshall Park. It’s east of I-5 and south of SW Terwilliger Boulevard as you head east toward Lewis & Clark Law School and Tryon Creek State Park. More specifically, the park lies just east of SW Taylors Ferry Road in the South Burlingame neighborhood. The western entrance to the park is on SW 18th Place in the middle of a residential area.

From the moment I left the parking area and stepped onto the trail, all I could hear was the sound of my own footsteps.

It’s a magnificent space, smaller than but reminiscent of Lower Macleay Park and Balch Creek Canyon. Here in Marshall Park, you have Douglas fir and maple trees, and a tributary of Tryon Creek. There are foot bridges, a children’s play area and trails crisscrossing the park and its 400-foot-wide canyon. It’s hard to believe it was once a quarry.

According to Foster, F.C. and Addie Marshall donated the land to the city in 1951 and additional acreage was later purchased. Good call.

Emerging onto SW Maplecrest Drive, you head east toward Terwilliger Boulevard, crossing at SW 2nd Avenue,  located just west of the law school.

It’s a steep climb into the Collins View neighborhood. Like the homes on Maplecrest, each house up here is decidedly different from the other. No bland sameness at all.

At the top of the hill, turning right onto SW Alice puts you an unpaved stub of a street. And here, to my delight, was the Ahavai Sholom Cemetery, established in 1869. Its name means “lovers of peace.”

It was a toasty afternoon so I made my way to a shaded bench and quietly admired the gumption that Portland’s earliest Jewish immigrants must have had — to settle here, establish businesses and synagogues, raise their families, and acquire a site to bury their loved ones.

One grave marker, with a running water feature, caught my eye with a small plaque bearing these words:

We determine how we are remembered

By the way we live our days.

MP. Ahavai water

A grave marker with a water feature offers a profound thought about our legacies.

I left the cemetery, headed one block north and one block east and found myself at the southern  entrance to Riverview Cemetery. Unlike the modest, crowded Jewish cemetery, this vast, sprawling site offered a park-like setting with rolling green hills of manicured lawns, a huge variety of trees and an eastward-looking view that included a distant Mount Hood.

Except for two bike riders barreling through and the occasional maintenance truck, I was all alone. Hiking through a cemetery on an urban walk might strike some as creepy. But, honestly, it was a calming experience. Surrounded everywhere by silence, I felt respect for the dead and reverence for life.

Where the Jewish cemetery was chock-full of headstones bearing the Star of David, Hebrew characters and names like Kaufman, Sherman and Schwartz, Riverview was filled with names like Smith, Gardner and Stevens.

One particular feature of the cemetery gave me pause. Beneath a massive oak tree there was a section dedicated to babies. Some who died when they were days or weeks old, others a few months, still others the day they were born. Seeing those rows of grave markers set flush with the grass, with dates going back to the ’50s and ’60s, made me keenly aware of the losses endured by so many families. Imagine all those lives cut short and the enduring heartbreak.

In the midst of all this, another thought came to mind: how death truly is the great equalizer. Rich or poor, young or old, accidental death or not, all these people were now in the ground, where status didn’t matter.

***

Winding through the cemetery, I emerged at the northern exit from the cemetery — within shouting distance of three more cemeteries — and crossed SW Taylors Ferry Road into another cluster of homes largely free of sidewalks and, on this hot summer afternoon, people.

The route took me south toward Terwilliger, where I crossed again and found myself in the South Burlingame neighborhood, a more affluent area of single-family homes. Continuing south, I worked my way down to Taylors Ferry Road and then Taylors Ferry Court and SW 12th Avenue, yet another area of the city short on sidewalks but long on character.

Once again, I felt as if I were taking a walk down a country road. Yet, I was very much in the heart of a city of 600,000 residents. SW 12th led me into the eastern entrance to Marshall Park, where I escaped the heat on trails that led me back to my car.

I literally paused in disbelief. Here I was in the middle of a forest less than a mile from the roaring I-5 freeway. How had I not known about Marshall Park? What a jewel on the city’s west side.

***

I’ll end with this quote from the naturalist John Muir, displayed in a poetry post on SW 2nd Avenue. Seems to perfectly capture my experience on this hike.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Mount Tabor: A city treasure

tabor summit sky

At the summit of Mount Tabor, the sky seems bluer above these fir treetops.

I’ve got to admit it. I’ve been a fool.

Despite the dozens of the times I’ve run up to Mount Tabor and the surrounding neighborhoods, I don’t think I’d ever actually made it to the summit. What an incredible oversight.

It’s not that the elevation was intimidating. Heck, it’s only 636 feet to the top of this dormant volcano in Southeast Portland.

No, it was something else. I used to regularly run from my former residence in Grant Park to the northern entrance of Mount Tabor Park, typically veering left (south) and following a paved road on the east side of the park before turning around and heading back down. Other times, I’d run along the western and southern boundaries of the park en route to a more distant destination.

But never did I actually ascend any of the trails or even follow a paved road to the top of the peak. What a fool I’ve been.

This week, I finally did.

(Click on images to view captions.)

After a six-week layoff, I went out Tuesday afternoon on another of these urban hikes I’ve been doing since the year began. Through them, I’ve gotten some good exercise and learned a ton about Portland’s history and geography.

This week’s hike brought more of the same, courtesy of the book “Portland Hill Walks,” by Laura O. Foster.

Beginning at S.E. 60th Avenue and Stark Street, I followed a five-mile route that took me onto quiet, hilly streets north and east of the volcano, up onto the slopes and summit, and then down into a residential neighborhood west of the park.

As with so many previous hikes, I was treated to the sight of beautiful flowers, a variety of housing styles, and city views I hadn’t experienced before. Foster’s book not only provides a wealth of information about each geographic area of focus, but identifies several shortcuts that lead into nooks and crannies you’d miss otherwise.

Mount Tabor Park is, in Foster’s words, “a city treasure.”

According to Foster, Mount Tabor was settled at about the same time as Portland in the mid-19th century. Farmers were the primary residents until the 1880s, but then growth took off in 1889, when a trolley line ran up SE Belmont Street to a terminus at SE 69th Avenue, Foster writes.

In 1905, Mount Tabor was annexed to Portland. The park was acquired in 1909. Among its 190 acres, you’ll find three open reservoirs, which received National Historic Landmark status in 2004, along with a playground, an amphitheater, restrooms and wooded hiking trails. At the summit, there’s a grassy,  an oval-shaped area with picnic tables under tall fir trees and west-facing views of SE Hawthorne Boulevard and the downtown skyline.

There were clusters of people just about everywhere I went in the park — a young couple, asleep in each other’s arms on a blanket; a trio of teenagers having a picnic lunch; solitary hikers; a few bicyclists; groups of two and three taking selfies on the summit.

Yet it didn’t feel crowded, and I especially enjoyed the shade as I climbed the steepest of the dirt trails leading up the south side of the volcano.

Finishing off the walk on streets flanking the park’s west side, I realized yet again how fortunate I am to live in a city with so many desirable neighborhoods and so much parkland — more than 200 public parks and natural areas totaling more than 11,000 acres, according to the Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau.

Ain’t nowhere else I’d want to live.

The old neighborhood

GP.castle

The castle at the intersection of NE Wistaria Drive and 39th Avenue was a familiar sight during our years of living in the Grant Park neighborhood.

More often than not, it seems I’m doing my urban hikes in the rain or at least cloudy skies. That was the case again last week, so I picked out a route that I knew didn’t have any hilltop vistas. I mean, why waste the scenic rewards if visibility is limited?

That’s how I wound up doing the Alameda Ridge Loop, a 4.75-mile trek through the four neighborhoods — Beaumont, Hollywood, Grant Park and Alameda — that once provided a home base for my family.

Here is where we lived for 25 years on a corner lot on a leafy street. Here is where our kids attended elementary and middle school. Here is where we took them and our dogs to the park. Here is where we shopped for groceries, went to nearby restaurants and belonged to the old YMCA.

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We moved away six years ago, packing fond memories but no regrets. Our new home frees us from yard work (a huge time-saver on weekends) and puts us right in the middle of an urban neighborhood where just about every service is 10-15 minutes away on foot.

So while I enjoyed being back on familiar turf, I can’t say I was overcome with emotion. Strolling the residential streets on a Thursday afternoon, I appreciated the tranquillity and enjoyed seeing familiar sights.

Following a route described in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks,” I started my hike near NE 51st Avenue and Sandy Boulevard and headed north and west at almost a 45-degree angle as I walked along Wistaria Drive, Klickitat Street, down 32nd Place, up 30th Avenue, and finally onto Alameda Street. The route back took me along Ridgewood Drive, Edgehill Place, Fremont Street (the only commercial street on the hike) and Alameda Street before dropping back down to Sandy Boulevard.

There were five staircases along the way, starting with one of 88 steps leading from the flat lands to Alameda Ridge. Thanks to Foster’s guidebook, I’ve been on more of these staircases than I can count — each one providing a short-cut and many of them offering a leafy respite from sun or rain.

All in all, another outing to put in the memory book.:

 

 

Back on the trail

RC-reed lake

Looking west from Crystal Springs Creek.

After a four-week break from the weekly routine, I resumed my urban hikes this week with the shortest one to date and a route I’d actually been on a couple times before.

With a mid-afternoon start and the weather looking dicey, I headed out to Southeast Portland to do the Reed Canyon-to-Eastmoreland Loop outlined in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks.”

The route is only 2 miles long if you don’t stray from the main trail in Reed Canyon or venture into the nearby Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. I knew if the rains came on, I would be pretty well protected by heavy foliage during the first part of the walk. Happily, unlike my last hike when I got soaked on Healy Heights, I stayed dry.

RC-dragon

Have you seen this reptile?

It had been at least three years since I’d been out to this area, but I had retained a good idea of what to expect: a quiet, leafy refuge running just inside the northern boundary of Reed College, leading to heavily traveled Southeast 28th Avenue into the Eastmoreland neighborhood, onto the campus grounds and back out to S.E. Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

This being Portland, I wasn’t surprised by the very first thing I saw as I began the walk Thursday. On a concrete stanchion marking the trailhead, someone had posted a photo of a missing pet: a bearded dragon named Cotton.

***

Except for a steep downhill stretch to begin the walk, this hike isn’t hilly at all. But that doesn’t take away from the tranquillity of the experience in Reed Canyon.

As a first-timer, I recall being surprised that this trail even exists in the midst of residential development — and that it meanders so close to the college. As you walk from east to west, there’s a big pond on your right (actually, Reed Lake) with fallen trees, wetlands and up on your left, a view of dormitories and other campus buildings.

Click on photos to view captions.

Farther down the trail, there’s an outdoor amphitheater overlooking the lake, a fish ladder, and a college theater building that spans Crystal Springs Creek, which feeds Reed Lake. Constructing a multistory building over a flowing body of water might seem charming to some, but Foster calls it “a design decision that today seems ludicrous.”

Emerging from the trail puts you briefly on the Reed campus, from which you head west and cross S.E 28th Avenue. Going south, you pass a public golf course and the Rhododendron Gardens, cross Woodstock Boulevard and turn into the Eastmoreland neighborhood, an enclave of well-maintained homes that’s seen disputes flare up recently over zoning disputes and the proposed cutting of 150-year-old sequoia trees.

Portland’s mayor happens to live in the neighborhood. Earlier this year, he advocated for reducing allowable density in Eastmoreland but the proposal died in May when the City Council declined to even vote on it.

The neighborhood is beautiful, I have to say. Especially S.E. Reed College Place, whose center median is lined by trees on both sides, giving the appearance of a striking painting.

Circling back north, I crossed Woodstock and onto the campus, where commencement ceremonies had been held earlier in the week. I passed by the library, designed in 1930 by Pietro Belluschi, the nationally recognized architect who also designed the Portland Art Museum and The Oregonian building (where I worked) and many other Portland structures.

I took a break to appreciate the silence and cool, dry afternoon. Then, prodded by a mention in Foster’s book, I decided to tour the art gallery inside the library. Inside I found a very small space, a single room exhibiting work of Alan Sonfist, a New York City artist who was among the first to explore the natural environment as a basis of his creativity.

RC-library

The Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, designed in 1930 by Portland’s Pietro Belluschi. Inside, you’ll find an art gallery, free and open to the public but closed Mondays.

I know very little about art history and was totally unfamiliar with the “Land Art” movement referenced in the brochure about Sonfist’s work. So, with apologies to anyone I may offend with my ignorance, suffice to say there were eyerolls when I glimpsed a series of self-made photos of a nude Sonfist out in the wild channeling “the living animal spirit” of deer, fox and other creatures.

Another exhibit described the lengths to which Sonfist had gone to bring back a colony of army ants from Panama as a live work of art (really?) and also as the subject of a piece purporting to trace their movements in a single day.

Don’t know about you, but I haven’t got a clue when I view a piece — a 24x24x4 inch box mounted on a wall — and read the explanation: “Like other of Sonfist’s sculptures, the work transforms minimalist geometries into richly introspective spaces. Many of Sonfist’s works critique the didacticism of the minimalist movement.”

RC-reed college place

The median strip along S.E. Reed College Place. A nice, shady spot for a walk or run.

But enough of the late Mr. Sonfist.

I’m glad I spent 20 minutes in the gallery as a respite from my hike. Just as he was inspired by his childhood experiences with nature in “the teeming jungles of the South Bronx,” I’ve been reinvigorated by getting back to nature in my lush, heavily-treed city.

No channeling of animal spirits for me, though. I’m keeping my clothes on. For everyone’s sake.

 

 

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Bailed out on Healy Heights

CC council crest park

Trying to get my bearings in Council Crest Park on a surprisingly wet hike Thursday, April 14. (Photo by John Killen)

With eight weekly urban hikes under my belt, it was time to add a new wrinkle: a hiking buddy. This week in particular, I couldn’t have made a better choice than my longtime friend and co-worker, John Killen.

Thursday started out innocently. We met for a pre-hike breakfast at Gigi’s Cafe in the Hillsdale neighborhood of Southwest Portland. As we chatted, we kept an eye on the gray sky, thinking and hoping that at most we’d encounter a light drizzle. Wrong.

As soon as we started on the four-mile route to Healy Heights, it started to sprinkle. Then rain. Then rain some more.

It didn’t let up until we were nearly done. By that time, a planned two-hour walk through hilly neighborhoods had become a three-hour outing, thanks to yours truly not paying close enough attention to the route described in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks.”

I mistakenly thought we were supposed to follow one road on a continuous loop when, in fact, we should have veered off and picked up another major street. By the time we discovered my error, we had strayed well off course in a maze of twisting, winding streets and had gotten pretty well soaked despite arming ourselves with umbrellas.

Fortunately, John bailed us out.

As an avid bicyclist, John has covered much of the city and the metro area on two wheels, so he was already familiar with many of the streets on this Hillsdale to Healy Heights route, as well as those surrounding Council Crest Park, where we inadvertently went astray. He figured out a shortcut that took us up a forested path and into the park and then back down to the labyrinth of streets and staircases in Healy Heights.

Had I been on my own, I might still be wandering the neighborhood, a first-time visitor trying to get my bearings. Thanks to John’s sense of direction and navigating skills, we got back on track and made it back to SW Capitol Highway. We rewarded ourselves with a cookie and coffee at Baker & Spice, a charming bakery a few doors down from Gigi’s.

The other great thing about having John along was tapping into his deep knowledge of the city. We worked in the same newsroom for more than 25 years. When he retired last year, a few months ahead of me, he took with him an impressive recall of historical events, facts, dates, political leaders, and neighborhood trivia.

Listening to John’s running commentary was like having a personal tour guide. We had just started our hike when he pointed out the second house on my right as belonging to a former governor that had been moved from the Portland waterfront.

Who else but John would know that George Lee Curry had served as Oregon’s last territorial governor before statehood began in 1859? Or that Curry County in Southern Oregon was named for him?

John again displayed his knowledge when we reached Council Crest Park, the highest point in Portland at 1,073 feet above sea level. Council Crest got its name from Native American leaders who would gather for important meetings, John told me.

Then, pointing to a bronze statue of a mother and child, John recalled an episode in the 1980s when vandals used hacksaws to make off with the piece, only to have it discovered during a drug raid across town a decade later. The statute was restored and put up again in a new location of the park.

Oh, and did I know that Council Crest was once the site of an amusement park operated in the same style as Jantzen Beach (now closed in North Portland) and Oaks Park (still going in Sellwood in SE Portland)? And that park operators dug a ditch and offered boat rides up there? No, I did not.

We covered more ground than we planned to and got wetter than we anticipated, but I have no complaints.

As is so often the case on these weekly excursions, I traveled on streets I’d never been on before. I was treated to the sight of a lot of fine architecture — including lots of angular, contemporary styles and gravity-defying homes built on wooded hillsides — in a part of the city that’s seemingly embedded in a rainforest.

In all my 30 years of living here, I’d never ever been on SW Fairmount Boulevard or SW Council Crest Drive, let alone Council Crest Park. I’d never been in Healy Heights or Hessler Heights, an micro-neighborhood made up of huge homes and featuring a private tennis court. I had no idea you could follow a trail through Marquam Nature Park and emerge near the Oregon Health & Science University campus.

HH tower

The Stonehenge radio tower, 607 feet tall and built in 1990 by rock station KGON-FM.

Had we done this hike any other day this week, we surely would have been treated to amazing vistas.

But with Thursday’s weather, we had to settle for squinting through the mist to distant landmarks downtown and at South Waterfront.

I’ll have to come back up here again on a sunny day.

Maybe walk through Marquam Nature Park.

Yes, do that, George.