Sunday, April 10, 2011

Punchbowl Falls

Yesterday was the first "clear" day in Portland since the end of February. The sun has been so scarce this winter that when it actually came out in full force, it made the front page headlines!  Lucky for me, the kids had the day off school.  We dropped Curt and Todd off at the airport at 8 a.m. and then headed into the Columbia River Gorge to find a place to hike.  We stopped at McDonald's for breakfast and while the kids played, I scoured my hiking book for the perfect hike.

It would be hard to design a more perfect day.  Temps in the low 60's and a bright blue sky filled with over-sized cotton ball clouds.  The sunlight made everything greener, brighter, and radiant.  We went to Eagle Creek and hiked to Punchbowl Falls because Todd recommended it.  He was right. This hike was spectacular.

The Eagle Creek trail is clearly marked and hard to miss, primarily because there are long sections that wind along cliffs with steep drop-offs.  In those portions, there is no forest to get lost in because your hiking options are to walk the 3-foot-wide trail holding onto the cable screwed into the cliff or fall off the edge to your death.  It was a little disconcerting being that I was chaperoning four kids with boundless energy who love nothing more than to run ahead and blaze a trail.  Thankfully we've hiked enough that the kids know there is no grace if they break a hiking rule.  They respect the woods and the dangers involved and they behaved beautifully (with a few exceptions that I am choosing to block out for the sake of a good story).

The trail meandered behind several baby waterfalls that showered us with spray.  The big kids thought it was great to stand under the water and get drenched by melting mountain snow, but Paige and I were less enthusiastic.  We hiked the trail past the rocky cliffs, behind the waterfalls, and into the forest where moss dripped from the branches of evergreen trees and Eagle Creek thundered in the distance below.  We snacked at an outcropping of rocks that looked out over the canyon to a waterfall on the other side.

When one of the kids would cop an attitude or start whining, I'd give the "you are more than capable" pep talk then divert and distract.  We sang songs, skipped and talked.  Each kid had a partner (Grant and Paige, Alli and Katie) and we all had a whistle to blow in case of emergency or separation.  The problem is the kids couldn't keep those whistles out of their mouths.  They blew "quietly" and "practiced" blowing to make sure they were prepared for an emergency.  At one point I confiscated Alli's whistle and Grant got really upset.  He looked at me with grave concern and said, "Mom, I can't believe you took her whistle.  What if she gets separated from us or lost? She won't have a whistle to blow.  This is a matter of life and death!"  I wanted to say, "Well, if Alli gets lost in the woods without her whistle, it will be a natural consequence of disobedience," but I remembered James 1:19-20 and opted to be "slow to speak" instead.

We hiked 2.5 miles out to Punchbowl Falls bringing our out-and-back total milage to approximately 5 miles.  Supposedly there's a picturesque view of Punchbowl Falls from Lower Punchbowl, but we turned around on the side trail about 100 yards before the view.  (At least we know to keep going next time.)  The view we did get of Punchbowl Falls was from a viewing platform above the falls.  It was slightly obstructed and very anti-climatic after laboring for an hour and a half to get there.  It took Grant all of five seconds to moan, "We walked all the way out here for THIS?"  I reminded him that the fun was in the journey and not necessarily the view at the end, but I'm fairly certain he didn't buy what I was selling.

One of my favorite parts of the hike was toward the end.  Paige was getting tired and we were holding hands and chatting while the bigger kids walked a few steps ahead of us.  She said, "You know Mom, hiking is very tiring.  My legs are getting weally tired and I'm pretty sure I can't walk much longer.  But it sure is a pretty view and I'm glad the sun is shining.  I like hiking, but it's weally, weally tiring."  She made it the entire five miles, in her hot pink cowgirl boots, and never complained once.  I was so proud of her, especially since she's been known to sit down in the middle of the trail and cry.

We picnicked at the van and then headed home via the Bridge of the Gods.  I haven't been there since I was a kid and forgot how cool it is.  We drove into Cascade Locks and stopped at a little trinket store by the bridge.  We took pictures, snooped at all the antique farm equipment, and bought treats.  When the Amazing Race came to Portland (somehow it always comes back to the Amazing Race), the contestants had to take a taxi out to the Bridge of the Gods.  Once they arrived, they ziplined from the top of the bridge all the way down to an island below where a detour was set up.  It was really fun to tell the kids the story and show them the island.

We didn't need to go across the bridge, but the kids wanted to drive across into Washington and then turn around and come back into Oregon.  We were having so much fun that we decided to go for it.  The Bridge of the Gods is a toll bridge and Grant immediately noticed that the price points differed depending on the type of vehicle you were driving.  The cheapest option was a motorcycle.  As we got close to the toll both, Grant started lobbying for me to try for motorcycle pricing.  We rolled up in our mini-van, packed to the roof with kids and hiking gear, and said, "One motorcycle please."  The lady working the toll booth giggled and not knowing that she would see us again in point-two seconds said, "Well maybe when I see you next time we can talk about a motorcycle fare."  We drove over the bridge slowly, whipped a u-turn on the Washington side, and drove back into Oregon to the toll booth where we all shouted, "One motorcycle please."  We all burst out laughing, including the lady in the toll booth, but she still made us pay full price.

On the way home from the Gorge, I talked to my Mom.  She and Terry were coming home from the coast (opposite direction of the Gorge).  We talked long enough to realize that we were going to pass each other on the road so we pulled into a nature preserve at the exact same time and did more hiking!  The energy level of my kids astounds me.  They logged another two miles at the nature preserve without batting an eye and then stayed up late watching a movie with their friends.  They are so fun!

It was a lovely way to spend the first nice day of spring.  I'm looking forward to more Stilp family hiking this spring and summer.


  1. What an awesome mom you are! Your kids will never forget this very special day -- and all the other very special days!

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  3. Whew! I'm exhausted just reading about your adventure!!

    I agree - Awesome Mom Award!!

    Love you!


  4. Whew! I'm exhausted just reading about your adventure!

    I agree - Awesome Mom Award!!