Few day trips undergo more of a drastic alteration, both in scenery and climate, than the High Valley waterfall, located some ten miles outside the town of Union.
As you enter the city limits, take a left on Bryan St. and follow it as it cozies up to the rock out-cropped foothills and eventually turns into High Valley Road. Almost immediately after the pavement gives way to gravel, you’ll find yourself within the walls of a charming canyon– like our own little slice of northern Arizona, but instead of red rocks, we boast of basalt– and embrace with open arms its resemblance to heaps and heaps of gargantuan petrified cow pies. It is here a creek merges with the route and runs parallel to it, and one can’t help but marvel at the millions upon millions of years of ongoing architecture. Then, like that, you emerge from the corridor like it was some passing daydream, and it’s back into the rolling familiarity of Northeast Oregon ranchland. Soon you’ll see Bates Ln. junction– take a right on it and cut upward toward the forest. As you descend the hill into the dim canopy of trees, park at the clearing at the bottom. Cross the wooden bridge by foot and the trail will present itself.
Now, as a child of the Western Washington rainforest, I recognized early-on what components were necessary to make the area so lush and green: moisture and shade– and this little fissure in the world is perpetually dominated by both. In the dead of Summer, it is an unmatched destination to escape the sun, cool off, and simply gaze at the refreshing power of the waterfall– just a few hundred feet from where the trail begins. While not wheelchair accessible, this is an otherwise easy little jaunt– so if you have a friend or loved one who wants to go but can’t, for God’s sake carry them! This abstract amphitheater is strewn with carpets of soft, perspiring moss, and a diversity of plant life, including delicate creeping ferns who tumble over one another for those scant bits of sunlight which occasionally pass through. For you climbers out there, to the right of the waterfall stands a 25-foot vertical face, bejeweled with pitons.
At its Springtime pinnacle, the waterfall is an explosive, concentrated hose- making a conversation near it next to impossible. To stand under its spout also seems lofty, and even if you get there, its force would surely give you a biblical beatdown. By mid-Summer and into the Fall, the flow has relented considerably, revealing a manageable amble up the side and above the waterfall, where the trail then continues. For the next few hundred feet, the creek becomes an intermittent collection of inviting tiers, each its own wading and soaking pool of varying size and depth. Ledges, and elevated areas of the flat boulder floor seem suitable– if not outright designed– for a picnic, sunbathe, or dry-off– following an exhilarating plunge. It’s not exactly dripping from a glacier’s nostril, but pretty close, and you get the overwhelming sense that you’re no longer on the outskirts of civilization so much as you are at the doorstep of the wild. Indeed, from there, nothing save nature separates you from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, and the Eagle Caps beyond it.
From hq (112 Depot St.), the drive takes less than 40 minutes, and I’d say leave that two-wheel-drive vehicle at home during the Winter. To my knowledge, neither the city or county maintains this area, which makes caring for it all the more important. I usually try and keep a couple garbage bags in the car just in case, and, as always, pack out what you pack in.
This concludes chapter one of Trip Out! Roadmaps to Recreation. Join me soon for the next installment of this series, as we tootle on up the southwest foothills to Morgan Lake. Gregory Rawlins signing off– and remember… life’s a trip, so trip out!