Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Yesterday was the autumnal equinox -- the first day of fall. Since we had the day free we decided to head South and knock two explorations off our list... a hike through Silver Falls State Park and a visit to the Oregon State Capitol.
Situated along Silver Creek and it's tributaries in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains about 20 miles Southeast of Salem, Silver Falls State Park is 9,000 acres of a natural environment bursting with recreational opportunities for almost anyone. A four mile paved bike path, many more miles of mountain bike trails and horse trails, hiking, camping, picnicking, and a lodge and conference center are all available. Inside the park are areas of old-growth forest with some of the largest Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock you'll ever see. We've tried in the past, but haven't yet found a way through words or photography to really capture the essence of these giants... you've just got to find them and experience them for yourself... up-close and personal.
The Park is especially noted for it's Trail of Ten Falls, an 8.7 mile hiking path that goes to 10 waterfalls. The underlying geology of the Park is such that thick layers of very hard volcanic basalt are resting atop layers of softer older rock. The basalt resists weathering and erosion while the softer rock below erodes more quickly creating natural pathways behind some of the falls.
We chose a slightly shortened hike of 5.1 miles that took us to 7 of the falls. The path varied from level and firm to steep and rock-strewn, and Dar was glad she brought her walking stick. As it was a weekday there were very few people in the Park. Most of the time we were alone... alone with the path, the falls, the trees, and our thoughts. The typically dry late-summer and early fall in the Northwest reduced the amount of water flowing in the streams and over the falls. We've got to return some year in the spring or early summer when these things must be spectacular. As it was, we thought the hike and the ability to get behind the falls was just great... one of the best hikes we've done in recent months.
After a late picnic lunch, we headed back to Salem and found the State Capitol. As Capitols go, this one is the fourth youngest (Hawaii, New Mexico, and Florida are younger) -- having been completed in the 1930's. Compared to others we've explored, it's on the small side and feels utilitarian. There are two wings, hidden in the back and side, that were added in the 1970's to create more space for legislative offices and hearing rooms. The building is Art Deco in style and the only Capitol in the USA in that style.
There are artistic and symbolic elements that revere Oregon's history and portray a reverence for the people and the rule of law. Four large murals in the Rotunda illustrating key historic events... Captain Robert Gray at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792, Lewis & Clark on their way to the Pacific in 1805, the first women to cross the continent being welcomed by Dr. John McLaughlin in 1836, and the first wagon train migration in 1843.
The Senate and House Chambers are likewise very nice but not as ornate or stately as others we've seen. During our tour we were able to ascend all 121 steps from the fourth floor to a wonderful outdoor viewing area atop the dome.
Like the Minnesota State Capitol, security is not overly apparent and access to the building is free and open to all, without the metal-detectors and checkpoints we've found elsewhere. They want to reinforce that this is truly the house of the people and don't want to limit or impede entry in any way. Personally, I find this refreshing and bold.
Oregon is one of only 6 states in which the Legislature does not meet every year. The Legislative session is officially a specific period during odd-numbered years and most Legislators have other normal jobs. Our guide said that extra sessions are called from time to time, and that ever more complicated issues and problems are creating a need for moving to annual sessions at some point in the future. Personally, I think that would be a mistake.
So that was our day. It felt good to be our exploring again.