With all of the hiking I’ve done in the Columbia River Gorge, I have walked past Ponytail Falls more than any other waterfall. It’s not a far jaunt up the trail from Horsetail Falls, the roadside waterfall that causes traffic jams as visitors stop their vehicles in the middle of the road, arms hanging out of the window to get a snapshot before continuing on, and there’s no doubt that in the past five years the visitation to this falls has dramatically increased leaving little opportunity for solitude. But it’s always been one of my favorites. When I first started exploring the gorge, my go-to hike was Triple Falls. I’d start at the Horsetail Falls trailhead, head past Ponytail Falls, Oneonta Falls, and scramble down to Middle Oneonta Falls. From there I would continue on to Triple Falls, crossing the bridge upstream where I would have lunch in what was, at the time, a place that I considered to be one of the greenest, most fairytale places I’d ever seen. A gentle creek offered a calming soundtrack while I sat on mossy logs and and soaked it all in. It astounded me that I lived in a place where I could walk past five waterfalls in just over a five mile hike. I was in heaven! The trail even went behind Ponytail Falls which was a pretty big deal to this east coast kid. As my hiking experience grew, the Russ Jolley Trail and the Rock of Ages Trail were my go-to hikes, which also took me past Ponytail Falls before I would scramble up either side of the creek on the steep user trails, disappearing from the crowds to get my physical, mental, and emotional exercise.
When I was battling alcoholism I did those hikes several times a week. Being that they were so close and not all that long (2-4 miles each) meant that I could whisk myself away into an enchanted world where I knew that I was safe, a place that I knew everything made sense and had order. I’d find strength in those forests. I’d find life.
It’s hard to swallow sometimes, knowing that those user trails, forests, mosses, branches, rocks, and everything else that made the gorge wonderful and unique have likely been lost in the Eagle Creek Fire, or they have at least been greatly altered in a way that just won’t be the same to me. I know that the gorge is still a special place and that it will heal itself with little regard to my feelings on the matter. Nature does what it does. Yet I can’t help but hold those memories dear in the deepest recesses of my soul. I will cherish them until the day I die and when I think back upon them I will see this view of Ponytail Falls and envision turning this corner on the trail to head behind the water, knowing that serenity was well on its way.
Your story and words of hiking in the gorge are wonderful. I’ve photographed the gorge only a couple of times, but in those couple of times, I certainly have a sense of the feelings that can be created by that magical place.
Beautiful story and image TJ, thanks for sharing. It is truly tragic what happened this year, I remember my first time coming to this waterfall as well, it was my first in the Gorge and blew my mind, it’s such a magical place.
I appreciate that Keith! It’s an easy place to be affected by for sure, and it turns out… it’s easy for it to be affected by us as well.
It is. But it’s also going to be amazing seeing the transformations unfold in the coming years. The gorge is in it’s most unique state in our lifetimes thus far… and there’s still beauty out there both despite and in spite of the fire. I need to hit the trails again out there soon. Thanks, brother!
I appreciate the comment David! The BotG to Dry Creek Falls trail is open, as well as Herman Creek and some others. So it’s possible to get in there now and I hope you find the time to do so!
Appreciate it Nick!
Thanks Igor! Tat tree was getting light at just the perfect time! Sadly… it was torn out of the ground by a fallen tree last year… and if that weren’t enough, we had a fire sweep through the area last year and it wiped this place out.
Thanks Tom! Just goes to show that we grow to what we shoot. I’ve shot waterfalls so much that I find them very easy to photograph. But getting to that point is what helps us move on and progress in our vision/skills, etc…