Opal Creek

May 28, 2009


On Memorial Day my wife, Mary Rose and Mark and Brittany West joined me for a hike at Opal Creek. In case you’re not aware of it, this is the newest Wilderness Area in the USA. This area was set aside by Bill Clinton during his term of office.

 This wilderness lies east of Salem about 25 miles on the west side of the Cascades. The trail head is at a locked gate on the narrow gravel road into Jawbone Flats some 4 ½ miles up the creek. According to a sign posted near the town it has a population of 11. But like everywhere else, things have changed and a group is developing the little community and doing eco tours in the ancient forest.

 Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Ancient Forest Center

The day was perfect. Sunshine just a faint breeze and temperature in the high 60’s to mid 70’s. For the first 3 miles or so we followed the road and some sections of this were trestled on one side to hold it to the sheer rocky slopes. Numerous small creeks cross the road and there are long section of old growth forest. The forest had a nice mix of cedar, fir, yew and hemlock. Some older Douglas fir trees were over 8 feet in diameter.  We were all taking pictures and stopping to inspect every wild flower an interesting tree. We noticed several hangers crossing the road. These were big trees that had died or were blown over and leaning against other large trees on the other side of the road. Some windy winter there will be a lot of wood on this road!

 Opal Creek -  A Noisy Creek

Opal Creek - The Road In

Opal Creek - Mark and Brittany

We passed an old mine shaft that had been recently boarded up about 30 feet in, to keep people from exploring it. It was wet, dark and low with a dank musty ordor.

Opal Creek - Old Mine Shaft


A little further up the road we saw the remains of an old steam train that may have been used to pull ore carts to the stamp mill at Jawbone Flats. Even the old boiler of it was way too large to fit in that hole. There is an old shed that is still standing but very decrepit and missing some boards.

 Opal Creek - Rails To Nowhere

Near this site is Logjam Falls. This is a favorite swimming hole in the winter and you can climb up the face of the falls at low water and dive off into the pool below. By mid July the water is low and warm enough to make swimming very comfortable.

 Opal Creek - Logjam Falls

A short ways later we came to the lower bridge. There is a beautiful hiking trail across the river that will take you to another bridge just above Jawbone Flats at Opal Pool. This makes a nice loop. You can continue on at that point but the trail dead ends in a Cedar forest about ¾ of a mile later.

 Opal Creek - Lower Bridge

Opal Creek

The river is gorgeous and well deserves the name Opal Creek for it shimmers with a deep blue green color in the sunshine. There are numerous creeks that cross the trail to dump into the river and many beautiful riffles and small falls along the way. In the heat of the summer these place are frequented by swimmers enjoy a cool dip.

 Opal Creek .Another Riffle

Eventually we came to Opal Pool, a deep pool at the end of a narrow canyon and waterfalls. Swimmers often dive from the near vertical banks so 15 feet or so into the deep blue pool. The water is so clear that it’s hard to tell how deep it is but it must be 15-20 feet deep or more.

Opal Creek - Opal Pool

Just above Opal Pool is the Bridge back to Jawbone Flats and we opted to head for the town instead of continuing up the creek.

Opal Creek - Opal Pool Bridge

Opal Creek - Above Opal Pool Bridge


A couple hundred yards later we came into the upper part of Jawbone Flats. There is a wide meadow and a composting public restroom there. Along the road is a amusing assortment of old vehicles and remnants of mining equipment. On the very outskirt of this area is the remains of a stamp mill use to process ore.

 Opal Creek - Old Stamp Mill

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats Motors

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Ore Train

Just before crossing the bridge into town we saw the local power plant that generates most of the electricity for the community. We also saw that most of the new building had solar panels on them so they could help support their power needs too.

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Pelton Mill Power Station

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Battle Axe Bridge


Jawbone Flats is now an interesting collection of new and old. There are still some of the small old mine camp cabins left up on the hill as well as a few of the better older private cabins. The lodge building is owned or rented by the eco tours business and there is another new building under construction now.

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - North Visitor Information Center

 Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Mine HQ Cabin

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Private Cabin

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - New Eco Tours Building

Unfortunately the Company Store wasn’t open so there was no cold soda and chips to be had this time.

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Company Store 

Brittany had fun trying out a local used car and sitting on the throne, a large chair carved from a log, perched on a rocky knob just above the main road.

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Britt's New Car

Opal Creek - Jawbone Flats - Britt's Throne

After exploring the town for a little while we realized it was later than we thought so we packed up the cameras and headed down the road for the car. Just an hour later we arrived. Wow, our feet must have been flying as that’s over 4 mile in an hour. Mark has a long set of legs!

 It was time for the 2 – hour drive back to Eugene. It was a wonderful day and I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.



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May 28, 2009

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