The Hidden gems in the Opal Creek Wilderness . . .

By Morris R. Pike –

“You’ll like it,” I said to my alter ego Arnie as we trudged up the gravel road toward Jawbone Flats. “Inside the Opal Creek Recreation Area  is a collection of Oregon gems.”

“Opalescent, is it?” Arnie chuckled, half-jokingly challenging my knowledge.

“Opal Creek got its name from the wife of forest service ranger Roy Elliot. But, the name could just as easily refer to the gem-like beauty of treasures hidden in the whole area . . . the interplay of colors among the trees . . . the bushes, the mosses, the rocks . . . the water,” I said noting the beauty of the happy creek and the dense forest around us. “Yes, you could say they were opalescent.”

“Even emeraldescent.” Arnie returned enjoying his play on words and admiring the greenish crystal water.

“That too Arnie,” I said. “But wait . . . there’s more.”

The further you walk through this largest intact stand of old growth forest in the western Cascade Mountains, the denser the forest becomes. Trees from 500 to 1000 years old are common. Arnie and I were packing our trusty cameras . . . mine was a heavy SLR with a 28 to 300 telephoto lens. Arnie was smart . . . his was an iPhone.

“Look at that,” Arnie called pointing to a dark opening in the bank of a hill to our left.”

“Yeah, breathing the fresh oxygen filled air and the beauties of nature aren’t the only gems in Opal Creek,” I replied. “To me, that mine shaft is a gem in itself.”

“Lugging mining equipment way up here . . . you’d have to want to mine pretty badly.”

“Gotta go where the minerals are. In 1859 miners found gold, silver, lead and copper.”

“Who would have thought!” Arnie marveled.

By now we had reached the first of dozens of mechanical artifacts making up the skeletons of mining equipment left from 100 years or so of extracting precious metals and other minerals from the hills around Opal Creek. There were rusting car bodies like rough diamonds facetted with brush, limbs and grass . . . a fire truck hanging onto its hose. There were ore carts and sections of rail on which they ride . . . gears and cogs . . . boiler tanks unashamed of the rust eating them away.

“Rusty,” Arnie said disdainfully inspecting the head of the exposed motor of an old Ford pickup. “Seems out of place . . . a stitch in time among 1000-year-old trees.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but to allow this cemetery of relics to remain in this marvelous stand of old growth forest showed some wisdom. It’s a reminder of a different kind human beauty from a past era. “

“Old rusty junk if you ask me.”

“No, Arnie, diamonds are what they are . . . begging to catch an appreciative eye.”

I lifted my camera and began to shoot.

Photos by Morris R. Pike

Opal Creek Wilderness

Jawbone Flat, located near Lyons Oregon, is enclosed inside a 20,827 acre Opal Creek Wilderness area adjacent to a larger protected area in the Mount Hood National Forest. To trek from the parking lot to Jawbone Flat, is about a three-and-a-half mile slightly uphill trek. Give yourself plenty of time to make the round trip especially if you are getting up in years (like me) and/or not in the best physical condition. You can’t drive a car in without special permission . . . we even made certain it was okay to walk in. More information, visit

Photos by Morris R. Pike

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