A shot of fear seared the back of my throat from the smell of burning rubber lofting from the front tires like the cloud of dust tailing my small red car as we rolled down the gravel road in neutral. The red, low fuel light caught my eye around every nerve racking corner like a little wild devil against the contrast of the beautiful blue layered foothills of the Cascades on the horizon. Caught in the ultimate stare down – a battle of courage and resources – I prayed we’d make it to the bottom of Bohemia Mountain.
With the weather man projecting one of the most beautiful summer days yet in Oregon, the Sunday morning started with blue skies, high hopes, and plans to knock off some bucket list items after church.
The itinerary for the day included an afternoon of hiking, waterfalls and rocking road trip music for a fun half day trip into the Umpqua National Forest just east of Cottage Grove. With about five bucket list items in the region, I thought the day a great opportunity to go explore.
Feeling carefree, I confirmed my belief that today was the day to get out on the road with the morning’s church sermon. The passage, Matthew 6:25-34, said to forget my worries:
25 “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? ….34 So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Mentally noting that my tank was only half full, I planned to stop at a gas station to fill up on our way out toward Dorena Lake on Row River Road – but in true Sarah and Kelsey travel tradition, while caught up in an embarrassing duet rendition of Moulin Rouge’s “Elephant Love Medley” at the top of our lungs I missed our turn off and continued out toward the forest.
First on our schedule was a stop at Wildwood Falls. Located a short drive past Dorena covered Bridge off Lower Brice Creek Road, Wildwood Falls is a popular hangout for young adults with its diving spots into a cool pool from the half circle cliffs. Exposed dry flat rocks surrounding the falls make for the perfect place to lay out in the sun on a warm day or enjoy a picnic lunch – just be prepared to walk to the falls on a hot day because parking is limited.
Kids hanging out at Wildwood Falls
Not quite ready to get wet yet and with hiking ahead of us, Sarah and I snapped a few photos of the pounding water before pulling back on the road to head further up creek.
Following Row River Road east Sarah and I next swung off at Brice Creek’s West Trailhead for a walk along the slow moving river (actually we thought we’d reached Brice Creek Falls, but still a fun jaunt out of the car). With several trails leading along the water, we rock jumped along the edge of the shore and stuck our toes in the chilly clear current at Emerald Pool – we even ran into a couple panning for gold along the creek’s banks.
Man searching for gold
From the West Trailhead, we continued east to Cedar Creek Campground to see the actual Brice Creek Falls. A short .3 mile trail walk along the north edge of the creek from the campground parking lot leads to these series of small waterfalls. Carving sharp 90 degree cuts in the river rock, Brice Creek Falls make for a dramatic cascade of water and another great place to dive in.
Brice Creek Falls
Not done for the day, Sarah and I decided from Brice Creek Falls to head up the road 4 miles to the two Trestle Creek Falls. Tucked in the arch of a hill within the heavy trees, the sister waterfalls at Trestle Creek tumble far from the sky to the rocky creek bed below in a beautiful shower. From the roadside parking lot, the .6 mile trail to the lower Trestle Falls can be accessed from the Brice Creek Trail just on the other side of the bridge, while the Upper Trestle Falls trailhead is just another thirty feet up the road on the same side.
Up for some exercise, Sarah and I started up the Upper Trestle Creek Trail, a 1.5 mile hike up the hillside to the falls. At the top of the trail, you hear the crashing water before you see the white sheet of H2O fall over the edge, but the sound of the water is only a tease – the view from the corner of the trail is even more phenomenal. Wrapping up around the edge of the falls, the trail passes behind the upper segment of the waterfall, where you can feel the cool water against your hands. After taking dozens of photos and cooling down in the damp breeze from the descending water – we also descended, following the loop trail down one mile to where it joins the Brice Creek Trail and then the final .7 mile back to where we started.
Upper Trestle Creek Falls
Hungry and legs a little tired from the hiking – we checked our map and gas gauge once back at the car. With enough energy left to take us the final 15 mile drive to Bohemia Lookout and a quarter of a tank left in the car – we set off further down the now one lane road with fingers confidently crossed that we had enough gas.
The road swerved and curved along the creek until we reached a sharp right turn onto a gravel road that began the climb up Bohemia Mountain. But as the slope steepened, the nose of the car up, the gas level dropped and dropped. Hovering just above the E, the warning light flashed – but I kept pushing the car up the road as gravel spun off under my tires. Thinking, it can’t be much further to the top.
As we slowly crept up in altitude, I could feel my blood pressure rise with anxiety to turn around. Oh my poor little car. But just as I was about to give up the battle and try a 12 point turn to head back down the hill, the trees finally broke opening up to a panoramic view that seemed to stretch forever. Hills covered with dense forest like that hairs on a cat layered onward and onward to the horizon. Slowly transitioning from deep green to pale gray blue, the hills seemed to dissolve into the sky. To the north east, snow topped peaks glistened in the summer sun trying to not melt away.
Sarah and I at the top of Bohemia Mt.
As much as I wanted to melt away in the moment as well, I couldn’t see pass the height of the hills demonstrating their position for the return trip. The worry nibbled on my nerves also from my slight fear of heights. The thought of driving down scared me but the thought of walking to the nearest gas station frightened me even more. So down we slowly headed.
Neither of us knowing much about cars, Sarah and I decided to put the car in neutral to save gas, thinking we could just roll down the hill. Sliding down the switch backs with the full weight of the car on the breaks, we quickly realized how wrong we were.
“There’s no point worrying right?” I said to Sarah as we rolled down the windows, finally sitting at a dead stop at the bottom of Bohemia Mountain. The smell of burnt breaks suffocated the small interior, as we breathed out with relief, yet still 4o miles from the nearest gas station. “Well, we will either make it back to town or….not.”