October 8, 2012

You can hear the echos of pioneer kids saying, "How long till we get there?"

Summit Meadow
After hiking the Pioneer Bridal Trail up Laurel Hill recently, I checked out a couple of easily accessible spots nearby where remnants of the Barlow Trail still exist. These sites are on or near the pass leading to Government Camp. Three of the spots are only a few steps from a parking area. The other site demands a short hike to see what must have been one of the, if not the most, daunting sections of the Oregon Trail.

Bridge over Still Creek and Barlow Trail beyond
Beginning at the easternmost point, a drive down into Still Creek Campground, located on the south side of Highway 26, just past the turnoff to Timberline Lodge, leads to a portion of the Barlow Trail located directly across from camp spot #1. Here, a small bridge spans tiny Still Creek, and the Barlow Trail continues beyond.
Headstones at Pioneer Cemetery

Beyond the campground, on Perry Vickers Road, lies a small graveyard surrounded by an old, rickety fence. Apparently, there are 3 grave sites here, but I saw only two headstones. Below one of the headstones lie the bones of Vickers, who was a toll keeper at Summit Meadows, located across the road from the cemetery. The large meadow, consisting of tall grass, was a favorite stop along the Barlow Trail. Here, pioneers rested, fed their livestock. Perry Vickers built a cabin at the meadow, which was the toll house.
Mt. Hood from Summit Meadow
Returning to Highway 26, I drove west and parked in the parking lot for Ski Bowl. Here, a thin island of trees remains between the parking lot and Highway 26. I entered the wooded area across the parking lot from the Ski Bowl buildings and found another portion of the Barlow Trail. A small sign on a tree pointed out that the dirt road was indeed where pioneers once traveled.
Barlow Trail near Ski Bowl
From there I continued west on Highway 26, down the west slope to the small parking area located on the south side of the highway. Here, an Oregon Heritage sign points out another section of the Barlow Trail, where pioneers probably did some head shaking when they saw what they were in for.
Stairway to old Mt. Hood Highway
Several steps lead up to the old Mt. Hood Loop Highway, which was built in the 1920s and since closed. Once the old road is reached, a quick jaunt to the right leads to one of the many chutes used to lower pioneer wagons down the steep slopes of Laurel Hill. This chute, on the uphill side of the road, is called chute #3. The lower part of the chute was covered during the construction of the old highway.
Wagon route near chute #3
Here, the top soil is worn from the slope, leaving only boulders and rocks. At the top of this hill, which is accessible by hiking a trail further up the road, the pioneers cut down large trees to drag behind the wagons. The logs acted as a brake and, along with ropes wrapped around trees and attached to the wagons, kept their vehicles from careening down the steep slope. Sliding wagons and brakes digging into the ground eventually turned up and exposed enough boulders to render a chute unusable. This is why there is believed to be 5 different chutes along the slopes of Laurel Hill. When one wore out, they extended the trail a little further west and then started another one.
From bottom of chute #3
In a previous post about the Barlow Trail, I wrote about the determination and courage these people traveling this trail possessed. There surely were times when they asked themselves, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” When they arrived at the top of one of the chutes, they surely said something more like, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
From top of chute #3
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