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Picnicking on the Smith River

It was a lovely Autumn day. Still warm enough out for summer clothes with a cool breeze on occasion. The sun was shining and we were determined to head out and take a long drive to experience the Fall colors. Growing up in the desert, neither of us had really experienced Fall the way the majority of the country has. We had very few trees that changed color. Our indication of Fall was cooler nights – finally after months of 80º weather well into the nights – and trees losing their leaves.

We packed a lunch and hopped into the Blumebulance (our ambulance turned camper van). We drove North from Lakeside past Reedsport, past the Umpqua River, up to the Smith River. We were hopeful to see the grand set of waterfalls there near the top of the river as you head East. The crayola box of colors danced all around us as we drove. Reds, oranges, yellows, and greens filled the landscapes, set against the blue water of the river. The water was clear and we could see the other-worldly rock formations beneath it where the water had swirled and rippled, creating shapes that one would expect to see on the surface of the moon.

As we rounded each bend, the scenery was increasingly beautiful. Our mouths appropriately open, jaws on the floor. My love, Dennis, was driving and I was taking photos every few minutes, astounded by the view. We came to a long, straight piece of road lined with trees in every color on either side, creating a canopy of color and light over the road as we passed through like champions after a football game running through the line of cheerleaders.

Passing a couple of turn-offs, we made the choice to continue on the road we started out on, convinced there would be signs directing us to the famous falls. Of course, we’ve since learned that Oregon certainly isn’t California in so many ways and one of the big ones is signage. Many of the incredible places in Oregon don’t have any signage at all. Directions are hard to be found and often sought after by the out of state traveler. Sometimes one might find directions that include turning left after the big boulder, and right at the 100 year old tree. Not realizing we might have needed directions to find the falls, we ventured out of our own accord, no directions or plan in sight.

Driving deeper into the forest and farther up the river, we began to wonder if we missed a sign or a well-marked turn off (keep in mind we didn’t yet know about the lack of signage). Just as we were considering making a u-turn, we spotted waterfalls! While they weren’t very tall like the images we had viewed, they were massive across and there were lots of them situated in this sort of little oasis in the middle of the river filled with waterfalls and pools of water swirling about. We decided to stop and at the very least check out this beautiful spot. Dennis parked the van and as we exited, we found a little trail down to the river and the “mini” falls. I grabbed our picnic lunch and we walked down the river to the top of the falls. There was a nice area that almost seemed to be made of cobblestone or pebbles, perfect for sitting and having our picnic. I had made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, brought a bag of cheese tortilla chips, and waters – one of my favorite picnic lunches as it does not need to be refrigerated and can last well into the evening if plans change and they become a snack for later.

I sat on the pebbled area and got our lunch out. We began munching and looking all around us, taking in the immense beauty of our surroundings. We barely spoke, just listening to the sound of the falling water and the rush of the river over the rocks. I remarked to my love that this was better than any lunch in a five star restaurant as I wiggled my feet back and forth in sheer excitement of the place. He replied that it was of course better than any five star restaurant because we were literally surrounded by waterfalls, Fall colored trees, and the sounds of nature. How could it get any better? How could it, indeed.

Dennis went exploring across the massive river to the other side of the falls, checking out more of the space around us. I sat and sunbathed, relaxing to the soothing sounds of water. We spent more than an hour there, just enjoying the space. Eventually, we packed up everything and headed back to the van to drive on a bit and see what we might find up the road before nightfall. We drove through more winding roads layered with evergreens and reds, yellows and oranges. We passed an old growth tree that was as large as an Redwood – it even had its own plaque!

Dusk began to set and it was time to turn back towards home. We turned around and I drove home so that my love could have a break from the driving and so that he too could experience the beauty unencumbered by the duties of keeping his eyes on the road. It was a lovely drive home and rather quick. We’ll certainly be visiting the mini-falls on the Smith River again someday and we’ll definitely be heading back to find the “big” falls soon, next time with some directions.

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Illustration by Blume Bauer ©

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