BOOK REVIEW: Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon by Adam Sawyer

NOTE: Adam will be at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne on August 21 at 7:30pm to talk about this book (info).

A few weeks ago I took my kids to a waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge. My guide for the hike, Portland’s Adam Sawyer. He’s written lots about nature and travel in the Pacific Northwest, and in July he had his first book published:

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Adam Sawyer, Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes (Guilford, CT: FalconGuides/Globe Pequot Press, 2014), 224 pp.

We hiked to Wahkeena Falls, which is just a little west of Oregon’s most visited waterfall, Multnomah Falls. Check out photos from my Facebook page here. Adam’s guide consists of descriptions of 83 waterfalls across the state, organized by region. I love the beautiful full-color photographs included. Sometimes in hiking and other recreation guides, black and white images just don’t do the places justice. Waterfalls need to be in color! Great decision, Adam & FalconGuides. It’s amazing to think that all the water that rains down on the mountains and melts from the snowpack in Oregon eventually makes its way to the Pacific Ocean. Being present as water thunderously cascades over cliffsides or more gently washes over moss-covered rocks puts you in a fleeting moment of water’s long descent to sea level. Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon is a perfect companion to finding those moments.

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Patrick, Afton, and I at Wahkeena Falls

I asked Adam a few questions about his new book, and I appreciate his taking the time out of his always-busy schedule (seriously, follow along on his Facebook page, this guy does not slow down) to answer them.

How did you come about writing a guidebook about Oregon waterfalls?

In my previous career I was an information technology specialist. While living in Florida I accepted a position in Vancouver, Washington. A driving force behind this decision was the fact that I had yet to live in the Northwest. I didn’t think I was going to like it, but as a wanderer, I wanted to check the area off my list.

After a few months of work and settling in, my family and I took a drive into the Columbia River Gorge on a warm summer day and my life was changed. I had never seen a waterfall before, and suddenly they were everywhere. Children were swimming in their splash pools, families were getting their photos taken in front of them, and some people were walking along paths that led to the top of them and beyond. I was stunned.

I was never much of a nature person. I didn’t grow up hiking. But I was so taken by what I had witnessed on that first trip into the gorge that weekend excursions to waterfalls quickly became the norm. Soon thereafter, weekday trips after work crept into my schedule. Seeking out new waterfalls became an addiction. At the same time, I was growing more and more dissatisfied with my career. Staff reductions in the company I worked for meant an increased workload. I was on-call half of the time, and on-call backup the other half. I slept with a BlackBerry on my pillow and more often than not woke up numerous times throughout the evening to address work issues. But the money was good. And I thought that if I could sock enough of it away, I could retire early and live life.

My obsession with the outdoors was escalating at the same rate that my job satisfaction was plummeting. I had a view of Mount Hood from my office and it was quickly becoming a serious distraction. I was no longer an effective employee and I was no longer willing to sacrifice my physical and mental well-being so that someday I could enjoy life, assuming I was still able to do so. So I quit.

With the support of my family, we downsized our lives and I left my career as an IT specialist behind. I settled into outdoor and travel writing, and somehow caught the eye of Falcon Guides. When they approached me to write a guidebook about the waterfall hikes of Oregon I had to pinch myself.

Can you share your favorite family-friendly (for younger children) waterfall hikes near Portland?

Sure! Wahclella Falls might be my favorite. It’s only a total of two miles, there’s an unimaginably beautiful grotto around the falls with tons of water access, and an explorable cave! Another waterfall hike great for little ones is Bridal Veil Falls. It’s a short but sweet hike down to the base of Bridal Veil, but there’s also an upper loop that explores some view-laden bluffs complete with interpretive displays and picnic benches.

I know your daughter spent a lot of time with you exploring waterfalls as you researched this book. Can you share any favorite “children in nature” moments with her?

That would have to be her first backpacking trip into the Opal Creek Wilderness. She was only five, but was chomping at the bit go with me on a car-less camping trip. This was the first time we experienced Slide Falls. The almost-too-good-to-be-true waterslide takes one quick turn and a dip before delivering you into a perfect splash pool. We spent an hour or more there, and it might be the happiest I’ve ever seen her. We then continued up to Cedar Flats, our home for the evening. The ancient grove of 1000-year old cedars is a truly special place for many reasons. Not the least of which being that it’s a spot we return to every so often; commemorating our first ever daddy/daughter backpacking trip.

Thank you, Adam! And thank you for putting together a great guide for exploring in nature in the Pacific Northwest. Our copy will find a happy home on our shelf and in our car. May Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon get more families out on the trail, and experiencing the beautiful waterfalls of our state.

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