A Recount of a Fall Day in Oregon’s Willamette Valley

Follow along with Fall Foliage expert Gabrielle Lent explores a Fall day in the Eugene, Cascades & Coast.

Colors in nature are looking great. Something about the rain and bleakness of knowing that winter is coming really makes their lingering visual truly potent. The multifaceted gradients of maples in this town are defying the rain and bleakness and in a dying effort, demand your eyes! They got me and they got mine. I found myself with a surprise day off and a friend with a car, looking for adventure. We decided to seize the day by embarking on a hunt for fall color.

Driving out of Eugene, we took River Road past the suburbs and into farm land. It is now late morning, nearly 10:30 a.m. after coffee at Noisette, and the clouds are still rising off the earth. As they elevate, they float past sheep and cows grazing peacefully together at home in their field. The beautiful green and golden fields are neatly bordered by trees. Most have lost their leaves for the season though a spectacular few still peek through red, dulled slightly by the fog. We take a right on Love Lake Road, and continue on to Noraton.

The sun begins to rise behind the trees. Sure enough, a rainbow is beginning to form in the mist. Vibrant barns appear poetic in the fields they live. It is hard to believe its mid November though that’s exactly how it feels. To the right in a field with a purple sky geese flock by the seemingly hundreds. I’m reminded of the movie Take Shelter with Michael Shannon, when it starts to rain. We pass under low-clearance graffiti-crowned bridges that mark where roads occasionally flood in the winter. In the mist, the rainbow is still there and everything is so pretty from the passenger seat.

We follow country switchbacks to Old River Road, where every sheep in the field looks to have its own bird on its back. It’s cute. Soon we reach

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William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. We are welcomed by gravel
road, light rain and a nice stand of yellow, beyond which horizons remain a dangerous shade of periwinkle.  Twisted, dark wood tree trunks lay as elegantly in swamp land as a chaise lounge. We pass signs for Turtle Flats and Homer Campbell Trail, each offering a unique viewpoint.

We continue along this stunning road to Woodpecker Loop Trail where there’s a porta-potty the same electric blue as my raincoat. Its backdrop is dew dripped and alive for the season.

This is an oak savanna, and though many leaves now cover the path, many left on trees pop in enthusiastic fits amidst the lush and thriving greenery of a forest in late fall. We reach a lookout point and even through the last waning haze of a frosty morning, everything about the landscape seems in color. Not in a flashy way, but in the unassuming, muted sense of a beauty wisely aged. Birds chirp and we try to match them by color to the trail’s interpretive signs.

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Start of Woodpecker Loop

We step over newts that strut forward and hear rain hit leaves before splashing to the ground. We reach a crossroads drawn like a page from a whimsical story and pick up the trail for Mill Hill. Here, we are walking through the kind of forest that makes you feel you’re the first to discover it. Everything is so fresh, yet so mature; a perfect harmony of lifespan within the season.

We pass Gray Creek, a beaver pond but spot none. As the sun shines its afternoon light on the butterscotch of maples, we make our way back to the car. The rain has stopped. Over two hours have passed, and we’ve trekked a thoughtful six miles.

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A newt underfoot along the hike

We stop for lunch in Corvallis at an Asian Fusion and Italian Gelato restaurant called Koriander. It came recommended was quite good. Afterwards we head along the river path on 1st Street, a scenic footpath being utilized today by bicyclists, joggers and some who stop just to gaze upon the Willamette. I spy a statue of sea otters before we turn the corner. We drink hot chocolates with whipped cream and caramel at Allan Brothers and say goodbye to Corvallis.

For a change of scene, we take Peoria Road back to Eugene. We pass orchards and hundreds of blueberry bushes blazing in red chartreuse. I see five scarecrows in a field, staggered in their placement, each wearing a helmet and cape with arms outspread.

They look like superheroes taking on the wind. We roll through Harrisburg and down Coburg Road, gently easing back into the traffic of downtown’s rush hour.

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A Fork in the Path

The day has come full circle. I’m left feeling so happy to have had this time outdoors, this pleasant country drive and this wonderful company. I had a surprise day off and I spent I hunting for fall color. This has been a perfect autumn day in Eugene, Cascades & Coast.

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