Monday, May 25, 2015


Oregon Hwy 138 is a scenic highway that primarily follows the course of the Umpqua River.  It runs from Diamond Lake in the Cascades, to the small town of Elkton, where Hwy. 38 can take you the rest of the way to the Oregon coast.  It joins the I-5 briefly at Sutherlin where we were staying for a week which made it easy for us to explore. 

The Rochester covered bridge
A couple of miles west of Sutherlin a short detour from Hw 138 proper will bring you to the Rochester covered bridge which crosses over the Calapooya Creek.  This 80 foot long bridge was built in 1933 and is still in daily use by the locals in the area.  Covering the bridges kept the sun and rain off the support beams and can tripel or quadruple the life of a wooden bridge.  Because of the endless rain here, covering the bridges was pretty standard and at one time there were more than 300 covered bridges in the state.  As wood has been replaced by concrete as the bridge building material of choice, that number has dwindled to about fifty.  Covering a concrete bridge is expensive and unnecessary.

In the late 1950s when urban renewal fervor hit the US, some of the powers that been in Douglas County felt that it was time to replace all the old wooden bridges with new concrete models.  Another covered span nearby got mysteriously torched one night and the locals around Sutherlin were afraid the Rochester Bridge might be the next on the list, so the community got out their hunting rifles and stood guard over the bridge at night.  The county commisioners decided modernization wasn't worth an armed stand-off and took the Rochester Bridge off the replacement list which is why we have it to admire today.  By 1969, preservation was more fashionable and the bridge got remodeled at county expense, replacing weather worn structural components to make it safe for another generation.

The Umpqua River
Beyond the bridge, Hwy 138 meanders through the hills.  We took it all the way to Elkton before we turned back.  Whenever I leave Southern California, it takes me a while to get use to how wet and green other places can be.  The road goes through a mixture of forests and farm/ranch lands that to my desert weary eyes were as beautiful as anywhere you could want to go.

The Winchester Dam with the fish ladder on the left.
At Sutherlin the 138 joins the I-5 for a few miles going south to Roseburg.  Along this short stretch it passes the Winchester Dam. This structure was built in 1890 and was originally only 4 feet high and made out of wood.  This was replaced by a 16 foot concrete dam in 1907.  The dam created a fresh water reservoir for Roseburg and was used to generate hydroelectric power until 1923.  Now it's not used for anything as far as I could find out, but it has been designated as a national historic site, so they can't just dynamite the thing. 

Ziva develops an interest in fish
In order for fish to reach their spawning grounds a fish ladder was installed at the north end of the dam.  By descending a nearly infinite number of stairs you can visit the ladder and view desperately horny salmon and steelhead trout through a couple of large plexiglass windows.  They also video the fish so some poor technician can count them and make notes about ID tags and predator scars and whatever else the fish and game biologists want to know.  I enjoyed viewing the fish for a few minutes, but being a professional fish counter sounds like possibly the most boring job on the planet.  I would think that after a month you would start talking to the fish.  After 6 months, they would start talking back.

Colliding Rivers
At Roseburg our highway leaves the I-5 going through the middle of old town  and heads toward the Cascade Mountains.  About 12 miles east a sign marks the turn off for the Colliding Rivers Visitor Center.  Here the Little River and the North Umpqua River meet head on before the now merged North Umpqua continues on toward the sea.  When there is a lot of water flowing it is apparently an impressive site but the day we were there it was pretty calm.  It is a little hard to make out from the photo but the view is from the top of the T with the North Umpqua to the left and the Little River coming in from the right.  If I had thought about it I would have taken a video instead.  I have trouble remembering all of the capabilities of my smart phone.

Lunch alone
We stopped at a roadside park to eat our picnic lunch.  It was right on the river, beautiful with grassy areas and about 9 or 10 nice picnic tables  And we were THE ONLY ONES THERE.  It's astonishing to me that places this nice get ignored, even if it is before memorial day.  Folks up here don't know how good they have it.

Hwy 138 runs on the north side of the North Umpqua River.  Immediately on the other side of the river is the North Umpqua Trail, a 79 mile trail for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.  Every 8 or 10 miles there is either a car or foot bridge across the river
Tioga Bridge
to provide access to the trail.  We stopped at one such, the Tioga Bridge, which was completed in 2012.  Formerly at this spot sat the Youngs Bay Bridge, but it was washed out during a flood in 1964. Given that the bridge sits about 100 ft above the current level of the river, that must have been some flood. The new bridge sits on the concrete piers left from the old one.  Interestingly, the wooden bridge was built along the side of Hwy 138, then lifted with a giant crane and set down on the concrete piers.  We crossed the span so we could say we saw the North Umpqua Trail.  We did not hike the 8 miles to the next foot bridge, though I think the dogs were up for it.

Rarin' to go.
There are supposedly a number of nice waterfalls within reasonable walking distance of the road a bit further up the mountain and our intention was to visit a couple of them, but as we moved deeper into the Cascades the sky got progressively darker and then started to produce some serious rain.  Did we let that stop us?  You bet we did.  We tucked our tails between our legs and hightailed it back to Sutherlin.  We were due to move out for the coast the next day, so waterfalls will have to wait for another visit.

1 comment:

  1. I once commented to Jim that as much as he liked fish I think even he would get bored being a fish counter. I'm glad they were able to preserve that covered bridge. Makes you wonder how many other beautiful things were destroyed in the name of progress. Rain would have stopped me also.