Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hiking Opal Creek Trailhead to Jawbone Flats

How can one not be drawn into a hiking area that leads to an abandoned rustic mining camp named Jawbone Flats and wanders through the abandoned site of the Little North Santiam Mining District?

We were intrigued since first hearing about the area some months ago.  On Tuesday September 22nd  Troubadour and I had the opportunity to go explore and enjoyed just under an 8 mile hike/walk in the woods.

According to
"Jawbone Flats was started some time around 1930 as a mining town. Mining continued in the area until 1992, when the Shiny Rock Mining company donated land in the area to the fledgling Friends of Opal Creek. In 1996, the area surrounding the town became part of the Opal Creek Wilderness and Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area.
Today the town is run by the same group, now renamed the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. The town is being restored as a historic center and outdoor museum of the mining era. The cabins here can be rented."
We left the house taking the trusty Subaru, and an hour and a half later were at the trail head. Our route on the map below.

On the map below you see a close up of the awesome road we took when heading North out of Mehama.  It was called Little North Fork Road.  Beautiful and twisty.  The pavement was perfect, well, all except for the mile or so of gravel where they were repairing the road from a slide.  

We arrived at the trail head and were surprised with how many cars were already there on a Tuesday.  We expected less mid week.

(Trail head at Opal Creek)

We put on our jackets and headed out.  The weather was pleasantly cool and the sky just clearing to brilliant blue.

The way to Jawbone flats is an abandoned/primitive mining road.  Still the original route the miners took back in the day.  A few bridges have been repaired and half bridges added where the roadway gives way to a steep canyon.

(Tall trees in those forests)

(New looking bridge)

(Series of half bridges so no one falls into the canyon)

(The longest half bridge)

We strolled along taking in the fresh air and smells of the forest stopping here and there for photographs.  We were in no hurry.

(The Santiam One Mine)

(Closed by a bat-friendly grate)

(Some beautiful old trees in this area)

(Some had very interesting bark)

(Some had fallen some time ago)

(And some were covered in moss)
About 2 miles in we encountered the rusting abandoned machinery of Merten Mill.  The mill was operated for a brief period of time during the Depression. They used two winches from the battleship USS Oregon, but the mill folded after two of the lumber trucks fell off the narrow canyon road.  All artifacts of the mill are protected by federal law.

"Originally Merten Mills produced lumber for the Amalgamated Mines.  Lumber was also transported to a lumber company in Lyons, Oregon.  Remnants of equipment used in the sawmill are on site and include two steam driven capstans salvaged from the battleship Oregon, the original steam boiler, tracks, wheels, axle assemblies, and log carriage."

(Steam capstan believed to be from the battleship Oregon)

(Steam Boiler)

(Crumbling base of steam boiler)

(Old equipment storage shed dating back to original sawmill)

Another 0.2 miles and we came to a fork in the road.  The right fork would lead over a 100 foot bridge to a trail or the left fork, which would stay on the road to Jawbone Flats.  We peeked at the bridge and then took the road.

A little further and we officially entered Jawbone Flats; home to 12 residents during the summer that work at the camp.

"The most ambition development of the Little North Santiam Mining District began in 1930 by the Amalgamated Mining and Milling Company led by James Hewitt.  Between 1930-1934 the company employed a crew of about 70 men who constructed and lived in Jawbone Flats and Upper Ruth Camp and built four miles of road, an ore mill, a log dam, a flume line, and a sawmill that processed 20 acres of timber supply lumber for these products."

(Opal Creek got its name from Roy Elliott, a District Ranger on the Willamette National Forest
 from 1923-1934. he named it after his wife Opal after a visit to inspect the mining work taking
 place in the area.  Opal Creek had formerly been known a Boulder Creek)

(Anyone remember David Bradley plowman/tractors?)

(Company Store still open on weekends to sell snack and drinks - notice the Campbell's Soup barrel on the porch)

(The Commissary - where miners would get supplies like digging equip, drilling gear, 
and explosives - now a classroom and laboratory space)
As we walked through Jawbone Flats the signs said to cross the bridge, walk beyond the Pelton Shed Building then turn right and walk through the meadow. "Jawbone flats is off the grid so they are not connected to any municipal water supply.  Inside the shed is a Pelton Wheel, invented in 1870's to convert rushing water into electricity."

(Troubadour and the Pelton Shed)

(Water exiting the Pelton shed)
We walked by the shed and made the right turn and this is where things got interesting. Before we could get to the meadow we encountered a graveyard of all things steel.

This was just a few of the many items that had been abandoned.  If Jawbone didn't give off such a weird non-welcoming vibe we might have hung around and explored a little longer.  As it was, not one person said hello while we were there.  It was just odd. We were hoping to find a nice spot to have our picnic lunch, but someone had music blaring so we pressed on.

We were glad we did.  Along a little trail we came to Opal Pool.  There wasn't much of a pool after the dry summer we've had, but there was a neat bridge and a log with a view for dining.

(Cool old bridge over Opal Creek)

(Opal Pool)

(Lunch view to the left)

(Lunch view to the right)

(View a little to the right - Opal Pool)

(Troubadour photographing a chipmunk - we sat on the log to have lunch)

(Photo by Troubadour - chipmunk was eating a piece of bread with seeds in it)
After finishing our lunch and talking to the chipmunk, we decided we'd follow the forest trail instead of heading back towards the gravel road and Jawbone Flats.  We knew if we kept the river on our right we'd be heading the right direction.  We were pretty sure the trail would end up back at the fork in the road with the bridge a mere 2.2 miles from the trail head.

(A nice deserted forest trail)
There were even several campsites nestled amongst the trees.  Quite a hike to pack your things in and out though.

(Troubadour in one of the campsites)
We saw one large fungus on a tree along the trail.  And one small fungus of a different type along the ground.

(Fungus on the tree)

(My hand for size reference)

(Fungus on the ground - Wild Coral Mushroom perhaps)
The further we walked the more intrigued we were by the scenery.

(The bridge looked rickety but was stable)

(Photo by Troubadour)

(A look ahead at the trail)

(Old wood and stumps were covered in varying shades of green)

(A little log bridge)

(To practice my balance skills)

(and, it made a nice place to sit)

(And had a nice view of the creek)

(And of the trees - photo by Troubadour)
We arrive at the bridge by the road.  At least our navigation skills aren't lacking.  The lighting was different by this time of the afternoon. The sun was lower in the sky.

(The bridge back at the gravel road)

(I thought the trees reflecting in the water was quite pretty)
From here we took the gravel road the 2.2 miles back to the car.  Along the way we realized how much of a difference there was in walking on the gravel as opposed to the spongy forest trail.  We much preferred the trail, as did our feet, knees, and hips.

It was close to 5 pm when the car came into view.  We took a quick break and headed down the mountain.  We went out for dinner when we got back into town and didn't get home until close to 8 pm.

It was nice to get out and hike for a few hours and see some history at the same time.

- Au Revoir

" Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.  As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature's sources never fail." - John Muir


  1. What a great combination. I love a hike with some educational value. Oh, how I still miss that rain forest.

    1. I too like a little education with my hikes. We love to walk through the forests and soak up all the foresty goodness.

  2. Cool looking stuff you found in that iron/steel graveyard....too bad about the ambient "vibes" that prevented further exploring.

    1. It was an odd vibe, but we got to see some really cool things.

    2. Thanks for posting this review. I always wanted to do this hike, but didn't know about the condition of the road to the trailhead. Now I'm making my plans. LOVED the photos. Happy hiking!

    3. You are very welcome. Happy Hiking to you as well!!

  3. Ahh, that's my kind of adventure: snooping around a ghost(ish) town and old mine debris. I'll always go out of my way hiking or riding to investigate such spots. In Utah and eastern Nevada the debris usually is quite visible, as it takes a while for the desert to overgrow the remains. I can't help but wonder what wonderful remains your forests have already reclaimed or concealed.

    That's weird about the cold reception. Maybe those folks have been long enough removed from greater society that they're becoming some sort of strange hill-people... Any idea how many hikers have gone missing in Jawbone? Mwah-ha-ha...

    1. I can only imagine how much was overtaken by our rain forests and blackberry vines. Those things will hide anything.

      Having taken a peek at their brochure and what they charge for a weekend of "learning" I am sure it was because we were merely hikers and not affluent enough to afford $500 weekends with them.

      The continuing story of a missing hiker......dun dun dun..........

  4. Wow, what a post! I enjoy finding places like that. Interesting trails attached to the side of the mountain sides. Didn't take the bikes in?

    1. Sorry, the post was a little heavy on photos. I did narrow them down.

      It was neat seeing all the old machinery. We didn't ride the bicycles. They were only allowed on the road to Jawbone Flats and we couldn't have ridden them on the side trail. We were wishing for the dirt bikes more than a time or two.

  5. Magnificent combination of things to see. Never too many pictures. Always too many people so it's just as well they kept you to yourselves.

    1. Thank you. And I agree, the fewer the people the better. For as many cars as we saw in the lot we didn't see a lot of people walking. In fact the whole time we were on the single track trail on the other side of the river, we didn't see a single person, just the way we like it.

  6. Absolutely beautiful trail for hiking. Even the trail in the woods looked very well groomed with spectacular scenery all around. There's something about old, rusting machinery ... it becomes almost art in it's surroundings doesn't it.

    1. The trail through the woods was in surprisingly good shape. You almost bounced when you walked on it, it was spongy.

      I thought the old machinery from the mill site was quite artsy. I was caught between wanting to take pictures and soaking it all in.

  7. what a great lot of photos
    looks like there is a lot to see there in the artifacts of old relics
    love that sort of stuff
    thanks for taking us along on the trip

    1. Thank you. It is nice when there are sights to see along the trail immersed in nature.

  8. What great photos! What a great hiking area! I just love those old abandoned cars and trucks, very interesting, I don't hike much but if I was there I might be more inclined to do so, wonderful scenery, great post Brandy.

    1. Thank you!! It is getting the time of year when it is cooling off and the trails are just begging to be hiked. (and ridden on two wheels like in my next post)

  9. What a wonderful location. I think old mining towns everywhere are endlessly fascinating. Great photos.

    1. Thank you Theo, I thought you might find those old bits of rust interesting.

  10. Great post! What a cool place to explore. It's a shame folks weren't more friendly. The big fungus sorta looked like a frog head. :-)

    I enjoyed your pics, as usual. You have a very good eye. I liked the graveyard for all things metal, too.

    1. Thank you Kathy. I never thought of a frog's head when looking at the fungus. I will now.

  11. The photos are beautiful, but I want to be there too, tromping the trail, seeing the sights, and smelling those wonderful forest smells. Somehow the pictures just aren't the same.

    1. Thank you Julie. I am sure you would love wandering the woods in Oregon and taking the kayak out too.