by Jennifer Bevacqua – Portland Mom to Al, 4 years and Auggie, 2 ½ years – May 2012
The Opal Creek Wilderness area, within the Willamette National Forest, is yet another pristine Oregon gem. My husband, myself and our two children – Al, 4 years and Auggie, 2 ½ years – attended the Amphibian Adventure Workshop last weekend through the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. Our guided group consisted of about 18 people – half adults, and half children aged 2-8 years.
We parked at a trailhead at the end of a windy forest road, met with our group and guide (Logan), and hiked 3 miles on gravel road (no significant elevation gain) into Jawbone Flats. You know it has got to be neat with a name like Jawbone Flats! We were able to use our all-terrain jogging stroller easily for our 2 ½ year old though I look forward to the day when he can complete such a hike on his own power! On our hike we learned about the history of Jawbone Flats, that it was a small mining town created in the 1930s which was left abandoned years ago. The Ancient Forest Center organization now maintains the area.
Upon entering the town of Jawbone Flats (population=9), we were struck by the Old West feel. In addition to the old rusted mining equipment, there are old rusted cars which make a great photo opportunity.
After an educational art project discussing about a dozen amphibians (mostly drawing/coloring, learning about amphibian habitat and such), another guide, Tucker, took our group to a hidden spot along a creek to search for amphibians. Immediately the kids found more rough-skinned newts than I can count! With guidance on being gentle, the kids were able to catch and hold the newts easily. Boys, girls, parents and children alike had a blast. I personally can’t believe how adorable newts are – so soft, with pudgy little hands/feet!
Dinner was buffet-style in the rustic northwest-style lodge, next to a warm fireplace. Dessert of gingerbread cookies was especially yummy for my boys. In the evening, we went frog hunting at a small pond. My frog-phobic husband even had a good time (though he didn’t go so far as to touch one). One dad did get his daughter to lick a slug after telling her it would make her tongue go numb (she thought that would be neat)!
Our group’s lodgings consisted of two 4-bedroom cabins. The cabins were spacious and nicer than I had anticipated (I was expecting something more rustic – like a one-room cabin with no heat). These were well heated (from the hydroelectric off-the-grid generator), clean, and had a fully furnished kitchen. My family had all the privacy we needed in a large bedroom with three beds.
The next morning Al and I awoke early and went on our own crack-of-dawn amphibian hunt, which was fruitful for more newts! A hot breakfast back in the main lodge was yummy. After breakfast, the group strolled over to view Opal Pool then Tucker gave us a tour of the sustainability side of Jawbone Flats. Last but not least, on our hike out, we found an Ensatina (salamander) as icing on the cake. We would definitely recommend this adventure for families with children over age 2, but the amphibian theme will be most appreciated by those ages 4 or more. Definitely bring plenty of extra clothes for the kids, because they are bound to get wet and/or muddy in the streams and ponds.
Jennifer and her family were invited to attend the Amphibian Adventure Workshop at no charge on behalf of PDX Kids Calendar.