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SW Washington SW Washington Coast Trip report Washington

Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-Tailed Deer – 06/11/2022

Another rainy weekend was in the forecast which had us questioning whether or not it was worth heading out. Our original plan had involved a hike with mountain views so we wanted to save that for a day with a clearer forecast. This had us looking for something that wasn’t view dependent. The Julia Butler Hansen Refuge a.k.a the Columbian White-Tailed Deer Refuge fit that bill and was on our schedule during the month of June in 2025. I had it penciled in for June due to one of the trails in the refuge, the Center Road Trail, only being open to hiking from June through September. While a refuge hike is typically okay on a rainy overcast day it had poured Friday and we were expecting Saturday to be similar and weren’t keen on driving over two hours to be drenched for an entire 12 mile hike. Friday evening we had all but decided to take the weekend off but just to be sure I pulled up the NOAA forecast for the refuge. To our surprise there was just a 10% chance of showers in the morning followed by partly sunny skies and a high in the low 60s. That sold us and we got our packs ready for a 5am departure the next morning.

After a brief conversation with a very friendly Washington State Trooper (I completely missed a 45mph sign and was given a warning) we pulled into the refuge HQ (open Mon-Fri 7:30am – 4pm). We had gotten the hike for this idea from the “more hikes” section of Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Oregon Coast & Coast Range” guidebook as well as an entry in the Oregon Hikers Field Guide describes a 6.1 mile loop, which for reasons that will become evident later, is no longer possible. (I have contacted both with updated information.)
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IMG_2440A damp and cloudy morning.

IMG_2445Swallow

Our plan had been to to the described loop but after reaching the far end of the loop we were going to do an out-and-back along Steamboat and Brooks Slough Roads to add a little hiking time since a six mile loop would likely violate our rule of not having our driving time be greater than our hiking time on day trips. From the HQ we walked out of the parking lot onto Steamboat Slough Road and turned right crossing Indian Jack Slough. The loop description was to then turn right through a gate into the refuge shed/garage yard.
IMG_2441Indian Jack Slough and the garage from Refuge HQ.

The gate, including a secondary pedestrian gate were padlocked and there were “Area Closed” signs on the driveway gate. This was a bit unexpected, but shouldn’t have been if we’d have read the Refuge website more closely. What we discovered after our hike was that at some point a 0.3 section of Center Road, from Steamboat Slough Road west, had been closed to the public making the loop impossible and leaving the Center Road Trail as a 5 mile round trip out-and-back. At this point though we weren’t sure what was going on so we decided to simply head out Steamboat Slough Road and were prepared to skip Center Road and make the hike a simple out-and-back.
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Beyond the shed/garage there was a living quarters and just beyond that we spotted the first Columbian White-tailed deer of the day.
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We followed this road for 2.3 miles to the start of the White-tail Trail. It is possible to drive to this trail and park at the nearby dead end of Steamboat Slough Road.
IMG_2465Elochoman Slough

IMG_2473The first of many bald eagles we spotted (atop the dead tree across the slough).

IMG_2489Working on drying out.

IMG_2475Lots of non-native yellow flag iris in the area.

IMG_2494Little birds such as this sparrow were everywhere but rarely sat still.

IMG_2501A different eagle waiting to dry.

IMG_2503There are at least 5 birds in the tree including four goldfinches.

IMG_2507A male goldfinch takes off.

IMG_2513The morning clouds were starting to break up as forecasted.

IMG_2516One of many great blue herons.

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IMG_2539A male wood duck.

IMG_2545Another great blue heron with the female wood duck on the log below.

IMG_2548The first of several osprey.

IMG_2552Cattle in a field along the road.

IMG_2557Geese

IMG_2565Snail crossing the road.

IMG_2572Maybe a yellow warbler. I had to use the digital zoom to get between the branches so it’s not the clearest photo.

The start of the mile long White-tail trail which travels along a setback levee.
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IMG_2586There was a pole with a bunch of bird nests hung from it near the start of the trail. We’d never seen one like it before.

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It turned out to be nests for purple martins, a bird that as far as we know we hadn’t seen before.
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DSCN1586Bald eagle in the same area.

IMG_2597Slug on lupine

IMG_2600A different type of lupine.

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IMG_2605Lupine, daisies and yellow gland-weed.

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20220611_090020Bumble bee needing to dry out.

We spotted more white-tailed deer along the levee, a pair of young bucks.
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DSCN1653A look at the white tail. He gave us a better look but in that one he was also doing his business so we stuck with this uncentered, slightly blurry version.

There was also a great blue heron sitting in a nearby snag.
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While we were keeping an eye on the bucks and the heron to the inland side of the levee there were geese, ducks, and various small birds all around us.
DSCN1612Guessing marsh wren.

DSCN1637Ducks

DSCN1644Goose with goslings.

DSCN1651Common yellow throat.

DSCN1660Male gadwall?

We eventually tore ourselves away from the wildlife bonanza and continued on.
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DSCN1666There was pretty much non-stop bird song throughout the day.

IMG_2616Traffic on the Columbia River.

DSCN1668The Santa Maria on the Columbia.

DSCN1671Female brown-headed cowbird?

IMG_2619Flowers along the levee.

DSCN1676American robin

DSCN1677Red-winged blackbird chasing a heron.

When we reached the end of the White-tail Trail we turned right onto Steamboat Slough Road. You can also park near this end of the trail but you must come from the west as Steamboat Slough Road is missing a section (which is why you hike on the levee).
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We followed this two-lane version of the road for approximately 1.25 miles to a fork and turned right on Brooks Slough Road. After just 0.2 miles we passed the western end of the Center Road Trail. This end was clearly open. We talked ourselves into believing that either we missed where we were actually supposed to go or that they just hadn’t unlocked the gate yet since we were still unaware of the updated rules for the trail and decided that we would take this trail on our way back and we could do the loop after all.
IMG_2625 Note the sign does not indicate that you cannot reach the HQ from the road, it simply says it is 5 miles round trip. Online it adds that hikers must exit the trail the way they entered.

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IMG_2630Roses along the road.

DSCN1699Muskrat

DSCN1694Warbler

DSCN1716Osprey

IMG_2634Brooks Slough Road junction.

We turned right and followed this narrow one-lane road along Brooks Slough. For the first mile it ran parallel to Highway 4 then it veered away becoming a quieter walk.
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IMG_2645Another eagle sitting near the top of the first tall tree on the far side of the slough.

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IMG_2647Interesting shrub along the road.

IMG_2649The partly sunny skies had indeed materialized.

DSCN1748Kingfisher

DSCN1751California scrub jay

DSCN1755White pelicans

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IMG_2654Some sort of ornamental shrub/tree but it had cool flowers.

DSCN1771Turkey vulture

DSCN1786Couldn’t tell what type of ducks they were.

We followed the road for approximately 2 miles to what was shown on the GPS as Alger Creek.
IMG_2660Alger Creek somewhere in the grass flowing into Brooks Slough.

IMG_2661Pond on the other side of the road.

DSCN1788Black pheobe?

After a short break we headed back. It was actually starting to feel warm now but we distracted ourselves with even more wildlife.
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DSCN1798Red-tailed hawk

DSCN1803American goldfinch

DSCN1815Swallowtail

DSCN1825Cedar waxwing with a salmonberry.

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DSCN1850Goat lounging in a driveway across the highway. There had actually been a black goat in nearly the same spot on our first pass.

IMG_2669Caterpillar

When we got back to Center Road we reread the signage and stuck to our plan to try and complete the loop.
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We had been discussing all the different wildlife that we’d seen already and I mentioned that the only thing missing was a turtle. Not long after starting down Center Road I noticed something brown (that didn’t look like a cow) in the distance near the tree line. As I was staring at it a large set of antlers raised from the grass and I realized it was a bull elk.
DSCN1886The elk is in the center of the photo near the tree line.

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We watched him as he munched on grass for quite a while before moving on. At that point I said something to the effect of forgetting about the turtle because that was better. It wasn’t too much longer before we came to some more wetlands. Lo and behold there was a turtle.
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Many pictures followed before resuming our hike.
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Heather spotted a pair of egrets in a distant tree which proved impossible to get a decent picture of.
DSCN1910Here is a not so decent picture of the egrets.

We also startled up a pair of American bitterns.
DSCN1912One of the bitterns in flight.

After 2 miles we spotted a set of posts with signs where we finally understood that the Center Road Trail no longer runs the entire length of the roadbed now.
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We were less than half a mile from the HQ which was visible from where we were but we obeyed the signs and turned around. It would have been about a perfect distance for us as we were at the 12.1 mile mark when we had gotten to the closed area. Now we had to backtrack two miles on Center Road before the mile long White-tail Trail and the 2.3 mile road walk back to the HQ parking lot. Not only was this a lot longer than we’d planned but the surface had been mostly paved and what wasn’t paved was packed gravel road beds so our feet were really protesting as we retraced our steps.
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DSCN1924Heather spotted this garter snake along Center Road. Another animal to add to the days list.

IMG_2708Back at the White-tail Trail.

IMG_2711It had cooled down again which provided some relief as we trudged back.

DSCN1929A second turtle

DSCN1931Mallards

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IMG_2714Way more water in the afternoon.

DSCN1940Another kingfisher. It was in the same tree as the heron had been earlier that morning when we were watching the bucks.

DSCN1941Family swim

IMG_2719By Steamboat Slough Road we had all kinds of blisters/hotspots on our feet.

IMG_2725Arriving back at the refuge HQ.

I got to the car first, changed shoes and drove back to pick up Heather who was only about a quarter mile behind me. My GPS read 17.5 miles of almost entirely flat hiking.

Fortunately I had thought to bring my parents camera which has more powerful zoom than my point and shoot and also our binoculars which Heather had been using since there was so much wildlife to be seen. We encountered a couple of other hikers on the White-tail Trail as well as a pair of cyclists and several cars along the various roads but for the most part it was a fairly peaceful (long) hike. The one thing we kept coming back to was that if we hadn’t done the hike the we did we wouldn’t have seen some of the wildlife that we encountered. Was it worth the blisters though? You betcha – Happy Trails!

Flickr: Columbia White-tailed Deer Refuge

Categories
Coastal Range Eugene Hiking Oregon Trip report Willamette Valley

Clay Creek Trail and Fern Ridge Wildlife Area – 11/20/2021

A dry forecast on my birthday provided a great excuse to head out on our November hike. We had an unusually loose plan for this outing which consisted of a stop at the Clay Creek Trail followed by a visit to the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area with a third possible stop at Meadowlark Prairie. While the 2 mile hike on the Clay Creek Trail was covered in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Oregon Coast & Coast Range” we had very little information on the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area. There was enough information available on line to know that it was open to hiking but it was unclear just how long of a hike was possible which is why we were keeping the option of Meadowlark Prairie on the table. The mostly paved 14 mile long Fern Ridge Path passes along Meadowlark Prairie on its way into Eugene, OR which would have provided some extra hiking time if we’d felt that we needed it.

We started our morning by driving to the BLM managed Clay Creek Recreation Site. The hike here is one of two hike Sullivan lists under his Siuslaw Ridge Trails entry (featured hike #65, 4th edition). We had done the other hike at nearby Whittaker Creek in 2016 (post) and while we considered that earlier hike enough to check off the featured hike from our list completed this second short hike would complete it. We parked at a small pullout on the south side of the Siuslaw River.
IMG_7207The trailhead sign for the Clay Creek Trail is ahead on the opposite side of the road.

It was a foggy morning, much like it had been on our earlier visit to the Wittaker Creek Recreation Area.
IMG_7209Siuslaw River

IMG_7211Clay Creek on the left emptying into the Siuslaw.

A short use trail led down to Clay Creek and a small gravel bench.
IMG_7213Stairs at the Clay Creek Recreation Area across the river.

After checking out the creek we walked the short distance up the road to the start of the trail. Sullivan described the hike as a 2 mile out and back but the map on the sign at the trailhead showed a lollipop loop. (Sullivan does mention the loop in his “Trail Updates” on oregonhiking.com.)
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The existence of the loop at the top was a pleasant surprise. We crossed Clay Creek on a footbridge and began the 600′ climb to the ridge top.
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IMG_7218The Clay Creek Trail climbing above Clay Creek.

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We passed a bench at the second swtichback and continued climbing to a junction 0.6 miles from the parking area.
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IMG_7225It’s hard to tell size here but the diameter of this tree was well over 5′.

IMG_7238The junction for the loop.

We turned right and continued to climb through the fog to the ridge top where the trail turned left.
IMG_7240One of several reroutes we encountered.

IMG_7243On the ridge top.

The trail passed several madrone trees before arriving at a bench at the high point of the ridge.
IMG_7245Madrone trunk and bark, always fascinating.

IMG_7246Lots of mushrooms pushing up through the forest floor.

IMG_7251Good sized trees near the high point.

IMG_7254No idea what you might see on a clear day.

The trail then began to descend to another bench at a switchback where the map indicated there was a view.
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IMG_7258The viewpoint.

The trail continued switchbacking downhill while it wound back to the junction.
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Just before reaching the junction I nearly went head over heals trying to avoid stepping on a rough skinned newt that I spotted at the last minute.
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After having a one sided conversation with said newt we continued downhill to the car.
IMG_7271Nearing the footbridge.

IMG_7275The fog had lifted off the river at least.

While Sullivan indicates in his update that the loop makes this a 3.6 mile hike others still list it as 2 miles and both Heather and my GPS units logged 2 miles for the hike. Despite the fog not allowing for any view it was a pleasant little hike. Sullivan does also mention that the BLM is considering a $5 parking fee for the area in the future so be sure to check the BLM site before heading out.

We spent just over an hour on the Clay Creek Trail after driving over 2 hours to get there so a second stop was a must in order to not break our rule against spending more time driving than hiking. That’s where the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area came in. Located just west of Eugene the area consists of a dozen units broken up around Fern Ridge Reservoir. We had driven by the reservoir numerous times on the way to hike in the Coast Range and around Florence and seen signs for the wildlife area which had piqued at least my curiosity. After some online research it appeared that parking at the end of Royal Avenue between the Royal Amazon and Fisher Butte units was our best bet. The ODFW website mentions possible seasonal closures but finding detailed information on them wasn’t easy. I was eventually able to determine that these two units were open to the public from 10/16 thru 1/30 from until 2pm each day (presumably starting at sunrise). Even with the earlier hike we had arrived before 9:30am so we had plenty of time to explore. There is a $10 daily fee to park in the lots which is typical for ODFW wildlife areas (although it appeared most people simply parked along the shoulder of Royal Ave to avoid the fee).
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IMG_7277Note that Royal Ave and the trail to the viewing platform are open year around with the other restrictions listed below.

20211120_092412We took a picture of this map to assist us with our route.

From the signboard we continued on the gated extension of Royal Avenue. It was a lot foggier than we had expected so the visibility wasn’t good and it was in the mid 30’s so it was chilly too.
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We passed a grassy path leading to the viewing platform at the 0.4 mile mark.
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We opted to pass on the platform for now hoping that visibility would improve as the morning wore on and we could stop by on our way back. We continued on the old road bed watching for birds and any other animals that might be about.

IMG_7285White crowned sparrow

IMG_7289Northern harrier on the hunt.

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IMG_7301Wetlands in the Royal Amazon unit.

As we neared sub-impoundment one a large bird flew up from the reeds. It was our first encounter with an American bittern which was on my bucket list of animals we’d yet to see.
IMG_7302The bittern taking off.

IMG_7304Not the greatest photo but enough to identify it.

We turned right on a levy/old roadbed on the other side of the sub-impoundment and followed it for 0.7 miles to Gibson Island. The highlight of this stretch was a pair of bald eagles hanging out in a snag.
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IMG_7311A hawk on a stump.

IMG_7313American coots

IMG_7317Gibson Island (with the eagles in the snag to the far left)

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A short trail at the end of the levy led onto the island before petering out.
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We turned around and headed back to Royal Avenue where we turned right and continued west just to see how far we could go.
IMG_7351A flock of geese above the coots.

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IMG_7355There were a number of these small birds pecking around in the mud which, with some help from Molly in the comments, are American pipits.

IMG_7357Continuing west.

IMG_7360We used the stones to the right to cross the water here.

IMG_7361Great blue heron (with Highway 126 in the background).

DSCN1182Sandpiper in the roadway.

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IMG_7366End of the line.

We imagined that much of this stretch would be under water by late Winter/early Spring but we had managed to make make it 1.7 miles from the trailhead before being turned back. We headed back past sub-impound one to the grassy path near the viewing platform where we left the road bed.
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DSCN1203Seagull

DSCN1206Perhaps the same northern harrier.

DSCN1211The harrier taking a break.

IMG_7376The path to the platform.

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DSCN1218Dunlins (thanks again to Molly)

DSCN1222The platform.

From the platform dikes led west and south. Since we had just come from the west we decided to go south along a body of water in Field 5.
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IMG_7384The first signs that the fog/clouds might be breaking up.

IMG_7387Looking back at a little blue sky and a visible Gibson Island

We watched a group of shore birds as the alternate between foraging in the mud and performing areal acrobatics.
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A little over three quarters of a mile from the viewing platform we arrived at a 4-way junction.
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We turned left continuing around Field 5 for a third of a mile before arriving at a “T” junction just beyond a ditch.
IMG_7391Fisher Butte is the low hill ahead to the right.

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According to the map we’d taken a picture of at the trailhead continuing straight at the junction would lead us to the area’s boundary near Fisher Butte while the right hand path led past Field 2 to Field 1 and then to a parking area off Highway 126. We turned left walking between the ditch and Field 3.
IMG_7395Gibson Island was now lit by direct sunlight.

In another third of a mile we faced another choice. Another dike headed to the right (east) between Field 3 and Field 4.
IMG_7396The dike running between Fields 3 & 4.

IMG_7398Looking back over the ditch.

We opted to turn right having misread the map for the first time. For some reason we ignored the difference between the symbols for the dikes and boundary lines (although some online sights showed paths along the boundary lines). At first everything was fine as the dike gave way to a cut mowed track wrapping around Field 4 along the boundary. There was a pond in Field 4 where several species of ducks were gathered as well as a great blue heron and a kingfisher.
DSCN1248California scrub jay

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DSCN1262Northern shovelers and a bufflehead.

DSCN1266Buffleheads and two hooded merganser females.

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DSCN1286Kingfisher

DSCN1288American robin

After wrapping around the pond for half a mile the track we were following became increasingly muddy with standing water in areas. We were very close to a gravel road so we hopped onto it for a tenth of a mile where we were able to get back onto a grassy track at a signpost.
IMG_7404The gravel road and another small portion of the wildlife area on the other side.

DSCN1290Noisy geese.

IMG_7405Back on the mowed track.

We went straight here looking for a trail on the right that would leave us back to the parking area. The clouds were really breaking up now and lots of little birds were out enjoying the warmer weather.
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DSCN1291A sparrow

DSCN1295Spotted towhee and friend.

DSCN1300Finch

DSCN1302As of yet unidentified little bird.

We found what we were looking for, at least what we thought we were looking for and turned right on a clear trail that dropped down into a mowed field then mostly disappeared. We skirted along the edge of the field toward the parking area and as we neared the trailhead a clear trail emerged, or more like submerged. We followed the wet trail almost to the signboards near the trailhead where a ditch of standing water stood in our way. Our only choice (aside from backtracking) was to get wet so get wet (or wetter) we did. Luckily our hike was over and we had a change of socks and shoes waiting in the car. We finished hiking just before 1pm and managed to get a full 7 miles in while leaving parts of the area unexplored. It was nice to find another option in the valley that offered a potential destination when getting up into the mountains is possible. While we did hear occasional gun shots from hunters we only saw two duck hunters, but we also saw some families and bird watchers.
IMG_7410This path headed north from the trailhead, something to explore on our next visit.

Track at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area

It was a good birthday hike and we were done early enough for my parents to treat us to a great birthday dinner at The Manilla Fiesta, a restaurant I’d been dying to try. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Clay Creek Trail and Fern Ridge Wildlife Area