Monday, September 12, 2011

Fern Rock Falls

Today's adventure takes us out to Fern Rock Falls in the Oregon Coast Range along Highway 6. The name may be unfamiliar, but if you've ever driven Highway 6 to the coast you've probably glimpsed the falls for a split second. Twenty-nine miles east of Tillamook there's a large gravel parking lot on the westbound side of the road, and the falls are right at the far end of the parking lot. Yes, this is that waterfall. I was always kind of curious about it and wanted a better look, but it was only recently that I figured out exactly where it was. And more importantly, how to stop there without becoming a statistic.

There are small, unobtrusive road signs right at the parking lot that simply say "FALLS". There aren't any of the usual helpful "Fern Rock Falls, 1/4 Mile" signs letting you know you're almost there, so you have to be on your toes if you don't want to miss the place. GPS helps, of course, but it's still kind of tricky.

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If you're coming from the west you'd have to turn across oncoming traffic, which you probably don't want to do. Highway 6 has enough trouble with people crossing the center line accidentally, and that rarely ends well, so doing it on purpose is probably a bad idea too. Needless to say there isn't a turn lane, so traffic behind you could also be an issue. So instead of rolling that particular pair of dice, I hit the falls on the way back from Tillamook, a day trip that also included a visit to Munson Creek Falls. Going eastbound, it's shortly after milepost 29. The road bends to the right and suddenly it's right there. I knew I was almost there, thanks to GPS and what I hoped were accurate coordinates I'd found on the internet somewhere. But I still had to brake quickly to make the parking lot entrance. It helps to have nobody tailgating you while you're looking for the falls parking lot; nobody's expecting you to hit the brakes and turn off the road in the middle of the Coast Range, and they may not necessarily be ready to brake as quickly as you are. There are a couple of slow vehicle turnouts between Tillamook and the falls, which is a good opportunity to let any impatient drivers behind you pass and go on their merry way.

One thing I haven't been able to figure out is who owns the place -- and by extension, who's responsible for the poor signage and so forth. There aren't any signs at the falls that give any clue, and Tillamook County doesn't have a lot of freely available GIS data on the net so I can't figure it out that way either. It's not within the Tillamook State Forest boundary, and there aren't any state or park signs to be seen. I've come across the occasional unsigned state park so I can't rule out that possibility, but if I had to guess I'd say it's probably either part of ODOT's Highway 6 right of way (but not an official highway rest area, since it's not on the list), or it's on private land.

One other fun detail is the name "Idiotville" on the map just west of the falls. Wikipedia insists there was once a town around here, or more precisely a logging camp, said to be so remote at the time that only an idiot would work there. Hence the name. I haven't checked extensively, but as far as I know there's absolutely nothing there anymore. Despite not actually, y'know, existing outside of the USGS official list of geographic names, Idiotville has its own Facebook page, a semi-official Chief Idiot (currently Charlie Sheen), and a Yelp page (not an actual review, but still). And the aforementioned Wikipedia page obviously. Plus now it's even got an entire paragraph about it on an Important Local Blog Of Note. So there's that.

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