Monday, December 28, 2020

Wiesendanger Falls

Ok, the next waterfall we're visiting in our very slow walk up Multnomah Creek is Wiesendanger Falls, which has got to be the most-photographed of the bunch; it's taller and more impressive than Dutchman Falls downstream, and much more visible from the trail than Ecola Falls just upstream. And somehow it just has more of a classic Gorge waterfall look to it than the others, but don't ask me to explain what that means. It just does, ok?

The falls are named for Albert Wiesendanger (1893-1989), who devoted much of his 71 year career to educating the public about forest fires and how to prevent them, first as a ranger with the US Forest Service and later (after "retiring") as the head of the nonprofit Keep Oregon Green campaign. I am not entirely sure about this, but I may have seen one of his presentations in the late 70s or early 80s, either as a Cub Scout or during an assembly in grade school. I remember someone explaining how forest fires were pretty much the worst thing ever, and being shown movie footage of some scary forest fires, followed by tips on how to keep that from happening; but I don't know whether it was him or someone else trying to fill his boots. Scientists have since come to realize that not all forest fires are bad; some plants and some ecosystems depend on them, and sometimes a smaller fire now prevents a disastrous one later. But I still can't shake the visceral negative reaction I have when I see one.

The falls were only named officially in 1997, at the behest of the Forest Service. Per the usual federal policy you can only name things after people who've been deceased for at least five years and were significant somehow or had some kind of connection to the thing being named. (The exception, I guess, being members of Congress naming things after themselves or each other by legislative fiat, but that's a whole other post.) So I imagine the Forest Service getting this done in 8 years is really fast by federal agency standards. Prior to 1997 the falls went by... a variety of unofficial names, often lumping it together with Ecola Falls just upstream as a single waterfall. To be exact, this was once the lower half of what was called either "Upper Multnomah Falls" or occasionally "Double Falls", both of which are dumb names.

"Upper Multnomah Falls" is just begging to be confused with the upper tier of Multnomah Falls, or maybe Little Multnomah, or more recently a small and previously nameless falls upstream from Ecola that we'll get to in a couple of stops. Going by the few data points I have, this name was most popular in roughly the 1970s: Don & Roberta Lowe's 100 Oregon Hiking Trails (1969) just refers to "two upper falls" along Multnomah Creek, while their 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades (1974) used "Upper Multnomah Falls", which continued through at least the 1988 2nd edition of 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge, overlapping with other guidebooks' use of "Double Falls" here and "Upper Multnomah" further upstream. Which I'm sure wasn't confusing at all for anyone.

"Double Falls" seems to be a more recent invention; the earliest use I've found of it is in Gregory Plumb's Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest (1983). I'm not sure the name was ever very common outside of that one guidebook series; it can't have helped that the name, is about the most generic name imaginable, second only to "Falls Creek Falls" (which Oregon has several of), and there's already a (locally) well-known Double Falls in Silver Falls State Park, and another near Tumalo Falls in Central Oregon, plus there's Triple Falls just down the road from Multnomah along Oneonta Creek, if you're the sort of person who's prone to off-by-one errors. So this would have been a big source of confusion if more people had used the proposed name, but I haven't really found any examples of that apart from the one guidebook. All I've come across are present-day people relaying that it was an old name that somebody else once used for the place. The closest thing to a historical use that I've found is a 1919 postcard -- a drawing, not a photo -- depicting Multnomah Falls along with Perdition Falls looking like a side-by-side twin of Multnomah's upper tier. (Perdition Falls is the seasonal waterfall to the left of the upper tier. It's usually somewhere between weak and completely dry, and only resembles the postcard image during or shortly after a major winter storm.) I also ran across someone using "Double Falls" to caption Upper McCord Creek Falls, but that's a whole separate confusion that doesn't concern us right now.

The name "Twanklaskie Falls" has sometimes been used here too, just for Wiesendanger Falls this time and not the pair, though it seems not to have ever been very popular either. One recent usage was in the "Best Hikes Near Portland" Falcon Guide (2009), maybe on the assumption that native (or native-sounding) names are likely newer and more official.. That's usually a safe bet, but not here. The only historical use of any variation on that name that I've seen is in an article titled "The Lesser Waterfalls Along the Columbia" in the December 1916 issue of Mazama magazine, which describes what's upstream of Multnomah Falls:

Before the construction of the Larch mountain trail but little thought was given to Multnomah Creek above the great fall. It had been practically inaccessible; but the new trail has made it easy to visit the upper courses of the stream. Just above the brink of the fall is a pretty cascade where the waters drop into a basin to gather themselves for the great leap into the river canyon. A short way above, a beautiful cascade is caused by a dyke of black basaltic rock that crosses the bed of the stream, and just above this the superb Twahalaskie fall is a thing of beauty. Other cascades and falls abound along the course of the stream, all of them unnamed.

Which to me sounds like he's listing off Little Multnomah, then Dutchman, then Wiesendanger, then sort of handwaving about the others. The page preceding the article has four captioned photos, including one of Ecola Falls labeled "Twahalaski" (no trailing 'e' this time), so it's possible that name was once meant to apply to both falls too.

The article goes on to complain about Starvation Creek Falls -- the name, not the place -- grumbling "May anathema be the lot of him who imposed this malphonious and unsuitable name on this beauty spot of creation.", and then veering off into a long discussion of the Mazamas' then-current effort to spruce up the official names of places around the gorge.

So I keep yammering on about whether a particular place name is "official" or not, but what does that mean exactly? This is where the US Board on Geographic Names comes in; it's a small and obscure federal agency within the US Geological Survey that does this and only this (more or less; see footnote), taking proposals from other agencies, state and local governments, and the general public, weighing the evidence, and deciding whether to sign off on the idea. A significant chunk of their work in recent years has involved erasing existing names that are now deemed racist or otherwise offensive. Which is a big job, this being the USA and all. Strictly speaking they just decide what names ought to be used across the federal government, but that tends to be an influential opinion, today rivaled only by whoever assigns the place names in Google Maps. But there are no individual penalties for using outdated or wrong names for things, so if -- for example -- your grandpa still calls the creek across his land "Drunk Irishman Creek" (after a pioneer of that description) even though the feds changed it to "O'Leary Creek" years ago at the behest of said Irishman's descendants, he's within his rights to keep doing that. At least so far as the feds are concerned. The O'Learys may be another matter entirely.

I bring all of this up because the story I keep seeing, and have repeated myself at least once, is that Wiesendanger and Ecola are the two waterfalls along this stretch of Multnomah Creek that have official, Board-certified names, while the others are just nicknames. This time around I wondered how I'd go about double-checking that, and came to find out that the US Geographic Names database is searchable. Which is not really surprising; it just didn't occur to me to check until now. So I ran a query for everything of type "Falls" in Multnomah County, and got back a surprisingly short list of just 15 results. Now, that database doesn't aspire to be a complete list of natural features, just one of names that have been approved by the Board, plus every waterfall at Eagle Creek and points east is in Hood River County and not included in this result set. So with that said, here's the full official list of everything that's officially official, since their database doesn't give out permalinks to query results: Bridal Veil, Coopey, Elowah, Horsetail, Latourell, Mist, Moffett, Multnomah, Oneonta, Tanner Creek, Upper Latourell, Wahclella, Wahe, Wahkeena, and Wiesendanger.

Notice anything missing from that list? No Ecola Falls there, just Wiesendanger. And as a fun bonus, the submitted GPS coordinates in the Wiesendanger entry point at the top of Ecola Falls instead. That might just be a mapping hiccup like some of other oddities on this list that I covered in a footnote. Or maybe -- and this is my personal guess -- the Forest Service intended the name to apply to both falls and it just sort of didn't stick. At all. As in I've never seen a single use of the name in that way. The dedication plaque below 'our' Wiesendanger Falls doesn't call it "Lower Wiesendanger" or mention anything about there being two tiers, and you can't see Ecola Falls from the plaque, and it seems to me that people drew a very reasonable conclusion about what the name applied to given those data points.

On top of that, "Ecola" is a very strange name to use here; it's one of several Chinook Jargon words for "whale" (per an 1863 dictionary), and all of the other place names in the United States using that name are clustered in a small area on the Oregon Coast around Cannon Beach and Seaside. If any whales had ever made it this far up Multnomah Creek -- maybe by leaping the falls downstream like an enormous blubbery salmon -- I feel like I would have heard about that before now. It's not that I don't like the name, because I do; I just don't know why it's used here, of all places, and not for something like the small unnamed waterfall that falls directly onto Crescent Beach in Ecola State Park, or another on Ecola Creek not far from one of the park's main parking lots. And yes, I'm going to copy and paste this whole paragraph into the Ecola Falls post once I get to it.

The board's annual Decisions on Geographic Names in the United States for 1997 has a brief item on each decision, organized by state. The Wiesendanger Falls item reads:

Wiesendanger Falls: falls, in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, located 0.8km (0.5 mi) upstream from Multnomah Falls, 1km (0.6 mi) from the confluence of Multnomah Creek and the Columbia River; named for Albert Wiesendanger (1893-1989); Multnomah County, Oregon; Sec 18, T1N, R6E, Willamette Mer.; 45º34’25” N, 122º06’24” W; USGS map - Multnomah Falls 1:24,000 (Docket 366)

That was one of seven decisions for Oregon that year, none of which say a word about Ecola Falls, and like the database entry the given coordinates point at Ecola Falls. In theory, if I was more invested in this particular detail, I could maybe do a FOIA request for docket #366 from 1997 and wait for someone to maybe respond someday, and hope there's something in that file explaining what the name was meant to apply to, and further hope that the key details aren't redacted purely out of spite. I also tried checking with the Board's state-level equivalent in case they had more info online, but that was an annoying and completely useless dead end, so I moved that whole discussion to another footnote for anyone who's curious about that sort of thing, or just enjoys watching me complain.

So moving along, I did my usual rummaging through newspaper databases again for this post. First I was trying to figure out what (if anything) people actually called the waterfalls above Multnomah Falls, only to find that they largely didn't call them anything in particular or even reach a consensus around how many falls there were. But at least I found a few old photos of Wiesendanger Falls, and old news stories about the general area, some of which were kind of entertaining, so I kept those. Then I looked for any interesting biographic details or anecdotes about Wiesendanger himself. Mostly what I encountered was 70 years of him lecturing anyone who would listen about forest fires -- school groups, Cub Scouts, loggers, civic groups of all stripes, and so on, usually with the help of a slideshow or short film and often a harmonica. And if anything did catch on fire despite his efforts, he was always ready with a quote when local reporters called. While I'm impressed by that ability to stay on message relentlessly for decades on end, there's not much of an evolving storyline there, and you really only need a link or two over all of those decades to have it covered. But I did find a number of news items he was involved in due to his day jobs, first as the ranger in charge at Eagle Creek and later at Timberline Lodge, so I kept the maybe-interesting ones among those. I ended up sorting these two unruly piles of links into a sort of parallel timeline, with items about the waterfall as well as the person it would eventually be named for. So maybe this arrangement will make sense for people besides me, and maybe it won't; either way, it seemed like a good idea to me at the time.

As always, a list like this is greatly enhanced if you have a Multnomah County library card and active login creds, so you're able go look at the linked articles yourself instead of hoping that I'm paraphrasing them or quoting from them accurately. I'd love to include screenshots for some of the items, but the vendor behind the newspaper database makes expansive claims over the paper in its scanned, indexed, online form (as distinct from the original newspaper, which is either still owned by the Oregonian if dated post-1925, or public domain if older than that). It's not clear to me how fair use works under these circumstances and I don't want to get DMCA'd or worse, so I'm sticking with link-and-paraphrase for the time being. So I understand it's kind of frustrating when none of the links work, especially if you're not from around here and can't get sign up for a library card that makes the links start working. But I'm not sure how else to approach this without first becoming the sort of billionaire who can (and will) darken the skies with lawyers whenever the need arises. Anyway, let's quit with all the handwringing and just dive in.

  • The earliest thing I've got is an 1877 Oregonian article which is a reprint of a national magazine piece about Pacific Northwest waterfalls. Because Portlanders worrying about what the East Coast thinks of us and our little state is an eternal constant. This came up in a search for "multnomah" and "upper falls", though in this case the article was referring to the upper falls at White River Falls. It doesn't mention the upper falls I was actually interested in, since it would be another 40 years before the Larch Mountain Trail was built and any upper falls would have been quite difficult to access back then.
  • Skipping forward to a few years before the old highway opened, March 1912 Oregonian article imagined a very different future for the land around Multnomah Creek, with the then-under-construction Multnomah Basin Road opening the area to modern agriculture, the forests giving way to orchards and open farmland, the falls along the creek being dammed for hydropower, and a modern road connecting down to the proposed Hood River highway somewhere around Oneonta Gorge. The article assures the reader that any crops grown in the Multnomah Basin area would not need to be irrigated from Multnomah Creek -- a thing that's always true until the first drought hits -- and that the proposed Oneonta road would be no worse than the existing road down Latourell Hill, which headed roughly straight downhill from present-day Larch Mountain Road to the little town down at river level by way of grades up to 20% and the occasional hairpin corner.

    As it turned out, none of those grand plans happened, and the Multnomah Basin Road of 2020 is unpaved, and gated off to vehicle traffic at Palmer Mill Road, and leads only to the Trails Club's Nesika Lodge and the maze of trails around it. But if you believe in other timelines, or dimensions, or universes or whatever, there's bound to be one where the Multnomah Basin Irrigation District diverted the whole creek, and tour guides point out where the old falls and the lodge used to be, swept aside by the spirit of capital-P Progress. Another one began that way and then someone quietly bought out the farmers in the late 1940s and built the hyperexclusive Royal Multnomah Country Club, notorious for only desegregating in the late 1980s, for barring women from the golf course until the mid-2000s, and for how strange it is that trespassers keep 'accidentally' falling off the cliff where the falls used to be.

  • Switching back to 1914 in our own universe, the Forest Service was conducting field tests for Forest Ranger job applicants in Portland's Washington Park, testing practical skills like packing horses, navigating with a compass, identifying trees, etc. Wiesendanger was mentioned as one of several candidates for the job. Other bios of him mention that he'd been doing assorted (and non-newsworthy) odd jobs for the service for several years before this as an eager teenager, so maybe this was just a formality, I don't know. He got the job, in any case.
  • An April 17th 1915 Oregon Journal article reported on a trip by Portland's Progressive Business Men's Club to check out the route of the proposed Larch Mountain Trail. Included are photos of Wiesendanger and Ecola Falls, which the photo caption refers to as the Lower and Upper Falls of Multnomah Creek (as distinct from plain old Multnomah Falls), while the article body calls the pair the "upper falls of Multnomah Creek" collectively, which I guess means these names were case-sensitive. This naming convention is not at all confusing in any way and I can't imagine why it didn't catch on.
  • An Oregonian article about the same trip also used the phrase "upper falls of Multnomah Creek". This article had no photos but more text, explaining that the trip involved a special chartered train, with musical entertainment (a phonograph and player piano) held in the baggage car. Project organizers hit people up for donations along the way, and encouraged them to vote for an upcoming road bond. In passing, the article mentions that a couple of people hopped off the train at Rooster Rock to climb it successfully for the first time, while a small Mazamas-led group started at Bridal Veil, climbed to Devils Rest, and made the long loop back down to Multnomah Falls. The last paragraph is just a list of important gentlemen of high society who were in attendance.
  • That same month, the Mazamas were busy with their big naming-and-renaming-things project that resulted in names like "Wahkeena Falls", "Elowah Falls", and so forth. There's no mention here of them proposing names for the falls above Multnomah, even though they obviously would have known of the falls' existence at this point. Maybe they were considered out of scope for the effort since they aren't visible from the new highway, then under construction. I have gotten the impression the main goal was to get nice, modern respectable names in place along the highway route ahead of the grand opening, in part to keep grizzled-Old-West-prospector-type names like "Deadman Creek" and "Devil's Slide Creek" (now Ruckel and Tumalt Creeks) out of the New York Times and all the tourist guidebooks. An ironic bit is that Tumalt Creek is where the enormous 1996 landslide happened, and smaller slides occur there regularly, so the previous name did actually convey useful information about the place in a way the present name doesn't.

    And nothing about that effort prevents new unpleasant-sounding names from being coined later; as far as I know only suburban HOAs have that kind of power. Just a week ago an ODOT press release explained that the old highway had been blocked by a small landslide at "Mosquito Springs Creek", which appears to be the next -- or one of the next -- small creeks just west of Dalton Falls, which in turn is just west of Mist and Wahkeena Falls. I didn't see any other uses of the name beside the press release and related news stories, so I'm thinking maybe ODOT has internal nicknames for some of their common trouble spots, and the others are probably just as unflattering. I guess it's not a big deal unless they start putting those names on road signs. Or maybe that's exactly what we need to do, to help manage overcrowding. Maybe the crowded path up to Angels Rest becomes the Ticks-the-Size-of-Ducks Trail, for no good reason. Even the mundane Return Trail could become the Trail of No Return. I dunno, probably wouldn't work, but it's one approach we haven't tried yet.

  • The renaming followed a process roughly the same as it is now, with the club submitting its proposed names to the Geographic Names Board in DC for approval. The feds went over it for a few months and responded in August 1915, approving new names and standardizing the spelling of other existing ones. Which was a big issue back then as a lot of early settlers were at best semi-literate and often couldn't even spell their own names consistently. So it wasn't clear to anyone else how to spell things named after these people. Which, halfway through the second decade of the 20th century, had gotten a bit embarrassing.
  • A June 1915 article covering a Mazamas hike past the upper falls is similar to the April articles, again using the phrase "upper falls of Multnomah Creek".
  • A January 1916 article explained that close to $13k was needed for the upcoming year's trail construction work, for things like finishing the Eagle Creek Trail. Other projects included a couple of unbuilt ones, like the proposed trail up Moffett Creek -- which was going to be expensive due to the rugged terrain, and another trail up Viento Creek all the way to Mt. Defiance. . So my guess is that obscure places like Wahe Falls (up Moffett Creek) were named in anticipation of a trail being built there, which is why they got names right away while Weisendanger Falls waited another 80 years.
  • 1916, AW was busy hauling city-based Forest Service employees out to the Gorge to see the new Larch Mountain Trail.
  • September 1916, Weisendanger (who by then was the resident ranger at the new Eagle Creek campground) hosted a visiting Universal film crew along with writer Olin D. Wheeler, then head of advertising for the Northern Pacific Railroad, as the collaborated on a promo film for the railroad. Scenes they'd filmed so far included a "silver horde" of salmon fighting their way upstream at Eagle Creek, and a group of new White automobiles racing a train along the new highway. The article didn't give a name for the upcoming screen spectacle, unfortunately, so I haven't figured out whether any copies of it still exist. At first the phrase "Silver Horde" made me think it was either "The Silver Horde" (1920), a silent melodrama set in the Alaskan fishing business, or its 1930 'talkie' pre-Code remake, but on rereading I think that was just a common way to describe salmon, back when they came in hordes. I've actually seen the latter of the two films I mentioned; it was kind of entertaining in a pre-Code sort of way, though it seems the only surviving print is missing a 'film within a film' segment, where a famous explorer exhibits a few minutes of sea life footage filmed in color.
  • Wiesendanger took his show on the road to Hawaii in 1916, meeting with Territorial Gov. Judd at one point. You miiiight remember that name from an earlier post, as Judd was the co-namesake of Honolulu's Nu'uanu-Judd Trail, which we visited back in May.
  • An October 15th 1916 Oregon Journal article on the new Larch Mountain Trail includes a photo of Wiesendanger Falls, this time captioned as "Upper Multnomah Falls". The article body mentions "three or four minor falls, one of which is at least 100 feet high" along the new trail.
  • An account of a large YWCA group doing the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop for Memorial Day, 1917. The article counted three upper falls above the main falls, without naming any of them.
  • A page of breathless forest fire reports in 1917. Wiesendanger got a brief mention for bringing in more firefighters to a fire near Parkdale, south of Hood River. The top headline for the page was that things had gotten so desperate in Idaho that women were helping fight the fire. The remarkable part wasn't the firefighting itself, of course, but that the state's conservative white guys were temporarily willing to overlook this toppling of the natural order of things, where ordinarily they'd just let the entire forest burn to ash out of pure spite.
  • A long Oregonian article profiling Wiesendanger in February 1920, particularly on his work with the local Boy Scout organization.
  • An August 28th 1921 Oregonian article includes an old vintage photo of the falls along with Dutchman Falls, which I think I already linked to in that post.
  • A March 1924 article featuring photos of Dutchman and Wiesendanger Falls again, as usual just referring to them as two of the waterfalls along Multnomah Creek.
  • 1928, AW was involved in measuring the heights of various Gorge waterfalls along the highway, which may be where the common 620' number for Multnomah Falls came from. Recent measurments put it at closer to 611', though it's still very common to encounter the older number.
  • While digging up all of those kayak links for the Dutchman Falls post, I found one result for 'upper multnomah falls': in 1928 local daredevil Al Faussett proposed to take a canvas boat of his own design over various Northwest waterfalls, as he ramped up to an attempt at Niagara Falls. He claimed he could do upper Multnomah Falls in this boat, but it isn't clear from the article whether he meant the falls above Multnomah, or the upper tier of the main falls, and in any case he had no immediate plans to test that theory. Instead, he did Willamette Falls, followed by 177' South Falls at Silver Falls, sustaining several broken bones and internal injuries doing the latter. Adding insult to injury, his manager then vanished with the gate receipts and betting proceeds (!) for the stunt, so he didn't see a dime for his efforts. He later did Celilo Falls, Spokane Falls, and several others, but never quite made it to Niagara or to whichever Upper Multnomah he had in mind. Was about to go over Washington's Snoqualmie Falls but was served with a restraining order right on the brink of the attempt, at which point he shoved his empty boat over the falls in frustration. Which started a persistent legend that he had run those falls successfully. Like many daredevils of the early 20th century, his regional stardom eventually faded as the Great Depression took hold, but was still dreaming of Niagara Falls and tinkering with a new boat design when he died in 1948. The Oregon Historical Society has several related photos in its collection:
  • In 1931, for some reason AW was involved in recapturing some escapees who were on the run from the old Kelly Butte jail. Maybe the police saw him as some sort of master wilderness tracker of fugitives (as seen many years later in The Hunted), or maybe he just happened to be in the area at the time; the article doesn't explain it either way.
  • A 1932 article about ginkgo trees generally, mentioning in passing that Wiesendanger had found some fossil ginkgo leaves found at Eagle Creek some years previously. The article mentions the unfortunate odor of the treee's fruit, and the fact that the trees in the Plaza Blocks were already there way back then, and aren't a recent introduction, which is something I'd wondered about for a while.

    Incidentally, the Gorge isn't usually thought of as a hotspot for fossils, but they've been found in several places there, including a few sites along the stretch from Elowah Falls / McCord Creek thru Eagle Creek. You never hear about this because people are only interested in dinosaurs, and the Gorge has plant fossils from the Miocene epoch (roughly 5-23 million years ago) instead. Another reason you never hear about it is that that any fossil sitea with easy public access tend to be rapidly picked clean by souvenir hunters, which is why I wouldn't give out detailed directions to any of these sites if I had that information, which I don't.

    So in lieu of that, here are a few links with general information on the topic, with the caveat that I'm not a paleontologist and this isn't a professional-grade bibliography. First, an old article in the November 1916 issue of "Mineral Resources of Oregon", later renamed to "The Ore Bin" and now called "Oregon Geology". As I understand it, some of the local fossil deposits technically count as coal, but not of a quality or quantity to be worth mining. So we kind of dodged a bullet there, if the state of present-day Appalachia is any indication. More recently, the September/October 1999 issue of the same magazine ran a paper on fossils found somewhere along a small stream between McCord and Moffett Creeks. The creek is now known as Metasequoia Creek (after fossilized dawn redwoods found there), as the paper's author proposed the name and shepherded it through the aforementioned naming process. As an odd twist, the paper's author was later profiled in a 2010 Portland Monthly article, having drifted into angry right-wing militia crankdom after a series of personal setbacks. A 1988 masters thesis by someone at Portland State analyzed Miocene volcanic rock found further east at Eagle Creek, and came up with a few possible locations where it might have come from.

    In any case, I do kind of like the idea that a Jurassic Park reboot set here would be super chill, with long shots of forests of long-extinct trees, and the occasional volcano to spice things up.

  • One part of AW's forest fire work involved trying to persuade youth and civic groups to come help replant burned areas of the forest. (Which is another thing I got dragged into once as a newly-minted Boy Scout, except that we were assigned to an ugly clearcut somewhere in the Coast Range instead of a fire zone.) One example of this effort is a 1934 article explaining that a 64-acre area southwest of Mt. Hood on Laurel Hill near Yocum Falls would henceforth be known as "DeMolay Forest", as the Masonic youth group had been planting trees there since 1929. The name doesn't seem to have stuck; it appears on no maps now and I'm not sure how one would go about locating it today. If I cared about driving a lot of low-quality traffic to this weird little blog I'd spin up some sort of conspiracy theory about the location being vague on purpose, to help the Masons hide the truth about Bigfoot. Which is of course a ridiculous idea, as the Western Sasquatch only thrives in old growth forest with a near-total lack of human interlopers. Which, incidentally, is the real reason Teddy Roosevelt closed the Bull Run Watershed to all public entry in 1904. Ok, sure, the original intent of the law was not to protect Bigfoot, exactly, but to ensure that only current and former Presidents were permitted to hunt or eat Bigfoot, similar to the weird thing the UK has with the queen and swans. The overall effect has been the same, though, as no subsequent presidents are known to have availed themselves of this special privilege. It's said that most presidents-elect call TR a weirdo when told of this arrangement, though rumor has it that both Trump and Clinton only did so after asking what female Sasquatches were like.
  • Um, anyway, a November 1935 article covered Weisendanger hauling a Jefferson High School group out to the Gorge to check out the brand new Elowah Falls Trail on McCord Creek, which had just been completed by Civilian Conservation Corps workers. Speaking of fossils again, the article mentions a famous petrified tree stump that was once located near the old highway bridge on McCord Creek. I don't have a link for this but I've heard the old stump was destroyed as part of I-84 construction, similar to what happened at Eagle Creek.
  • A 1936 article mentions "two upper falls" along Multnomah Creek, the author guessing they were each about 80' high. In reality it's more like 50' and 55', but at least he noticed they were about the same height, I guess.
  • I'm mostly leaving out mentions of "upper falls" or "upper Multnomah Falls" that refer to the upper tier of the main falls (which is by far the most common usage of the term), but a few of them are tangents that are interesting enough to not ignore, like the 1928 daredevil one above, and an August 1937 article about a proposed floodlight system at Multnomah Falls. This would illuminate both tiers of the falls at night as a little treat for visitors and passing motorists, using some of that sweet new Bonneville Dam electricity in the process. Seems the article was in my search results because it explained how the upper and lower tiers would be lit separately from different locations. Ages ago I'd seen a news item from 1969 about the floodlight system being destroyed by ice during a brutal winter storm (and never rebuilt, I gather), but I was looking for info on something else at the time and didn't look for more info on this system at the time. The falls were still owned by the City of Portland at that point, so getting the project rolling involved the East Side Commercial Club -- a civic booster group with an expansive idea of what "East Side" meant -- pitching City Hall on the idea. If I recall correctly the falls and other city-owned Gorge properties were handed off to the US Forest Service later the same year due to the city's Depression-era financial difficulties and the New Deal notion that the federal government was simply better at administering things.
  • March 1940 saw the annual reunion of the "Slabtown Gang". Seems this was the club for you if you'd been a juvenile delinquent gang member in NW Portland back in 1860-1900, which largely involved fighting with the South Portland, East Portland, and Albina gangs, and the others, and generally doing Little Rascals-type mischief. However in 1940 you and your chums had long since grown up to be responsible adults, so you'd just get together every now and then and have a nice dinner and reminisce about the good old days. A guest and former rival from the East Portland gang reminded everyone that "age mellows and time heals the wounds caused by fists and rocks and bolts from the old O.W.R. & N. shops” Wiesendanger must have been involved in this as a kid, as he led the group sing-a-long at the end of the festivities.
  • A somewhat gross incident from April 1942 in which Wiesendanger had to drive Timberline Lodge's entire snow-removal crew to the nearest hospital after they all got food poisoning at the same time. Which must have been a fun drive. This came just a couple of months after Wiesendanger had a medical emergency of his own, being transported to Portland for an emergency appendectomy. Which was also not his first ER trip; in May 1940 he needed treatment after being bitten by a bear cub, not out in the wild forest, nor by an orphaned cub a la Smokey the Bear, but as part of what the paper described as a "Shrine initiation held in the ice coliseum".
  • From August 1944, it seems a big late-summer activity of the era was to descend on Larch Mountain en masse in August and September to pick free wild huckleberries. Wiesendanger (at this point a District Ranger for the Forest Service) reported that people had picked 1143 gallons of fruit the previous day. Forest guards reported checking in 151 vehicles and 750 people that day, with some people picking a gallon of berries in an hour.
  • The aforementioned floodlights at Multnomah Falls were first turned on in October 1946, which merited a story on page 1 and a photo on page 14. This was about 9 years after the original proposal, which seems like a long time, but close to half of that time was taken up by World War II. Which was generally not a good time to be adding floodlights to key local landmarks.
  • I didn't see an article on Wiesendanger's retirement from the Forest Service, but a February 1948 article referred to him as a district ranger -- he was giving his forest fire talk to Sandy-area schools, what else -- while a June 3rd article covers him starting at Keep Oregon Green. So he didn't exactly take a chunk of time off to figure out what he wanted to do next.
  • In a December 1951 letter to the editor on the death of Lewis A. McArthur, founder of Oregon Geographic Names (more about which in a footnote), Wiesendanger proposed renaming the Gorge's Eagle Creek to "McArthur Creek" in his honor. This change, he argued, would advance the cause of quality geographic names since it would avoid confusion between it and the one in Clackamas County. He argued changing the Gorge one would be the less disruptive one to change, as a lot of people had (and have) the Clackamas Eagle Creek as a mailing address. This was in response to an earlier Oregonian editorial suggesting that someone ought to name something after him. Other letter writers suggested naming a highway or a new reservoir after McArthur, which were considered great honors back in 1951, while someone else suggested naming the whole Columbia Plateau in his honor, as "Columbia Plateau" had apparently not caught on as a name yet. This change never came about, possibly due to a different sort of naming collision: "McArthur" sounds too much like "MacArthur", as in the controversial general who had been fired by President Truman earlier that year. The plateau suggestion proposed including McArthur's nickname "Tam" to clarify who was being honored and who wasn't. That part of the idea may have struck a chord, as the federal Board eventually approved "Tam McArthur Rim" for a cliff and scenic viewpoint on Broken Top in Central Oregon. Ironically (and maybe intentionally) the crater at the summit of Broken Top contains a small blue-green lake known as No Name Lake. Unofficially, of course, although Oegon does have a few creeks and springs officially named No Name, which is a problem I'll happily leave to any philosophers who somehow end up here. In 2006 a very small (5') hill overlooking the Columbia in Wasco County was named "McArthur Mound" by the state-level Board to honor Lewis L. McArthur, son of Lewis A., who took over later editions of the book from his father. Though I can't find it in the federal database, maybe because it's so small.
  • Wiesendanger and his wife got a very random mention in 1953 - Meier & Frank broke ground on a shiny new department store in Salem, where the Wiesendangers now lived, and they just happened to be the Salem residents with the oldest active charge account, which they'd opened in 1910. They were presented with gold-plated "charga-plates" for the occasion, whatever those were; I'm guessing it was an early sort of store credit card.
  • On the waterfall front, a 1954 letter to the Oregon Journal from the head of the Columbia Gorge Commission relates a story about hikers on the Larch Mountain Trail bumping into a team of loggers near the "middle and upper falls of Multnomah Creek", whichever two that might refer to. The letter explained that until quite recently there had been a 279 acre private inholding in the vicinity, near the falls and adjacent to the trail, and it had narrowly avoided being clearcut thanks to this chance encounter on the trail. It sounds as though the timber company quickly realized logging here would be a PR disaster, and agreed to swap the parcel for an equivalent chunk of land and trees somewhere near Mt. Hood.
  • The falls were also mentioned in passing as "two upper falls" in a June 1971 Journal article by two guys describing their variation on the usual Larch Mountain Trail route. Seems you'd start out by doing the usual climb from Multnomah Falls to the top of Larch Mountain. Then it was time to unpack the heavy 1971 road bike you'd lugged all the way up the mountain, hop on Larch Mountain Road, and roll the 22 miles downhill back to your car. Which didn't take long, as you'd be hitting speeds up to 40-50mph here and there along the descent, well above the legal speed limit for cars, and probably impossible now given present-day traffic along the road.
  • A June 1975 editorial celebrated the recent discovery of the 302' Finnegan Fir, which returned the coveted "Biggest Douglas Fir" championship to Oregon for the first time since 1962, when the top of the then-champion Clatsop Fir snapped off during the Columbus Day Storm, just months after the tree had been anointed as the biggest. The editorial mentions that Wiesendanger had been involved in the long search for a new Oregon-based champion tree. In a rather unaware moment, the paper lamented that large trees had become kind of hard to find, while bragging that the state grows and harvests more Douglas fir than any other state.
  • A July 1975 article explained that the new champ was quite vigorous despite its advanced age of nearly 1000 years, and noted that the BLM was already planning a new trail so visitors could come and get a good look at the new local hero.
  • Sadly the new champion had a brief reign, toppling in a November storm later the same year, weirdly similar to its 1962 predecessor's fate. And with that, the hunt for a champion was back on again, with Wiesendanger chipping $100 toward a reward fund this time around.
  • A long profile of Wiesendanger and the wider "Keep Green" campaign in November 1978, in one of the Oregonian's late, lamented Sunday inserts.
  • A November 1979 Oregon Journal article mentioned them as the Upper Falls, one of the landmarks you'd encounter on your way to Cougar Rock, though you'd need to bring your climbing gear if you wanted to do Cougar Rock itself. The Journal's outdoor writers expected their readership to be a bit more skilled and ambitious than you'd likely see in a newspaper now. This particular article was by Roberta Lowe, who wrote several classic Northwest hiking guides during the 1960s thru 1980s along with her husband Don, who took the photos. A 1982 article of hers explained how to go off-trail and uphill to a viewpoint at Wauneka Point, on a sketchy route beyond the official end of the trail to Upper McCord Creek Falls. An April 1981 column covers the section of Gorge Trail #400 between McLoughlin State Park and Wahclella Falls, with optional side trips up to Nesmith Point and Munra Point for anyone who needed a little more adventure. Sadly the initial stretch of this hike from McLoughlin's Bonneville School trailhead over to Elowah Falls was buried by the huge Tumalt Creek landslide in 1996 and has been closed indefinitely ever since.
  • Articles from November 1980 and December 1983 updated readers on the ongoing half-serious "biggest Douglas Fir" quest and the growing reward fund that Wiesendanger had contributed to some years earlier. A Salem-area barber and "tree enthusiast" had taken an interest in the quest, chipping in some cash to the fund as well as doing a bit of tree hunting of his own. The present-day "biggest fir" situation is... complicated, with different champions depending on whether "biggest" means the tallest, or widest by trunk diameter, or by canopy diameter, or by sheer volume. Seems the tallest one is thought to be the 327' Doerner Fir in Coos County, first measured in 1991 (when it was two feet taller). For perspective, the current height is still two feet over the legal height limit for condo towers in the South Waterfront neighborhood. Meanwhile various trees on the Olympic Peninsula come out on top if "biggest" means one of the other categories. Meanwhile the tallest Douglas fir, and tallest tree overall, within Portland city limits is widely thought to be a 242' tree near the Stone House in Macleay Park, while a giant sequoia in Lair Hill Park someone planted ages ago is thought to be the winner by diameter, at 8' around and 165' high. Which is really not that big by sequoia standards. I don't see an official record holder for Multnomah County as a whole, but there's at least one tall, skinny tree close to 290' tall in Oxbow Park, according to someone on Facebook. The author says this makes it the tallest tree between Coos County and the Olympic Peninsula. Which: maybe? Although it seems like it would be fairly easy for a taller tree to go unnoticed somewhere deep in Bull Run or the Hatfield Wilderness
  • A 1984 article about Portland's ginkgo trees mentioned Wiesendanger's involvement in protecting ginkgo fossils at Eagle Creek. Temporarily, as it turns out, as those fossils were lost to I-84 construction like the stump at McCord Creek. Most of the column is devoted to the city's present-day trees, their smelly fruit, and the writer's astonishment that the nuts inside the fruit were not only edible but prized by the city's Asian immigrant communities. It's an awkward read in 2020, centering the writer's lack of knowledge about the subject rather than, say, paying an actual Asian person who knows what they're talking about to write the article. The piece does not mention the author actually trying or attempting to try a ginkgo nut as part of her investigation.
  • Wiesendanger died in 1989, but so far I haven't located an obit for him. That seems fairly improbable for a longtime public figure, but the newspaper search engine isn't coming back with anything. Dunno.
  • A 1999 article about geographic names and how they happen mentions the 1997 naming of the falls & what was involved in it. Which as far as I can tell did not get a news item of its own in 1997 when it happened. The same article also mentions the recent naming of Metasequoia Creek that you might rememeber from a few items back. However -- and I may sound like a broken record here, for those of you who recognize what that sounds like -- the name "Ecola Falls" appears nowhere in the article.
  • A 2001 travel piece mentions the falls by name along with Dutchman and "Hidden Falls", one of a few alleged former names for Ecola Falls. Much of the article is devoted to the author repeatedly failing to book a room at the little lodge/B&B at Bridal Veil Falls and grumbling about it at length. Overall this would have worked better as a negative Yelp review, but this was back in the early days of the interwebs, long before Yelp reviews were invented.
  • Mentioned again in this 2003 article, which began a few years of the paper misspelling the name as "Weisendanger". They started spelling it correctly again as of 2016. It's easy to get wrong; I had it backwards too at first and I have relatives with long German names and am at least somewhat used to looking at them without my eyes glazing over.
  • And here's the 2016 article where the paper began spelling the name properly again, which they've done ever since, most recently in a November 2020 bit about trying to visit as many waterfalls as possible in a single day.

    The process I'm describing here is the job of the board's Domestic Names Committee, to be exact. There's also a Foreign Names Committee, which handles figuring out what foreigners call their domestic places, and how those names are spelled, and standardizing that across the federal government too. Which is a thing they do in conjunction with the huge but equally obscure National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which I gather counts as a three-letter agency thanks to that little hyphen in the name. So apparently if you need to pick up a thumb drive in a particular Moscow park, or you overhear insurgents talking about a specific valley in Afghanistan and want to send a drone there and not the next valley over where someone's having a huge wedding, the Foreign Names Committee plays a small but vital role in that process. A couple of other committees handle undersea names, and names in Antarctica, so that all of the bases are covered, or all the Earth-based ones anyway.)

    Regarding a couple of the more obscure but official names on that list, Moffett and Wahe Falls are along Moffett Creek, east of Elowah Falls; we visited some bridges there a couple of years ago, but it'll be a while before the falls show up here (if they ever do) since there's no trail to either one and that whole area was burned heavily in 2017. As for "Tanner Creek Falls", that was an old name for Wahclella Falls, but the list gives different GPS coordinates for it, somewhere just upstream of Wahclella in a spot that's inaccessible without climbing gear. So it's either a map error or they applied an official name to one very obscure and well-hidden waterfall that almost nobody will ever see in person. Waterfalls Northwest has a Swaawa Falls and an East Fork Falls in that general area, so one or the other of them might match that description.

    I thought I'd check the Board's state-level equivalent -- the Oregon Geographic Names Board -- to see if I could clarify the name situation any further that way. That sounded promising as the state board both originates name proposals and comments on ones that didn't come from them, so it's only natural that they'd have some sort of records I could poke through, burning a few hours or days in the process. Sadly this turned out to be a completely useless dead end instead, and I'm a bit annoyed about it.

    The first thing to know is that although Oregon's board performs a governmental function, they aren't quite a government agency, and instead they're sort of run and supported by the Oregon Historical Society. That by itself isn't necessarily a problem, since this is a governmental function that needs a bunch of historians in the loop. The problem is that while they do have recent decision records online (here's the 2019-2020 edition for example), you won't find anything remotely like the federal search function. Instead, you are referred to the OHS-published book Oregon Geographic Names, 7th Edition, a 1000+ page volume (with accompanying CD-ROM) which came out in 2003 and has been out of print for years, and is out of stock in the OHS online store. That OHS page suggests that maybe you can find a used copy for sale, otherwise maybe your library has one. Which might work except that neither Powells nor Amazon has a single copy of the 7th edition for sale, while the 6th edition came out in 1992 and is too old to answer my questions. And if I did have a question that was answerable by an older edition, the few copies for sale on Amazon often run into the hundreds of dollars with a couple going for over $1k. And going to the library is a problem right now because pandemic. Wikipedia insists there's an 8th Edition in the works, now authored by the granddaughter of the book's originator, which is certainly an unusual sort of family business to be in. The citation for this is still a 2009 Oregonian article that said the next edition would be out in 2011, which seems increasingly unlikely as the year 2021 approaches. All of which would be fine if the book was just an ordinary reference book. But when it's the closest thing Oregon has to an official state publication, it's not a good look.

    You might think somebody would have a scanned copy you could look at online, but you would be wrong there too. Google Books does have the A-L portion of an index of the 5th edition, from 1983, and the Internet Archive has a full copy of the 4th Edition (1974) that can be borrowed once for an hour if you create an account. Which I didn't, because 1974. I don't know for a fact that anyone's actively trying to keep the book off the net, but I have to say that it would look a lot like this if someone was. On the bright side, the first edition of the book was published in 1928 and so will enter the public domain in a mere two years, unless Congress extends it again.

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