Fundamentally, I’m against private ownership of natural landmarks. That philosophy goes against my more “normal” notion that capitalism/private ownership is necessary, and reinforce my irked on how does any society dictate what is a landmark that is worthy to be preserved? For example, should deserts be indiscriminate sold by the state? Will a nation be unable to use any virgin forest for agriculture and industrialization? Why does undeveloped pieces of land have to be on the list of preservation simply because people had utilize other areas for longer periods of time? I continue to struggle with these ideas, especially when visiting scenic areas that prevent access to the general public, such as Niagara Falls (from the American side), Finger Lakes (very limited public access) and many beaches on the U.S. east coast (bought by private households and companies). That was the same question that lead to the creation of the National Park Services more than a century ago, but the idea continues to be challenged until this day (such as developing the Grand Canyon). As western U.S. states were created after conservation was more mainstream, many natural areas in Oregon are protected by a combination at the city, state and federal levels. Still, many parcels of land owned by BLM and USFS are available to be extracted, resulting in the destruction of forest and prevent the public from enjoying natural wonders. One such parcel of land were bought by Catholic Brothers who worked on the land and sold trees for funds. As these Brothers are not out to be rich, trees were cut sparingly to ensure long term sustainable income, resulting in a large natural area. These days, the need to lumber decreases, and so the Abbey Foundation of Oregon invites all to enjoy the waterfalls that lies on their parcel of land – Abiqua Falls.
As this is a private waterfall, there are neither official maps nor directions. Cell signal and shops are non-existance away from the highways and cities, so come prepared. Even the road becomes rough as official road ends about 2 miles from the trailhead. We parked as close as we could get to the parking lot, because the steep washout road makes the drive very dangerous even in a 4 wheel drive. The trees along the road provides plenty of shades, and I have not noticed many insects. The road to the trail head is rather gentle (for walking), but it will be a long climb back up on the return. We may not have arrived the earliest, there are many on their way home by now, but it is rather quiet and sparse. The road ends at the parking lot but we turn onto the trail, greeted by the only sign – not of the falls, but that we are currently on private property. The trail is well-traveled and rather easy to hike, until we reach the cliff of the hill. Fortunately, someone added ropes to assist with going down to the river. The extremely steep slope, accompanied by silky soil, makes the ascend and descend challenging even with ropes. As there is only one path, we take turns for other hikers to go up while we head down.
The river is calm and very scenic. Crisp water flows through the river, clearly revealing the rocky bottom. I do not notice any wildlife, so the rocks and trees will have to do. We continue on along the stony coast, avoiding both other hikers and large tree trunks just above the head level as best as we can. I still eat a large log when we approach our final destination – it is hard to be staring down to avoid falling onto some pointy rocks while navigating large tree branches. This feels like flappy bird. There is a area of pretty whirlpool and slow rapids filled with large rocks just before the natural pool. Some people are enjoying their dips, without thinking that the weather is rather cold and the water is icy. Or maybe they did, and went in anyways.
Abiqua Falls is spectacular. The steep cliffs surrounded the pool and prevent any vegetation from settling down, providing an excellent view of the waterfall from any direction in the amphitheater. Unlike smooth rocks in most waterfalls, these cliff rocks look to be volcanic as they form long columns. It is also obvious that the rocks have been eroded over the eons, and there is now a significant V-shape with the waterfall flowing only at the lowest point. We choose the center seat, and stare in awe. I could not imagine such beauty lies deep in the forest – the waterfall stand out in the area, but also among all waterfalls. The fall is rather serene, though there are two dogs playing fetch in the pool onto one side, while another couple is shooting some non-Wedding photographs. (as they said it themselves). More people are dipping in the pool, but nobody is swimming to the base of the fall to enjoy the rush of water. We eat our lunch and observe more and more people arriving by the pool. It is getting crowded but with enough space for everyone. The difficulty of the hike and remoteness of the fall creates a big barrier for many. However, this is more popular that I was expecting.
The hike back is more difficulty than coming down, especially with incoming visitors. While waiting to pass, I look around and see that nobody veered off course and hike elsewhere. There might be more to see, but that probably could not justify with the extra time and effort. And that loops back to the initial question – how should natural landmarks be identified and preserved? To the Abbey Foundation, all of these are worthy to be preserved, and it brings serenity to the monks and nuns who lived here. Most would argue that the Abiqua Falls is a natural landmark, but maybe not the surrounding forest. Have this waterfall been found recently, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a company charge entrance fee, and improved the accessibility by building parking lots and coffee shops at the bottom of the falls. As a fan of the great outdoors, this thought is disturbing. There will also be fewer protected areas as society progresses, and I learn to accept that natural areas are always under threat. Today, the Abbey continues to welcome all with open arms – but that is never guaranteed, so enjoy this amazing waterfall while you still can.
Visited: August 9th, 2020 at 10am.
Addess: 23240 Abiqua Rd NE, Scotts Mills
Websites: 1) https://www.mountangelabbey.org/giving/abbey-foundation-oregon/