It was a glorious day for birds of prey soaring the skies of Oregon City as I traveled I-205 toward I-5, on my way to Detroit Lake OR. Crews were still clearing winter storm damage (4-2-21), and traffic moved forward haltingly. Things improved south of Wilsonville, I took a little detour at Woodburn Outlet Mall, and about Keizer I noted that I was halfway between the pole and the equator, at 45 degrees north latitude.
Eventually urban ‘scapes gave way to rural lands: fields, farms, and forested hills. It’s 46 miles SE from Salem to Detroit Lake on Hwy 22, and after 26 of those miles Hwy 22 comes to Mehama, where the forest damage changed from winter storm to the wildfires of summer 2020. It was so real and present that it became a wonder that there were any homes still standing, though some were obviously rebuilt. From Mehama Hwy 22 follows the North Santiam River up into the Cascade Mountains: altitude at Salem is 157’, at Mehama 633’, Mill City 840’, Big Cliff Dam 1214’, and Detroit Lake OR is 1555’ above sea level with mountains all around. It’s a wondrous drive.
The quaint Gingerbread House is first to catch your eye as you drive along Hwy 22 and reach Mehama. Friendly folk there said previous owners made their own gingerbread and served it up with vanilla ice cream, something to drive a craving! You can get the usual breakfast and fast food, as well as elk and bison, their facebook page says.
There’s a bus stop on the street behind The Gingerbread House, and from there you’ll be facing Evelyn Joe’s Farmhouse Café featuring espressos, lattes, frappes, smoothies, pastries—gluten free, dairy free, and vegan offered as well, next to the Ace Hardware.
Bus Route 30X: Santiam/Salem Express https://www.cherriots.org/route/30X/?direction=1
If you like retro architecture, the old Mehama Country Grocery still stands, much worse for wear. It doesn’t take a lot of time to explore Mehama, population around 300.
Just before you cross the bridge over the North Santiam River toward the sister city of Lyons, there’s an opportunity to dine at the Dragon Chinese Kitchen.
The bridge has a barrier so that pedestrians can fish from it. Take the first right turn after the bridge, and another quick right down to the river, the Lyons-Mehama County Park offers somewhat rough boat and fishing access to the river. https://linnparks.com/parks/lyons-mehama-boat-ramp/
North Santiam State Recreation Area--just east of Mehama
Several recreation areas and parks along the way were still closed from the 2020 wildfire season. This was one of them. Too bad . . . from their website it looks like they have (or had) some nice facilities, including accessible ones. Hit the "Tour Accessible Features" button to see informative photos.
Fishermen’s Bend Recreation Site--29 mi east of Salem, 1.5 mi west of Mill City
This recreation site was also closed when I traveled Hwy 22 early April 2021. It wasn’t hard to see why.
Mill City OR--pop about 1900
Turn south off Hwy 22 at the 7-11 and follow the road to cross the bridge over the Santiam River. There's a nice little place to picnic with a view, and an accessible fishing pier. Continue south on 1st Ave to Fairview. East on Fairview is family friendly Kimmel Park on the south side of the river. The quickest way to get back to the Hwy is to retrace your journey.
Linn county parks https://linnparks.com/
Marion county communities https://www.co.marion.or.us/Pages/about.aspx
Gates OR--pop 500 + elk, 3 mi east of Mill City
Minto Park--1 mi east of Gates
Property of Marion county, it was also closed from the 2020 wildfire damage. Otherwise, it has (or had) picnic tables, ADA restroom, hiking, fishing, water activities. Day use only. No smoking or alcohol.
The Maples rest area--just past Minto Park, less than 2 mi east of Gates
Gets mixed reviews, depending users. The only rest stop between Salem and Sisters OR.
Packsaddle Park--2 mi east of Gates
Was closed due to wildfire damage. Otherwise, it’s open year round, has picnic tables, ADA restroom, fishing, hiking, boat ramp. No smoking or alcohol in Marion county parks.
Niagara Heights Waterwheel--slightly west of the Niagara Park turn-off, on the north side
Seems to have survived . . .
https://www.koin.com/news/special-reports/water-wheel-near-gates-will-soon-keep-on-turnin/ 1.5 min video
Niagara Park--40 mi SE of Salem OR, 7 mi east of Mill City, on the south side
Also closed from wildfire damage. It used to be open year round, had picnic tables, hiking, ADA restroom, drinking fountain. Day use only, no smoking or alcohol in Marion county parks.
There was a hike to the remains of an old dam, and view of the Sevenmile Creek Falls.
Little Sweden--37359 N Santiam Hwy SE
I remember seeing a wide spot in the road with an old gas station of historic interest, a small sign on the other side of the road . . . I saw a good photo of it at https://www.trulia.com/p/or/gates/37359-n-santiam-hw-se-gates-or-97346--2162952092
The canyon is narrowing, the river running over rocks to get down to the level, streams rush down the upper side of the canyon, falling over themselves to cascade into the river. Meanwhile the road ascends into the mountains, and reminders along the route are signs that in winter chains are necessary . . .
And then you reach . . .
Big Cliff Dam
You can park, make a pitstop, walk or drive across the dam. Barriers give fishers place to hang a line or two over the dam. It's accessible fishing, though from a chair some assistance would be helpful. On the other side of the dam the road goes on up into the hills, possibly not suitable for just any vehicle or driver who is not familiar with the area.
Detroit Lake State Recreation Area
The Mongold day use area, with the boat ramp, inaccessible picnic tables, boat ramp, and rocky shore was open, and plenty of parking was available in early April so soon after things began to open up. Detroit Lake State Park (camping and other amenities) further on wasn’t open yet, but John Williams made a great video of recreation at Detroit Lake as part of the Accessible Adventure series a few years ago. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6Da8afWbOc&ab_channel=ForestService
The ranger station nearly across from the campground was not open late in the day when I arrived, but John has that covered too. Somehow I missed the Mt Jefferson viewpoint ☹. More info, including accessibility and maps:
The devastation of Detroit OR from the wildfires of 2020 was so real and present when I was there early April 2021. It's a memory not to be forgotten, but can't hold the future captive. I truly wish them healing, and whatever they need to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
Detroit Lake Marina was on Breitenbush Rd just off Hwy 22 (N. Santiam Hwy. West of Detroit City Park is Kane’s Marina. I’m not sure how they fared. Take Detroit Rd South from Santiam Ave to get to Detroit Flats Day Use Area. Continue through town on Hwy 22 to Santiam Flats Campground, and a little further is Blowout Rd, which leads to Hoover Campground, Cove Creek Campground, and Southshore Campground. If instead of turning off on Blowout Road you travel further on Hwy 22, you’ll reach Idanha.
I've been in a wheelchair for 30+ years. It poses some challenges for traveling. Maybe others can benefit from my experiences.