Poetry Landmark: The California Gulch Trail in La Grande, OR
The California Gulch Trail in Oregon's Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is a two-mile long interpretive trail that recreates the Pacific Northwest logging community of the 1800s. The light hike encounters Oregon Trail ruts, wagons, quotes from the original logging community, and poems that put the magnificent historic landscape into words.
Former La Grande Park Ranger Deb Barrett conceived the idea to include poems along the trail as a way to describe its true essence. She explained, "It is such a gorgeous trail, there are so many different settings, open meadows, big sky, drops into the deep woods...You feel small among the big trees."
Barrett read through hundreds of poems, searching for ones that reflected the unique beauty of the trail’s scenery. In the end, she chose eleven spots and eleven corresponding poems. The selection includes poems by Robert Frost, Arthur Guiterman, William Stafford, Juan Ramon Jimenez, William Butler Yeats, Jane Kenyon, and Carl Sandburg.
At the head of the trail, hikers are provided free booklets with the poems and are encouraged to stop at the corresponding spots, each marked with wooden posts and benches, to read the poem and look out across the landscape. The poems combined with the surroundings enrich each other, offering new interpretations and deeper understandings of both.
At one spot, where hikers emerge into a clearing with an sprawling horizon, "Sky," by Oregon's former poet laureate William Stafford, was chosen. In another location, where the trail forks, the poem is "The Road Not Taken" by Frost, which famously begins:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
The California Gulch Trail is open seasonally, during the spring and summer months. For more information, visit the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest website.
Photo courtesy of La Grande Ranger District.