March 20, 2019 — During the “good months” where rain is just a memory and the sun bleaches everything it touches, I like to get out and about on my motorcycle, exploring the little back roads and the two lane blacktops that formerly used to carry the trucks of timber.
Soon after arriving here, I discovered the North Fork of Siuslaw Road just east of town off Highway 126. Being one who likes to explore the road less travelled, I relish the days when I can ride into the unknown (for me), and the North Fork delivered a stunning premier.
No offense to the South Fork of the Siuslaw, whose tale I shall now talk about. To be perfectly honest, there is nothing about the South Fork of the Siuslaw River (aka Letz Creek) that seems worth talking about. It’s not anywhere close to Florence (it’s 40 miles east, just south of the small burg of Lorane.) There are no cool ghost towns or old mines anywhere around it and it’s classified as a stream.
The South Fork is really just the red-headed stepchild of the Siuslaw River, destined to be no more than a footnote in the geography of the mighty Siuslaw. The only thing going for it is that it is a feeder for its big brother.
In the game of life, as a water source the south fork gets the “Participation” trophy.
Carried on the shoulders of the winning team is the north fork, brash and loud with trophy held high and full of itself (when it rains,) coy and calm during the dry season but always ready to be the mixer at the estuary party.
It’s big enough to have its own bridge and marker sign on Highway 126 and, at 27 miles, is long enough to harbor chinook, steelhead and cutthroat trout. It also carries the scars of its human use all along its banks as one can see many old log raft pilings jutting from the muddy riverbed; snaggle-tooth reminders of days long gone.
There are remnants of homesteads, barns and other signs of human occupation up and down the fork, working and retirement parcels alongside run down outbuildings and old fencing that stands for a few dry yards then gradually reclines beneath the water, finally disappearing into the tangle of reed and brush.
The North Fork of the Siuslaw Road meanders as does the water and if one is really adventurous a push to the end drops you just north of Mapleton.
For us history junkies, there are two ghost towns along the way to Mapleton: Minerva is about 13 miles up the fork and Pawn at the headwaters (where Sam Creek and its west branch converge.)
Minerva was named after the first postmaster’s wife and Pawn was a combination of the first letters of the last names of the founders. Don’t get excited, there are no more ruins to see. Their physical traces may no longer be, but their legacy will remain forever.
Don’t blink as you motor past, you may miss the marker.
Once you hit the turn-off to the north fork on Highway 126, the blacktop skirts the mouth of the north fork, wide and shallow where it blends with the Siuslaw but quickly narrowing after the first mile to become the slow flowing, reed-festooned channel that at some spots can be easily leapt over.
The first pullout is at Benders Landing, a spot to view the fork, launch a boat, see the wildlife and take a quick lavatory break if needed. Those of us who are geriatrically inclined should take advantage of these facilities as there are no other spots of relief until one reaches Mapleton or heads back into town.
From here, the road is a wonderful blend of mildly canted curves that wind in and out from shade to sun and short straight stretches of open road that allow wide views of open pastures and thickets of swamp, er marsh..uh, wetland (what do we call it nowadays?). It is here where the trees and shrubs change, bright green moss tentacles now dripping from branches as if they are trying to entangle you with a soft snare. Don’t stop for too long to gawk, those hanging fuzzies have a mind like the Kudzu vine.
The fork is now no more than a small creek and the road has become slick with moss and leaves. It is very narrow, less than one full lane.
I didn’t make it to Mapleton on this first ride.
I did discover something much more important; in the choice between North and South it doesn’t really matter.
It’s all about the adventure.
I now have to get to the South Fork.
Mapleton will have to wait.