On Mount Hood at the marker for Laurel Hill the worn painted sign with the white letters in all caps reads:
The pioneer road here detoured the Columbia River rapids and Mount Hood to the Willamette Valley. The road at first followed an old Indian trail. The later name was Barlow Road. Travel was difficult. Wagons were snubbed to trees by ropes or held back by drags of cut trees. Early travelers named the hill from the resemblance of native leaves to laurel.
My brother and I took the trail with the stone steps to the old highway, the one constructed for Model A’s. We followed the remains of the macadam road to a sign that read “Hikers” with an arrow pointing to a dirt packed trail.
The trail bent into switchbacks through the Douglas fir forest, ever climbing. At the top of the rise, a broad path joined our trail. It was marked by a an old post with an “Oregon Trail” badge carved or burned into it.
I looked for a bonneted head to peek out of the underbrush. No one, past or present, stepped onto the trail to wish us well.
The trees near the chute are young, around 100 to 160 years old. They creaked and swayed with the summer wind. The old growth trees were harvested to act as drags for canvas topped wagons and are part of the forest floor below.
The chute is wide and the pitch is steep. The flat rock shards and dirt slipped out from my hiking boots and rattled down the hillside. I could not walk down the hill along the chute without a tree trunk or bush to grab to keep me on my feet.
I remembered the phrase from the sign beside the highway, “Travel was difficult.” I imagined rolling a wagon over the lip of the drop off, the branches on a cut tree slowing the speed of the wagon through the chute.
When we were back in our air conditioned car parked on the shoulder of Highway 26, we could appreciate the folks before us who showed us the way with oxen and wagon.