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  • A trip to the summit on a gorgeous day

    Coming full circle, a daughter leads her parents on a memorable hike to what seems like the top of the world
  • It was the first day of summer, and we were being treated to an explosion of colors on top of Marys Peak near Corvallis. Brilliant purple and red wildflowers carpeted the meadows and clung to scant pockets of soil in an area known as the rock garden.
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  • It was the first day of summer, and we were being treated to an explosion of colors on top of Marys Peak near Corvallis. Brilliant purple and red wildflowers carpeted the meadows and clung to scant pockets of soil in an area known as the rock garden.
    Our daughter, Lucia, led us along the trail, proud to be showing her mother and father a place they had never seen — a place that she had discovered on her own, within weeks of becoming an Oregon State Beaver.
    Ahead of us, a small boy plopped to the ground and announced to his parents, "No more." His mom and dad spoke soothingly to him, but he was having none of it.
    My wife and I smiled at the couple as we passed. We had weathered similar protests from Lucia when she was a little kid, forced by her sadistic parents to trudge up the sides of mountains, around lakes and across dunes.
    Yet here she was, striding toward the summit on this gorgeous day. In this, our 21st year of family excursions into the natural world, she was the leader and we the followers. The role reversal was complete.
    And what a beautiful destination she had chosen for our day trip out of Corvallis.
    Located within Siuslaw National Forest, and on the eastern edge of the Oregon Coast Range, Marys Peak rates as a favorite hiking spot among Willamette Valley residents for good reason. A designated Scenic Botanical Area, it is, as we found out, the place to go to see lush displays of penstemon and paintbrushes, as well as phlox, lupine, larkspur and lilies.
    The show lasts from late June through July.
    And then there's its height. At 4,097 feet, Marys Peak is hardly Himalayan, yet it ranks as the highest point in the Coast Range, noticeably grander than its neighboring mountains, as you see it from I-5.
    Once you're up there, you'll feel like you're on top of the world. Gazing east on clear days — and the sparkling afternoon when we visited definitely qualified — you can see all the way across the Willamette Valley to the Cascades.
    Our knowledge of Oregon mountain geography being somewhat sketchy, we sat in the grass at the summit and traded guesses on which lofty, snow-crowned peak was which.
    They say you can see the Pacific Ocean, too, from Marys Peak. And maybe we did — if that gray blur in the distance was a band of coastal fog. Or maybe it was just haze. Anyway, we convinced ourselves that we could smell the ocean in the breeze.
    There are 12 miles of trails, varying in difficulty, leading through the woods and meadows of Marys Peak. Not wanting to zip straight from the parking area to the top, via the easy half-mile Summit Trail, we did a stretch of the Meadow Edge Trail first, through a noble fir forest.
    This gray-barked tree, the world's tallest and most massive fir, grows abundantly at the higher elevations of Marys Peak, contributing to its status as an important botanical area. In fact, the noble firs at the summit make up the most extensive stand of the species in the Coast Range.
    The mountain hosts about 75,000 recreation seekers a year, most of them coming during the dry summer months. So expect company, not solitude, if you go.
    This isn't wilderness. Fenced-in communications disks and towers are at the summit, and symmetrical patches of clearcuts come with the panoramic view.
    But the butterflies and bees weren't complaining as they worked the thousands of wildflowers. So neither did we. The source of the steady buzz we heard was pollinators, not chainsaws.
    It was refreshing to see many families out and about — young couples with their cheerful and curious kids, though occasionally one of them would turn grumpy and refuse to go any farther.
    My wife, Charlotte, brought up a little nugget of family history, prompting a moan from Lucia.
    "I've heard this story a hundred times," she declared, but Charlotte persisted with the tale.
    It goes like this: By the time Lucia was 5 or 6, she had grown wary of hiking. So, as we would be driving to our next family adventure, and Lucia would ask where we were going, Charlotte would say we were heading somewhere to take "a little walk." She wouldn't dare use the h-word.
    The trick worked, most memorably on an outing to Grizzly Peak. Lucia made it to the top and down on her little legs, without complaining. Would the result have been the same if she had known we were hiking?
    To reach Marys Peak from Corvallis, take Highway 20 to Philomath, then turn left onto Highway 34, toward Waldport. Almost immediately, you'll see the mountain in front of you. After several miles, turn at the sign for Marys Peak Recreation Area, and begin the nine-mile drive to the top, passing two lovely waterfalls as the road climbs.
    Then again, you won't need these directions if your kid loves the outdoors and goes to OSU. She or he will already know how to get you there.
    Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at talenthouse@charter.net.
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