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"The Barlow Road ... Descending Laurel Hill"
Includes ... Barlow Road ... Laurel Hill ...
Image, 2013, Sign, Barlow Road, click to enlarge
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Barlow Road sign, Foster Farm, Eagle Creek, Oregon. Image taken May 4, 2013.


The Barlow Road ...
The Barlow Road was a part of the Oregon Trail. The road was authorized by the Oregon Legislature in 1845, and by September 1846, it made its way around the south side of Mount Hood. This 80-to-110-mile road provided an alternative to the dangerous and expensive route that used rafts to transport wagons down the Columbia River. The Barlow Road began at The Dalles, Oregon, headed south through Dufur and Tygh Valley (which some folks consider the start of the Barlow Road), then turned west at Gate Creek and generally followed the White River before it headed north through Barlow Pass and Government Camp. It then passed through "Tollgate #5" near today's Rhododendron and continued to the community of Sandy, where it turned west and ended up at Oregon City.


Follow the Barlow Road ... (east to west)


 
Descending Laurel Hill

Overview ...

At Laurel Hill the early Barlow Road went from the summit of Laurel Hill at 3,600 feet elevation, descending nearly 2,000 feet to the base of Laurel Hill. At least five identifiable "chutes" are present on the side of the trecherous slope. Many Oregon Trail travelers considered descending this hill the worst part of their journey west.


Laurel Hill ...

As written on the Wasco History website (2012, Barlow Trail, taken from the Mount Hood National Forest USDA Pamphlet #797-672/4):

"... The hardest part of the journey was the descent. In addition to the swampy bogs and dense forests, there was the famous Laurel Hill. The slope was so steep that only a few "laurels" clung to it - since the leaves are similar, the pioneers mistakenly called the rhododendrons laurel. In places the grade on Laurel Hill was 60% - more vertical than horizontal. Men, oxen, and wagons inched down the backward leaning cliff. Described in 1853 as something terrible, the slope was worn with ruts 5-7 feet deep. One wheel might drop 3 feet off a boulder while another dropped into a 2 foot hole. Wagons slid down the hill with all wheels locked and a 40 foot long tree tied behind for additional braking, the outstretched branches gouging the soil. At the foot of the hill, the tree was left to block the next wagon! Many commented that Barlow was wise to put his first tollgate at the east end of the road, rather than on the western side of the Cascades, below Laurel Hill. ... "


Excerpt from the Barlow Road National Register of Historic Places Nomination Report, 1992:
"... The Barlow Road in this segment makes the precipitous descent of the western slope of the Cascade Range and enters the Western Cascades. The ridge of Laurel Hill, a divide between the Zigzag drainage to the north and Camp Creek watershed to the south, serves as the principal route for the road. The descent of Laurel Hill involved the evolution of several different routes during the nineteenth century. ...   [The routes] required emigrants to lower their wagons down steep, vertical descents or chutes by use of ropes or chains snubbed around trees and stumps. Some emigrants used drag trees up to 40 feet long to slow their wagons. ..."

Image, 2012, Barlow Road Laurel Hill area, Mount Hood, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Steepness of Laurel Hill ... Oregon Highway 26 at Laurel Hill, showing the steepness of the area. Image taken August 3, 2012.

View is looking southwest after passing the location of where Chutes 1, 2, and 3 cross Highway 26. The ramp in view heading uphill is the run-away truck ramp. Laurel Hill Chutes 4 and 5 are out-of-view around the upcoming turn.
Image, 2013, Barlow Road Laurel Hill area, Mount Hood, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Steepness of Laurel Hill ... Oregon Highway 26 at Laurel Hill, showing the steepness of the area. Image taken October 14, 2013.

View is looking southwest in the vicinity of Chutes 4 and 5.
Image, 2013, Barlow Road Laurel Hill area, Mount Hood, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Steepness of Laurel Hill ... Oregon Highway 26 at Laurel Hill, showing the steepness of the area. Image taken July 8, 2013.

Laurel Hill ... Historical Marker

In 1947 to 1948 the Oregon Department of Transportation erected a marker on the south side of the old Highway 26 near the base of Chute #2. Then about 1985, this marker was replaced by a new panel with the same wording on the south side of the new Oregon Highway 26. There is a small turnout to park.

(T3S, R8E, Sec.15)

HISTORIC OREGON TRAIL
LAUREL HILL
"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."

Image, 2012, Barlow Road Laurel Hill, Mount Hood, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Historic sign, Laurel Hill, Barlow Road. Image taken July 6, 2012.

Laurel Hill ... 5 Chutes

Jim Thompkins wrote in "Discovering Laurel Hill and the Barlow Road (1996, 2002):

"... The descent over Laurel Hill was so steep and rugged that it destroyed the roadbed within a few years. Rocks were dislodged by wagon wheels with their brakes set and trees up to 100 feet tall (long) being dragged as anchors. Any soil left after the first year's use would be eroded by the next winter's rain and snow melt run-off. As a chute took on the appearance of a gravel pile, it became necessary to move on to a new location farther west. ..."

Jim Thompkins also wrote:

"... Be It Known - there are other theories about travel over Laurel Hill. One theory holds that [Chute #4] is the one and only chute used from 1846 to 1866. It claims that the chute well marked by the Forest Service (chute #3) is merely a gravel pit used by road crews in the 1920s. Suffice to say there is enough evidence (in trails along Camp Creek that would not be there if #4 was the only chute and chute #2 that is inconveniently located to be a gravel pit) to convince this aurthor of the existence of multiple chutes. ..."

With the opening of the Territorial Stage Road in 1866 the need for the chutes down Laurel Hill came to an end.


Image, 2012, Laurel Hill, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Looking over the drop at Laurel Hill, just east of Chute #4. View from Oregon Highway 26 from turnout heading east after passing the locations of Chutes #4 and #5 but before the location of the Oregon Heritage Marker and Chutes #2 and #3. Image taken August 14, 2012.
Image, 2012, Laurel Hill, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Display detail, rope marks on tree at Laurel Hill, Sandy Area Historical Museum, Sandy, Oregon. Image taken May 4, 2013.


"This tree stump at the top of Laurel Hill was scorched by a forest fire but still shows the rope marks from lowering the many emigrant wagons from 1846 until about the late 1850s."

Laurel Hill ... Chute #1 (1846-1848)

Jim Thompkins wrote in "Discovering Laurel Hill and the Barlow Road (1996, 2002):

"... About half way between the deep cut and Mirror Lake Sno-Park is the approximate location of chute #1. The very top of the chute is barely visible where the inside guard rail ends. ..."

Laurel Hill ... Chute #2 (1849-1852)

Chute #2 is located entirely below the southern most section of the modern Oregon Highway 26 and is not visible from any currently reachable roads.

Jim Thompkins wrote in "Discovering Laurel Hill and the Barlow Road (1996, 2002):

"... Chute #2 was probably used from 1849 to 1852. It is the steepest chute and the only one left intact as all road building efforts since 1852 were north of it." ..."

(T3S, R8E, Sec15)

Excerpt from the Barlow Road National Register of Historic Places Nomination Report, 1992:
"... Emigrants shuddered at the site confronting them at the top of this 300 foot long talus slope. One traveler in 1847 boldly stated: "this is the worse hill on the road from the States to Oregon". ...

In the 1920s Highway 26 cut through the lower portion of this chute or talus slope. The abandoned, paved roadbed remains. It is a compromised to the integrity of this historic feature but, nevertheless, the chute is recognizable and clearly evokes the sentiments recorded by emigrants. Until 1980 rope-burned trees and stumps were yet visible on the margins of this chute. Sometime during the winter of 1979-1980 the last of these sections of marks disintegrated. Several rotting stumps remain where the emigrants once anchored their wagons on this precipitous descent.

In 1947-48 the Oregon Department of Transportation, at the urging of the Oregon Chapter of the American Trails Association, erected a marker on the south side of Highway 26 [old Highway 26] ..."


Laurel Hill ... Chute #3 (1853-1856)

Jim Thompkins wrote in "Discovering Laurel Hill and the Barlow Road (1996, 2002):  

"Chute #3 was probably in use during the heaviest years of traffic along the Barlow Road, 1854-56. Only the top half of the chute remains due to 1920s road construcion. ..." To get to the top of Chute #3, park at the Laurel Hill Historical Marker and "Go up the steps (FS Trail 795a) to the 1925 Mt. Hood Loop Highway. Go right and walk about 100 feet east to the signs marking Chute #3. Proceed another 400 feet east to the new hiking trail (FS Trail 795a) that will take you to the top of the Chute. It is about an 8-15 minute hike and is well worth the effort."

Notice as you walk down towards the top of Chute #3 the absence of large, old trees. The pioneers cut down these trees and dragged them as anchors. Also notice as you stand at the top of the chute the dead stumps lining the sides of the chute. These stumps at one time showed rope burns caused by wrapping ropes around these trees to lower wagons down the chute. Most ropes or chains used by pioneers were no longer than 100 feet in length, making it necessary to lower the wagons in short segments, probably zigzagging the chute.

(T3S, R8E, Sec16)

Excerpt from the Barlow Road National Register of Historic Places Nomination Report, 1992:
"... A third, terrifying chute or descent, probably the longest and most difficult on Laurel Hill, dropped from the main ridge into the watershed of Camp Creek. The hisotrical and visual integrity of this feature are irreversibly compromised by logging and the massive cuts for modern Highway 26. The terrain and diaries suggest that this third chute was the one down which a stream coursed while emigrants struggled to lower their wagons and livestock. In 1989 the upper portion of the chute is a tangle of rotting logs and dense alder thickets. The lower portion is obliterated by the road cut and massive piles of rock blasted from the south-facing slope of Laurel Hill. ..."

Laurel Hill ... Chute #4 (1857-1862)
Laurel Hill ... Chute #5 (1863-1866)

Jim Thompkins wrote in "Discovering Laurel Hill and the Barlow Road (1996, 2002):

"... [as you approach Laurel Hill from the east heading towards Mount Hood, keep in the right lane and] pull off the road just past the deep cut. There is a wide area to pull off. Look straight ahead at the face of Laurel Hill. You will notice different colorings of green and brown. The large S shaped brown swath that goes from the top of the ridge all the way down to the highway is chute #4. Carefully get out of your vehicle and look over the guard rail. You can see a small green meadow at the base of chutes 4 and 5. ... It is possible to pull off the road where chute #4 is cut by US 26, but be very careful as the highway is always dangerous. It is believed that chute #5 crossed in the creek bed left of chute #4 and used the same meadow as chute #4. Proceed about 1.5 miles east to the Oregon Heritage sign (on the right) for Laurel Hill."

(T3S, R8E, Sec.16, Sec.21)


Image, 2012, Laurel Hill, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Laurel Hill, looking at it's southwest face, showing the upper sections of Chutes #4 and #5. View from Oregon Highway 26 before ascent up Laurel Hill. Image taken November 7, 2012.
Image, 2012, Laurel Hill, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Dropoff below Laurel Hill, in the area of Chutes #4 and #5. View from Oregon Highway 26 before ascent up Laurel Hill. Image taken November 7, 2012.



  • NEXT: Laurel Hill to Rhododendron
    • Overview ...
    • Laurel Hill ... "Meeting Rocks" ... Fourth Tollgate (1871 to 1883)
    • Pioneer Bridle Trail ... Laurel Hill to Rhododendron
    • Crossing the Zigzag River ...
    • Zigzag River ... Joel Palmer's Journal
    • Tollgate Replica ... Fifth Tollgate (1883 to 1918)
    • Tollgate Replica ... Maples
    • Tollgate Campground
    • Rhododendron ...






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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.

Lat/Long were obtained from plotting location on National Geographic's TOPO! program, 3.4.3, 2003.

Sources:    [See Barlow Road Sources]

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October 2013