20. Spirit Falls, near Oakridge, Oregon.jpg

Spirit Falls, near Oakridge, Oregon

Cradled in a lava bowl, Alex Creek flows over a 40-foot moss-covered outcrop, draping it like a luminous veil as spring-fed water spills into a shallow pool. Echoing off its basaltic walls, one can hear the waterfall before it comes into view, hidden in the cleft of an old-growth forest of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and big-leaf maple.

Spirit Falls is a dreamlike refuge between the crest of the Cascade Range and the Willamette Valley in the low, wet mountains of southern Oregon. Fed by snowmelt and groundwater, the creek thunders through the rock wall's gap in the spring. On this mid-October day, the fall's ebbing flow is lit by a break in the forest canopy.

In 1978, when a forest service employee first came across the falls, he named it after his wife, calling it Andrea Falls. A few years later, a Boy Scout troop, in an enterprising project, built the half-mile trail to the falls. Afterward, the troop approached the Oregon Board of Geographic Names to officially designate it Spirit Falls in tribute to the "Scout Spirit" of "doing good," though, over time, its name has come to describe its ethereal and contemplative nature.

- James Baker