If they weren't located in a park in suburban Hillsboro, you might assume the stickwork sculptures in Orenco Woods Nature Park were the work of a pagan cult.
The project, constructed by artist Patrick Dougherty in 2017, features pieces of willow and red twig dogwood twisted and woven into distorted faces. According to a sign that tells the story behind his Head Over Heels piece, Dougherty explains that while the sculptures were "initially inspired by masks and totems of Northwest Indigenous peoples, they morphed during the building process into caricatures of human surprise."
Along with his son, Sam, Dougherty has built over 300 stickwork sculptures all over the world, each project taking a unique shape and form. Other Northwest locations that have featured Dougherty's work include the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash. In Orenco Park, the sculptures are set among a backdrop of Douglas firs and resemble a cross between massive tumbleweeds and Edvard Munch's The Scream. Each head is fitted with a hat, and there's even an entryway into each stickwork head so you can get a photo of yourself standing inside the cocoonlike sculptures.
Besides screaming stickwork fixtures, Orenco Woods Nature Park has 2.5 miles of trails, scenic bridges and wetlands. Over 100 years ago, the 42-acre park was part of the Oregon Nursery Company, then the largest nursery on the West Coast. It was best known for introducing the Orenco apple, a "high-quality dessert apple," according to the website.
As you head from the parking lot, bear left on the paved path to take the Rock Creek Trail and you'll see a historic house to your left. Once home to Malcolm McDonald, co-founder of Oregon Nursery Company, the weather-worn home now stands boarded up and abandoned, but is set to be restored by Hillsboro Parks & Recreation sometime in the future.
A green apple sculpture, titled The Seeds of Orenco, sits along the trail in tribute to the titular fruit and the park's history. You'll then pass the stickwork sculptures before crossing one of the park's three bridges over the wetlands, where you might catch a glimpse of great blue herons and beavers.
Once you cross the bridge, take a left to stay on the Orenco Woods park loop trail, where you'll cross another small bridge and walk along the graveled habitat trail, which takes you across a boardwalk bridge through the forest and eventually back to where you started at the McDonald House. The habitat trail also weaves along the wetlands, meadows and creek area if you'd like to extend the hike. Be aware that dogs and bicycles are not allowed on the habitat trails since they can threaten the plants and wildlife along the trails. If you'd prefer to stick to the paved path, then stay on the Rock Creek Regional Trail, which follows the Rock Creek Greenway for about 2 miles through Orchard Park and then head back the same way.
If you want to see the stick heads, don't wait long to visit. Made entirely of natural materials, the sculptures will last only two to four years. Besides, what better way to mark spooky season than standing inside some nightmarish set piece from the Land of Oz?
Orenco Woods Nature Park Loop
Distance: 2.5 miles
Drive time from Portland: 25 minutes
Directions: From Portland, take US 26 west about 12 miles to exit 62A for Cornelius Pass Road south. Drive south on Cornelius Pass Road for a mile and turn right onto Northeast Cornell Road. Turn left onto Northeast Century Boulevard after about a half-mile. Drive almost a half-mile and then turn left onto Northeast Birch Street. Drive almost another half-mile and make a right into the parking area for Orenco Woods Nature Park.