Friday, January 11, 2019

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Upper Rogue River Trail

The latest installment of my Southern Oregon Autumn Tour continued with a rather colorful hike along the upper Rogue River, one of my favorite places for hiking in what might be my favorite season for doing so. This time though, I was leading a Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club outing so no quiet introspective hike for me today, I had responsibilities and people to look after.

The Rogue River seethes in a narrow gorge
Nine hikers began the hiking day at the Rogue Gorge overlook and it was immediately obvious that today was just going to be glorious. The sky was deep blue, cloudless, and best of all, the air was smoke-free (wildfires had smoked out a lot of hikes this year). Despite the ample sun, the temperatures were mild enough to prevent overheating yet warm enough to encourage hiking in shorts. The gorge was a good way to start the hike off, with the Rogue River seething at being so constrained in the narrow defile. 

The story of this hike
After oohing and aahing at the gorge, we grabbed the Upper Rogue River Trail and followed the river for the next 4 miles or so. The river alternated between boisterous rapids and peaceful pools but was always photogenic. I was leading and counting heads, so not much photography ensued, unlike my customary hiking norm. Unlike the previous day's hike on the North Umpqua Trail, where vine maples were the star of the show, it was the dogwood trees serving the color buffet this time. The bright pinks and reds were striking, especially when contrasted against the cobalt blue sky. I must confess that some photography did ensue every now and then.

The Rogue River was always nearby
About two miles into the hike, we crossed the Rogue on a footbridge spanning the river where it roiled in the narrow confines of a collapsed lava tube, as unhappy at the confinement as King Kong in a shipping crate. Some more photography ensued of the river zigzagging in the narrow crack. From there, we'd hit the only uphill part of this hike.

Forest, as we huffed and puffed our way uphill
The Upper Rogue River Trail left the river briefly, heading up and over a forested ridge. Here, it was all about the vine maples, not that we noticed all that much as we huffed and puffed up the brisk climb. We did run into a family huffing and puffing in the opposite direction and they asked me if I knew where Natural Bridge was. "Yeah," I replied, "it's where you started from, it has a fence around it and a sign that says 'Natural Bridge' ". Call me sarcastic but to their credit, they continued on, planning to do the loop back to the tourist attraction, and good for them is what I say.

Cascade on the Rogue, near Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge is where the Rogue River disappears into a lava tube only to emerge about 75 yards downstream. It was busy with tourists enjoying the geological oddity on a fine autumn day, but nonetheless it is amazing to see a river vanish from sight before your very eyes. Also, Natural Bridge has restrooms and picnic tables and we availed ourselves of the amenities, stopping for lunch and a rest before continuing our journey.

Just a beautiful day for a beautiful hike
I just couldn't stand it anymore, I just had to give in to my photography muse, so I announced to the club that I would be leading from the rear. The route back was uncomplicated, all hikers had to do was keep the river on the left side, so I wasn't particularly worried about losing any on the return leg.

Impressionist watercolors
So, the next four miles (for me, at least) were spent on the sunny side of the river, admiring and photographing all the dogwood and vine maple trees one could ever want to focus a camera lens on. The river ran mostly placid, the autumnal reflections blurring like some impressionist painting. You just can't beat art by Mother Nature. 

It was nigh Halloween
A disconcerting or humorous moment took place when I was walking on a sandy patch of trail. A movement on the ground caught my eye, it was a spider and the thing was as big as Portland. It too, was out for a hike, and was walking at speed. I got ahead of it, lay down on the trail, and began taking photographs of the creepy-crawly beast. Click, click, click...I was getting some nice shots when I realized it was about to walk onto my face. Gah! I back-crawled spastically and staggered to my feet, totally creeped out but laughing aloud at my sudden discomfiture.

Autumn on the Upper Rogue River Trail
Well, I wound up with plenty of photographs but hiked slow enough that I halfway expected to find skeletons and cobwebs waiting for me at the parking lot. But no, all my peeps were happily taking in the Rogue Gorge again, so I heard not one complaint. Life had indeed been good on this hike.

As red as an irate tomato
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, October 19, 2018

North Umpqua Trail - Hot Springs Segment

The North Umpqua Trail wanders along next to its namesake river for 78 miles and in some future year I WILL backpack the entire route. The last three years, fire has kept me from doing this very thing but maybe 2019 will be the year. Because of the proximity of the North Umpqua Trail (hereafter referred to as the NUT) to Roseburg, I have hiked on most of the NUT but there are yet three pieces of trail that have yet to be graced by an O'Neill boot. Before the hike covered in this brilliantly written blog post, it had been four bits of unhiked trail, but I did manage to cross the Hot Springs Segment off the short list on a beautiful autumn day.

Moss covers all that does not move
The Hot Springs Segment is a relatively short 4'ish mile long section of trail that connects the power grids (there are a number of hyrdroelectric projects and diversions in the area) at Toketee Lake to the naked bathers at Umpqua Hot Springs. Depending how you look at it, both ends have their pluses and minuses, and I should be more circumspect about using the word "ends" in close sentence proximity to "naked bathers". My preconceived notion of the Hot Springs Segment had been that it was a fairly utilitarian segment of trail and thereby not particularly worthy of hiking on. After this gorgeous hike, I'll have to admit that I was wrong (for the very first time, ever).

Rock formation in the forest
Luna (my dog) was mindlessly happy to go hiking, whether the trail be utilitarian or not. I was a little more doubtful but had to admit that the hike got off to a nice start. Toketee Lake was like glass and reflected the surrounding mountains nicely. A footbridge crossed over the North Umpqua River where it poured into the lake, and the trail on the other side of the span headed uphill into a dense forest. 

Mushroom eats what moss does not
In hindsight, the forest was comparatively drab when compared to the forthcoming autumnal delights yet ahead of me, but I enjoyed the greenery surrounding the trail anyway. Mushrooms were sprouting everywhere and moss covered all that did not move. The cedar and fir trees were encrusted with lichen clinging to their trunks. 

Leaf-covered North Umpqua Trail
Vine maples were in full autumn swing, but in the deep shade the colors were a rather subdued pale yellow. That began to change when the trail dropped down to river level. The increased sunlight (not that I felt any of the sun's warmth on the shady side of the river, but that's just me whining) had the vine maples and dogwoods sporting a more vibrant autumnal palette of bright red, orange, pink, and yellow hues. 

Dew formed on leaves and hikers alike
The river moisture sustains an ample supply of moss which grew everywhere, and even though it was mid-morning, the day was at dew-point. Water drops condensed out of thin air and formed on nearby vegetation, dogs, and hikers. You could really feel the moisture in the atmosphere, and I could certainly feel the moisture on my pants legs as I waded through the damp vegetation. When the trail got close to the river, Luna was unleashed for quick sip and dips and she was also became quite wet. It almost felt like we were hiking in the interior of a water balloon.

Trail tunnel
However, the trail eventually peeled away from the river and we quickly dried out as we hiked on a trail covered with fallen leaves. The colors were entrancing and much photography ensued, making our hiking pace quite slow, much to the chagrin of a certain dog who hikes a lot faster than her incredibly handsome owner.  

The North Umpqua was always near
At about the two-mile mark, the trail egressed onto gravel Forest Road 3401 and crossed over to the sunny side of the river on a road bridge. Aah, now this was living! The sun warmed us both up and layers were shed and I converted my pants to shorts by zipping off the lower leggings. The trailhead here had a fair number of cars parked there by hikers looking for a slightly longer walk to the hot springs. 

Bright colors on the sunny side of the river

Autumn was simply awesome on this section of trail. The colors were astounding, made even more so when illuminated in the sunlight. I daresay that at times, the very air was glowing orange underneath the vine maples. And lest the vine maples hog all the fall glory, taller big-leaf maple trees were glowing bright yellow against a cobalt blue sky while dogwood contributed bright colors somewhere between pink and orange to the autumn ambiance. Much photography ensued.

Put your tongue in, I'm trying to take a picture of you
A brand new bridge spanned Deer Creek and that was our turnaround point. Over the last few years, the bridge had been taken out by falling trees and floods. Accordingly, this version of the bridge was brand new and you could still smell the creosote on the planks. Around the bridge, trees had been cut down and the logs were stacked up next to the creek, hopefully this iteration of the bridge will last longer than its predecessors.

Why we hike
On the return, the afternoon sunlight slanted through the forest and shadows were cast longer and longer as the day waned. At the end of the hike, I was kicking myself, wondering why I had never hiked this segment of the NUT before, it had been pretty spectacular. Now, if I can only get to backpack it in summer of 2019. Wish me luck!

Fungal collection
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Sahalie and Koosah Falls

With eyes bleary and ears still ringing after the previous night's concert by The Deer, Jay and I slid out of the car and began lacing up our boots at Carmen Reservoir. Early morning drives to trailheads preceded by late nights of loud music, followed in turn by the labor and toil of hiking: this being semi-retired sure is hard work!

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
- Albert Camus -
On the McKenzie River Highway are a couple of parking lots that allow the car crowd to take a short walk to overlooks of spectacular Sahalie and Koosah Falls. The parking lots are way too small to handle the thundering hordes of visitors and cars parked along the highway are an all too common sight, especially on a nice day. However, if one (or two, in this case) were to hike the McKenzie River Trail on the opposite side of the river, one (or two) can take in the views of the thundering cascades and still retain the illusion of having the place to one's self (or two's selves?). As an added bonus, several miles of beautiful McKenzie River can be enjoyed on a genuine dirt path (the trails on opposite side of the river are paved). As an added added bonus, fall is an incredible time to hike on the McKenzie River Trail, due to the colorful show put on by the vine maples growing rampantly by the river. 

"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
as I have seen in one autumnal face."
- John Donne -
Overhead was a clear blue sky as we set foot on the trail, yet the temperature was mild and just perfect for hiking. Sunlight filtered through the forest, illuminating the maple leaves which were colored somewhere between yellow and green. Songbirds chirped musically in the branches and my soul was filled with general all-around happiness. And all this from the first step onto the path! It's nice to appreciate one's (or two's) surroundings but one (or two) needs to get moving if any distance is to be covered.

“And the sun took a step back, the leaves lulled
themselves to sleep and autumn was awakened.”
- Raquel Franco -

Once in the forest, Jay and I were soon busy taking photographs of every colorful leaf, or so it seemed. Obviously, our pace was going to be quite slow as each photograph had be shown to the other hiker and much bragging about cameras commenced. Jay's camera could take awesome panoramic photos but I could take those exquisitely slow shots of the river. While the subject was vigorously debated, this is my blog so I say I had the better camera and took the better photographs. 

Koosah Falls thunder next to the trail
In less than a half-mile or so, a loud roar permeated through the forest, our first clue that we were about to reach Koosah Falls, still thunderingly impressive despite the relatively low water volume in the river after a dry summer. We scrambled off-trail down to a viewpoint atop a cliff with a dizzying view straight down to the splash pool. Mist from the falls filled up the canyon below, and the walls were covered with green moss thriving in the perpetual damp.

The clarity of the McKenzie River was amazing
The source of the McKenzie River is the Great Spring above Clear Lake. At the spring, the McKenzie bubbles up out of the ground, filtered and purified by miles of lava soil as the river emerges after its underground journey. We were just several miles downstream of the McKenzie's fount, and we had ample opportunity to observe the stunning clarity of the water. There were a number of pools, each tinted a dark sapphire blue with green moss growing at the edges. Did I mention already that our pace was slow due to the near constant photography going on?

Somewhere over the rainbow
A short hike from Koosah Falls brought us to Sahalie Falls, equally impressive. In fact, Sahalie Falls might get the nod for Most Beautiful Waterfall of the Day, if only for the fact that a rainbow was glowing brightly in the mist in the splash basin. Again, we bushwhacked down to a precarious overlook and admired the falls while taking photographs thereof.

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird I would fly about the Earth
seeking the successive autumns."
- George Eliot -
Now that there were no more falls to hike to, we focused our attention on the more subtle aspects of the McKenzie River Trail. Actually, the subtle aspects were not all that subtle as every colorful leaf called out to both of us "Hey, take my picture!" We obliged and as previously stated, our progress was slower than that of a slug with a limp.

Nature's bubble bath
Lest we get bored with the autumn finery on the vine maples (and we weren't), the McKenzie River also commanded our attention. The trail ran above a number of pools and rapids where the river leaped and bounded over large boulders and drop-offs. One pool was fed by a photogenic cascade and was well aerated with bubbles from the splashing cascade. We didn't opt for a quick bubble bath though, it was sufficient enough just to sit for a couple of minutes and contemplate the beauty in the river.

"The trees are about to show us how
lovely it is to let the dead things go."
- Unknown -
After a couple of miles, the trail crossed over the river on a stout wooden bridge and then the McKenzie was temporarily left behind as the route crossed the McKenzie Highway and headed overland to Clear Lake. The woods were pleasant as the shadows lengthened in the afternoon sun. When we reached scenic Clear Lake, we also began ro run into a lot of fellow hikers, as the crystalline lake is a fairly popular weekend destination.

Watercolor painting
At Clear Lake Resort, it was decision time. We wanted to continue hiking around the lake for an 11'ish mile hike but it was getting late in the day. We did the math and figured out that we'd be returning in the dark so our choice was pretty much made for us: we'd head back the way we came, for a respectable eight-miler of a hike.

- Richard O'Neill -
For variety, we returned on the well used trails on the highway side of the river. Ah, the feel of asphalt under our boots! Yes, the trail was paved in places and the river viewpoints were fenced and railed to discourage off-trail exploration of the falls. Jay and I bushwhacked anyway to the top of Sahalie Falls for a look-see. Yeeh, the view was dizzying as the falls thundered very close and one errant misstep would deliver hikers to the splash basin in a hurry. While we were there, a couple came by for a look and the dude got on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend. She said "yes" in case anybody was wondering, you  just can't say "no" at the top of Sahalie Falls.

The McKenzie River, as the daylight faded
When we had hiked earlier on the McKenzie River Trail, the day had been nice and sunny. But now, the sun had slid behind the canyon walls and it was getting to be both dark and cold. But that's what ISO settings on the camera are for and we still continued to bushwhack down to the river for shots of the turbulent white water where the river careened down the canyon. Oh, and there were those two waterfall thingies too; we availed ourselves of the strategically sited (and railed too, darn it) viewpoints to admire and photograph the roaring cascades of Sahalie and Koosah Falls.

Cascade on the McKenzie 
We returned to the trailhead at Carmen Reservoir at pretty much sunset, fully sated from a scenic hike on a perfect day. For more photographs of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Union Creek

Regular readers of my blog will note that this year there have been a few hiking fails, notably on my Sherwood Meadows and Roughrider Fall hikes. Well, we can add Union Creek to the thankfully short list, due to a badly overgrown trail that at times, resembled my back yard before its annual mowing. Obviously, I'd rather be out hiking than doing yard work.

Not much sunlight makes it to the forest floor
I had hiked Union Creek many years ago, but in that was in early spring. The creek was hard to see then as it was surrounded by a heavy and leafy growth of vine maple. My thinking was that here in September, the vine maples might be beginning their annual autumn fireworks so Luna and I headed to Union Creek, expecting this to be our first autumn hike of 2018. Well, to be clear, I was expecting autumn finery while Luna was simply happy to go out for a hike in the woods.

Decidedly un-yellow leaves
Even though peak season for the fall colors were just a few weeks away, the forest was disappointingly green. Disappointment is a matter of perspective because in spring and summer, I find the same green forest to be absolutely delightful. At any rate, apart from a few vine maples and dogwood trees just starting to blush yellow or pink in the sun, there wasn't much in the way of fall colors.

Always happy to get wet

What there was a lot of though, was dense tangles of vine maple and other assorted vegetation encroaching the trail. But at least the path was visible at the start. We could always hear nearby Union Creek but could not see it much due to the wall of green leaves between us and the creek. Occasionally, the path did get close enough to make visual contact with the creek, the tranquil pools not being so tranquil when an excited dog jumps in for a quick dip.

A rare clear section of trail

About a mile into the hike, we really began to fight the vegetation and I have the scratches on my arms and legs to prove it. Didn't seem to bother Luna much, but she remained firmly leashed to her less graceful yet incredibly handsome owner. If she were to take off in the brush, I'd lose sight of her within five feet. Anyway, we beat through intermittent patches of heavy brush and then the trail would be as easy to follow as a charismatic sect leader.

Sadly and truly, this is the trail
The intermittent quality of the overgrowth was lost right after we crossed a gravel road. From there it was continuous wading through chest high vegetation, the route visible only as a slightly less dense corridor of greenery. Soon, even that disappeared and the hike quickly degenerated into a bushwhack. It was all veritable jungle humidity and I was a drippy sweaty mess before long. Luna, cloaked in her sleek black fur, didn't seem to mind although her tongue was practically dragging on the ground as she panted. I called it good at the two mile mark, not wanting to continue doing this for another two miles to Union Creek Falls.

Dogwood, providing a hint of things to come
So back we went, fighting the same old brush on the way back. But when life gives you an overgrown trail for a hike, you turn it into a photo shoot. The dense tangle of trees and brush were photogenic, delighting dog, hiker, and camera alike. Periodically we'd bushwhack to the bubbling creek for either a photograph or an exuberant swim or wade, depending on whether you were human or dog. At least fighting the brush became easier the closer we got to the small hamlet of Union Creek.

Small cascade on Union Creek
When I got home, I found a friend of mine had sent me an email invitation to go hiking with her on the Union Creek Trail. Hmm, I wonder if she avoids yard work too. At any rate, I was able to warn her about the poor trail conditions. But while my hike was an epic fail in terms of getting an eight mile hike in, it still was a lot more fun than mowing the back yard!

Sketchy path through the woods
For more pictures of this short hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

North Umpqua Trail - Tioga Segment

The last couple of years, backpacking the 79-mile North Umpqua Trail (or NUT) had been on the calendar for a grand summer adventure. And in the last couple of years, forest fires have ensured that I hike somewhere else other than on the North Umpqua Trail. However, the 2017 North Umpqua Fire was a doozy, hanging around the North Umpqua River (and trail) for most of the summer, smothering Roseburg in thick choking smoke for the duration thereof. After that fire, the North Umpqua Trail was closed for quite some time while the Forest Service cleared the trail of downed trees, replaced bridges, and put new trail in over landslides. Just recently, the closed sections of the NUT had been reopened, giving us hikers an opportunity to assess the damage.

Now, I've always found burn areas to be beautiful in their own way. Acres and acres of silver snags point upward to a blue sky, pleasing both eye and camera; small songbirds twitter and flitter about; woodpeckers jackhammer the dead trees; and fireweed explodes in flowery exuberance on the forest floor. But, to be honest, I usually hike the burn zones long after the fires have subsided. This would be a rare opportunity to explore a fire-charred forest within a year of the last flames being extinguished.

In case I didn't know or notice
Luna (my dog) and I set out on the trail under gray and threatening sky. It had rained on the drive to the Wright Creek Trailhead but for the moment, the rain let up. What did not let up was Luna's compulsion to be be the one in front. I had to continually assert myself as the Alpha Dog, which I did by extending my hiking pole sideways, blocking her way to the front of the line, lightly rapping her on the nose and noggin should she not get the hint. Relentless, she started bushwhacking up and around the reach of those pesky and irritating titanium dog-smacking hiking poles. If this keeps up, electricity will soon be involved when we hike.

The undergrowth already is reclaiming the forest
But this is not a dog-training blog, and enough already about my canine-related travails. At the trailhead, a brand new sign warned of falling rocks and debris, due to the recent fire. And just in case all the dead trees weren't clue enough, the sign also advised we were about to enter a burned area. Undeterred by the warning, we headed up the trail and it was immediately apparent that death would be the theme of the day. Miles and miles of dead and scorched trees, not yet going photogenically skeletal white. You could almost still smell the smoke, and the ground was covered by a layer of dry pine needles dropped from dead or dying trees. The gray and overcast sky matched the mood perfectly.

Rain on oxalis
Despite the destruction wrought by the fire, there was still plenty of life to be found. The undergrowth was vigorous and robust, consisting of fireweed, wild rose, candy flower, vanilla leaf, and wild ginger, just to namedrop a few. Dense carpets of oxalis covered the damper segments of trail, with water drops beading on the clover-like leaves in camera-pleasing fashion. Unfortunately, the increased sunlight due to the lack of trees led to a robust outburst of poison oak but at least the leaves were turning red, imparting a hint of autumn to the trail. Nothing kills poison oak, not even an immolating forest fire.

How madrone survives fire
Fire is a part of the cycle of life of a forest and it was interesting to see how the trees handled the fire. Madrone sends up new growth from its roots and it was quite common to see green shoots circling the base of a dead or dying tree. The thick bark of the Douglas fir is the first line of defense from the heat of a fire and larger trees had blackened trunks but green tops, while younger trees did not survive the fire at all.

What was this guy doing in a burn zone?
There wasn't much in the way of wildlife in the unusually quiet forest, apart from a few twittering birds. Didn't see any sign of elk, deer, bear, or scat thereof on the trail. I have no doubt though, that come next spring, the forest will nevertheless be populated by an overwhelming population of mosquitoes and poison oak bushes. Hmm, maybe things that make you itch are resistant to all potential mechanisms of extinction, including a searing forest fire. That therory would also bode well for ticks, regrettably. However, most surprisingly, I did encounter a forest snail slithering on the trail. How on earth did that snail survive the fire?

Thunder Creek, on its way to the North Umpqua River
At about the two mile mark, Thunder Creek came into view, waterfalling down the steep slope as the creek tumbled toward the mostly hidden North Umpqua River.  Amazingly, the wooden bridge spanning Thunder Creek had survived the fire intact and untouched. No doubt, humidity from the creek played a significant part in the preservation of the rustic footbridge. The creek was not thundering much, as it was running low this late into summer. From the creek crossing, the NUT then headed uphill to the first of two rocky points of interest.

View of the fire-damaged forest
The first point required a bushwhack over burned and fallen trees to a rocky overlook of the North Umpqua River canyon. The river was maybe a hundred feet below but just one step away, if one were so inclined or careless enough to do that. We weren't so inclined, so we stayed safely in the middle of the promontory, my hand firmly holding onto the dog leash. I am the Alpha Dog, remember? On the crown of the point, several madrones were severely singed yet their crowns still were a leafy green, with orange limbs and trunks interwoven into a dense tangle beneath the leaves. Looking down the canyon, the forest was a patchwork quilt of live and dead trees. That was kind of surprising, because from our firsthand experience, it seemed like it was all dead forest when hiking through it.

This bench survived while surrounding bushes did not
Continuing on further, we hiked to a more prominent point referred to as Elevation Rock by my hiking crowd, although it is nameless on the map. This overlook served up an epic view of the North Umpqua River curving around a bend, with the North Umpqua Highway following the river on the opposite side. No, this is not your remote and isolated wilderness hike. The forested hills surrounding the canyon all disappeared into the cloud cover as we sat on a bench and ate lunch. The aforementioned bench has always been one of my favorite benches and I was overjoyed to see that it too, had survived the fire.

Old wasp nest on the trail
By this time, I really had gotten tired and irritated at having to continually assert my dominance over one of the most bone-headed life forms on this planet. I would have let Luna loose, but she has no filters and is liable to disappear off trail in search of a squirrel or swim, or maybe a squirrel and a swim, or a swimming squirrel even. My option was to continue the fight for another 1.5 miles of trail down to Fox Creek, or give up the venture for now. Not sure what this says about my Alpha-Doggedness, but we cut the hike short and headed back to the car, happy with a short 6 mile hike.

Itchy, itchy!
So, back down the trail we went, this time stopping to photograph the red poison oak leaves. I felt sort of unclean and itchy doing that, but I'm glad to report that my camera did not develop a skin rash within a week of this hike. If there was any justice in  this world, mosquitoes would bite poison oak leaves and both life forms would then know of the itchy madness they spread. But alas, there is no justice in this world, and I'm sure they will both be waiting for me when I finally get to backpack the North Umpqua Trail.

Pine needles covered all
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.