Thursday, April 22, 2021

Buck Rock Tunnels


Hey, I wet the bed last night! No, not THAT wetting of the bed! After I received my second Covid-19 vaccination, the following day was spent feeling ill, feverish, and generally sorry for myself. Sometime in the middle of the night though, the fever apparently broke, leaving bed and blankets soaked with cold and clammy perspiration, or at least I hope it was cold and clammy perspiration! It's so ironic that a vaccine designed to keep you from getting sick has to make you sick to keep you from getting sick. On the plus side, the ordeal left me feeling peppy, energetic, and as upbeat as an optimist on mood enhancers, which in turn directly led to my lacing up my boots the following morning at a primitive trailhead in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Lichen adorns a standing tree trunk

The Buck Rock Tunnels began life in 1883 when the Oregon and California Railroad began excavating both ends of a tunnel through Buck Rock as part of an intended rail route up and over Siskiyou Pass. Just a year later in 1884, the railroad company had exhausted its capital (boy, can I relate!) and the project was abandoned, leaving behind two tunnels that will never meet in the middle. Nowadays, the tunnels make for the endpoints of a nice and short 5'ish mile hike to the historical tunnel entrances. The east tunnel is partially collapsed but the west tunnel is in pretty good shape and naturally, is a more logical and oft-visited destination.

The trails are mostly on old jeep roads

Before it became a monument, the area was crisscrossed with a braiding network of jeep roads. Flash forward to post-monument designation, the roads have since been co-opted into hiking trails. It's a good thing too, for poison oak absolutely thrives in the area and the wide roads keep the pernicious itch-giver well away from my bare legs and arms. However, the quality of the roads comprising today's route was not always that great and on occasion the roads degenerated into faint single-track paths through grassy swales and meadows.

Ceanothus perfumed the trail and called in the bees

At the start, the road gently angled upwards through what initially was scratchy ceanothus blooming away in mad profusion, perfuming the trail and calling in all bees. Representing the tree end of things were scraggly oaks just beginning to put out leaf buds. Before long, the trail entered a shady forest comprised of madrone, big-leaf maple, cedar, and other conifers. Despite the greenery surrounding the trail, the whole vibe felt kind of dry and no doubt, it can get quite warm here in the summer. 

Typical forest scenery on this hike

I thought I had the place to myself but a rustling in the undergrowth caught my attention. I just managed to get a glimpse of a large grayish mammal slinking through the brush, about the size of a medium-sized dog, trailing a bushy tail that resembled that of a squirrel. But this was no squirrel, it was too large. At the end of this hike, I ran into the only other person I'd see today, a fellow hiker who was a Monument regular and she speculated I had seen a groundhog. I had been guessing maybe a raccoon but who knows, I just did not get a good look at the critter fleeing into the brush.

Epic view to Peak 6678

After a mile or so, the old road broke out onto an open slope surrounded by low growing chaparral, and a nice view of the valley created by creeks Carter and Hill was had. The Old Siskiyou Highway could be seen snaking its way up the valley floor up to Siskiyou Summit. On the other side of the valley loomed Peak 6678, mottled with dark forest and some small snow patches, while toy trucks labored up I-5, the freeway traversing the peak's slopes while also on its way to Siskiyou Summit.

Follow this gully up to the west tunnel entrance

Despite the aridity of the terrain, there were several seeps and springs when the trail re-entered the shady forest. The relative humidity and coolness was invigorating and no doubt the local wildlife appreciate the life-giving aspects of the small pools of water just off trail. At a dry gully, somebody had made a trail arrow out of some rocks and the gully would be the route up to the west tunnel entrance. As an aside, there are no trail signs at what turned out to be plenty of intersections so as always, bringing a map is really a good idea

Free hugs inside!

An obvious path in the gully led to the tunnel entrance, the black portal appearing dark and mysterious in the forest. Ignoring the low growl emanating from the inky blackness of the tunnel, I went in for a look see. Of course, I am kidding about the growling, the tunnel was fairly benign and free of trolls, bears, lions, deer, or any other hiker-eating creatures of the night. It was dark though, the only light (besides my flashlight) being that spilling into the tunnel from the entrance. The walking part of the tunnel ended at a shelf that really ended after a short crawl where a certain lone hiker was heard to utter "Well, the Buck stops here!" After a quick exploration of the tunnel, I headed back out to daylight, blinking myopically in the bright sunlight like the pallid cave creature I am, and resumed my journey. 

The upper route was more open

It is possible to continue on to the eastern tunnel entrance and I'm sort of kicking myself a bit for not doing so. However, I'm still taking it easy from the hernia surgery and was still feeling a bit peckish from the vaccine fallout so I opted to return from the west trailhead by taking a loop that climbed up fairly close to the Buck Rock Summit, and was glad I did.

Nothing but scratchy ceanothus and ticks at the high point

The trail went through a forest that transitioned from trees to swaths of scratchy and thorny ceanothus, the aromatic blooms attracting bees and butterflies alike. The rough track crested on a ridge before dropping through a series of grassy meadows where the trail at times went somewhat faint but still remained followable. There were great views to the north and east and the simple activity of admiring Tom Spring Mountain, Greensprings Mountain, and Grizzly Peak kept me adequately entertained on the descent. Bear Creek Valley sprawled well below with Emigrant Lake notably not containing all that much water. 

I don't like to see wildfire smoke

While the scenery was cool and all that, my attention was drawn to Peak 6628 and Wagner Butte, for wildfire smoke was clearly boiling up from behind. Last summer, the Alameda Fire catastrophically burned up Bear Creek Valley, immolating and vaporizing huge swaths of the towns of Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix so we are all a little sensitive about fires these days. However, the aforementioned only other hiker I ran into told me what we were looking at was a prescribed burn so not to worry. But still...

Tom Springs Mountain, to the northeast

So, this was my first time hiking on this trail and I enjoyed the experience. I don't think you'd want to do this when summer heats up though, but for now it was fine. I think I'll definitely come back because after looking at a map of the area post-hike, there is an old road that circumnavigates Buck Rock and that would be a worthier seven to eight mile hike, plus you can also access the eastern tunnel by doing so. In the meantime, I'll try to avoid accruing another hernia, or receiving another vaccine shot and will continue working myself back into hiking trim.

Shooting stars doing their shooting thing

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

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Cathedral Hills


What a difference a few months can make! I had first visited Cathedral Hills in late December and the paths were frosted with ice and the woods were mostly brown. Despite those failings, I had been impressed enough with the park that I volunteered to lead a Friends of the Umpqua outing there and about 20 of us set out from the Sky Crest Trailhead. Within a few yards into this hike, a veritable army of showy and ornate red Indian Warrior wildflower plumes were marching into battle to champion the cause of turning green forests red. Clearly, this spring hike would in no way resemble my comparatively drab December foray.

Indian Warriors wins "Best Wildflower in Show"

I'm not sure how a vibrantly colored plume of a wildflower became known as Indian Warrior but it's a more intriguing moniker than pedicularis densiflora, its scientific name. The warriors grow a foot or so high and are parasitic when convenient, usually in the presence of manzanita or madrone. Just like some children, the plants are perfectly capable of living on their own but will parasitize when given the opportunity. In this case, the opportunity presenting itself is when the aforementioned manzanita and madrone root systems are nearby and readily available to be tapped into by the Indian Warriors. If it seems like I've done some undue research on these remarkable plants, it's because I'd never seen them before until I spotted my first specimen about two inches into the hike.

Elegant cat's ear

Even without the eye-catching Indian Warriors, this would have been a good wildflower hike. The terrain was dotted with thin stands of madrone, oak, manzanita, and assorted conifer trees. The vegetation underneath the trees was grassy and green, with wildflowers adding some additional colors to the rampant greenery. Bright magenta-colored shooting stars were displaying their floral pyrotechnics, aided and abetted by small fawn lilies of some sort. California red bells were a thing, and so were dark purple larkspurs to go along with all the other usual springtime suspects.

Trail through oaks either benign or poison

While the wildflowers and spring greenery would have made this a great hike even in poor weather, we enjoyed the extra luxury of hiking on a superb spring day. The sky was colored a deep blue, the air was crisp and clear, and the temperature was mild and perfect for hiking in. The bright sunlight accentuated the virtual rainbow along the trail, ranging from orange-trunked madrones, burgundy-limbed manzanita, bright green oak leaves just leafing out, and the floral rainbow dominated by the scarlet Indian Warriors. There was some reddery to counterpoint the greenery unfortunately, and I refer to the oily red new leaves of poison oak, which was everywhere. Fortunately the wide and well-groomed trails kept the evil itch-spawning plant at bay.

Brought them all back, too!

As leader in charge of this hike and the only one of twenty Friends of the Umpqua members with any knowledge of Cathedral Hills Park, it was incumbent on me not to misplace any of our hikers, an easy thing to do given the plethora of trails and intersections thereof. I'm going to give myself a well-deserved pat on the back here, for having the wisdom and foresight to supply all participants with a map and cue sheet. That way, all the speedier hikers could go on at their own pace while we laggards lagged behind at our own laggardly "speed". I'm glad to report that due to and under my awesome leadership, nobody got lost.

Trail on a wooded ridge crest

Basically our route, beginning at Sky Crest Trailhead, contoured around the east side of the park, dropping down to popular and busy Espy Trailhead. After eating lunch at the ruins of some old structure overgrown by vegetation, we tackled the lone uphill portion of this hike, heading up to the aptly named Sky Crest Trailhead. Here the Outback Loop traces a route atop a ridge photogenically wooded with tall manzanita bushes and scraggly oak trees. Brief openings in the manzanita and trees provided vistas of nearby Peak 3792 and the distant mountain ranges escorting the Rogue River to the sea.

California ground cones were common
only in one spot (that we noticed)

As we crested the high point of the hike, Diane noticed a ground cone blooming underneath a stand of madrone trees. And then we noticed another and another and another, and so on and so forth. There literally hundreds of them, looking like, well, looking like pine cones on the ground, which would be quite the trick for the non-coniferous madrones. Ground cones do not have chlorophyll, so they parasitically attach themselves to the root systems of madrone trees, just like the plentiful Indian Warriors. With so much leeching and grifting off the madrones taking place, it's a wonder that they thrive as they do.

Macro lenses make tiny baby stars look
much larger than they really are

This was the first time that any of my companions had ever hiked at Cathedral Hills and all were duly impressed, with several telling me that they'd have to make this a regular spring destination. Despite the accolades, my tip jar still remained empty but to be honest, enjoying a superb woodland hike with good friends was payment enough!

Shadows play upon the trail

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

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Tahkenitch Dunes


Four and a half months and ninety miles ago, I purchased a new pair of boots that had since been servicing my hiking addiction in good stead. But then came a recent eight mile hike on the Elk Creek Trail that was noteworthy because I had forgotten to charge the camera's batteries so no photography ensued, and also because one half of my boots turned the underside of my left foot into confetti. What the heck (on both counts)? When you don't take pictures, then it's like the hike didn't happen but when your foot is blistered into shreds then you wish it didn't happen. This particular boot miscreant had been purchased at REI which, if you are a member, has a generous gear return policy so if my left foot and boot continue their philosophical disagreement about life and hiking, then I may go back and trade the boot duo in for a roomier model.

Off and running (dog) or walking (everybody else)


The Tahkenitch Dunes area is a beachgrass-dotted expanse of sandy dunes situated between coastal forest and an ever encroaching young forest taking root behind the beach foredunes. Accordingly, this erstwhile sandy hike does manage to serve up some quality forest time in addition to the taxing soft sands of the dunes. Naturally, a sublimely lush and green coastal forest was enjoyed when we hiked up and over the heavily wooded ridge crest separating the trailhead from the dunes. Normally, the trail is shared with a healthy population of rough-skinned newts but on this day, we (Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club) were the only rough-skinned users of the trail.

Where forest becomes dune

After about a mile and a half of uphill walking through a verdant forest, the trail crested and then dropped us onto the dunes and we blinked in the bright sunlight like those white grubs that scurry away when you turn over a garden rock. And thus began the muscle-taxing portion of this hike as we followed the soft and sandy track across the dunes and into the new forest lurking between dunes and beach, eventually winding up on the seashore after another mile or so of hiking.

What low tide looks like

The tide was way, way, low; for the ocean had retreated further than the Roman army fleeing Hannibal's forces after the defeat at Cannae. The vast expanse of wet sand glistened in the morning sun like the skin of a silver eel taking a bath, and the beach strand was wide enough for two 747's to land on side by side while holding hands. Tidal flats were exposed by the retreating surf and we mostly walked as close to the water as possible.

Out of its elements

One oddity (besides Lane) we encountered were a number of purple starfish found beached on the beach. Normally, starfish inhabit rocky islands and tide pools so it was a small mystery as to why we found them on wet sand today. Per my Internet research, there are a number of reasons that this could be so, one of them being that just like some humans, they inadvertently get too close to the beach during breeding season and accidently get swept up by tidal currents. There are also other plausible causes such as storms and more than likely, the overall warming of the sea.

Can't get blisters on your feet if you don't have feet

While sandy, at least the wet strand was fairly firm for hiking on but all that changed when we left the beach for a return to dune hiking. Trudge, trudge, trudge all over again, the leg-taxing tedium broken up by the spectacular vista of Threemile Lake on a spring day. Regular readers will recall that generally I refer to Threemile Lake as two Onepointfivemile Lakes because as the water level drops, the lake gets neatly bisected by a sandy isthmus. However, on this day the lake was swollen with collected rainwater and lived up to its three-mile name.

Faster hikers (without blisters) trek through the dunes

The original blister on my left foot had been behaving quite nicely thank you, but chafing from the tape holding the Second Skin pads in place were creating new blisters on the big toe. So, when we first reached the beach, I taped those up and now at the lake, the tape was putting new blisters on the neighboring toe. Talk about your basic domino theory or ripple effect, blisters were spreading like a pandemic across my left foot. Needless to say, it was a slow and painful trudge through the soft sands of Tahkenitch Dunes where I mostly just wished the hike would come to an end. Sad, because normally I don't ever feel that way about a hike.

Threemile Lake was remarkably full

Fortunately, the hike did come to a close and once I removed my boots, my poor toes got some proper relief, assuaged somewhat when John and I stopped for some adobada tacos at my favorite eatery in Reedsport, the rather generically named Mexican Express taco stand. Now, both my lips and foot were seemingly on fire but unlike my foot, the lips and other sensitive mouth parts were quite happy about this.

If I could only be half as elegant as a trillium!

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

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Kentucky Falls


It's not funny if you have to explain the punchline. As we were lacing up our boots at the Kentucky Falls Trailhead, I offered up the factoids that Kentucky Creek was flanked on either side by Roman Nose Mountain and Mount Popocat├ępetl, adding that the three place names were a geographic tribute to primitive cultures and incomprehensible dialects. What I got back, instead of wry chuckles, were perplexed looks and several earnest and sincere "Wow, really?" questions. My hiking companions got it when I, my voice laden and dripping with sarcasm, answered a question with a question "Have you ever spoken to anybody from Kentucky?" I may have lost my entire Kentuckian readership with that one but hey, it's probably only one guy anyway.

All life should be like a walk in the forest

Even though Kentucky Falls was the main reason for our outing, this hike was mostly all about the forest. The morning sunlight was slanting through a cathedral-like grove of tall trees arching overhead like so many ribs in a Gothic basilica. You couldn't help but tilt your head heavenward like an awestruck pilgrim entering Notre Dame (or any other cathedral of the era) for the first time. The green glow from the trees, ferns, and moss was pervasive and small thumb-sized birds made fist-sized twitterings as they scolded hikers celebrating a decidedly green spring day. Below all the tall trees and twittering mini-birds, tri-petaled trillium flowers added their own special grace and elegance to the reverential scene.

A small but boisterous piece of Kentucky Creek

We were hiking nearly at the bottom of a canyon carved over the epochs by Kentucky Creek. When not in a truly sublime forest, we found ourselves hiking on a trail etched onto exposed cliff faces, all colored green by the ever ubiquitous moss. Initially, the stream pleasantly coursed through the trees before picking up speed. In a practice run for the big leap at Upper Kentucky Falls, the creek jumped off several ten-foot ledges, each a worthy cascade in its own right. And speaking of big leaps, I didn't do any. Eventually, Upper Kentucky Falls hove into view as the path switchbacked down to the waterfall's splash basin.

In all its Kentuckian glory

Roughly about 100 feet tall, Upper Kentucky Falls was carrying a large volume of water, seeing how Kentucky Creek was swollen with spring runoff. The sound of the falls echoed throughout and we all stopped to contemplatively admire the picturesque cascade roaring in the shady canyon. Here on the west side of the distant Cascades Mountain Range, waterfalls are about as rare as a mosquito in late July, which is to say they are not rare at all. But even so, Kentucky Falls is arguably one of the better ones.

Moss rules this forest

After the requisite Upper Kentucky Falls view-soak and photo-op combo, it was more of the same as the trail continued to descend down toward the confluence of Kentucky Creek and the North Fork Smith River, our intended turnaround point. The forest was still eminently sublime, the morning light remained poetic, and the trail was flanked with elegant and graceful pale white trillium flowers to go along with yellow woodland violets, and white-to-pinkish oaks toothwort blooms. All of the floral colorations were but mere specks against a green backdrop of either moss, ferns, or salal.

Bird's nest fungi, en masse

Roughly halfway between the upper and lower falls, the trail crossed over a small creek via a rustic wooden bridge covered with bird's nest fungus. Generally seen on the ground or on decaying twigs, these tiny fungi are actually shaped like a bird's nest, sometimes containing small brown "eggs" which actually are spore capsules. 
Because of their small size, these fungus are not readily spotted when we hike by them, but the bridge here was absolutely covered with the diminutive fungi and much macro-lens photography ensued.

A beetle takes a pollen bath

About a mile below the upper falls, Kentucky Creek drops off another rocky ledge at Lower Kentucky Falls, made further notable that the lower falls and North Fork Smith River Falls tumble side-by-side over the same ledge. The scene is epic and I had every intention of hiking down there until a large chest-high log blocked the way with no means of bushwhacking around it, seeing as how it was sited on a steep near-vertical slope, and at right angles to the trail. The idea of swinging my leg and fresh hernia surgery incisions over that daunting obstacle made my "little boys" crawl back up into my abdomen in cold dread, so uncharacteristically I did the right thing and called my hike over at that point, darn hernia anyway.

Rustic footbridge over a small creek

This would be the last hike under the stultifying restrictions of the surgeon's dictates. After today, me and the boys are free to hike as we see fit, although I've been warned to listen to my body which doesn't really work, because so much of hiking is ignoring what your body tells you anyway. So, while my legs felt a little unfulfilled, I still wound up following the doctor's orders without really meaning to, thanks to a wayward log. 


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


Friday, March 26, 2021

Port Orford Heads and Tseriadun Recreation Site

The views from Port Orford Heads were stunning

Day 2 of my hernia surgery recovery plan (not specifically endorsed by my surgeon) called for another short hike on Port Orford Heads, the idea being to hit places where I would not normally hike because of the meager distance of the trails. Located between the town of Port Orford and the Pacific Ocean, the headlands on the ocean side are surrounded by nasty rocky islands and even nastier rocks lying in wait just below the surface of the ocean. Back in the day, boats ran into the submerged rocks with enough frequency that a lifeboat crew was stationed atop the heads to rescue sailors and passengers alike. Nowadays, the Heads and historical lifeboat station are a state park and a short trail leads to several outstanding viewpoints atop the headlands.

Wild iris graced the trail

Beginning at the aforementioned lifeboat station, the path quickly dropped into a lush forest where ferns rested upon the stout arms of spruce branches like so many polypodiophytic (fancy word for ferny) turkeys roosting for the night. Wild iris, woodland violet, and oaks toothwort were beginning the spring show on the forest floor while small birds twittered and flittered in the flourishing shrubbery.

The ruins of the once and former boathouse

At an overlook of a narrow cove dwarfed by the tall cliffs of the headlands, the ruins of the old boathouse (long since lost to a fire) could be seen. To effect a rescue, the lifeboat crews stationed here had to hike down from the station to the boathouse, manually row the boats out onto the stormy sea, rescue those in need of such, row back to the boathouse, and then hike back up the incredibly steep stair-stepped path back to the station atop the Heads. Wow, they were capable of much greater things than anything this herniated hiker could ever accomplish.

A keyhole-shaped cove at Port Orford Heads

The trail soon left the forest and transitioned to an up and down route along the edge of the headlands. The track abruptly came to an end, primarily because Oregon likewise came to an abrupt end. The drop-off was sheer and precipitous, and the view from the head of the Heads was stunning. Below, windblown waves with spindrifts curling off them crashed onto rocky islands and shores, or surged into keyhole coves with equal vigor. Offshore, a number of boat-eating islands extended out to several miles from the shore. One pyramid-shaped island had a large cave in it which reminded me of my Sisters Rock hike from the day before.

You could see forever except for Cape Blanco being in the way

To the north, stretched a beach all the way north to Cape Blanco with the town of Port Orford and local landmark Garrison Lake eminently visible. The sea was colored aquamarine, the surf glowed a radiant white, and the sky was painted a bright blue, all colors contrasting nicely with the dark brown beach and the black and brown terrain of Port Orford Heads. Definitely a colorful view for the ages!

Red currant prettied up the Tseriadun trailhead

While fun, the hike on Port Orford Heads was not very long and my legs still felt peppy, as they should, so I drove down to Tseriadun State Recreation Site, because I had never been there and the name sounded exotic if only because it began with a "ts". The locals and maps refer to Tseriadun as Agate Beach which is not as exciting a name, but if I could return home with a small haul of agates, then that would be excitement enough.

A low dune of soft sand is all that protects
Garrison Lake from the ravages of the ocean

Beaches are always fun but this particular beach is made unique by the proximity of Garrison Lake, for only a tenuous spit of sand separates lake from ocean. From a hiking standpoint, it's kind of cool to walk on the dune with the calm and placid lake on one side while on the other side, the restless ocean fumes "Mine, soon you will be mine!" Given a recent history of the ocean breaching the sandy spit during raging storms, it's not an idle threat.

Offended by my intrusive presence, the ocean gnashes its teeth

The beach sprawled under a clear blue sky but a cold and strong wind made my eyes water which might be why I didn't spot any agates. The waves were large and boisterous with the stiff breeze peeling spray off of the onrushing surf. At the south end of the beach, loomed an imposing rocky pyramid with the much larger cliffs of Port Orford Heads rising beyond. The waves were pretty awesome as they thundered against the rock so I hiked in that direction to get a better look-see.

Heed the warning, Richard

On the other side of the jagged rock was a fairly substantial creek snaking back and forth through a sand and rock combo before reaching the sea. The waves were breaking big, the spray of the surf rolling off the rocks and into the creek and I spent a few minutes doing some photography. However, several large waves rolled up the creek bed, nearly cutting me off from a safe retreat. That was my cue, and when the incoming tide temporarily receded between waves, I backtracked to safety on the beach.

The waves were spectacular

I had intended to hike a nearby nature trail before heading back to Winston but could not find the trailhead (I did see it as I was leaving, though). But the day almost felt complete anyway, with awesome scenery accessed via some restorative walking. While I could have used a few more miles of hiking, my surgeon will no doubt have a frowny face when she hears what I've been up to, so we'll just make this outing our little secret. 

The rugged Oregon coast at Port Orford Heads

For more photos of this pair of hikes, please visit the Flickr albums:

Port Orford Heads

Tseriadun State Recreation Site