Saturday, April 8, 2017

Blacktail Basin (North Bank Habitat)

The North Bank is like that old shirt you always wear. Sure, you have newer, shinier, less-holey shirts in your wardrobe, but you just have to wear that faded old thing because it's a long-time friend and it knows things about you. Being so close to Roseburg, the North Bank Deer Habitat is the go-to destination when more exotic and brightly colored trails are, for whatever reason, just not happening that day. And just like that old shirt, the North Bank does not complain about being second choice; it just takes its grassy hills and envelopes you in a forgiving and understanding trail embrace, although you do have to walk up steep trails as atonement for your infidelity. 

Willow catkin next to Jackson Creek
The Friends of the Umpqua had optimistically scheduled a hike for Boundary Springs in Crater Lake National Park, but with the winter we've had this year, not even Nanook of the North would deign to dog sled to the source of the Rogue River. So, Plan B was the ever reliable North Bank Habitat, that familiar old holey shirt of hiking destinations.

Six year old Emma was our youngest hiker
The hike from Soggy Bottoms up to North Boundary Ridge and then back down via Blacktail Basin is one of several standard loop hikes in the Habitat, but I'd never done it in reverse. Well, there's a first time for everything, and now was the time for my initial sortie up Blacktail Basin. It had been raining steadily when the club had gathered together at our Roseburg meeting place, but as we laced up our boots, the weather broke and we would get only intermittent sprinkles for the rest of the day. In fact, you could almost say it was sunny as the sun poked holes in the cloud cover while we stared in wonder at the blue sky overhead: I'm not sure when the last time blue sky was even seen in Roseburg, maybe October 2013?

Stately oak in a meadow
The walking was quite pleasant in the basin as clouds slowly lifted. The Habitat sports acres of regal oaks growing in grassy savannas. The oaks were leafless but not lifeless as leaf buds were just about to open. Also budding, regrettably, were the resplendent red leaves of poison oak which grew everywhere along the trail, effectively discouraging any off-trail exploration. Small birds, seemingly impervious to the plant's "wonderful" itchy properties, twittered merrily amongst themselves from within the maze of twiggy branches.

Boots were harmed in this hike
Jackson Creek burbled merrily next to the trail and we rock-hopped across it about halfway up the basin. Parts of the trail were quite muddy, a harbinger of things yet to come. The further we went up the basin, the nearer the wall of North Boundary Ridge. There are a number of steep trails that do foul things like head straight up the hills; many such trails were visible ahead as we walked. Ever the prankster, I pointed out those trails to the North Bank newbies in our group, telling them it was our destiny to hike up those trails. So much fun when they cry.

View down Blacktail Basin

Eventually, we ran out of flat-bottomed basin to hike in, so it was time to commence the climb up to North Boundary Ridge. Given the plethora of brutally steep trails in the Habitat, it was a pleasant surprise to find a kinder and gentler route to North Boundary Ridge. Always uphill but never overly so, we made steady progress to the top. The high ridges of the Habitat provide some of the best views that can be found on any trail, anywhere; we were not disappointed.

A fine spring day it was!
Inspiring vistas of Blacktail Basin's valley were duly appreciated by suitably awed hikers. Sun and shadows danced upon the grassy slopes flanking the basin and how could one not be impressed with the expansive panorama laid out before us? The trail, a jeep road, was overgrown with grass and with all the oaks equally spaced out on the grassy slopes, the whole vibe was pastoral and park-like.


Cattle graze in the Habitat and they do make use of the jeep road, their hooves and ponderous bulk quickly turn the road into a gooey mess of mud. While the views were great, the goo sucked at our boots as we made the tedious trudge through the muck and mire. The sticky clay soil clung to our soles and we lumbered along on platform boots like a bunch of Frankensteins, but with Gore-Tex and hiking poles.

Observing the local fauna
We ate lunch at Grumpy's Pond, where the only grumps were the herd of cattle that fled from our appearance at the small muddy body of water. When hiking resumed, we gave up on the cattle-churned trail and simply went overland through perfectly smooth grassy slopes until the trail presented itself in a more serviceable condition.

The Soggy Bottom Road contours the grassy hills
Once on the Soggy Bottom Road, the sun broke out for good and best of all, the trail contoured gently downhill all the way to the wet meadows of Soggy Bottom. The 7 mile loop hike was closed off with a hop across a flowing creek and a short walk thereafter. On this day, it was nice to hang out with our old friend the North Bank Habitat. After all, we could have been snowshoeing in the sleet and snow at Boundary Springs!

Just a hop, skip, and jump across a creek 
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. A sunny day has been a rare occurrence this winter! Glad you were able to get outside with your friends and hike an old friend.

  2. Yup, the old holey shirt is the Jacksonville Woodland Trails for us. Regardless, it is always good to get out and enjoy nature and all the amzazing beauty.