Saturday, October 14, 2017

Upper Rogue River

My hikes are like my children, I love each one equally. But not really, and I refer to hikes, not to children. Some hikes are so special that they rise to the rank of Most Hallowed Hike instead of being relegated to the nameless and faceless miles of trail that I hike on every year. A good indicator of how much I enjoy a hike can always correlate to how many photos I take. On average, I come back from a hike with 150 to 250 photographs, with the threshold for Most Hallowed Hike status being more than 300 photographs taken. Since I came back from this hike with 597 photos, I may have to come up with another rank above Most Hallowed Hike. After that explanation of photos correlating to favored hikes, my kids will probably start counting photos to see which child I favor over all the others!

Autumn's golden glow
This year, I had visited the Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge areas a couple of times, but not really hiked them. Either the weather was nasty or we had just eaten mammoth hamburgers at nearby Becki's Restaurant; either way not much hiking was done. However, since this particular day was a cool and sunny autumn marvel and my belly was not stuffed full of hamburger meat and jalapeƱos, there'd definitely be a hike, with autumn being the star of the trail today.

The first of 597 photographs
Just a quarter of a mile into the hike, I had already snapped off dozens of photographs of vine maple leaves and it was obvious this hike would be all about the fall colors. In Oregon, if you want to see autumnal color glory, then you must go a place (like the Upper Rogue River) where the vine maples grow. The Rogue Gorge was in semi-permanent shade and the vine maple leaves were pale yellow, still dripping moisture from the evening's rain. On the other side of the river, the vine maples glowed bright red in isolated sunbeams, looking like color bombs frozen in mid-burst.

"...Peace like a river", Part 1
There's a line in a hymn that says "...peace like a river" and that phrase was absolutely apropos of a majority of the hike along the Upper Rogue. Mostly always visible from the trail, the river was as tranquil, serene, and placid as a mystic in a state of beatitude. The reds, yellows, and oranges reflected in the river's surface, running together like a watercolor painting.

Winter cometh
Winter is coming and wherever there was shade, there was icy frost on a chill morn. Things eventually warmed up just a smidge when the river and trail oriented themselves toward the sun. The increased sunlight noticeably brightened up the colors along the trail. Vine maples had recruited their other arboreal friends (like dogwood, mountain ash, and alder) to contribute their own unique tints and hues to the leafy rainbow mix. Throw in the dark green firs and a deep blue sky, and life was both colorful and good.

The Rogue flows in a narrow canyon
This area had been greatly affected by Mount Mazama's cataclysmic eruption about 7,000 years ago. In places, I was walking on obvious volcanic ash from the explosion that created Crater Lake. Anyway, subsequent to the eruption, molten lava flowed over this area, creating lava tubes. One section of tube roofing  had collapsed, creating a narrow canyon that the river now funneled into. The river abruptly changed moods, angrily seething and raging, like King-Kong inside a shipping crate, at being so confined in such a narrow defile. The Upper Rogue Trail does run along the opposite side of the river but a connector trail across provided a stout footbridge with a totally awesome view of the geologic and hydrologic marvel. Much photography ensued.

Why I hike
There are several campgrounds nearby and the trail wandered through a few of them. In the shady interior of the campgrounds, the vine maples had gone a soft and light yellow, imparting an ambient golden glow about things. Smoke from various campfires accentuated the sunbeams slanting through the forest. The campgrounds were sparsely populated though, probably due to the rainstorms of the week prior and besides which it was still pretty chill, and not in the cool slangy sense of the word, either.

Steam bath
The morning sun was turning all that frost into damp moisture, and all that damp moisture into steam. With a little imagination, the steam and red trees in the morning sun made it seem like  the volcanic eruption had just taken place. Well, with a lot of imagination, maybe.

Where'd the river go?
I've been to Natural Bridge several times over the last couple of years but always during a rainy spring. The rain-swollen Rogue overwhelms the natural bridge so I've just observed a raging river in a narrow gorge. The narrow gorge is really a lava tube where the tube's ceiling has collapsed. However, there is a section of lava tube still fully intact and the Rogue River, when the flow is lower than normal (like in late summer), pours into the tube and disappears from sight entirely, only to resurface 80 yards downstream. Anyway, the full natural bridge aspect was on display on this day and the camera was kept busy.

Forest fire
Natural Bridge was my turnaround point, although I'd return on the other side of the river on the Upper Rogue River Trail. This was the sunny side of the river and because of the ample sunlight, the color tones were much more vibrant than the still quite colorful east side of the river. Much photography ensued (that phrase got to be quite redundant on this hike) of all the red, yellow, and orange hues of vine maple starkly contrasted against a cobalt blue sky.

Autumn's palette
Up until now, the trail had been pleasantly level but that changed as the trail switchbacked away from the river and up and over a densely wooded ridge. The forest was all tall and dark fir, but with a thick forest undergrowth of vine maple which tended towards the pale yellow and green colors. It was getting towards late afternoon and sunlight slanted poetically through the tall trees,

Alder have already surrendered their leaves
Just when legs started to complain, the trail dropped rapidly down to the river with a stout footbridge crossing the river rampaging in a narrow slot canyon. That closed the loop portion of the hike and from there it was back on the Rogue Gorge Trail wending its way through the golden-leafed campgrounds.

"...Peace like a river", Part 2
As another empirical demonstration of how much I enjoyed this hike, my average hiking pace was 40 minutes per mile and I didn't even stop for lunch! But hey, that'll happen when you stop to take 597 photographs. Not so empirically, let me just aver that this hike happened to be one of the best autumn sojourns I've ever done.

Watercolor painting
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. I've been in this area in the winter, when I visited Crater Lake. But it looks as though a fall visit is in order!