Friday, June 29, 2018

Roughrider Falls

This blog should really be titled "Rough Roughrider Fails" with the accent on the "Rough". Coming as it did, right after a less than stellar hike to Sherwood Meadows, a disappearing trail should have come as no surprise, but nonetheless I didn't anticipate a National Recreation Trail to be in such poor shape.

A frog basks in the sun
Starting out from the Hammaker Meadows Trailhead, the Upper Rogue River Trail gave no hint of the travails that awaited me about 1.5 miles into the hike. Sure, there were a few fallen trees scattered here and there, but nothing outside of the norm with most lying right next to the trail and not across it.

Candystick emerges after the winter layoff
The mid-summer flowers were in bloom, and I took my time and took my photographs, too. The white spectrum of the rainbow were well represented by Queen's cup and Columbia windflower, with thick carpets of bunchberry earning the miniature dogwood-related plant the Most Profuse Flower of the Day award. Pink and white spears of candystick poked up out of the ground, joined by wintergreen and Prince's pine. Much photography ensued and my pace was relaxed and leisurely.

A large waterfall that was not Roughrider Falls
The trail hugged a forested slope above the Middle Fork Rogue River, glimpses of which could be seen through openings in the trees. The water was amazingly clear, which shouldn't be surprising given that Boundary Springs, the river's fount, was less than 10 miles away. Lush green meadows flanked the clear running stream, which snaked to and fro in the abundant riverine greenery. About a mile in, there was a sizable, yet nameless, waterfall and I bushwhacked a bit to get some pictures of the scenic cascade.

A portent of things to come
A little over a mile, a tree lay across the trail and I stepped over it. Not a big deal, but about a quarter-mile further lay another tree. And shortly further along the path, another tree. See the trend? The trees were coming in ever increasing frequency and the size of the trunks grew larger and larger. No more easy step-overs for me, nope. I was having to scramble over, crawl under, or bushwhack up or down off the trail to get past the prone behemoths. Progress slowed dramatically, my rate having nothing to do with photography fun.

Gnome plant 
I was determined to reach Roughrider Falls, damn the trees anyway, but then they started coming in twos and threes and this hike was rapidly turning into hard work. My resolve began to falter when I worked my way past a pile of six trees that required both a slither underneath and a crawl over. Rounding the next bend, there was a veritable wall of trees, maybe a dozen and the pile was probably about 15 feet high. The trail was contouring across a steep slope so I couldn't really go around them, I would have to go up and over that pile. That sound you heard was my determination exploding as it crash-dove, trailing flames and smoke, into the forest floor.

Columbia windflower
Figurative tail between my legs, I turned around and negotiated all the fallen trees all over again. But, the good ol' Upper Rogue River Trail had one more surprise to throw at me. Once I reached the section of trail that did not have trees laying on top of it, the hike found me in a rhythm with only my own thoughts for company, and I didn't have much of those, either. Suddenly, movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention, there was some small black furry animal walking in the woods, paralleling my direction. 

Ripening grouseberries

What was that creature? My first thought was a weasel or maybe a feral cat but then, upon closer inspection, the dog-like snout and rounded ears gave it away: a bear cub, about 15 yards away from me. Walking just behind the cub was another cub, so by my count that made two cubs and my one overriding thought was "WHERE IS MAMA?" From behind a fallen tree, a large black head arose and there was Mama Bear, and boy, she was giving me the stink-eye.

The Rogue River courses through a meadow
Quickly, my idle thoughts became very active, "Think, Richard, think!" I walked backward down the trail, kicking aside sticks and stones to make noise as I did so. I wanted Mama to know a) I was leaving and b) where I was at all times. We didn't want her wondering about my location at all. Meanwhile, the cubs ran like black lightning right up a tree. I didn't realize how quick bears can move, it was truly amazing the speed and agility of the two ursine tykes as they ran up the tree. Meanwhile, Mama bear beat a hasty 30-yard retreat into the forest and waited, while yours truly stopped retreating, making sure to remain visible to all concerned. Plus, I wanted to know where all the moving parts were, too. 

Slime mold, looking a lot like bear urp
I'm not going to lie, I really wanted to get closer and photograph the bear family but the logical portion of my brain said that was a really stupid idea. The smart brain won out but still... Anyway, Mama grunted out some commands that her kids understood, as they ran down the tree trunk and the entire bear clan just melted back into the woods and the ordeal was over, sort of. I say sort of, because the whole encounter left me spooked to the point that every fallen tree or log was a bear and every twig snapping or bird flitting was a bear on the trail behind me. However, I'm glad to report that every fallen tree or log was just that, and every noise in the forest was just a noise in the forest.

Freshly cleared trail near Hammaker Meadows
When I reached the trailhead, I hadn't hiked very far due to my turning back. So, for extra mileage (obviously, I had calmed down by now) I continued south on the Upper Rogue River Trail, expecting to run into fallen trees at some point. However, this section of trail had been recently cleared out and you could still smell the sawdust from the freshly cut logs flanking the trail. Unfair! 

Hammaker Meadows
A short walk brought me to expansive Hammaker Meadows, and I bushwacked down into the meadows. I tell you, there is nothing like green grass under blue sky. Throw in some forested mountains flanking the meadows and river valley, and all the day's travails suddenly almost became worth it. Normally, I hike to relax but this had been a beary tough and stressful hike.

The conks need to eat a lot more trees
For more pictures (no pictures of the bears, sorry) of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sherwood Meadows

Not every hike gets to be an epic. And, just because it's on the map doesn't necessarily mean it's still there on the ground either. Too bad, because both Lane and I had hiked to Sherwood Meadows before and we had both found the hike to be enjoyable and worthy. So enjoyable and so worthy, that Lane was entertaining a notion about leading a hike here for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club but naturally, after this day's struggle of a hike on an exceedingly sketchy trail, he decided the club could very well hike elsewhere and thereby continue to maintain the "friends" aspect of Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club.

If only all trails were so easy to follow!
The thing is, this poorly maintained trail has a very well maintained trailhead replete with a large parking lot, plenty of signs, and what appears to be a fully operable horse corral. Strange. But off we we went and initially, the trail was eminently followable through a dry and sparse forest. Because of the small spindly trees, we were also eminently exposed to sunlight and it didn't take long for us to feel the heat. Also eminently followable was us, and the mosquitoes found us eminently eatable, no matter how much Deet got slathered on.

Searching for a trail in Beaver Meadows
After a short distance, the trail entered grassy Beaver Meadows. On the map, there should have been a trail junction here, offering us two ways to get to Sherwood Meadows. We spent a great deal of time and sweaty energy in the open meadows searching for the trail but alas, we could not find it. We did find traces of trails past in the pastures though, for there were plenty of paths braiding through the expansive green leas flanking  surrounding the clear waters of East Fork Muir Creek. Most paths would peter out after a bit even though we found sign that some of these paths had been actual trail, vis-a-vis sawed logs scattered here and there. 

After wandering hither and yon through the grass while swatting at mosquitoes, we gave up on finding the trail and simply began enjoying the meadow. If one could temporarily ignore the mosquitoes, there were butterflies, wildflowers, and a small creek reposing underneath a cloudless blue sky. Much photography ensued, and hiking progress slowed to crawl velocity.

One of several fords of East Fork Muir Creek
Eventually, we backtracked to the original trail and continued on an increasingly brushy path to East Fork Muir Creek. The trail sort of disappeared in the lush growth but we did manage to find the resumption of the trail on the other side of the creek, after walking across logs spanning the clear running stream. And then the fun started.

See the trail?
Me, neither

The trail on the opposite side quickly petered out, disappearing into the lush creekside jungle. We turned left and followed the creek downstream, searching for some trail tread. Life would have been so much easier had we gone upstream, but how were we to know? Anyway, once Lane and I figured out that there was no trail where we were at, we decided to cross-country it to where we thought the trail might be.

Candystick diverts my attention away from my misery
Of course, our route charged straight up a nasty steep hill, the grade as unforgiving and unrelenting as an ex-wife (or an ex-husband too, I leave it to the reader to insert the gender of choice, here). The slope was heavily forested but despite the ample shade, the day had gotten quite warm and an eye-burning mixture of salty sweat, Deet, sunscreen, and trail dust were soon running into our stinging orbs,  making us cry over something other than cross-countrying it up an incredibly steep slope. Although, if truth be told, there were plenty of tears shed in that regard, too.

At times, the trail was quite pleasant
Anyway, the bad uphill eventually stopped and leveled out atop a forested plateau, where we found a faint trail tread. The next portion of the hike was an uphill trudge through the heat and insectile vampires swarming in the forest. At times the trail was quite easy to follow and at other times, we'd be peering into the forest, looking for the resumption of the tread. 

California blue-eyed grass
We ate lunch at another expansive meadow that lay within a mile of Sherwood Meadows, if only because there were slightly less mosquitoes per cubic foot of air than in the forest. When not eating, we were both crawling through the grass, taking pictures of the profuse wildflowers blooming within. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end though, and we headed back out onto the trail.

Stepping stones across the creek
Because of the energy-sapping heat and the heartless uphill grade, we were both exhausted despite the relatively short distance we had covered so far. Fortunately, Sherwood Meadows lay downhill from our lunch spot, ostensibly making the hiking easier. Unfortunately though, the path was covered with piles and piles of fallen trees and that was it. Communicating wordlessly like a long-time married couple, we turned around and headed back the way we came, abandoning Sherwood Meadows like an unfaithful suitor.

We stayed on the trail on the way back, and it was obvious where we had made the incorrect turn that set us on our tedious cross-country venture. But, even if we had made the correct turn, we still would have had to clamber over piles of trees in the heat while mosquitoes tormented us. Like I said, not every hike gets to be epic. Lane agreed, avowing "before today, I thought I Sherwood like to do this hike and now that I've been, I Sherwouldn't!" Not every joke gets to be funny, either.

Paintbrush in a meadow
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Boundary Springs

Last year, wildfires by the dozens swept through the southern Cascades, covering Roseburg with a smothering acrid blanket of sour smoke. It was kind of like sticking your head up the exhaust pipe of a car with a blown head casket, not that I really know what that is like. Anyway, one of those many fires had burned north of Crater Lake and wouldn't you know it, Boundary Springs was right in the middle of that mess. But that was last year, and curious, I headed out to the trailhead with grandsons Daweson and  Issiah in tow, wondering what was left of the trail.

After the fire
Well, as it turned out, the trail was still there but pretty much everything around it was gone. But really, it's not all that much of a loss and I'd better explain. Previously, the trail had ambled through a viewless lodgepole pine forest before reaching the fabled springs. Lodgepole forests can be singularly tedious and dull to hike through as the spindly trees all kind of look the same after just a step or two on the trail. Lodgepoles grow in poor soils so they are the only show in town in dry dusty pumice-based soils. Because of the poor soil, there isn't much in the way of lush undergrowth or heaven help us, maybe even another tree species. The trees are scrawny and spindly and do not provide much shade, yet despite their spindliness, they manage to block all views of the Rogue River coursing below the trail. So, a fire burning up a monotonous lodgepole forest and all the mosquitoes contained wherein, is not necessarily all that bad of a thing.

Miniature lupine was a common sight
Another demerit for Boundary Springs gets awarded for being a short hike with a long drive to get there. Throw in the dull lodgepole forest and this hike naturally does not hang in my Hall of Favorite Hikes of All Time; but with two kids grumbling after the aforementioned long drive, a short hike seemed the way to go. We set out on the trail which wound its way through an austere forest of silver snags starkly etched against a cobalt sky. No trees had survived this fire yet amazingly, lodgepole seedlings were sprouting in hopeful profusion on the ground. Lodgepole needs fire to germinate as the heat from the conflagration opens up the pine cones and scatters the seeds and obviously, the fire had done its job. Just a year after the fire, and already life was returning to the forest.

The squabblers
Not only were there baby trees returning to the forest, the forest floor (or what would be the forest floor, if there were a forest) was thinly carpeted with lupines and fireweed with twittering birds flitting about the dead trees. Didn't see or hear any woodpeckers though, but just give it time. And speaking of babes in the forest, my two young charges didn't waste any time insulting and irritating each other, their whiny voices carrying through the dead forest and still air. Oh, this was going to be a long hike, despite the short distance!

Doing "The Daweson"
Ah, but the forest served up weapons of mass distraction, and the boy's seemingly incessant scathing put-downs and slashing ripostes were soon terminated by millions of voracious mosquitoes arriving to feed upon two grumpy boys. Fortunately, Grandpa was well prepared with a bottle of Deet and peace was restored to the forest after a healthy application thereof. 

Issiah the Fearless
As mentioned, the trail was without shade and it was fairly warm and we were soon sweating from a combination of endeavor and hot sun, our feet kicking up small clouds of dust that hung motionless in the still air. It was too hot for the boys to resume unfinished arguments and one outnumbered grandfather was grateful. 

The Rogue River flowed below the trail

One positive note to a wildfire wreaking death and destruction upon a forest is that views get opened up, with that annoying clutter previously referred to as "the forest" no longer getting in the way of observing the surrounding landscapes. For most of this hike, the Rogue River was eminently visible at the bottom of its canyon. Based on previous hikes in this area, I was like "There's a river down there! Who knew?"

Boundary Springs, the new version 
Because the scenery was so different from past pre-fire hikes to Boundary Springs, and because the side trail to the springs had been rerouted, I nearly didn't recognize Boundary Springs when we arrived. Following an increasingly faint path, I stepped across a creek and headed uphill where the path finally petered out. Wait a minute, that small creek I stepped over was actually Boundary Springs, without all the trees surrounding the famed fount of the Rogue River. I'm going to have get used to the new treeless look for this trail and destination!

Issiah appreciated the
refreshing qualities of the spring...
...while Daweson enjoyed the hair
curling properties of the icy waters
Anyway, as advertised, there was the Rogue River gushing out of the ground and the boys were impressed with the crystalline purity of  the water. They also were impressed with the cooling properties of the nascent river, seeing as how it was a hot day and all. In short order bandannas, shirts, pants, and boys were soon soaked in the restorative waters of Boundary Springs.

A dusty road led to West Lake
Daweson and Issiah wanted to swim but alas, the shallow river did not provide any quality swimming holes. I wanted to go on a longer hike so in a confluence of our two respective goals, we decided to strike toward West Lake. At the point where the trail crossed both the river and a forest road, we grabbed the sere road for the extra two-mile round-trip hike to the lake.

West Lake, an oasis in the middle of a burned forest
Trudge, trudge, trudge, the road was incredibly dusty, the day had become unabashedly hot, mosquitoes pestered us in spite of the Deet, and the boys began annoying each other all over again. But there in the middle of all the burned trees, was the surprisingly intact shelter at West Lake and let's give a tip of the hat to the fire crews for expending the successful effort to save the rustic cabin. Clothes were shed and moods quickly improved when the boys waded into the blue lake ringed by dead trees. If Daweson and Issiah ever form a band, they'll have to call themselves either the Skinny Dippers or the Underwear Boys. But if they ever did start a band, they'd surely start arguing about which one of them would be the lead singer. Anyway, they enjoyed swimming and verbally sniping at each other while I enjoyed taking incriminating photographs for the sole purpose of embarrassing them at a future high school graduation slide show.

Friendly spirits
Spirits restored by a backcountry swim, we resumed trudging through the dead forest under the warm sun as the mosquitoes buzzed in our faces. Yet, despite all of these travails I've been grumbling about, in my opinion the hike had been nonetheless improved by the ravages of the last year's fire. Now if only the firefighters could put out those red-hot embers of smoldering sibling rivalries!

Hoverfly, hovering as only a hoverfly can
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tahkenitch Creek weekend backpack

Hello keyboard, did you miss me? Yeah, I know, it's been a while since I've posted and to all you who have been asking: I am fine but have been just plain old blog lazy. In my defense, Blog Central is upstairs where all the heat goes and it just seems like there are better things to do than literally drip rivers of sweat while typing out the latest inane entry that somehow involves a hike somewhere in southern Oregon. But anyway, the hikes are piling up and their stories are waiting to be told, so here goes the first attempt at catching up.

Tall rhododendrons provided ample shade
Several years ago, I took granddaughter Coral Rae on a backpack trip to the coast and that particular trip was somewhat of a fail. A pebble of sand had locked our food canister lid tight which was darn inconvenient, as our weekend nutrition was just on the inaccessible side of the lid. So, Coral Rae got to double up on the planned mileage when we hiked out the same day. Since she didn't like the inbound hike in the first place, she was doubly sour on backpacking by time we reached the car under setting sun. Way to make great memories, Grandpa!

Our route
But time heals all wounds and here in 2018, a couple of years after that first abortive attempt, Coral Rae was ready and willing for another attempt at this backpacking thing. So off we go to Tahkenitch Dunes, eager to complete our unfinished business from two years ago. She didn't do too bad this time, we indulged in a couple of rest stops in the shady spots and arrived at Tahkenitch Creek (sort of) before the heat ramped up in the afternoon.

View from our campsite
What a difference a year or two makes! Last time I backpacked here, there was an epic campsite attained by bushwhacking off the trail towards the creek. Perched atop the creek bank, the campsite proffered up a soothing view of the wide but languid creek S-curving into the ocean. Since then, unfortunately, a very rainy winter overly filled up the marshes behind the beach foredunes and the resultant runoff carved a deep gully that trashed the trail. 

Small girl, large ocean
Additionally, the creek has been migrating south and the trail has already been relocated several times during my acquaintanceship with the sandy path. This time was no different and the path had again been rerouted back into the woods south of the creek. And my awesome campsite had long since disappeared into the maelstrom waters of a rampaging creek. 

One of several bugs with large jaws
However, a section of the old trail remains, perched at the edge of the creek banks, and the Forest Service has strategically placed logs, branches, and brush to deter hikers from attempting to follow the old trail. However, the old path makes for a perfect camping spot with a similar view as that of several years ago, so Coral Rae and I illicitly bushwhacked through a dense thicket of trees and brush and set up camp on the once and former trail.

"I'm sailing away..."

One other change made by the Forest Service is that they have roped off creek banks on the beach and the dunes on the other side of the creek, in an attempt to save the snowy plover, an endangered beach-dwelling bird. While I always enjoyed exploring and swimming in the creek, giving all that up is good when done for a worthy cause, so Coral Rae and I dutifully obeyed the restrictions...except for our camping on the closed trail, of course.

Crazy kid at play
Since we had half a day to kill, we pretty much did that, wading in the ocean and digging for sand crabs. I showed Coral Rae how the sand crabs swim in the water around one's feet. But yikes! The little <bad word, plural version> started biting my feet and it was somewhat painful. It was like "Attack of the Carnivorous Crabs" starring My Feet. Needless to say, I'll never again walk barefoot in the beach, for the remainder of my life.

On the beach in the late and chilly afternoon
The beach was littered with jellyfish, their dried purple sails still catching the breeze after their boat had beached, so to speak. There were odd little insect critters with large and formidable jaws afoot (one more reason not to walk barefoot on the beach!) and much photography ensued while lying prone on the dangerous sands.

Late afternoon at Tahkenitch Creek

Coral Rae, seemingly impervious to cold (a brisk chill wind was a constant on the beach), waded across the mouth of Tahkenitch Creek and also spent some time lying down in the rushing water. When the temperature began to drop in the late afternoon, we beat a retreat to our campsite, made dinner, and then sat down atop the creek bank for the sunset show.

Clap, clap, clap!
The best sunsets are at the coast, there can be no argument about this. Predictably, the sun sank, and the air was cast with a brilliant golden glow as the creek sparkled with a million points of orange light. In what is a tradition of mine, we gratefully applauded when the last light of the sun sank behind the horizon.

Morning comes to camp
After a restful night, I got up early and let the snoring girl sleep. The creek was smooth as polished marble, and everything was tinted pink from the morning sunlight. A lone bald eagle swooped in and perched atop a post on the opposite side of the tree-clogged creek. Later, after Coral Rae woke up, I was telling her about the eagle when right on cue, the eagle returned for an encore performance. Thanks, eagle!

They may be small, but they sure are tasty
All good things come to an end though, so we struck camp, hoisted our packs and began trudging in the soft sand. It was quite warm this morning, and the open dunes did not provide any succor. Coral Rae and I diverted our attention from our hot and sweaty toil by nibbling on wild strawberries which were plentiful along the trail. We also debated for several miles whether Coral Rae's favorite aliens were kinder and gentler than my favorite aliens. Inane, to be sure, but several years ago all I heard was how miserable one grumpy granddaughter was. What a difference a couple of years can make!

The 2018 version of Coral Rae
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.