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.

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