Sunday, May 5, 2019

Rogue River Walk

There's a pipe-dream plan percolating in my head for a future backpack trip. It begins with the Rogue River Trail, always a favorite go-to backpacking destination of mine, but once the forty mile hike ends at Foster Bar, why stop there? In my fevered imagination, I'd continue hiking about fifteen miles on the paved road to the small hamlet of Agness, and then resume trail hiking on the Lower Rogue River Trail. When that fifteen'ish mile long trail is summarily dispatched by my hiking boots, then it's like another fifteen miles on a gravel road to Boulder Bar on the Rogue River, where the Rogue River Walk begins. Finish the five or six miles of the Walk and toss in a four-mile road walk to Gold Beach, and that ends this (gotta do the math, now) close to one-hundred mile long hike from Graves Creek to Gold Beach. I probably would have to do this one by myself because my friends tend to lose interest when they hear the phrase "close to one-hundred miles", but it truly would be epic!

Alder trees reach for the sky
The Rogue River Walk is just one small piece of that ambitious would-be trek and has a unique history, having been created and built by a small army of volunteers from mostly the birding crowd. The Walk is located near the town of Gold Beach, about five miles upstream from the actual mouth of the Rogue, where  the river is wide and fairly tranquil looking when compared to the wild river found further upstream on several of the aforementioned trails. Apparently, birds hang out on the river here and the observation of the avian wildlife is the reason this trail even exists at all. Unprincipled hikers are grateful for the birds and birders creating this trail system and have no problem using the trail just for hiking on with nary a hoot about birds.

Wild iris graced the path
On the Gold Beach end of the Walk, the trail begins across the street from the former site of a large lumber mill, the concrete and pavement still visible at the mill complex, although none of the buildings or machinery remain. My plan was to hike to Boulder Bar and back, which would be about ninety miles shorter than the ambitious route discussed above. 

Red bishop's cap was spotted next to the trail
The day was warm, sunny, and cloudless.  At the trailhead, a tall blueblossom tree, a member of the ceanothus family, was in full bloom and the air was heavy and redolent with the sweet perfume emanating from the mass of blue blossoms. Branches were heavily laden with flowers and the sound of buzzing bees busy harvesting pollen serenaded me as I set foot on the trail and began hiking. The trail is pretty rough cut here but stairs aid in the quick and steep descent from the roadway down to the river. Stairs also assist on the steep climb back up to the roadway too, an event that took place after only a quarter-mile or so of hiking! What?

A horsetail provides some tie-dye art
I sure hope the birding at this spot is awesome, otherwise that made little or no sense to me. But the trail did resume again after a very short road walk to the next trailhead. I think this is what happens when birders, and not hikers, build trails and no offense intended to my feather-loving friends. The "real" trail begins at the second trailhead, in my opinion.

"Get thee gone!" she screamed
The birding aspect of this trail was readily made apparent when I walked under a tall fir with a sizable osprey nest perched atop it. It was an active nest too, and Mama Osprey was not at all happy with my presence in the vicinity thereof. Shrieking as stridently as an ex-spouse, she gave me the business and escorted me away from her tree as I did my best to quickly vacate the premises before I got dive-bombed by a furious and irate creature lethally armed with beak and talons. The rest of the hike turned out to be much more peaceful, fortunately.

Star flower played a starring and flowering role
Spring was in full song and a virtual floral tabernacle choir was delivering a full-throated anthemic paean to commemorate the season. Seemingly, every color was represented what with blue flax, red bishop's cap, yellow woodland violets, and white thimbleberry all blooming next to the trail. 

How Jim Hunt Creek got its name
Jim Hunt Creek was running pretty full so the summer route across it was not yet doable. Fortunately, an on-trail detour around the flowing stream exists and it was an easy walk to get up and around the creek flowing through the woods surrounding both creek and river. Here, the trail braids quite a bit, providing different birding loops for those so inclined. For those not so inclined, the loops still provide some great hiking through the lush vegetation and rampant greenery growing along the river.

Coyote Bar is large enough to
force the river to bend around it
Occasionally, breaks in the growth allowed for some truly awesome postcard views of the Rogue River surrounded by lesser peaks of the Coastal Range. Further upstream rose the much taller Siskiyou Mountains, from whence the Rogue River sallies forth. This time of year, the river was running wide with spring runoff and the river waters were colored a distinctive blue-green hue. Coyote Bar, a very large rocky shoal created by an 1890 flood, was eminently visible below the trail as the river curved around it. It seemed like at each and every photo stop at a river overlook or viewpoint, startled ducks flew away in quacking panic.

Ah, the sweet fragrance of a grove of laurel trees
Too bad you can't scratch 'n sniff this photo!
For me though, this hike was mostly all about the laurel trees despite the magnificent river scenery. The trail wandered through a substantial grove of them and the trees were huge. The dense canopy allowed very little sunlight to penetrate down to the forest floor and I had to kick up the ISO setting on my camera to compensate for the lack of sunlight. Where sunlight did actually manage to filter down to ground level, there were lush grassy mini-meadows and veritable shag carpets of oxalis leaves. The shade was wonderfully cool on a warm day and the fragrance of the laurels was simply intoxicating. And all this went on for a blessed mile or two!

Zen moment with ferns and trail
At the three-mile mark, the trail left the wild woods and entered civilization in the form of Huntley Park and its campgound. But not to worry, the trail resumed on the other side of the park and I was back in business on a steep trail that climbed away from the park back to the roadway above.

Tough rock-hard galls of some sort
At the high point of the hike, I sat down on a log to take a breather and noticed some black fungal type thingies growing on it. However, when I tapped on them, they were as solid, hard, and unyielding as black diamonds. What were these things? I picked up a rock and cracked one open and it was full of bug tunnels, sans bugs. Probably it was a gall but not one I'd ever seen before.

You just have to love this shady trail
Unfortunately, continuing on the trail required a road walk before the next trailhead appeared. And shortly after resuming the hike on actual trail tread, a sizable patch of downed trees blocked the way. I called it good at this debris-filled spot and turned around, happy with a 7.4 mile hike. 

A veritable shag carpet of green
I got to enjoy the stupendous river views, colorful wildflowers, and healthy exercise all over again on the way back. I also got to enjoy the deep shade underneath the laurel trees with the sweet laurel scent permeating the very air in the forest. I just wanted to sit down and stay in that forest but then I'd have to contend with Mama Osprey for that privilege.

Not much sun makes it down to the trail
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

North Umpqua Trail (Mott Segment)

Even though this hike was done in early May, much of the quality of hiking in our little piece of Oregon in 2019 has been and will be determined by the aftermath of February's Snowpocalypse. The wet and heavy snow, lots of it too, knocked down tons of trees onto all the trails in our Umpqua National Forest. When you have a horizontal forest lying across most trails, well it does make it rather hard to find a trail to hike on, doesn't it?

The Forest Service crew's handiwork
The North Umpqua Trail (NUT) was no exception to the tree carnage, despite its exalted status as a National Recreation Trail. However, the Forest Service had dispatched a trail crew to clear out the Mott Segment of the venerable NUT, and at the time of this hike, that was the only segment that had been reopened following the February storm. Well, since the only other option was to hike on a closed segment and do a "boot camp" hike over, under, around, and through all the tree obstacles, we were good with hiking on the Mott Segment.

Moss covers all that does not move
Ten hikers and one dog showed up for this one and it was a happy scene as twenty boots and four paws set out on the trail on a fine spring day. The sun was shining, the sky was gloriously blue and cloudless, and the temperature was perfectly mild. Normally, I complain loudly and vociferously (some would say shrilly, even) about having to hike on the frigid shady side of the North Umpqua River but on a day like this day, the shade was equally pleasant as the sunny side of the river, temperature-wise.

The North Umpqua Trail, on a fine spring day
The day was quintessentially spring, and winter had been completely banished to nice-weather purgatory for the next six months or so. Because it was truly and fully spring, the burgeoning forest vegetation was exploding into riotous profusion along all things North Umpqua, be it trail or river. Green was the color of the day with all manner of trees, vines, shrubs, bushes, and other assorted vegetative life forms sending out vigorous leafy growth to compete for what little sun actually reaches the forest floor. 

Fern, still in the process of uncurling 
Ferns were plentiful, their rolled-up fronds still in the process of unfurling, making the curlicued polypodiophytes (ferns, in plain speak) with their curled "elephant trunks" look like some kind of strange vegetative pachyderms (fancy word for elephant-like life forms). By the way, I looked up the definition of "pachyderm" and the root words mean "thick-skinned", so I know plenty of overly sensitive hiking friends and comrades who are definitely not pachyderms in the etymological sense of the word. But I digress...

Wild ginger flowers are just weird
Wildflowers are very much a thing in spring and where there are wildflowers, there is me, lying prone on the trail photographically documenting seemingly every flower I see. My favorite flower is the wild ginger because like me, it's a little hard to find, it's brown, and it's hairy. Well, that's zero true out of three statements, but suffice to say that the flower is the very antithesis of  what a flower should look like. By the way, "Wild Ginger" used to be my stage name, but that's another sad story best left untold in a hiking blog. Bless its little brown alien-looking head though, and I soon lagged behind because of my photographic search for the perfect specimen. One other plus to wild ginger are the aromatic and flavorful leaves which taste like...well, they taste like ginger. I crumpled up a couple of the heart-shaped leaves and dropped them into my hydration bladder so I could drink refreshing ginger-flavored water for the duration of the hike.

Calypso orchids are just flamboyant

Most of the floral specie were white in color, with calypso orchid being a notable exception. The flamboyant flowers were in full samba song, dancing in a conga line across the forest floor, appearing strikingly exotic and tropical among all the staid and overly dignified conifer and maple trees. The orchid Carnaval presented yet more opportunities for me to lie prone on the ground and lag behind!

The North Umpqua River, all day long
The North Umpqua River was a constant companion on this mostly level hike, the waters glowing blue-green in the seasonal sunlight. In winter, the river runs fairly silty and can even sport the same dull muddy brown color of a wild ginger flower. But in spring, the river begins to clear up and we could see previously hidden rocks lurking just below the surface, eagerly waiting to unpleasantly surprise river kayakers and rafters. At best, if they couldn't triumphantly snag a boat, the jagged rocks are more than willing and able to snag a fishing lure or two or three or several dozen. Actually, they probably don't snag as many lures as they used to since I gave up fishing a couple of decades ago.

What vine maple does to a forest
I've already mentioned the trailside greenery, and the main donors thereof were vine maple and dogwood trees. Vine maple is probably the most photogenic tree ever, except maybe in in bare-branched winter. In autumn, the forest is seemingly set ablaze by the colorful vine maple leaves flashing with every hue and tint available in the autumnal spectrum. However, in spring the leaves only flash green, of course. Despite the monochromatic color choice, the riotous profusion of vine maple leaves will green up a forest in a hurry, and nothing says spring quite like a forest full of vine-maples adorned with new leafy growth.

Someone left the dogwood lamps on
Not to be outdone by vine maple, dogwood was also putting on a show with ample quantities of six-petaled white flowers bedecking the branches arching over the trail. Being it was a sunny day and all, the flowers and leaves were illuminated and lit up by the riverside sunlight like so many garden lamps. While the dogwood floral display gave me further camera-related reason to  lag even further behind my comrades, at least I didn't have to lie prone on the trail to take photos of the blooms.

Part of that landslide we walked across
The Mott Segment is one of the few extended stretches of  the NUT that is basically level in gradient. However, that's not to say the hike was not without a few travails, mostly in the form of trees lying across the trail, a souvenir of some recent winter storm that occurred after the trail crew had cleaned up this segment of the NUT. Piles of sawn logs lay off to one side of the trail in testament to the hard work of the USFS trail crew to make this trail hike-ready (Thank you!). Unfortunately, their work is still incomplete, for a fairly sizeable landslide sprawled over and on the trail, forcing us to scramble across the face of the slide with all its tons of debris poised above, seemingly ready to slide again at the slightest triggering provocation (like scrambling hikers!). I'm glad to report that no land slid as we carefully made our way across.

Timber Creek, flows across the trail

Several large creeks (Fisher, Timber, Cougar, John, and Wright, to enumerate all the named creeks), run across the NUT but fortunately, rustic footbridges got us across each one without any dainty hikers having to wet their feet. The bridges made for nice photographic vantage points and the creeks soon separated our group of hikers into those with cameras and those without.

Fisher Creek at Zane Gray's camp

Fisher Creek is the site of Zane Gray's fishing camp and us older hikers enjoy tormenting the younger set by asking them if they know who Zane Gray was. Cruel to be sure, but it is funny to see that panicked look on their faces, the same look a student who did not do the homework assignment gets when unexpectedly called upon by the teacher. I don't have any other funny stories to tell or fabricate about the other creeks, but they were nice to look at as we hiked by.

The end of the road
Unfortunately and sadly, we arrived at a meadow just after we crossed Wright Creek. It was a crying shame too, for the meadow marked the end of our hike and nobody really wanted to stop hiking on such a beautiful day.

Morels are just $36 per pound at your local supermarket

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

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Taylor Dunes and Stiltcoos Trails

My exploration of all things Siltcoos continued with several short hikes in the Siltcoos River area. None of the trails in the vicinity of the Siltcoos are particularly long but by stringing several of them together, hikers can cobble together a cumulative distance worthy of the long drive from Roseburg. And I did that very thing on a superb spring day at our Oregon coast, several days after my hike to Siltcoos Lake, also in the same area.

A small piece of Taylor Lake

The first hike of the day was at Taylor Dunes, located a few miles south of the Siltcoos River. The trail began at Taylor Lake, a small coastal lake reposing in a dense forest. While the trail followed the shoreline, it really wasn't easy to see the lake as it was mostly hidden by dense vegetation ringing the lake basin. In fact, there is only one place where you can get a good look at the lake, and it's only a partial view at that.

A fern paw beckons
After a half-mile of walking alongside the mostly hidden body of water, the trail peeled away from Taylor Lake and headed uphill through the coastal forest. The day was sunny, but you would never know it from walking in the well-shaded forest. Tall rhododendrons arched over the trail, their palmate leaves providing shady relief to hikers perspiring from the labor and toil of walking uphill. A healthy population of ferns fascinated as the fronds were curled up tighter than a fetal position at the feet of a growling bear. The tips of the fronds looked like curled monkey paws crooking their feral fingers in my direction, to entice (or lure) me further into the dark forest.

Taylor Dunes spreads out from the trail
All the cool shade ended when the trail crested a high point and entered the dunes. An expanse of beachgrass-covered sand dunes stretched out in front of me under a bright sun and blue sky. Beyond the dunes was a forest growing behind the beach foredunes because European settlers had decided importing beachgrass was a good thing. The beachgrass then happily created the beach foredunes and effectively interrupted the cycle of dune replenishment, which in turn allowed the forest to establish itself. Beyond the forest were the foredunes and beyond those, was the actual Pacific Ocean. 

Beach strawberry was in bloom

The terrain and scenery reminded me a lot of Tahkenitch Dunes which was only natural, since they both share the same basic ecologies and biomes. But where the Tahkenitch Dunes Trail just shoots perfunctorily straight across the sand dunes, the Taylor Dunes Trail wanders hither and yon on its curlicued way to the beach. The route sort of reminded me of those beetle tracks you find on sand dunes in the morning, going everywhere yet nowhere in particular.

If I don't go in, the deer can't eat me
After a wiggly tour through the sand and beachgrass, the path entered the forest and said goodbye to all the nice sunlight. Basically, the trail was a tunnel of darkness because the tree and forest growth was so thick and impenetrable that they effectively prevented most of the sunlight from filtering down to the trail. It would have been a perfect place for the deer to ambush me, but I'm glad to report I was not waylaid by the cervine thugs and safely made it to the beach without getting robbed of my hiking poles.

Beautiful beach on a painfully windy day
This was the second time in my life I'd considered hiking to the Siltcoos River from the south. It would have been a fairly long hike from Taylor Dunes but the whole hiking to the Siltcoos thing was rendered moot anyway when for the second time in my life, a strong wind blowing from the north dissuaded me of that notion. I don't carry a pocket anemometer with me, but I always carry my Face-O-Meter, which calculates wind speed by measuring pain caused by wind-driven high-speed sand particles impacting delicate and tender facial skin. I'd venture to guess the wind speed was pretty near forty miles per hour and I quickly walked back into the dunes while some epithelial cell layers still remained on my incredibly handsome visage.

The Siltcoos River flows lazily by
After completing the short Taylor Dunes tour, I hopped in the car and drove over to the Waxmyrtle Trailhead and headed down its namesake Waxmyrtle Trail. For most of this hike, the trail stayed high above the Siltcoos River in yet another lush coastal forest. Frequent openings in the forest provided plenty of vantage points from which to observe and ponder the Siltcoos flowing lazily below. Underneath the trees was a dense undergrowth comprised mostly of salal and coastal huckleberry, each specie profusely flowering in full spring song.

Willow catkins poof out
After a mile or so, the trail exited the forest and ambled between the marshes and ponds setting up shop behind the beach foredunes. And once the marshy bit was exited, it was back on the beach getting sandblasted again. I see a trend here, and maybe I should just give up on hiking to the Siltcoos River from the south. Of course, if I were to hike to the river from the north, I'd still have to endure the high-velocity dermabrasion treatment on the way back. Maybe I'll come back armed with a face shield or suit of armor.

A quiet place on Siltcoos Lagoon
Just like before, I hurriedly removed my poor face from the windblown beach, while I still had a face. After a perfunctory hike back to Waxmyrtle Trailhead, I crossed the road and began hiking on the Siltcoos Lagoon Trail, a short loop that follows the interior shoreline of the lagoon. The lagoon used to be a large oxbow bend in the actual Siltcoos River, but when the campground road was constructed, it effectively detached the oxbow from the river, converting a flowing river into a lethargic lagoon which will eventually dry up and become a meadow. Wow, between the beachgrass and lagoon, I got to observe and experience first-hand some mankind-caused environmental mayhem.

Salal dangles like so many teats on an udder
Despite its unnatural creation, the lagoon is truly a peaceful place with still ponds and marshes dying and lying next to the forested trail. Waterfowl occasionally ruffled up the lagoon's surface when they fled the scary (yet incredibly handsome) hiker. On the inland side of the path, salal dangled its white hairy flowers next to picturesque boardwalks spanning the numerous reed-filled marshes in the area. After a mile or so of walking past the tranquil still waters of the lagoon, the loop was closed and I decided I'd hiked enough for one day, and so ended The Great Siltcoos Tour of 2019.

Ant-eye view of a mushroom on a tree trunk
For more photos of these three trails, please visit the Flickr album.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Siltcoos Lake

I had hiked to Siltcoos Lake many years ago and at the time, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the hike. It was not very mileage worthy, lasting only 4'ish miles or so of meager distance, and was basically just a short walk through viewless forest until the lake was reached. At the lake, the views thereof were partial and I just wondered what the point was. So why go again, if that's how I felt? Well, I was looking for a relatively easy backpack trip to take grandchildren on and it seemed like a short hike and a lake to frolic in could be a winning combination as seen through children's eyes, so off I went on a scouting foray to Siltcoos Lake.

It's definitely trillium time!
It didn't take long for me to completely revise my former opinion about this trail. Yes, the hike is short and yes, the forest is viewless, but what a gorgeous forest it was! Maybe you just have to hike it at the right time of year, which in my opinion and based on this latest hike rendition, just might be late April. Or maybe you just have to hike it in the right frame of mind, which is also a strong possibility of why I enjoyed this one so. The forest was lush and green, the mottled forest light was simply sublime, and armies of elegant trillium were blooming in regal tri-petaled stateliness on the forest floor. What's not to like about this hike? 

Short but gorgeously sweet
The first part of the hike was a pretty good uphill pull that only lasted a mile or so until it reached a trail junction with the unimaginatively but directionally named North Route and South Route. For no particular reason at all, I went left on the North Route, which turned out to be a gentle meander through sumptuously shaded woods as the footpath gradually descended down to the lake.

Huckleberry bushes work on making berries
I had slathered on sunscreen like I normally do but really, it wasn't needed on this hike. I was hiking in deep shade most of the time while sunbeams illuminated the odd spot of trail here and there. The forest was eminently colored green what with dense patches of fern and salal flanking the trail. Where there was no fern or salal, there were soft cushiony layers of emerald-green moss carpeting the forest floor. I daresay you could almost hear the forest gnomes (excluding this blogger) laugh with glee as they capered and frolicked among the trees. 

Eager youngsters gather around Grandpa

The forest had been logged in the past and most of the trees were thin and spindly in testament to their relative youth. However, interspersed between the matchstick trees were some old-growth giants, clearly illustrating the difference between young and old trees. Stumps from the forest of yore supported a small population of seedlings being nourished by decaying nurse logs and stumps. And speaking of old-growth specimens, I continued onward with my hike.

There's no place like home!

After a couple of miles of pleasant forest hiking, the trail arrived at several backpacking camps sited next to the lake. The camping grounds were rather luxurious digs when compared to my usual austere and unfurnished backpacking tenting spots, for each site sported a fire ring and picnic table. And always, there were trees surrounding each camp, making my hammock-camping heart beat just a tick faster with anticipatory happiness.

Siltcoos Lake on a fine spring day
Siltcoos Lake is actually a pretty substantial body of water but you can't see the lake in its entirety from the camps' view. Much of the would-be lake view is blocked by a large forested island just across the water that makes the lake seem smaller than it actually is. A network of braiding paths led from the camps to several beaches along the lake and I just know my younger peeps would be spending most of their time there. I spent a little time there myself, soaking up the warm spring sun and listening to birds twitter in the dense brush ringing the lake. 

Still life with boardwalk and skunk cabbage
After a nice little lakeside loll, it was back to the trail, but on the South Route this time. The gentle descent to the lake on the incoming leg translated to a brisk uphill climb on the return leg, as the well-maintained path went up and over a forested ridge. It was more of the same as what I saw on the North Route, with ferns, salal, trees, moss, mushrooms, decaying logs, and hordes of elegant trillium flowers flanking the trail throughout.

Small beetles ate holes in thimbleberry leaves
So, this wasn't the most challenging hike I've ever done, coming in at 4.5 miles or so, but it was nonetheless worthy due to the sublime forest beauty encountered on this hike. It'd be an easy and relaxing (unless the grandchildren come) weekend backpack trip too, so I won't get too snooty about the Siltcoos Lake Trail like I did so many years ago.

A fern frond basks in a sunbeam
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.