Sunday, July 21, 2019

Timothy Meadow

This was a hike whose purpose was twofold. First, I wanted to scout the Howlock Mountain Trail, since I was due to lead a hike there in about a month's time. Second, I just needed to get my green meadow fix. Well, I guess the purpose of this hike is actually threefold when you consider I like hiking in general, but that purpose can usually be left unstated as it applies to every hike. While I have hiked in the Timothy Meadow vicinity before, I had only laid eyes on the grassy meadow which is just partly visible from the trail, my boots had never entered the actual meadow. So, this was the hike and today the day to do that very thing for the first time!

Every hike should be hot and dusty...not really!
Leaving the Diamond Lake horse corrals, the trail ducked under the Diamond Lake Highway via a dark tunnel and then immediately began to angle uphill through a thin lodgepole pine forest. Lodgepole grows in poor soils, where no other tree will and as a result, a lodgepole forest tends to comprised of thin and scrawny trees, and this forest was no exception. The day was hot, the lodgepole did not provide much in the way of shade, and my feet kicked up small clouds of volcano dust that hung motionless in the still air as I trudged ever upward on the trail while thinking about returning to the cool tunnel and just staying there until the sun set.

Damage done by lodgepole beetles
Despite the seeming aridity of the terrain, low growing and thin patches of grass grew next to the trail, providing some semblance of greenery. The trees were misshapen as their trunks sported carbuncles and boils, probably from overexposure to the sun, if this hot hike is any indication of the customary summer conditions at the foot of Mount Thielsen. In all seriousness though, the warming climate has caused an increase in bark beetle populations and in the form of dead trees, their handiwork was strewn haphazardly about the forest floor, .

Thielsen Creek flows down below he trail
At the three mile mark, Timothy Meadow made a brief and limited appearance below the trail. Hints of meadowy goodness were visible through the trees but mostly Timothy Meadow was hidden from view. Thielsen Creek also made an appearance at the edge of the meadow, snaking back and forth like a watery oscilloscope readout. I really had thought it was a longer hike to the meadow so for a little extra mileage, I continued on to the trail crossing of Thielsen Creek.

Sparkling clear and fresh off the snow melt
Where the trail meets Thielsen Creek, the Howlock Mountain Trail splits into two, the right fork becoming the Thielsen Creek Trail heading to the base of Mount Thielsen, while the left fork continues to the base of Howlock Mountain. The Pacific Crest Trail connects the two trails but I didn't feel up to a fifteen mile hike (with plenty more uphill hiking) today.  

A dusty path through Timothy Meadow
One little item of intrigue though, was an unmarked but well defined trail heading downhill on a forested ridge well above Thielsen Creek. It wasn't on my map or GPS, so where did this enticing trail go? Inquiring boots want to know! Later on, while exploring Timothy Meadow, I noticed a trail emerging from the trees and entering the high side of the meadow, that just had to be the other end of the same trail! However, on this day the trail was left in play, but a future visit on this mystery path is certainly in order.

Thielsen Creek zigs and zags to and fro
Anyway, I backtracked down the Howlock Mountain Trail and grabbed a side-trail leading down into the meadow where I was perfunctorily attacked by vicious predators. In the lodgepole pines, mosquitoes were mildly annoying but apparently Timothy Meadow is the center of the mosquito universe and they were all overjoyed to see me enter the grassy pasture next to burbling Thielsen Creek. Many of them died by my hand that day but many were also well fed before I was able to obtain safety and shelter behind a thick and frantic applique of Deet. Mosquito survival is a numbers game and you just can't slap all of them.

A beautiful scene, except for the ravenous mosquitoes
Down in the meadow proper, my mystery path from before followed the lush and green grass growing next to the clear running creek as it meandered through the meadow. Actually, the meadow is not as large as I had previously thought, but would make a nice place for a backpack camp, just not during mosquito season. Anyway, I wandered through the green meadow, enjoying the pleasing color contrast with the blue sky above.

The hot and dusty trail back home
Because of the relative shortness of the hike, I decided Timothy Meadow would not be the end destination for my upcoming group hike but on this sweltering day, a short hike to a green meadow next to a babbling creek was just fine fine with me. After my arrival back at the trailhead, with me all tired, hot, sweaty, and covered with an unholy slather of perspiration, blood, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, and pumice dust, I was eminently thankful I didn't do the full 13ish mile hike to Thielsen Creek. Although, a restorative dip in the creek might have been just the thing, given my post-hike dirty and overheated state of being.

It was a nice visit to Timothy Meadow
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Mule Creek Trail

"Grandpa, stop the car!" came the frantic cry from the back seat "I'm going to be sick!" If there's one thing I've learned in my lifetime, it's to immediately honor that particular request so stop we did. The door flew open, Issiah rolled out onto the gravel road and for the next few minutes, us car occupants were treated to a symphony of wet urping noises that had us all (me and other grandchildren Daweson and Coral Rae) holding back sympathy gags. It was pretty much at that point that I became resigned to the fact that this hike was going to be less than epic.

What's a hike without some poison oak?
Before I continue on with the story of this hike, let's take a quick side trip to the tale of how the current incarnation of the Mule Creek Trail came to be, based on my recollection from a presentation I attended, several years back, given by Gabriel Howe, the executive director of the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Gabriel had been hired as a summer caretaker for the Rogue River Ranch, a backwoods museum located near Marial. One day he went to hike the Mule Creek Trail and found out to his chagrin that the trail had long since been abandoned and was no longer in existence.

Mountain goat on a cliffy goat path
Irritated that the trail would be on the map but not on the ground, he formed the Siskiyou Mountain Club to refurbish and maintain hiking trails in southwestern Oregon. One of the first projects completed was the complete rehabilitation of the Mule Creek Trail. Nowadays, the trail works its way up Mule Creek's rugged canyon, eventually joining up with the Panther Ridge Trail (after a whole lor of uphill walking), and then returns to the Rogue River Trail to complete a 25'ish mile backpacking loop. In a case of "if you build it, they will come" the Mule Creek Trail sees a fair amount of use from backpackers looking for a rugged and challenging trek.

Guess which three belong to me
I was really looking forward to getting out on this trail for my first time but an urping child was going to definitely curtail this initial visit. However, Issiah is a battler and he was willing to give it some kind of effort so we continued on to the trailhead, rejoining with the Friends of the Umpqua, who were waiting and wondering what happened to us.

Trees have to get used to growing in rock around here
Mule Creek runs into the larger Rogue River near the remote way station of Marial so it would figure that Mule Creek would resemble a figurative child of the Rogue River Trail. The vibe was all Siskiyou as the rough track meandered through trees consisting of that Siskiyou mix of oak, laurel, madrone, and conifer growing on the slopes of an arid and rocky ravine.

Way too close to the edge (don't tell his mom!)
Didn't take long for the trail to get cliffy à la Rogue River Trail too, as it was etched into a cliff face overlooking Mule Creek's deep and inhospitable gorge.  In many places, it was so deep that the creek was hidden from view as it tumbled and roiled somewhere down at the bottom of the seeming abyss. We stopped for several gawk-stops in between short rounds of hiking like so many mountain goats on a narrow trail. 

Precarious bridge at the first crossing
After a mile or so of hiking, the bridge at the first of three crossings of Mule Creek came into view, the bridge looking ever so frail and tiny when compared to the massive canyon it was spanning. After the bridge crossing, the trail would forsake Mule Creek proper for Mule Creek's west fork. Same old rugged canyon vibe, though, no matter which fork of Mule Creek we were on.

A creek full of caddisfly larvae
The trail crossed the creek for the second time at a shallow pool with stunningly clear water which left no place to hide for the abundant numbers of caddisfly larvae crawling on the bottom. For protection, caddisfly larvae glue small pebbles and twigs around their soft bodies and as a result, it looked like small rocks were scuttling about on the creek bottom.

A cluster of Solomon's seal fruits
Issiah's warrior heart was willing but frankly, throwing up really depletes the body's energy reserves and he was gassed at this point. He graciously offered to sit at the pool and nap while we continued on to the third crossing of the creek, so we left him in the shade and continued walking uphill on a brushy trail. Having to choose between child abandonment and hiking, I'm glad to report we all chose hiking!

A couple of head-dippers
The hot and dusty trail headed up and over a brushy ridge before dropping down to the third crossing located at the bottom of a narrow gorge. The kids decided this was the place to kneel next to the rushing creek and dip their heads into the cool water, much to the amusement of us adults too dignified to do the same, although we all secretly wanted to.

John arrives at the third crossing

From here, the trail begins a long a protracted climb out of the Rogue River canyon (of which, Mule Creek and its canyon were a lesser part of), culminating on top of Panther Ridge. The climb is long and steep enough to make you hate hiking, but fortunately for me and my crew, we were going to turn back and retrieve Issiah. Our hiking friends would continue on for a mile or two before turning back, so we said our goodbyes and returned to the second crossing.

Beetle battle on a common yarrow
So, this wound up being a long drive for a short three-mile hike but some things just can't be helped. It was truly some spectacular landscape and scenery, and my appetite's been whetted for a return visit. And speaking of appetites, Issiah didn't have one but at least he didn't urp up any more and our return to Roseburg was less eventful than the drive to the Mule Creek trailhead.

A deep and narrow cleft contains Mule Creek
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

McKenzie River Trail (Boulder Creek to Deer Creek)

This little section of the McKenzie River Trail is one of my summertime go-to hikes. The route is perpetually shaded for most of its eight miles or so, numerous creeks cross the trail, the forest is eminently green, and the McKenzie River makes frequent appearances with each break in the vegetative cover. Because the bottom of the river canyon is well shaded, the temperatures tend to be cooler here than in our urban areas sprawled next to Interstate 5. Also, the trail is blessedly flat for the most part, making the hiking both easier and cooler, especially on a baking warm day. So, let's hike already!

Candystick, flowering away
Despite the allusions to baking hot days, on this day the temperature was fairly mild, so the purpose of this hike rendition tended more towards sheer enjoyment of the river and shade and not at all towards frantic relief from the brain-parboiling heat of summer. Normally, I begin this section of the McKenzie River Trail from the resort at Belknap Hot Springs, but just to do something different this time, this hike commenced from the road bridge spanning the river near Boulder Creek. That way, I could make it as far as Deer Creek, which would be a whole new trail experience for me.

This small creek is actually part of the McKenzie River

Regardless of the new starting point, it was still the same old river, forest, and shade, and it felt wonderful. The path basically followed the river and rustic footbridges crossed several small creeks that were in no real hurry to meet up with the McKenzie, judging by the languid pools reflecting the low light within the forest. The canopy of mostly vine maple leaves let in very little light and the ample leafage imbued the very air with a soft green glow.

Tiger lilies prowled the trailside brush
While the creeks were in no particular hurry, dozens of women were very much intent on speeding down the trail with as much alacrity as they could muster. Seems there was a nearby women's retreat that also involved a trail run event. Me, I would retreat from any retreat that boasted a trail running event, that looked like way too much work. Besides which, I'd be sure to roll my weak ankles at some point, always a miserable occurrence. Also, despite exchanging cheery greetings with me, not all of the participants had facial expressions that said they were enjoying their more frenetic pace along the trail.

The McKenzie River Trail followed a forest road for a bit

At about the mile mark, the trail inscribed a switchback in the opposite direction and headed uphill to a forest road that is the actual McKenzie River Trail, gravel road appearance notwithstanding. After going under some power lines the road then descended back down to the river, that little detour making no sense to me at all. At any rate, the hike returned to the more comfortable milieu of fungus, flowers, and forest.

Bridge, leading from light unto dark
At about the 2.5 mile mark, the trail crossed Frissell Creek on a stout wooden bridge and from here on in, it would be all new trail for me. Underneath the bridge, the small creek flowed on its way to the river, the waters of the creek coursing amazingly clear.

Where the McKenzie divided around an island
After crossing Frissell Creek, the trail tended to stay fairly close to the river. Because of the thick forest and vegetation, it was not always easy to get the "big picture" of what the river was doing. At times, it seemed that the water flowing below the trail and through the trees had to be a creek instead of the river, although no creeks were nearby according to my GPS. The mild mystery was solved when  the river clearly divided around a heavily wooded island, sending a much smaller volume of river water on the trail side of the island just to confuse me.

Backpacking sites called to me
At a large bend in the river which was hidden from sight by the forest, the trail went high into the woods and temporarily left the river behind. At the four mile mark, the trail crossed a paved forest road before sideswiping a nice backpacking campsite next to the bridge at Deer Creek, The campsite was one of several seen on this hike and all of them were fairly luxurious when compared to my usual meager camping spots when backpacking. I really must come back and backpack the full McKenzie River Trail sometime, but I digress.

The well-engineered bridge at Deer Creek
Deer Creek has carved a rather large and deep valley in the surrounding mountains so I really was expecting a creek commensurately sized to match the geological terraforming. However, the reality is that Deer Creek was just a small creek, nothing more than any of the other creeks already encountered on this hike. The wooden bridge crossing the creek was more impressive though, spanning the comparitively wide canyon. Because of the width of the bridge, it shook and swayed in the middle as I walked across.

The texture of Deer Creek
Deer Creek made for a logical turnaround point, and I ate a quick lunch there while meditating upon the reflecting pools of the small creek. After that, it was back the way I had come, with the same enjoyment of forest, shade, river, flowers, and fungi. By this time, the other side of the river was bathed in sunlight and the bright reflections rippled zen-like on the pools of the various creeks running across the trail.

Sparkling clear water on a small creek
By this time, the last trail runner had long passed by but I still had to step aside every now and then for mountain bikers trundling past. Unlike the trail runners though, their facial expressions said they were enjoying their ride. I couldn't see my facial expression of course, but hopefully it was adequately conveying how enjoyable this hike had been.

My view for most of eight miles
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Lemolo Falls

Despite the profound enjoyment received from hiking, one should always be aware there is always an ever present element of danger in any given hike. There are so many ways to get into trouble, from falling trees to landslides to being robbed by rude deer. In my view however, the most dangerous part of hiking is the drive to get there. A recent case in point was on the drive to the trailhead near Lemolo Lake. I was tootling along in that happy empty-mind mode of driving when I felt something crawling on my middle finger. WASP!! I tried shaking it off but the lethally armed insect desperately clung to my middle digit. Finally I just sort of rolled it around between my fingers, frantically scraping it off onto the floor before it could sting me. The malevolent bug was indestructible however, and I could see it already crawling up the car seat to reclaim its rightful throne on my finger. At that point I decided to do the smart thing and pull over and deal with the wasp in a more prudent fashion. It was right then and there I noticed the car drifted across the center line but fortunately no onrushing cars were in the vicinity to further complicate an already complicated situation. Come to think of it, the forest might be safer than the real world!

Ho hum, just another spectacular cascade
That's not to say that the great outdoors does not have it's risk, though. But a lot of trail safety involves risk management decisions, with the outcome dependent on those decisions. For instance, one time I was hiking in the desert when a dreaded rattling sound emanated from the dried grasses in my feet. Rather than scream and flail, I stopped and calmly assessed the situation, located the snake, and made the right move to get out of its venomous reach. But then there's times where in hindsight, I have to ask myself what I was thinking of when deciding what to do, and that was the story on this hike. Spoiler alert: not that big of a deal (this time) and all turned out well but I wanted to make the point that smart people can do dumb things sometimes, like on this hike. 

Small springs seeped onto the trail

Dumb people do smart things on occasion too, and the smartest thing done on this day was simply to get out onto the trail on a warm spring day. Wanting some quality river time with an extra large helping of massive waterfall to go along with, I selected the North Umpqua Trail from Lemolo Lake to Lemolo Falls as the lucky trail of of choice. As the footpath descended through lush woods, it quickly became apparent this would be a good photography day.

A twisted stalk flower hangs like a spider from Mars
The trail was dropping down into the North Umpqua River canyon and the slopes on the right were adorned and bedecked with copious amounts of wildflowers and the slopes on the right had a rushing mountain river flowing below the trail. What to to take photos of? Why, everything, of course! And that again is the story of why I hike so slow.

Columbia windflower plays affable host to a longhorn beetle
It was mostly a white flower slow, with star-flowered Solomon's seal, Columbia windflower, vanilla leaf, inside-out flower, and yellowleaf iris all contributing from that end of the color spectrum. For a little variety in color, columbine (orange), candy flower (pink, sometimes), wild rose (pink, again), and rhododendron (eminently pink) contributed to the floral rainbow. I hardly ever see twisted stalk flowers but did run into a couple of flowering specimens on this hike, their spidery looking flowers dangling below their leaves like so many alien pod babies.

This bug was extremely camera shy
Bugs were crawling all over the vegetation and I added longhorn beetles, lacewings, and one strange bug (who was most camera shy) to my photographic inventory of insects great and small. That shy bug clearly could see me and rotated behind the plant it was on, doing his best to hide from camera view. I finally reached around with one hand and got a quick picture when it split the difference between hand and camera. Still don't know what kind of bug it was, though.

The North Umpqua River, all hike long
The North Umpqua Trail is 78 miles long and I have hiked on most (but not all, amazingly enough) of those miles. The river is not always visible for all of those miles but can be seen often in bits and pieces in many trail segments. However, this river section is one of my favorite river views on all the miles of the NUT that my feet have trod. Here, the river leaps from pool to pool, often doing the leaping via the photogenic medium of scenic cascade or noisy white-watered chute. On a warm day (like this one), the cool air emanating from the river and frequent cascades are always appreciated by overheated hikers.

Thundering Lemolo Falls
After a mile and a half or so, a loud roar announced the presence of Lemolo Falls. The river was still carrying the spring volume so accordingly, the falls were at their cascading best. There is a trail on the other side of the river that provides a great and unimpeded view of the falls but the trail is short so I've never seen it from the other side. From the North Umpqua Trail you get a partial view of the upper half of the falls, although you can get a better view by bushwhacking down a steep slope, holding onto trees for support as you do so. Any complaining about the view being less than all of the falls is just whining in my opinion, for the trade-off is you get a longer hike on the beautiful North Umpqua Trail.

The rhodies were putting on a show
The path below the falls was quickly overtaken by tall rhododendron bushes putting on a spectacular show. The trail was festooned with pink rhodie blossoms and an already slow hike remained slow but the photography was fun. Eventually, the trail dropped down to river level downstream of Lemolo Falls and now we get to talk about the bridge crossing the North Umpqua River.

It was a lot worse than it looked
In years past, a stout wooden bridge crossed the river. Over time and floods, logs began to pile up against the bridge supports. First it was one log, then two, then several and then many severals. You could see the bridge flex and cant to the downstream side with all the weight and pressure of the backed up logs and clearly, it would be just a matter of time before the bridge let go.

Time to walk across a very shaky bridge
The Forest Service sent in a crew to remove the logs and build a stronger bridge. It took some time but the new bridge was made out of metal and was indestructible. Well, at least until a tall tree fell on it. So there I am, looking at this mortally wounded bridge with a "Closed" sign on it and really it didn't look that bad, so I decided to go across. In my defense, if you look at the photos, it really doesn't look that bad, but appearances can be ever so deceiving. The closer to the point of impact, the more the bridge leaned toward the river, and it moved and trembled unsteadily under each of my footsteps. Clearly, this was not the smartest decision I've ever made but at least I did get to the other side of the river unscathed. But, boys and girls, please do as I say and not as I do and avoid scrambling across broken bridges that have "Closed" signs on them.

One of many cascades on the river
I only went about a mile further before backtracking and renegotiating the Challenge of the Bridge. By this time the day had warmed up enough to be considered hot, and it was all uphill to the car. It was still a slow hike, but now my snail's pace had little to do with Mother Nature but more to do with Auntie Gravity as I trudged uphill. Before I began the drive home though, I made a thorough inspection of my car for more wasps, just in case. You see, I do practice safety, except for maybe when it comes to bent and broken bridges.

Random whitewater shot of the North Umpqua
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pistol River Beach

After  a couple of memorable hikes on the Oregon coast, made memorable for both right and wrong (tick bite reference from the day before) occurrences, it was time to head back home. Katchan would head to the Bay Area by way of Roseburg, and the rest of us back to good old Douglas County to stay. John and Edwin were in such a hurry to get home, they got away before Katchan and I could invite them to a getaway hike on Getaway Day. 

Low tide on Pistol River Beach
Still designated to be in charge by my one remaining follower, I chose Pistol River Beach, so off we went to Myers Creek Viewpoint, which overlooks the beach reposing on the south side of imposing Cape Sebastian. The tide was well out and the numerous islands and sea stacks were now bona fide landforms instead of islands, as they had been stranded by the retreating tide. 

Myers Creek sparkles in the sun
After scrambling down to the beach, we crossed Myers Creek, which was no great feat as the creek had fanned out across the sand, becoming no deeper than an inch or so. The morning was glorious what with a clear blue sky, imbued with that crystalline air quality normally reserved for a cold winter day. The sun sparkled on the creek like so many diamonds tossed by a jilted fiancée throwing a temper tantrum. Despite the sun, it was frigid cold, thanks to a stiff breeze blowing across the beach strand.

Time for all good hikers to go explore some islands
What makes Pistol River Beach special though, are the numerous islands and rock formations. These sea stacks rival those of Bandon Beach, which is more renown solely because it is located in a city, albeit a small one. Pistol River Beach is located between Gold Beach and Brookings and is not as visited because of the work to drive there. At any rate, the low tide had exposed all the islands and we were able to walk the sandy maze between them.

Walls of rock dwarfed us little people
It is a Pistol River Beach truism that every island has another island behind it. "But Richard," you say "that would make them endless!" To which I reply, "Yup". They did seem endless as we wandered between them. In some little bays, the walls of the islands loomed maybe 100 feet above us, and it felt like we were walking among the ruins of an ancient citadel. An island just off shore looked like an Aztec frog statue from the time of Nezahualcoyotl, waiting for stone flies to eat for all of eternity.

Anemones wait patiently for prey
As we made our way south along the beach, the large rock islands and towers abruptly ended at a series of tide pools sited in a field of small kelp and algae-covered rocks. Pink and blue anemones were "blooming" in the crystal water, resembling colorful flowers instead of the predatory organisms they are. Small sculpins (a spiny fish that inhabits tide pools) darted furtively among the nooks and crannies of the pools. Small crabs brandished their pincers to hopefully deter being picked up by curious humans. Beds of mussels were being preyed upon by colorful starfish and we spent a few minutes discovering and uncovering the various forms of life that exist in this small vignette of marine ecology.

Cross currents and tides
So, now that we hiked past all things rocky and islandish, be they gigantic, large, or small, it was all sandy beach walk across exposed tidal flats to the Pistol River, located about a mile beyond the tidepools. The river was flowing deep, the relatively clear water running with an aqua tint to it. Obviously, there'd be no wading across today, it would have to be a healthy swim instead, for those inclined to do such a thing.

The Pistol River blocks our way south

Blocked from further hiking southward, we followed the river inland until Highway 101 blocked further progress eastward. Here, the river pooled languidly behind the beach dunes and we explored the would-be lagoon until there was no more shoreline to explore. But hey, there were a whole bunch of sand dunes between lagoon and beach and we scrambled up the soft sand to attain the dunes.

Trails, used by the current residents of the dunes
Judging by the many footprints, this area gets a lot of visitors but not of the human kind. All manner of critter tracks criss-crossed the pristine sand and it was almost a shame to mar the dunes with our comparatively clunky boot tracks. By the time we reached the actual beach strand, the low tide had gotten even lower than a grifter's scruples, exposing and stranding even more islands than before.

Land forms on an alien planet
On the hike back to Myers Creek, we had acres and acres of glistening sand to walk on. The sand had been carved by retreating water into abstract formations that resembled a satellite map of a river delta in miniature. The even lower tide allowed for further exploration of the numerous stranded islands and we partook thereof before Katchan and I departed for home. This short hike was just perfect for Getaway Day.

A cinnabar moth basks on the beach
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.