Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Knob Falls

Talk about sending mixed signals! Right there on their Facebook page, the Umpqua National Forest clarified their position on the pandemic related trail closures, clearly stating that the trails are open, you can hike on them, it's just the trailhead parking lots that are off limits. Sounded good to me, so I drove up the North Umpqua Highway in search of a secluded trailhead on the North Umpqua Trail. However, the reality on the ground was that every trail had crowd control tape stretched across it with signs stating in no uncertain terms that this area was closed. WTF?

No habrĂ¡ caminata hoy!
Well, what's a confused and uncertain hiker to do? I had talked to the Rogue River - Siskiyou National Forest office when the pandemic closure order first came about and was told it was OK to hike on the trails but they had closed and gated all the trailheads. In fact, I was advised just to park my vehicle on the road, hop over the gate, and walk to the trailhead. Since that particular office was so clear over the phone, I just continued driving up the North Umpqua Highway to the Upper Rogue River area and found the developed sites closed but trails open, no mixed signals at all.

Every hike should start like this
I parked the car at Woodruff Bridge, exchanged socially distant waves with a fisherman standing on the rocky banks, and commenced hiking. When I last hiked a couple of weeks ago at the North Bank, spring had been well under way but not so much here. This area had just, and only just, freed itself from winter's wintry embrace and there still was a noticeable chill on this on again, off again sunny or cloudy day, depending on the weather mood of the moment. Small patches of snow lay across the trail in shady places but were only an inch or so thick, so trail navigation was never at issue.

Flies squabble over a trillium

I've previously hiked here in spring and the lush greenery was amazing. However, being just this closely removed from winter, the vine maple, alder, and dogwood trees had not yet leafed out, although all sported leaf and flower buds except for the alder, which sends out dangling blossoms well ahead of its leaves. On the forest floor, trillium was just starting to bloom in a harbinger of that rampant spring greenery I just mentioned earlier.

Rock garden, Rogue River style
The upper Rogue River was a constant companion on this hike as the trail followed the river banks which in many cases, was comprised of hardened lava flows. Where the river was beachy, the sand was not true sand at all but volcanic ash, a legacy inherited from a Mount Mazama eruption an epoch or two ago. At any rate, the river immediately upstream of Woodruff Bridge was a noisy place as it roared, whether diving into rocky chutes or tumbling over a series of stair-step cascades. Small social trails braided off the main trail to service the photography crowd, and I partook thereof on many occasions.

What the world looks like without my glasses
At about the mile mark, the river calmed down where it flowed in languid pools with mirrorlike surfaces. Reflections were a thing and I partook some more of those social trails to admire the various impressionistic artwork of upside-down forests and trees painted upon the river.

Trail through a sparsely vegetated forest
After the calm river portion of this hike, the trail peeled away from the river a bit and headed uphill through a forest that was "going commando", seeing how it was clad with plenty of trees but little or no undergrowth. The reward for the uphill hiking was a rickety trail heading downhill on a narrow ridge for a front row seat of all the action at Knob Falls.

Knob Falls from my rocky perch

Knob Falls isn't very easy to see in its entirety but the sub-woofer basso profundo, whose basso and profundo reverberated through the forest like the bass solo reverberating through an adoring crowd at an AC/DC concert, advertised the presence of the thundering cascade tucked into a narrow chasm. The path lets you get as close as you dare to the falls and I did not dare as much as I could, because a misstep here would be fatal as the falls would chew you up into little pieces.

The river takes the Knob Falls plunge
Knob Falls is not one cascade, per se, but a series of booming cascades tumbling from pool to pool, The river has only one color and that is white as the driven snow, which makes sense, because the high volume of water this time of year is a direct result of snow melt in the higher elevations. After a lengthy but appreciative contemplation of the unbridled power and rage of a river seething in a slot canyon, I picked my way up the rickety path and continued my hike on the Upper Rogue River Trail.

Some of that Upper Rogue scenery
Fallen trees began to appear on the trail with ever increasing frequency and while tedious and annoying, getting around the trees remained doable. At this point, the trail was unwilling to give up its hard won elevation gain, so the path would stay up high above the river. On the opposite side of the river was an imposing cliff with a lava dike extruding from the middle of it, and the river tumbled noisily over the rocks deposited there over the ages. Here, it was hard to imagine the the river ever pacifying itself long enough to allow for artistic reflections on the surface.

Thundering waters at Natural Bridge
The scenic area at Natural Bridge was one of those developed sites that had been gated shut at the highway and it was eerie to have the entire place to myself, something that never happens at this popular place always overrun with tourists. At least I didn't have to jostle anybody to get a camera-worthy spot along the fence railings keeping said tourists out of the angry river. 

The Rogue pours over a cascade
The actual bridge of Natural Bridge is a lava tube where the Rogue River disappears from sight when it flows through the underground conduit. When the river is running full, like on this day, the bridge is underwater and not at all visible. To be honest, I prefer the river in its raging glory instead of seeing the river disappear completely from sight. I was rewarded today as the river thundered through a narrow channel created when a lava tube collapsed. Natural Bridge made for a logical turnaround point, so it was back the way I had come after an appreciative lollygag at the combination of geologic and hydrologic wonders.

Mixed signals of a different sort

When I got home, I sent a message to the Forest Service, asking for clarification about the trail closures noted on the North Umpqua Trail. They did respond with apologies, stating that the trails had been closed in error and they would be removing the barriers within the next few days. Glad to have those mixed signals get unmixed!

Peace like a river
For more photos of this socially distant hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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