Friday, October 9, 2020

Takelma Gorge

The Archie Creek and Thielsen Fires raised all kinds of holy havoc in our Umpqua National Forest and in the aftermath, much of our favorite trail places were indefinitely closed. The combination of smoky air, burned trails, and official forest closures created chaos with the Friends of the Umpqua's hike schedule and caused some emergency changing of destinations and general all-around gnashing of teeth. 

Forest fire, arboreally speaking

However, because the planned hike on the Hot Springs Segment of the North Umpqua Trail was iffy due to post-fire forest closures, the destination was changed to Takelma Gorge. Discerning readers will note that I had recently hiked on the Hot Springs Segment, but the decision to change the destination had been made just prior to my outing there. Anyway, hike leader Coreena had never been to Takelma Gorge, so off we went for a get-acquainted hike so she could then impart that air of authority and infallibility that a hike leader should exude.

Peaceful path through an equally peaceful glade

Beginning at Woodruff Bridge Trailhead, we set out on a park-like path that tunneled through a dense jungle of vine maple. The forest was shady here and the vine maples comprise a lower level of forest underneath the surrounding tall firs. Because so much shade falls on the maples, the trail passed under a leafy arbor of light green leaves that belied the advent of early autumn. The only sign we were even in fall season was a light layer of dead leaves that swished as we strolled through them. Well, Coreena and I strolled through the leaves but the third member of our party, canine friend Gus, ran exuberantly through them as if possessed by a pack of wild demons.

Watercolor painting

While the leaves were beautiful and all that, and we never did tire of looking at them, there was a river flowing on our right to also command and demand our attention. At the beginning of the hike, the Rogue River was as placid and serene as a sleeping cat, the mirror-like surface reflecting the surrounding forest, at least until a certain dog enjoying his best day ever jumped in. Thanks to the sunlight reaching the water's edge, the vine maples on the riverbanks tended toward the bright scarlet slice on the color wheel, imparting an autumnal orange and red glow to the water's reflections.

The Rogue River enters into Takelma Gorge

After a mile or so of hiking, we saw our first rapid on the river. Then we saw another, and another, and soon they were non-stop. Clearly, the river was picking up speed as it approached the entrance of Takelma Gorge. While the river lost elevation, the trail maintained its current level so eventually the river wound up flowing well below the trail. At a geologic formation that I call "The Fishhook", the river made a sharp U-turn and entered Takelma Gorge itself. Fallen trees apparently float down the river but because of their rigid length, are unable to get around The Fishhook and simply pile up there like so many gigantic spilled toothpicks.

Takelma Gorge, in all its crack-in-the-ground glory

Takelma Gorge was formed eons ago when the river found a crack in the layer of hardened lava covering the landscape. Underneath the lava was a soft underbelly of volcanic ash and the Rogue River subsequently had no problem eroding the sandy soil underneath the rock covering. The resultant chasm that eroded over the ages is now your basic Takelma Gorge. Big chunks of the lava covering lie in the gorge, evidencing the geologic tale of how Takelma Gorge was created.

A colorful gorge, to say the least

The river seethes and roils at being so constrained in such a narrow space, it's kind of like the watery equivalent of a bottle full of Coke and Mentos (or so I have been told, not speaking from personal experience, or at least experience to which I will admit in writing).  In some places the gorge was so deep that the angry river could only be heard and not seen. The gorge is stunning and amazing, so we naturally stopped to admire the view for a bit. As we gawked, a firm grip was held on the collar of a certain compulsive and impulsive dog who feels like he needs to jump into all water he sees, even if it's churning in the bottom of a roaring chasm.

"I've fallen (in) and I can't get up!"

The gorge comes up at the halfway point of the hike and the next two miles of trail after were a mostly level walk next to a becalmed river and through some increasingly colorful woods. There was plenty of river access much to the delight of Gus who went swimming at every available opportunity. Living only in the moment, he did not plan ahead and gave us some comedic entertainment when he jumped in only to discover he had no way out because of the steep banks. "Hey food lady!" he yipped at Coreena "How about giving a poor dog a hand?"

"The happiest day of my life!"

The same awesome scenery was enjoyed all over again on the way back, the big difference being the afternoon sunlight illuminating the colorful red and orange vine maples populating the river's banks. I'm not sure if Gus enjoyed the scenery for scenery's sake, but he did spend a lot of time running through it in search of squirrel and chipmunk treasure. He probably thought the whole day was more fun than a sackful of cats let loose in the back yard. The total mileage for Coreena and I was nine-plus miles while Gus hiked about double that, all of it on a dead run. He was lights-out snoring in the back seat on the drive back, fully spent and fully sated by the day's activities.

Dogwood colors up the smoky air

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

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