Monday, November 9, 2020

North Bank Habitat (Soggy Bottom/Blacktail Basin Loop)

Because the North Bank Habitat is only about a half-hour drive from my home, it gets a lot of use by your merry blogster. My frequent hikes in this particular locale have allowed me to experience all sorts of different aspects of the Habitat, which apparently has more emotional states than a mood ring. I've hiked there in winter when the rolling hills were coated with snow, having to watch my step because of icy trails. Been there in several rain storms too, leaving me wondering why I was out there in the first place when I could have stayed warm and dry at home. I've also slogged up the steep trails in triple-digit heat like a bug slow-crawling up a rock wall, also wondering why I was out there, albeit for the opposite temperature-related reason. And from personal experience, if you can catch a fogbound morning along the North Umpqua River, then the fog-filled valley vistas are absolutely stunning and well worth the toil and labor to hike above the cottony-looking fog cover. But up until now, in all my visits to the Habitat, I'd yet to really appreciate the Habitat's autumn garb.

The brown and bare terrain of the North Bank Habitat

The Habitat's terrain falls generally under the term "oak savannah" due to the stately and regal oak trees dotting the grassy slopes and pastures. Oak, like maple, does shed its leaves in the fall season but they just sort of brown out and drop off the tree without any of that color folderol and hoo-hah so favored by their flashy maple cousins. As a result, autumn will generally find me hiking in more flamboyant maple environs instead of the comparitively dull North Bank Habitat, where even the green grasses fade into an unnoteworthy brown color. So, imagine my surprise when this early November hike marvelously turned out to be all about autumn.

Enjoy the blue sky while it lasts, maple trees!

The morning was cool but the sky was gloriously blue as I started. It had gotten cold enough to freeze the night before, so ice crunched under my boots in the shady parts of the trail. A small creek flowed on the left side of the gravel road (all the trails in the habitats are old ranch roads), with small icicles dangling off of branches and rocks in the stream. Encroaching blackberry brambles sported bright red leaves here and there and I seemingly attempted to photograph each and every one. The oak trees had already dropped their leaves, leaving naked trees with bare scraggly branches clawing at the sky above.

Return of the fuzzy white stuff

A short walk on Soggy Bottom Road delivered me to Soggy Bottom and while the bottom was not all that soggy, frost accrued on grass blades and fallen leaves like beard stubble on a certain old and grizzled hiker. The track was covered with an increasingly thick and frosted layer of oak and maple leaves. While oak trees rule the Habitat, interspersed bigleaf maple trees do make an obvious yellow-leaved appearance among the denuded oaks. 

The golden road

So, this hike became all about autumn, thanks mostly to the maple trees. The trees were still adorned with plenty of leaves glowing golden yellow like so many marshmallow peeps in a microwave (Mom is still mad about that, thirty years after the fact!). The maples had been busy dropping leaves too, and the dirt road was carpeted with a healthy layer of fallen leaves that pleasantly swished as I waded through. Just follow the Yellow Leaf Road! This section of trail was absolutely sublime and I quickly became a dedicated convert to the cause of hiking at the North Bank in autumn.

Rain cometh, it has been foretold

As I gained elevation on the leaf-littered trail, a looming storm scudded in overhead and there'd be no more blue sky on this day. The Habitat's mood ring changed from bright blue to dark gray as befitting its new "it will rain today" emotional state. Virtually all trails in the Habitat, a former cattle ranch, go uphill at some point. On the plus side though, the thinning forest gave way to open grassy slopes and stunning views as the trail gained elevation. The trail contouring the relatively bare slopes served up expansive vistas of the North Umpqua River valley below, with the river glistening under the ever darkening sky. Much resting (oops, I meant to say photography!), ensued while hiking out of Soggy Bottom up to North Boundary Ridge.

The meeting place

As the trail neared Grumpy's Pond (named after Mrs. O'Neill, unless she's within earshot), the maples gave way to a thick stand of oaks with a heavy layer of dead leaves hiding the normally visible grasses growing underneath. I could just picture deer gathering here on moonlit nights to plot the overthrow of mankind "Let's have a hunting season for humans and see how they like it!" It's probably a good thing deer don't have opposable thumbs.

Just one blackberry leaf in a universe full of them

On North Boundary Ridge the terrain is fairly treeless and cold air currents upwelling from  surrounding valleys vigorously swept cold air across the crest, the breeze cutting right through this hiker's clothing. Where things had previously been cool or chilly, it was now officially downright cold. Fortunately though, the trail dropped down into sheltered Blacktail Basin and out of the arctic air currents. Once on the bottom of the basin, my pace slowed as I stopped frequently to admire the trickling creeks, bright  ochre-colored madrone berries, and dried teasel heads rustling in the wind like so many witch giggles. Occasional maple trees among the plentiful oaks were nearly bare, but a circle of golden leaves lay underneath each tree like dandruff on the shoulders of a co-worker. Bringing things full circle, colored blackberry leaves became a photography subject again, as the hiking festivities came to a close. I probably took pictures of exactly the same old leaves, too.


Oaks just have the gall!

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

No comments :

Post a Comment