Saturday, March 27, 2021

Kentucky Falls

It's not funny if you have to explain the punchline. As we were lacing up our boots at the Kentucky Falls Trailhead, I offered up the factoids that Kentucky Creek was flanked on either side by Roman Nose Mountain and Mount Popocat├ępetl, adding that the three place names were a geographic tribute to primitive cultures and incomprehensible dialects. What I got back, instead of wry chuckles, were perplexed looks and several earnest and sincere "Wow, really?" questions. My hiking companions got it when I, my voice laden and dripping with sarcasm, answered a question with a question "Have you ever spoken to anybody from Kentucky?" I may have lost my entire Kentuckian readership with that one but hey, it's probably only one guy anyway.

All life should be like a walk in the forest

Even though Kentucky Falls was the main reason for our outing, this hike was mostly all about the forest. The morning sunlight was slanting through a cathedral-like grove of tall trees arching overhead like so many ribs in a Gothic basilica. You couldn't help but tilt your head heavenward like an awestruck pilgrim entering Notre Dame (or any other cathedral of the era) for the first time. The green glow from the trees, ferns, and moss was pervasive and small thumb-sized birds made fist-sized twitterings as they scolded hikers celebrating a decidedly green spring day. Below all the tall trees and twittering mini-birds, tri-petaled trillium flowers added their own special grace and elegance to the reverential scene.

A small but boisterous piece of Kentucky Creek

We were hiking nearly at the bottom of a canyon carved over the epochs by Kentucky Creek. When not in a truly sublime forest, we found ourselves hiking on a trail etched onto exposed cliff faces, all colored green by the ever ubiquitous moss. Initially, the stream pleasantly coursed through the trees before picking up speed. In a practice run for the big leap at Upper Kentucky Falls, the creek jumped off several ten-foot ledges, each a worthy cascade in its own right. And speaking of big leaps, I didn't do any. Eventually, Upper Kentucky Falls hove into view as the path switchbacked down to the waterfall's splash basin.

In all its Kentuckian glory

Roughly about 100 feet tall, Upper Kentucky Falls was carrying a large volume of water, seeing how Kentucky Creek was swollen with spring runoff. The sound of the falls echoed throughout and we all stopped to contemplatively admire the picturesque cascade roaring in the shady canyon. Here on the west side of the distant Cascades Mountain Range, waterfalls are about as rare as a mosquito in late July, which is to say they are not rare at all. But even so, Kentucky Falls is arguably one of the better ones.

Moss rules this forest

After the requisite Upper Kentucky Falls view-soak and photo-op combo, it was more of the same as the trail continued to descend down toward the confluence of Kentucky Creek and the North Fork Smith River, our intended turnaround point. The forest was still eminently sublime, the morning light remained poetic, and the trail was flanked with elegant and graceful pale white trillium flowers to go along with yellow woodland violets, and white-to-pinkish oaks toothwort blooms. All of the floral colorations were but mere specks against a green backdrop of either moss, ferns, or salal.

Bird's nest fungi, en masse

Roughly halfway between the upper and lower falls, the trail crossed over a small creek via a rustic wooden bridge covered with bird's nest fungus. Generally seen on the ground or on decaying twigs, these tiny fungi are actually shaped like a bird's nest, sometimes containing small brown "eggs" which actually are spore capsules. 
Because of their small size, these fungus are not readily spotted when we hike by them, but the bridge here was absolutely covered with the diminutive fungi and much macro-lens photography ensued.

A beetle takes a pollen bath

About a mile below the upper falls, Kentucky Creek drops off another rocky ledge at Lower Kentucky Falls, made further notable that the lower falls and North Fork Smith River Falls tumble side-by-side over the same ledge. The scene is epic and I had every intention of hiking down there until a large chest-high log blocked the way with no means of bushwhacking around it, seeing as how it was sited on a steep near-vertical slope, and at right angles to the trail. The idea of swinging my leg and fresh hernia surgery incisions over that daunting obstacle made my "little boys" crawl back up into my abdomen in cold dread, so uncharacteristically I did the right thing and called my hike over at that point, darn hernia anyway.

Rustic footbridge over a small creek

This would be the last hike under the stultifying restrictions of the surgeon's dictates. After today, me and the boys are free to hike as we see fit, although I've been warned to listen to my body which doesn't really work, because so much of hiking is ignoring what your body tells you anyway. So, while my legs felt a little unfulfilled, I still wound up following the doctor's orders without really meaning to, thanks to a wayward log. 

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

Port Orford Heads and Tseriadun Recreation Site

The views from Port Orford Heads were stunning

Day 2 of my hernia surgery recovery plan (not specifically endorsed by my surgeon) called for another short hike on Port Orford Heads, the idea being to hit places where I would not normally hike because of the meager distance of the trails. Located between the town of Port Orford and the Pacific Ocean, the headlands on the ocean side are surrounded by nasty rocky islands and even nastier rocks lying in wait just below the surface of the ocean. Back in the day, boats ran into the submerged rocks with enough frequency that a lifeboat crew was stationed atop the heads to rescue sailors and passengers alike. Nowadays, the Heads and historical lifeboat station are a state park and a short trail leads to several outstanding viewpoints atop the headlands.

Wild iris graced the trail

Beginning at the aforementioned lifeboat station, the path quickly dropped into a lush forest where ferns rested upon the stout arms of spruce branches like so many polypodiophytic (fancy word for ferny) turkeys roosting for the night. Wild iris, woodland violet, and oaks toothwort were beginning the spring show on the forest floor while small birds twittered and flittered in the flourishing shrubbery.

The ruins of the once and former boathouse

At an overlook of a narrow cove dwarfed by the tall cliffs of the headlands, the ruins of the old boathouse (long since lost to a fire) could be seen. To effect a rescue, the lifeboat crews stationed here had to hike down from the station to the boathouse, manually row the boats out onto the stormy sea, rescue those in need of such, row back to the boathouse, and then hike back up the incredibly steep stair-stepped path back to the station atop the Heads. Wow, they were capable of much greater things than anything this herniated hiker could ever accomplish.

A keyhole-shaped cove at Port Orford Heads

The trail soon left the forest and transitioned to an up and down route along the edge of the headlands. The track abruptly came to an end, primarily because Oregon likewise came to an abrupt end. The drop-off was sheer and precipitous, and the view from the head of the Heads was stunning. Below, windblown waves with spindrifts curling off them crashed onto rocky islands and shores, or surged into keyhole coves with equal vigor. Offshore, a number of boat-eating islands extended out to several miles from the shore. One pyramid-shaped island had a large cave in it which reminded me of my Sisters Rock hike from the day before.

You could see forever except for Cape Blanco being in the way

To the north, stretched a beach all the way north to Cape Blanco with the town of Port Orford and local landmark Garrison Lake eminently visible. The sea was colored aquamarine, the surf glowed a radiant white, and the sky was painted a bright blue, all colors contrasting nicely with the dark brown beach and the black and brown terrain of Port Orford Heads. Definitely a colorful view for the ages!

Red currant prettied up the Tseriadun trailhead

While fun, the hike on Port Orford Heads was not very long and my legs still felt peppy, as they should, so I drove down to Tseriadun State Recreation Site, because I had never been there and the name sounded exotic if only because it began with a "ts". The locals and maps refer to Tseriadun as Agate Beach which is not as exciting a name, but if I could return home with a small haul of agates, then that would be excitement enough.

A low dune of soft sand is all that protects
Garrison Lake from the ravages of the ocean

Beaches are always fun but this particular beach is made unique by the proximity of Garrison Lake, for only a tenuous spit of sand separates lake from ocean. From a hiking standpoint, it's kind of cool to walk on the dune with the calm and placid lake on one side while on the other side, the restless ocean fumes "Mine, soon you will be mine!" Given a recent history of the ocean breaching the sandy spit during raging storms, it's not an idle threat.

Offended by my intrusive presence, the ocean gnashes its teeth

The beach sprawled under a clear blue sky but a cold and strong wind made my eyes water which might be why I didn't spot any agates. The waves were large and boisterous with the stiff breeze peeling spray off of the onrushing surf. At the south end of the beach, loomed an imposing rocky pyramid with the much larger cliffs of Port Orford Heads rising beyond. The waves were pretty awesome as they thundered against the rock so I hiked in that direction to get a better look-see.

Heed the warning, Richard

On the other side of the jagged rock was a fairly substantial creek snaking back and forth through a sand and rock combo before reaching the sea. The waves were breaking big, the spray of the surf rolling off the rocks and into the creek and I spent a few minutes doing some photography. However, several large waves rolled up the creek bed, nearly cutting me off from a safe retreat. That was my cue, and when the incoming tide temporarily receded between waves, I backtracked to safety on the beach.

The waves were spectacular

I had intended to hike a nearby nature trail before heading back to Winston but could not find the trailhead (I did see it as I was leaving, though). But the day almost felt complete anyway, with awesome scenery accessed via some restorative walking. While I could have used a few more miles of hiking, my surgeon will no doubt have a frowny face when she hears what I've been up to, so we'll just make this outing our little secret. 

The rugged Oregon coast at Port Orford Heads

For more photos of this pair of hikes, please visit the Flickr albums:

Port Orford Heads

Tseriadun State Recreation Site


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Sisters Rock

Enough was enough! I'd been sulking in hiking purgatory ever since my hernia surgery but I just had to get out onto the trail, even though the day was still technically within the doctor-ordained purgatorial time frame. But I figured a short "hike" at Sisters Rock out at the coast would get me outdoors without causing myself further injury.

"I'll keep an eye out for you!"

Sisters Rock actually is a geologic sisterhood of several large and pyramidal rocky points, and I've sped past them many a time while whizzing down the Coast Highway on my way to worthier hikes, the Sisters getting categorized as unworthy due to the shortness of the "hike". But nonetheless, the Sisters remained on my radar because they are a spectacular sight even when seen from a speeding car. 

One small rusting piece of what was once Frankport, Oregon

During the 1850’s a shipping dock was constructed at Sisters Rock and the town of Frankport sprung up to service the shipping operations. Nowadays, all that remains of the town are rusting metal parts and miscellaneous debris strewn about Frankport Beach. Around 2009, Sisters Rock was brought into the Oregon State Parks system which then did the right thing in closing the road down to the rocks, thereby converting the rickety road into a hiking trail. 

People used to drive down this road?

Well, I may have sped down the highway to get here but there'd be no speeding on the old road leading down to the rocks. The rough track was steep, rugged, and rocky enough to present a mild challenge to a recovering hernia addict on foot. I can't even imagine driving a vehicle down to the rocks, and I have a Jeep. I think you'd want to go down with a vehicle, friends, and family members you don't particularly care about! On the plus side though, the views were immediately awesome.

Just another gloomy day in paradise

On the negative side, the weather was also immediately awesome, just not in a good way. The temperature was cold, just marginally above freezing. A stiff breeze sweeping in from the south made sure to move that cold air through the threads comprising whatever woefully ineffective fabric my clothing layers were made of. When the rain came, the same breeze moved the water through those very same threads. This hike definitely was a teeth-chatterer! There's always an upside though, and the sight of the storm pummeling the Oregon coast in both directions was simply splendid in a gloomy and moody way.

The rough-and-tumble Oregon coast to the south of Sisters Rock

Sisters Rock is actually a sorority of several sister rocks, each tenuously connected to Oregon and each other by a narrow isthmus. From the isthmus, one can explore at will and my first little foray took me to the south cove and Frankport Beach. It was high tide and the beach was off limits for those hikers wanting to stay safe, present company included. The rugged and jagged Oregon coast, dotted with rugged and jagged islands by the dozens, curved south with the rocky point of Devil's Backbone clearly visible as the shore arced away under a glum sky.

View from Frankport Beach

The beach was strewn with rusting machinery and debris in testament to the Rock's history as the former home of Frankport, Oregon. While the tide prevented further exploration south, I did tarry a bit, grateful to be sheltered from the wind by a kind and caring Sister. Lest I get too comfortable though, I had to briefly endure getting pelted by a passing squall of hail.

View across a bay to Humbug Mountain

Fortunately, the weather improved while I idled behind the leeward side of the lesser Sister and when I hiked over to the Big Sister, sun and blue sky made an appearance here and there between the still abundant clouds. Despite the sun, it was still the same cold wind though, although the sun and clouds added a whole new dramatic look to Humbug Mountain lording it over a choppy sea.

Entrance to Poseidon's realm

Sisters Rock herself is basically a large pyramid sited above a flat and rocky bench replete with tide pools, the formidable face and erstwhile symmetry of the rock being sort of marred by a large hole in it. Was that an entrance into a mine, or a portal to a forbidden underworld full of slimy coastal orcs? A short scramble up to the lip revealed the answer, it was a sea cave, full of ocean water pulsing with each tidal surge. Pretty cool, but I carefully backed away from the edge, not wanting to become a tasty and incredibly handsome morsel falling into Big Sister's slobbery maw.

View to another Sister just off shore

There is a roughhewn road leading up to a saddle between two of the rocks and that was the last little item of business on this short "hike". A solitary Sister floating offshore was neatly framed between the two rocks like a target in a geological gunsight. Waves broke on the shore below in white-watered glory and I counted four sea cave entrances at the base of Sisters Rock herself. Wow, the seemingly solid rock must be as hollow as a molar after a lifetime of eating cotton candy!

It was an "all of the above" weather day!

Normally, I wouldn't deign to drive several hours just to "hike" a couple of miles but in this case, the day was a qualified success. My recovering abdomen handled the "hike" just fine and any hike where you can say "I don't have any new hernias or reopened incisions" is a good hike! 

Tidal pools form below the Sisters

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