Friday, September 30, 2022

North Umpqua Trail (Swiftwater Segment)

The lower half of the North Umpqua Trail (NUT) used to be so beautiful. A jungle of lush vegetation thrived everywhere and deep shade kept the trail cool even in the warmest of summer days. But in the summer of 2020 the catastrophic Archie Creek Fire went on a fiery rampage and voila, nearly half of the NUT's 78 miles disappeared under landslides, fallen trees, and vigorous regrowth, all inevitable consequences of a large forest fire. In a small sign of progress however, a three-mile segment of trail between Susan Creek and Bob Creek has been restored and that's the subject of today's blog missive.

This part of Susan Creek escaped Archie's wrath

Despite Archie's best efforts to completely blacken the world, the Emerald Trail leading from Susan Creek Day Use Area to Tioga Bridge was still aptly named. The evergreen trees displayed their green foliage per usual, fern fronds draped over the trail, and green moss covered all that did not move. It was a poignant walk through forest totally untouched by fire, especially in view of the ashy devastation waiting for me across the river.

Fire damage and debris were evident
all along the North Umpqua Trail

Massive Tioga Bridge, still bearing Archie's scorch marks tattooed on the stout timbers, crossed the scenic North Umpqua River and "nice" work you've done here, Archie. The former rampant greenery has been supplanted by stand after stand of burned trees (rampant blackery?). Very few live trees exist here on the south side of the river, where the route followed the river from up on high and through all the charred tree trunks you could ever want to look at.

It must have wooly bear season, they were
in profuse abundance on the trail

The NUT here is an old roadbed but because of the fire and increased sunlight, grass has taken over the trail, basically converting the roadbed into a narrow singletrack path. As I hiked on the grassy trail, small clouds of panicked grasshoppers fled in front of me. The trail tread was covered with wooly bears (a fuzzy caterpillar, not a real bear with teeth and claws and everything) and I had to watch my step to avoid squishing them. As far as I know, no wooly bears were harmed in the hiking of my hike, or at least no greenish-yellow caterpillar guts were found on a post-hike inspection of my boots.

Falling trees will keep trail crews busy
for at least the next decade

An appreciative round of applause should be directed to our friends at the BLM, for despite the amount of downfall everywhere, the trail had been totally cleared of debris. Sporting fresh cuts in mute testimony to the handiwork of the trail crews, there were several piles of fallen trees heaped next to the trail. It's no easy task keeping trails open after a large fire and the dead trees will continue to fall and create more hard work in the years to come.

Stinky Bob is a lot prettier
than its name would suggest

If you hike this trail in spring, seasonal creeks and cascades flow across or along the trail. However, hike it in late summer like I was doing, then the creeks had long since gone dry and the nominally green grass and other assorted vegetation were also heading toward that dried-out state of being. However, a small pink geranium known as Stinky Bob was still flowering away in brazen defiance of the coming autumn and winter. Poor Bob, whoever he may have been, his aroma must have been especially notable in view of the fact he has a flower named after him for all of perpetuity.

A grasshopper basks in the early autumn sun

And speaking of autumn, much vegetative elements growing on the dead forest's floor were trending in that direction. Blackberry vines and alder, maple, and dogwood trees were beginning to participate in the autumn beauty pageant by blushing red, orange, yellow, or some hue in between. Most of the leaves were still green but a more colorful hike can be had by hiking here again in a couple of weeks.

Shadow Man sends greetings from Bob Creek

All that remains of the stout footbridge spanning Bob Creek is a pile of chopped wooden blocks, left over from when the fire-damaged bridge had been dismantled by the authorities. Bob Creek may have been a mere trickle but its defile was a difficult, but not impossible, obstacle to overcome. However, the reward for doing so would be hiking on an unmaintained trail through fire wreckage that is probably officially off limits anyway. I really don't need to pay a fine for hiking on a closed trail, either.

The North Umpqua River sparkles in the sun

So, it was back the way I came, all the way back to the picnic area at Susan Creek. The hike had been an easy 5 miles, so I added a walk to Susan Creek Campground and back for a more worthy distance. The trail to the campground was mostly lush and green, although the woods by the campground had also been burned. In the open sunlight, scarlet poison oak leaves advertised the presence of that accursed plant. Below the path, the North Umpqua River sparkled in the afternoon sun and I couldn't escape noticing thousands of acres of dead trees on the other side of the river, extending all the way up into the surrounding mountains.

Ferns from the Shadow Realm

I've often said there is beauty in a burn zone and I'm really trying hard to love this section of the North Umpqua Trail all over again. But damn, it used to be so beautiful before Archie's sacking and pillage of the once and former live forest. I'll keep working on my attitude, though.

Katydid did it

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

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