Saturday, March 24, 2012

McKenzie River Trail

March was so crazy, weather-wise.  It rained, it snowed, it rained some more to the point where all of Oregon was suffering from mass Vitamin D deficiency.  There was probably a lot of season-affective disorder too, making us hikers very irritable, in particular.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's in the snow we go
A brief break in the precipitation called for a low-elevation hike; the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail was selected because my guide book said it was hikeable all year round.  Oops, that should have read "...hikeable all year (except for 2012) round".

Vive le McKenzie

We parked our car at the Belknap Hot Springs Resort and headed up the trail.  Within a few yards, we ran into snow at a mere 1500 ft of elevation.  However, the snow was just inches deep and the trail was always visible.  Also, mostly-always visible was the noisy McKenzie River, running deep and cold with the winter runoff. 

Avoiding a wet spot semi-successfully

Water was all over the trail in the forms of snow, standing puddles, and running creeks.  Fortunately, this trail receives a lot of love and the many footbridges kept feet dry for the most part.  The trail hadn't seen human feet on it since the snowfall but we did see a lot of critter tracks on the path, deer and raccoons being the primary culprits.
This was a hands-on trail
After crossing Scott and Boulder Creeks over two well-constructed footbridges, the trail took us on the shoulder of the McKenzie Highway for a brief stretch.  We didn't get the usual lost-in-the-wilderness hiking feeling as cars sped by on the busy highway. 

One of many well-constructed bridges on the trail
After we crossed Scott Creek, we took a forest road bridge across the river, swapping sides of the river.  Before crossing over,  we had been walking in the cold shade and darkness, wistully looking at the sunny north side.  Crossing over at mid-day, the sun had migrated over to the south side and we were still in the dark shade, wistfully looking at the enlightened south side.  It seemed like no matter how much we switched sides, we remained in the dark in what is a hiking metaphor for Mitt Romney's campaign for the presidency.

Snowshoeing, anyone?

A brief climb through ever increasingly deep snow brought us to another forest road.  The trail followed the road for about three-quarters of a mile before becoming a bona fide trail again.  We were mid-shin deep at this point and neither one of us felt like slogging through the snow covering the road portion so we turned around and headed back.

Playing the REI theme song, no doubt

So, this was not the most memorable of hikes and we only got about 6 miles in.  But the day was not a total loss as we swung by REI in Eugene which is the best store in the world.  We spent lots of money there buying shiny new backpacking things.  In retrospect, maybe we should have slogged on further in the snow.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge

This is what Alice in Wonderland saw

On long trips, Dollie and I have been known to park the car and do a moderate hike just to break up the monotony. However, with Mom in the car, a hike was out of the question. So we stopped instead at the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge near Maxwell. 

Great egret

Touring is done by car because they don't want walkers to scare the birds, as if a car was any better. But at any rate, we took the 6 mile car loop through the marshes and ponds of the refuge. Less than 100 yards into the drive, a beautifully plumed egret crossed the road, unconcerned by the car and the clicking noise of my camera.

An American coot that is not my neighbor

The ponds support an abundance of waterfowl, mostly of the duck variety. I noticed a particular duck species that sported a wide spade-like bill. Up until now, I would have thought the term "northern shoveler" would have referred to a Canadian politician and not a duck. 

Northern shoveler

White-faced ibises strolled along the shoreline and shallows of the marshes.  Their faces really aren't all that white and their curved beaks made them look quite exotic as they elegantly strolled past their waddling duck friends.

A wedge of ibis
American white pelicans take over the island

Several islands in the pond were covered in white, and not the white of bird poop, either. Although there was plenty of that around.  Nope, these islands had been taken over by pelicans and snow geese. By the way, a flock of snow geese is referred to as a blizzard of geese. A flock of pelicans is referred to as a scoop of pelicans. Just thought I'd throw in some random trivia, but a scoop and a blizzard certainly sounds more apropos to Dairy Queen.

Bye, Sacramento River NWR

After closing the car loop, it was back to business as usual and we headed back onto the freeway to complete the long drive back to Oregon where we could resume our our more usual hiking routine. 


Sunday, March 18, 2012

American River Parkway

They have funny road signs in Sacramento
The irony is that while in Sacramento to visit family (my oldest granddaughter, Leticia, was celebrating her 15th birthday), we spent a day away from family. We did have good reason, though, as the American River Parkway was calling our names. So we packed the bikes, snuck out of the house full of snoring relatives and drove over to Discovery Park, located at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers.

Dollie on the American River Parkway
The ride began under mostly sunny skies, prompting us to wear shorts and light windbreakers. Oops. Within several miles, dark clouds blotted out the sun, blue sky, and any thoughts that spring might have just arrived. Just to hammer the point home that Madame Winter was in charge, the heavens opened up and pelted us with raindrops fatter and colder than a side of hand-fed pork hanging on a meat hook in a walk-in freezer. 

What is this, Oregon?

Just when I thought I was bordering on out and out discomfort, the hail started. That did it: we were officially miserable cyclists.

From personal experience, the rat-a-tat-tat sound of hail on a cycling helmet is really loud. Fortunately, a bridge materialized on the pathway, providing shelter from the watery barrage and we were joined by several other cyclists seeking similar protection from water in all its solid and semi-solid states.

Within a few minutes the onslaught let up and we cycled the rest of the way under intermittent cloud cover and rain squalls. But enough about the weather, the scenery on this ride was pretty terrific. The path was pleasantly level, if unpleasantly rainy, as it meandered alongside the substantial American River and through oak savannahs. 

Canada geese at the Pond pond

We stopped at the William Pond pond and observed the ducks and geese swimmng around, hoping for handouts. I pondered the question if the word "pond" was coined because William Pond was the first human being to witness one. Just think, if I had discovered a pond, everybody would be going to the Duck Richard behind Fred Meyer's. 
More wet weather coming in
We had originally intended to cycle the full 65 to 70 miles of the bike path but it was obvious that all the rain squalls we had endured were aqueous foreplay for an impending storm system. A wall of black clouds was coming in, casting random thunderbolts, and we had enough of this Oregon weather in California.  So we headed back the way we came for a 33 miler, filing this ride away for another time on a better day.

Sunny, rainy, sunny, rainy...

I didn't take a lot of pictures because I normally don't take as much when cycling, especially when my camera would get mad at me for subjecting it to the elements.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bullards Beach

Bullards Beach, on a rare sunny day in March
Way too many years ago, I volunteered to lead a couple of hikes for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club. I chose two hikes at random (Mule Mountain and the Sandstone Trail) simply because I'd never been on them. What seemed like a good idea at the time turned out to be two very steep trails up to the top of a mountain and my friends accused me of attempted homicide by hike. After the hike I had fewer friends in the Friends and that was the very first time I heard the phrase "'s a Richard Hike". 

A bridge to nowhere does not a Richard Hike make

Nowadays, new hikers are warned by experienced club members that a Richard Hike is one that is uphill both ways or otherwise involves some another degree of difficulty. But Bullards Beach is flat and easy, the very antithesis of a Richard Hike, what could possibly go wrong?

We began our hike at the historic Coquille River Lighthouse. The lighthouse was originally built on a small island but when man decided to tame the Coquille by constricting it in a jetty, they also messed with the tidal currents. The result was the ocean backfilled the gap between island and land and to this day, large logs get routinely deposited near the lighthouse site.

The Coquille River Lighthouse

But enough history and implied criticism of man's propensity to tinker with the environment, we have a hike to do. March was so miserable, weather wise, it had only one nice day all month and this was the day. The sun was out under clear blue sky and the ocean and river sparkled like Tinkerbell casting a spell. We headed up the Coquille River without benefit of trail, following the muddy shoreline for a couple of miles.

A small creek trickles into the Coquille River
Eventually, we ran out of muddy shore to slog through, winding up at the paved Park Road at Bullards Beach State Park. Crossing the road, we grabbed the manicured, sometimes paved, and always more civilized trail through the park's campground. Most of the park was closed as March in Oregon is not the optimal camping season so we appropriated an unsused picnic table in Loop B and enjoyed a lunch in the sun.

Stop! Slow down!  It's like my wife came along
Then the "fun" began. The trail leaving the campground had yellow tape in front of it with a "trail closed" sign posted. All eyes looked to me for guidance, I shrugged my shoulders and walked around the barrier. Up and over the forested dune we go, then dropping into the grassy marshlands behind the beach foredunes. We then found out why the trail was closed:  there was several feet of water on it. 

News Flash: Hike leader killed by disgruntled hikers! 

A wave of dismay rippled through my school of fish, aqueous puns intended. There was more dithering about what to do than can be heard at a congressional committee in session. Clearly, some firm leadership was called for, so I just waded in. It was amusing to me, because I could immediately sense the shocked silence in back of me. I figured it would be a short wade but it was close to 3/4 of a mile before we found dry land again; I heard the customary pejorative muttering of "'s a Richard Hike".

Any residual hostility towards me was quickly dispelled by what amounted to a pleasant beach walk under the warm sun as we closed the loop by returning to the lighthouse. We scrambled over (some scrambled more easily than height-challenged others) the pile of logs at the jetty and enjoyed the jetty views of Bullards Beach and the Coquille River. Everyone enjoyed the hike, at least as far as I could tell, despite the fact that an easy hike became hard at one point.  But would we expect any less from a Richard Hike?

Me, behaving maturely on the north jetty