Saturday, May 25, 2013

Natural Bridge (Upper Rogue River Trail)

The weather gods have a capricious sense of humor. First, they foisted a warm and dry May upon us; being experienced and knowing how things work, I resisted the enticement and kept my hikes low in elevation or on the coast. But, after my Grizzly Peak hike, I decided to go with the warm and dry flow and scheduled a hike into the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. So, the weather that day was 21 degrees, 100% chance of snow, and 30 m.p.h. winds; needless to say the hike was canceled. On the subsequent weekend with the weather forecast calling for clouds and 40% chance of rain, we naturally enjoyed cloudless sunshine all day. Sometimes the weather gods's capriciousness can work in our favor, too.

The Rogue, on tranquilizers
This was a Friends of the Umpqua venture led by yours truly and there was only one brief uphill section and we didn't have to ford the river, most unusual for a Richard Hike. I must be losing my touch! At any rate, 19 Friends piled out of their cars at Woodruff Bridge. Normally, we head south on the Upper Rogue River Trail to Takelma Gorge but not today, we were off instead to see Knob Falls and Natural Bridge, both to the north of Woodruff Bridge.


Within the first several yards of trail we encountered spring flowers, the rushing Rogue River, blue sky above, and a green trail that tunneled through the newly leafed out vine maples. In other words:  SPRING IS FINALLY HERE! I don't think I hiked as much as I capered down the trail, kicking my heels like a new born lamb. Except lambs have considerably more hair than me, I probably more resemble a one-day old buzzard chick asking for regurgitated dead wonder buzzard chicks don't kick up their heels.  

Let the falls begin!
The Rogue River initially was on its best behavior, lazily coursing in tranquil and serene pools that reflected the green forest. Of course, that would change and a short uphill push took us to an overlook of Knob Falls where the Rogue became considerably rowdier. Basically more cascade than an actual waterfall, the Rogue seethes in a confined slot canyon as it tumbles 60 feet or so. A side trail drops hikers down a narrow ridge to a closer view of the action.

Note to self: Do not camp at a bottom of a cliff
Attaining the high ground overlooking the river, the path stayed high above the river. The trail was shady and pleasant but did provide occasional views to the river, now constrained to a narrow canyon with a massive lava cliff on the other side. Large rocks were in the river, delivered courtesy of the crumbling cliff.  

False Solomon seal
As mentioned before, spring was happening on the Upper Rogue and cameraholics spent a lot of time prone upon the trail, taking pictures of Oregon grape (all hail our state flower!), wild iris (my World of Warcraft user ID), creeping ceanothus (my Halloween costume), and the exotic looking calypso orchid (my stage name).  Pink and white spears of candystick were pushing up through the forest duff.  But really, this hike was all about the dogwood and vine maples.

Woof's a dogwood flower
Dogwood was blooming everywhere and I had ample opportunity to practice the craft of taking pictures of dogwood flowers against the blue sky.  The vine maples were leafing out and the very air seemed green underneath their leafy bowers draped over the trail.  As an aside, does anyone ever use the word "bower" besides long-dead poets and hiking bloggers? Anyway, it was definitely a green and white hike.

Quick, Rogue River, to the Bat Cave!
At about 3.5 miles our rugged little trail became paved. Paved? There's no paved in hiking! We had arrived at Natural Bridge, a popular (and paved) tourist spot on the Rogue. The bridge refers to a lava tube into which the entire Rogue River disappears only to surface a short ways further down the canyon. However, in spring when the river is full, the bridge is hidden beneath the river's flow. The whitewater is pretty impressive and entertaining nonetheless and is still worth a springtime visit.

Green trail
We continued on, leaving the hordes and the railed (Rails? There's no rails in hiking!) trails behind, returning to a bona fide dirt and rock path through rampant greenery.  After a lengthy lunch on a slab of bedrock next to the river rushing around an island, we continued onto the only uphill section on this hike.

Hi ho, hi ho, across the bridge we go
Climbing up a forested ridge and then descending back down, we renewed our acquaintance with the river. Here the river runs through a collapsed lava tube and is not very happy about that. However, the seething and roiling river was extremely scenic and we enjoyed several gawk-stops along the way before crossing the river on a footbridge.

Beautiful day in the Cascade Mountains

Now all we had to was walk the 5 miles back to the car alongside the river, flowers, and trees as the sunlight slanted in the late afternoon.  So, the weather report called for showers the next day too and and I anticipated piling into the car to enjoy another sun-soaked hike.  Turned out the showers that didn't shower on this hike were saved up for the next day as it just poured rain non-stop and once again, a hike was canceled.  Darn fickle weather gods!

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


  1. Looks like you have a great group and great weather! Sorry we couldn't make it.

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