Saturday, October 22, 2016

Takelma Gorge

Here in Oregon, you have to work a little bit to get a good autumn hike in. Surrounded as we are by dark evergreen forest, it's quite easy to inadvertently bypass the fall colors. It certainly had been a while for me, I checked my calendar and the last time I had what I would call a good autumn walk was back in 2012. But the secret (in Oregon, anyway) to hiking in a colory wonderland of ochre and golden goodness is to simply hike where the vine maples are, usually near a river or stream.  And if the vine maples happen to stand next to some fantastic scenery, then the hike gets booted up to a whole other level of awesome.

Gorgeous Gorge!

Take Takelma Gorge, for example. The Rogue River gets stuffed into a narrow gorge and is not particularly happy about being so constrained. The river seethes noisily in its confines like King Kong chained inside  a wooden shipping crate. However, it would be pretty awesome to stand next to the shipping crate with a raging King Kong in it and so it is with hiking on the edge of a gorge so deep, you cannot see the river roiling at the bottom Yet the gorge is also so narrow you can hurl a bowling ball left-handed across to the other side, and we get to hike just a few feet from the edge. Hiking doesn't get much better than that! However, in mid-October, as awesome as Takelma Gorge is, it almost gets upstaged by the yellow, russet, orange, and scarlet hues of the vine maples.

This is better looking than a motorcycle accident
This Friends of the Umpqua hike in Takelma Gorge got off to an inauspicious start on the drive to the Upper Rogue River. In front of us, a pair of vacationing motorcyclists ran into each other and spilled bodies, motorcycles, and motorcycle parts all over the road. Fortunately, they were wearing flack jackets and avoided serious injury. We had our doctors (lucky we had two in our party) check them out to make sure they were OK. One of the riders had an obviously broken hand but he was in denial and was going to try continuing on with his journey. Since I cycled 78 miles AFTER breaking my wrist and jaw in a cycling mishap, I totally understood. Also, from my experience, I knew at some point he'd figure out he was hurt worse than he hoped he was and would seek treatment, even if he didn't know it at the moment. At any rate, we were late getting to the trailhead and Medford hiking buddies Glenn, Carol, and Katie the Banana-Eating Dog had to wait quite a bit for us to arrive.

On the Upper Rogue River Trail

Starting at the Woodruff Bridge Trailhead,  we set out onto the Upper Rogue River Trail whose entire 48-mile length I WILL backpack someday, even though I've been saying that for years. Immediately, all thoughts of glorious gorge-ous gorges was driven from our heads by the yellow leaves surrounding the trail. The trail was carpeted with dead leaves which muffled our footfalls as we walked, imparting a reverential hush to the hike. Lane, Sharon, and I soon lagged behind with very busy cameras.

Serene and tranquil, but not for long!
The trail ambled close to the Rogue River, it's surface as smooth as a marble countertop. I was going to say " smooth as an incredibly handsome hiking leader" but that's a different kind of smooth! The river wasn't always that smooth either, because the trail disappeared into the river and former trees along the river were now trees in the river. The soil here is all volcanic ash, left courtesy of Mount Mazama's cataclysmic eruption 7,000 years ago. The soil is as unyielding as a stick of butter at room temperature, so any shifts in the river's course will easily eat up trees and trails.

The Rogue River picks up speed
The trail had been rerouted in places to get around the eroded parts, which meant none of us had to do any river wading on this chill and cool autumn day. About a half-mile into the hike, the river began to pick up speed and rapids began to form. The trail was fairly level but the river was dropping in relation to the trail and soon we were walking on a rocky bench well above the river.

Nobody kayaks Takelma Gorge, I wonder why?
Takelma Gorge begins at what I call "The Fishook", a spectacular river U-turn surrounded by tall rocky cliffs. In testimony to the power of the river, large logs are strewn pell-mell, as if they had been tossed there in a Pick-up-Sticks game of the gods.  At The Fishhook, the Rogue River leaped down into the gorge and it was all noisy whitewater current here, no more placid and tranquil river for us! Downstream of the Fishhook, Takelma Gorge then ran straight as a laser beam for approximately a mile and we could look down a significant portion of the gorge.

Gorge geology lesson
The narrow defile was formed when Mount Mazama first covered the area with a huge deposit of volcanic ash, rocks, and sludge. Subsequent lava flows then covered the soft ash and subsequently hardened, so you had a layer of hard dense material covering a soft sludgy interior, a description that could aptly describe my head. At some point the river found a soft spot in the lava covering and like an earworm, burroughed into the soft material underneath the hard shell. Once the river found the ashy soil underneath, erosion took place and lo, Takelma Gorge was born. In the picture to the left, you can clearly see the layers described in this paragraph.

Decaying biomass, big and small
After a bit, the canyon deepened enough that the river disappeared from view, although its belligerent roar could always be heard. And shortly thereafter, the gorge flattened out, the river reappeared, went totally tranquil, and our attention returned back to the autumn foliage. It was like the gorge never was and once past, it was a pleasantly (relatively) level few miles to our lunch spot at the closed-for-the-season River Bridge Campground. It was a nice lunch and laze as we swapped hiking tales while Katie mooched bananas from yours truly.

British soldiers, a lichen
On the way back, Lane and I didn't take too many pictures (at first!) and kept up with everybody. But then Takelma Gorge looked so spectacular that we whipped the cameras out again, even though we had photographed the same things on the hike in. It's a disease, I tell you, and our symptoms increased when we returned to the vine maples upstream of the gorge.

Leaf-littered trail

I'm not sure how this happened but the woods had become even more spectacular than when we passed through in the morning. I'm not sure what it was but the colors were brighter and more colory, the vine maples had seemingly unfurled tons more of painted leaves and the autumn show was simply breathtaking. All hiking came to a screeching halt as we began the process of photographing every leaf in the forest.  Good thing I had the car keys!

Forest fire, vine maple style
We had long lost contact with our group, and several hiker groups passed by as we plied our avocation. Heck, we were even passed up by small children and arthritic 90-year old grandparents, but we didn't care. I made several attempts to seriously hike back to the trailhead but every new bend in the trail served up a new spectacular scene and our lack of progress got pretty ridiculous. Fortunately, my fellow hikers and club members have been well trained by experience and eventually, Lane and I made it back to the trailhead where our party was waiting patiently for us. Well, actually they were sleeping on the picnic tables, but why quibble?

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


  1. Oh yeah, vine maple has the best fall colors! And I've been guilty of taking just as many photos on the return trip too. Beautiful place! Fall is my favorite time of year for hiking.

  2. You out-did yourself with the descriptions and pictures. Thanks, at least I can experience it vicariously (if not precariously. Cheers, Lois