Saturday, April 27, 2019

Taylor Dunes and Stiltcoos Trails

My exploration of all things Siltcoos continued with several short hikes in the Siltcoos River area. None of the trails in the vicinity of the Siltcoos are particularly long but by stringing several of them together, hikers can cobble together a cumulative distance worthy of the long drive from Roseburg. And I did that very thing on a superb spring day at our Oregon coast, several days after my hike to Siltcoos Lake, also in the same area.

A small piece of Taylor Lake

The first hike of the day was at Taylor Dunes, located a few miles south of the Siltcoos River. The trail began at Taylor Lake, a small coastal lake reposing in a dense forest. While the trail followed the shoreline, it really wasn't easy to see the lake as it was mostly hidden by dense vegetation ringing the lake basin. In fact, there is only one place where you can get a good look at the lake, and it's only a partial view at that.

A fern paw beckons
After a half-mile of walking alongside the mostly hidden body of water, the trail peeled away from Taylor Lake and headed uphill through the coastal forest. The day was sunny, but you would never know it from walking in the well-shaded forest. Tall rhododendrons arched over the trail, their palmate leaves providing shady relief to hikers perspiring from the labor and toil of walking uphill. A healthy population of ferns fascinated as the fronds were curled up tighter than a fetal position at the feet of a growling bear. The tips of the fronds looked like curled monkey paws crooking their feral fingers in my direction, to entice (or lure) me further into the dark forest.

Taylor Dunes spreads out from the trail
All the cool shade ended when the trail crested a high point and entered the dunes. An expanse of beachgrass-covered sand dunes stretched out in front of me under a bright sun and blue sky. Beyond the dunes was a forest growing behind the beach foredunes because European settlers had decided importing beachgrass was a good thing. The beachgrass then happily created the beach foredunes and effectively interrupted the cycle of dune replenishment, which in turn allowed the forest to establish itself. Beyond the forest were the foredunes and beyond those, was the actual Pacific Ocean. 

Beach strawberry was in bloom

The terrain and scenery reminded me a lot of Tahkenitch Dunes which was only natural, since they both share the same basic ecologies and biomes. But where the Tahkenitch Dunes Trail just shoots perfunctorily straight across the sand dunes, the Taylor Dunes Trail wanders hither and yon on its curlicued way to the beach. The route sort of reminded me of those beetle tracks you find on sand dunes in the morning, going everywhere yet nowhere in particular.

If I don't go in, the deer can't eat me
After a wiggly tour through the sand and beachgrass, the path entered the forest and said goodbye to all the nice sunlight. Basically, the trail was a tunnel of darkness because the tree and forest growth was so thick and impenetrable that they effectively prevented most of the sunlight from filtering down to the trail. It would have been a perfect place for the deer to ambush me, but I'm glad to report I was not waylaid by the cervine thugs and safely made it to the beach without getting robbed of my hiking poles.

Beautiful beach on a painfully windy day
This was the second time in my life I'd considered hiking to the Siltcoos River from the south. It would have been a fairly long hike from Taylor Dunes but the whole hiking to the Siltcoos thing was rendered moot anyway when for the second time in my life, a strong wind blowing from the north dissuaded me of that notion. I don't carry a pocket anemometer with me, but I always carry my Face-O-Meter, which calculates wind speed by measuring pain caused by wind-driven high-speed sand particles impacting delicate and tender facial skin. I'd venture to guess the wind speed was pretty near forty miles per hour and I quickly walked back into the dunes while some epithelial cell layers still remained on my incredibly handsome visage.

The Siltcoos River flows lazily by
After completing the short Taylor Dunes tour, I hopped in the car and drove over to the Waxmyrtle Trailhead and headed down its namesake Waxmyrtle Trail. For most of this hike, the trail stayed high above the Siltcoos River in yet another lush coastal forest. Frequent openings in the forest provided plenty of vantage points from which to observe and ponder the Siltcoos flowing lazily below. Underneath the trees was a dense undergrowth comprised mostly of salal and coastal huckleberry, each specie profusely flowering in full spring song.

Willow catkins poof out
After a mile or so, the trail exited the forest and ambled between the marshes and ponds setting up shop behind the beach foredunes. And once the marshy bit was exited, it was back on the beach getting sandblasted again. I see a trend here, and maybe I should just give up on hiking to the Siltcoos River from the south. Of course, if I were to hike to the river from the north, I'd still have to endure the high-velocity dermabrasion treatment on the way back. Maybe I'll come back armed with a face shield or suit of armor.

A quiet place on Siltcoos Lagoon
Just like before, I hurriedly removed my poor face from the windblown beach, while I still had a face. After a perfunctory hike back to Waxmyrtle Trailhead, I crossed the road and began hiking on the Siltcoos Lagoon Trail, a short loop that follows the interior shoreline of the lagoon. The lagoon used to be a large oxbow bend in the actual Siltcoos River, but when the campground road was constructed, it effectively detached the oxbow from the river, converting a flowing river into a lethargic lagoon which will eventually dry up and become a meadow. Wow, between the beachgrass and lagoon, I got to observe and experience first-hand some mankind-caused environmental mayhem.

Salal dangles like so many teats on an udder
Despite its unnatural creation, the lagoon is truly a peaceful place with still ponds and marshes dying and lying next to the forested trail. Waterfowl occasionally ruffled up the lagoon's surface when they fled the scary (yet incredibly handsome) hiker. On the inland side of the path, salal dangled its white hairy flowers next to picturesque boardwalks spanning the numerous reed-filled marshes in the area. After a mile or so of walking past the tranquil still waters of the lagoon, the loop was closed and I decided I'd hiked enough for one day, and so ended The Great Siltcoos Tour of 2019.

Ant-eye view of a mushroom on a tree trunk
For more photos of these three trails, please visit the Flickr album.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Siltcoos Lake

I had hiked to Siltcoos Lake many years ago and at the time, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the hike. It was not very mileage worthy, lasting only 4'ish miles or so of meager distance, and was basically just a short walk through viewless forest until the lake was reached. At the lake, the views thereof were partial and I just wondered what the point was. So why go again, if that's how I felt? Well, I was looking for a relatively easy backpack trip to take grandchildren on and it seemed like a short hike and a lake to frolic in could be a winning combination as seen through children's eyes, so off I went on a scouting foray to Siltcoos Lake.

It's definitely trillium time!
It didn't take long for me to completely revise my former opinion about this trail. Yes, the hike is short and yes, the forest is viewless, but what a gorgeous forest it was! Maybe you just have to hike it at the right time of year, which in my opinion and based on this latest hike rendition, just might be late April. Or maybe you just have to hike it in the right frame of mind, which is also a strong possibility of why I enjoyed this one so. The forest was lush and green, the mottled forest light was simply sublime, and armies of elegant trillium were blooming in regal tri-petaled stateliness on the forest floor. What's not to like about this hike? 

Short but gorgeously sweet
The first part of the hike was a pretty good uphill pull that only lasted a mile or so until it reached a trail junction with the unimaginatively but directionally named North Route and South Route. For no particular reason at all, I went left on the North Route, which turned out to be a gentle meander through sumptuously shaded woods as the footpath gradually descended down to the lake.

Huckleberry bushes work on making berries
I had slathered on sunscreen like I normally do but really, it wasn't needed on this hike. I was hiking in deep shade most of the time while sunbeams illuminated the odd spot of trail here and there. The forest was eminently colored green what with dense patches of fern and salal flanking the trail. Where there was no fern or salal, there were soft cushiony layers of emerald-green moss carpeting the forest floor. I daresay you could almost hear the forest gnomes (excluding this blogger) laugh with glee as they capered and frolicked among the trees. 

Eager youngsters gather around Grandpa

The forest had been logged in the past and most of the trees were thin and spindly in testament to their relative youth. However, interspersed between the matchstick trees were some old-growth giants, clearly illustrating the difference between young and old trees. Stumps from the forest of yore supported a small population of seedlings being nourished by decaying nurse logs and stumps. And speaking of old-growth specimens, I continued onward with my hike.

There's no place like home!

After a couple of miles of pleasant forest hiking, the trail arrived at several backpacking camps sited next to the lake. The camping grounds were rather luxurious digs when compared to my usual austere and unfurnished backpacking tenting spots, for each site sported a fire ring and picnic table. And always, there were trees surrounding each camp, making my hammock-camping heart beat just a tick faster with anticipatory happiness.

Siltcoos Lake on a fine spring day
Siltcoos Lake is actually a pretty substantial body of water but you can't see the lake in its entirety from the camps' view. Much of the would-be lake view is blocked by a large forested island just across the water that makes the lake seem smaller than it actually is. A network of braiding paths led from the camps to several beaches along the lake and I just know my younger peeps would be spending most of their time there. I spent a little time there myself, soaking up the warm spring sun and listening to birds twitter in the dense brush ringing the lake. 

Still life with boardwalk and skunk cabbage
After a nice little lakeside loll, it was back to the trail, but on the South Route this time. The gentle descent to the lake on the incoming leg translated to a brisk uphill climb on the return leg, as the well-maintained path went up and over a forested ridge. It was more of the same as what I saw on the North Route, with ferns, salal, trees, moss, mushrooms, decaying logs, and hordes of elegant trillium flowers flanking the trail throughout.

Small beetles ate holes in thimbleberry leaves
So, this wasn't the most challenging hike I've ever done, coming in at 4.5 miles or so, but it was nonetheless worthy due to the sublime forest beauty encountered on this hike. It'd be an easy and relaxing (unless the grandchildren come) weekend backpack trip too, so I won't get too snooty about the Siltcoos Lake Trail like I did so many years ago.

A fern frond basks in a sunbeam
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

North Bank Habitat - 4/2019

Oh, we had some grandiose and overly optimistic plans for hiking in the Cascades but alas, the intended trailhead for this weekend's outing had been rendered inaccessible by snow blanketing the forest roads. Besides which, more snow was predicted to fall throughout the weekend and if you can't even get to the trailhead, then it's pretty hard to go hiking, isn't it? Additionally, the person slated to lead the hike couldn't lead the hike that day so a substitute hike leader (me!) was enlisted to take a group on a substitute hike destination, and there's no substitute for the North Bank Habitat when weather conspires to keep hikers out of the higher elevations. 

Soggy Bottom was just that

All that snow falling in the mountains translated to rain in the Roseburg area and accordingly, we had a rather sparse turnout consisting of four hikers and one dog. Surprisingly, two of the hikers (and the dog) were first-timers which is highly unusual for a weather-challenged Richard Hike but hats off to Missy and David for showing up. And hats down to all the hiking regulars who employed years of wisdom and experience to stay home on this wet day.

Sodden landscape in the Habitat
All the rain falling made Soggy Bottom pretty soggy, indeed. But water is life and all the rain this winter had turned the rolling hills and soggy bottoms green with burgeoning new grass and vegetation. Poison oak was budding out with vegetation of the non-green variety, their red buds warning hikers to keep away from the accursed itch-spreading leaves. The oak trees of the Habitat were still behind the spring curve though, remaining leafless for the time being. Naturally, as is customary this time of year, the trail was fairly muddy.

Snowpocalypse 2019 exacted a toll from the trees
This was the first time I had been to the Habitat since Snowpocalypse 2019, a late February snowstorm that had crippled Douglas County. Many of the stately oaks dotting the meadows and rolling hills of the habitat had not survived the snowstorm, the weight of heavy snow on branches toppling the trees to an untimely demise. Accordingly, trees and tree parts lay all over Soggy Bottom and across the trail itself. I read somewhere that up to 40% of the trees in local forests had been damaged and that seemed about right for the forest carnage in the Habitat.

It was a cold and wet hike up to North Boundary Ridge
We took Soggy Bottom Road because the cold rain was travail enough, no need adding a horrendously steep trail to the wet mix. Soggy Bottom Road gets up to the North Boundary Ridge at a much kinder rate than its other trail brethren in the Habitat, making it the logical route choice on a miserable day. At least the exertion from hiking the uphill grade kept us sort of warm on this wet and chilly day. On the plus side (sarcasm), once we left the forest, the open grassy slopes exposed us to a brisk breeze and heavier rain, so we weren't really all that warm. 

This photo says it all
The awesome views from North Boundary Ridge are the reason for all the uphill hiking, but there was only the merest hint of them as we gained elevation. What few views there were on this day had a decidedly wet and wintry flavor and weren't nearly as expansive as normal, which meant we really had no reason for hiking up there in the first place. The cloud cover was barely high enough to allow a peek down the creek valleys running to the North Umpqua River, and the higher ridges disappeared into parts unknown somewhere inside the gray mist of the rain clouds.

O Witching Tree, this cannot be!
The route crested at Grumpy's Pond, our normal lunch stop, but by unanimous consent we all decided to forgo lunch in favor of returning to dry cars as quickly as possible. Near the small pond, there is a tree that I've always referred to as the "Witching Tree" because in my fevered imagination, I imagined anthropomorphic beasts of the woods holding hands, hooves, and paws as they danced a circle around the tree on spooky moonlit nights. But alas, the arboreal landmark had hosted its last haunted rite because it too had fallen victim to Snowpocalypse 2019 and was now lying in pieces next to the trail, the former magnificent tree being relegated to an ignominious heap of broken timber.

Misty view to the higher ridge crests

We descended off of North Boundary Ridge by way of Blacktail Basin. Nobody slipped in the mud so there were no black tails slapped onto any hiker backsides belonging to our wet and bedraggled party. The rain, which up to this point had been fairly light, increased in intensity as we descended and I can still hear the pitter-patter staccato of raindrops striking my hat brim as we hiked.

Splish, splash!

Once down in Blacktail Basin, the trail crossed and recrossed Jackson Creek several times. The creek was running fairly full which should have come as no surprise, given the rainy weather, and we soon gave up all pretense of remaining dry-footed. Everybody pretty much just splashed across the rushing creek, boots be damned, and Arlie (our canine compatriot) was the only one openly happy about the experience.

A landslide gave us cause to scramble over it
Near the end of the hike, the trail was blocked by a good-sized landslide and we had to scramble across the pile of mud and rocks covering the trail. I'll refer you to my previous comment about Arlie's state of mind which would also apply to crossing the mudslide. But cross it we did and we arrived back at the trailhead in short order, each participant satisfied with our hike in spite of the wet weather. 

Poison oak was not one of the high points of this hike
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail

Back in 1854, a pair of miners (James Sterling and Aaron Davis) discovered gold in Sterling Creek. Word leaked out, the gold rush was on, and the boomtowns of Sterlingville and Buncom sprung up to service the miners. A couple of brothels also sprung up (pun intended) for a different sort of servicing of the miners, but that's a topic best not further explored in this blog. Pity the bypassed Aaron Davis, who had nothing named after him in spite of his co-discovery; all the glory instead went to Mr. Sterling. In 1877, the Sterling Mine Company constructed the 28 mile long Sterling Ditch to transport water from the Little Applegate River to the hydraulic mining operations. The mining activity eventually dwindled beginning in 1883, as the gold and chromite ran out and although the mine reopened from 1933 to 1957, the towns of Buncom and Sterlingville were abandoned and only a few buildings remain in Buncom from that era. Sterlingville was destroyed and nothing remains from that town which had reached a peak population of over 1,500 in its heyday. 

Trail, at the high point of the hike
Unfortunately, the post-Depression resurgence of hydraulic mining devastated and ruined the surrounding landscape and terrain. To this day, we still feel the effects from the damage caused by the mining. I'm not sure where the site of the actual Sterling Mine is or was, but Sterling Ditch and the Little Applegate are full of rocks and gravel, thanks to the mine. Accordingly, the water quality of the Little Applegate is poor but a stressed run of salmon do manage to make the spawning journey each year. And speaking of epic spawning journeys, Sterling Ditch has proved to be a great boon to hikers and mountain bikers alike in  our present time.

The rain never did materialize
In April of 2019, the weather forecast prognosticated floods for southern Oregon, thanks to a very wet weather system blowing in. That may be why only two hikers showed up to my hike, or else maybe nobody likes to hike with me; both possibilities are equally probable. However, the rain was due to arrive the following day, giving us a day to sneak one in before the deluge arrived. Medford hiking buddies Glenn and Carol thought likewise and met us at the trailhead under an overcast sky. Despite the gray sky above, the rain held in abeyance throughout the day.

Sterling Ditch Tunnel, in all its tunnely glory

The main attraction on the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail is the Sterling Ditch Tunnel which is basically a hole bored completely through Tunnel Ridge. A historical point of interest, to be sure, but for me the main attraction is the oak-dotted hilly countryside surrounding the ditch rather than the actual ditch or tunnel. At any rate, this hike was set up as an end-to-end shuttle hike from Little Applegate Trailhead to Tunnel Ridge Trailhead.

Shooting stars brightened up the trail
The climb up from the Little Applegate River to Sterling Ditch was fairly brisk but thankfully short as it gained about three hundred feet in about half a mile. On the way up, it was readily apparent that it was the onset of spring with white-colored oaks toothwort and magenta shooting stars doing their flowery best to distract hikers with cameras. 

The trail wanders through the oak trees
Once we joined up with Sterling Ditch, the left bank of the former canal became the actual trail and the path was either level or just slightly downhill, both grades being equally pleasant to walk on. Hey, this hike was going to be easy and whatever could go wrong? Well, private property boundaries, as it turned out. After a mile or so, the ditch and trail parted ways due to the aforementioned private property parcel, with the ditch continuing its pleasantly level journey while us hikers performed an agonizing uphill slog through a stand of leafless oak trees. Well, of course I'm exaggerating about the agonizing part, but it was uphill and did provide some leg-based discomfort as we climbed. 

Panoramic of the Little Applegate River valley
The slow uphill pace did allow us to enjoy views of the surrounding countryside, though. Above us was bare and grassy Goat Cabin Ridge with Point Mountain rising further above and beyond. Point Mountain was still covered with some snow, but it was patently obvious that the spring thaw was on. To the northwest was the large and deep valley of the Little Applegate River, which abruptly ended in the distance when it ran into the much larger and deeper Applegate River valley. In front of us, laying like the insurmountable object it turned out to be in the late 1800s, was the forested wall of Tunnel Ridge, so named in honor of the tunnel drilled through it by the Sterling Ditch construction crew. 

The ever so elegant grass widow
Underneath the oak trees were patches of grass widow, one of the more elegant wildflowers to ever bloom in southern Oregon. Flanking the trail, manzanita bushes were not only graced with interesting smooth burgundy colored trunks and limbs, but also graced with dangling umbels of pink flowers as is customary this time of year. Needless to say much photography ensued, doing double duty as rest stops too.

The trail and Sterling Ditch were one and the same
What goes up must come down, and once the trail crested a grassy ridge, it plunged at a rate inversely equal to the uphill portion we had just hiked. Clearly, we were on our way down to rejoin Sterling Ditch, our wayward friend. And that's exactly what happened when the trail entered a relatively lush forest in Muddy Gulch, which was not particularly muddy at all.

Tunnel Ridge looks straight ahead of Glenn and Carol
The trail was pleasantly level again, and there was much rejoicing. We were now on the slopes of Tunnel Ridge, and a small and underwhelming hole in the ground was the former entry point of Sterling Ditch's water flow where it had poured into the renown and famed Sterling Ditch Tunnel. It was more impressive to round Tunnel Ridge on the trail and observe the much larger tunnel exit where the ditch emerged from its brief underground journey through Tunnel Ridge. It's really amazing to think that the tunnel was hand-hewn through solid rock by Chinese laborers in the late 1800s, although Katie (Glenn and Carol's dog) seemed more amazed by the banana I offered her as we gazed at the tunnel.

The trail sidehills across Tunnel Ridge
After a lunch, view-soak, and regrouping of our small hiking party, we left the Sterling Ditch Mine Trail for the descent down to the Tunnel Ridge Trailhead. This portion of the route was all new trail for me as I had never been, and I must say it was probably my favorite part of the whole hike.

Manzanita trunks, smooth as the
burgundy they are colored after
The path contoured across steep grassy slopes dotted with sparse oaks as it switchbacked down to the Little Applegate. The mazanitas were huge here, being less like shrubs and more like trees and I stopped periodically to admire the distinctive smooth dark red trunks. When there were not manzanita bushes or trees there was oak, and where there was oak, there was Henderson's fawn lilies growing underneath in lavender profusion.

A veritable herd of Henderson's fawn lily
Henderson's fawn lily rivals grass widow for elegantness, in my opinion. The flowers are fairly large and imbued with a classy and stately pinkish lavender color and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of these floral beauties blooming right next to the trail.

The trail descended off Tunnel Ridge through some oaks

As the trail dropped down at a fast rate, I gave silent thanks to the trail gods that I wasn't hiking up this, that would have been a pretty good workout. But downhill it was, and eventually the trail spit us out onto the trailhead parking lot. From there, we piled into our respective cars, each giving silent thanks to the Sterling Mining Company for having had the wisdom and foresight to create such a great trail at the same time it was destroying the environment.

A clump of manzanita blossoms
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.