Sunday, June 23, 2019

McKenzie River Trail (Boulder Creek to Deer Creek)

This little section of the McKenzie River Trail is one of my summertime go-to hikes. The route is perpetually shaded for most of its eight miles or so, numerous creeks cross the trail, the forest is eminently green, and the McKenzie River makes frequent appearances with each break in the vegetative cover. Because the bottom of the river canyon is well shaded, the temperatures tend to be cooler here than in our urban areas sprawled next to Interstate 5. Also, the trail is blessedly flat for the most part, making the hiking both easier and cooler, especially on a baking warm day. So, let's hike already!

Candystick, flowering away
Despite the allusions to baking hot days, on this day the temperature was fairly mild, so the purpose of this hike rendition tended more towards sheer enjoyment of the river and shade and not at all towards frantic relief from the brain-parboiling heat of summer. Normally, I begin this section of the McKenzie River Trail from the resort at Belknap Hot Springs, but just to do something different this time, this hike commenced from the road bridge spanning the river near Boulder Creek. That way, I could make it as far as Deer Creek, which would be a whole new trail experience for me.

This small creek is actually part of the McKenzie River

Regardless of the new starting point, it was still the same old river, forest, and shade, and it felt wonderful. The path basically followed the river and rustic footbridges crossed several small creeks that were in no real hurry to meet up with the McKenzie, judging by the languid pools reflecting the low light within the forest. The canopy of mostly vine maple leaves let in very little light and the ample leafage imbued the very air with a soft green glow.

Tiger lilies prowled the trailside brush
While the creeks were in no particular hurry, dozens of women were very much intent on speeding down the trail with as much alacrity as they could muster. Seems there was a nearby women's retreat that also involved a trail run event. Me, I would retreat from any retreat that boasted a trail running event, that looked like way too much work. Besides which, I'd be sure to roll my weak ankles at some point, always a miserable occurrence. Also, despite exchanging cheery greetings with me, not all of the participants had facial expressions that said they were enjoying their more frenetic pace along the trail.

The McKenzie River Trail followed a forest road for a bit

At about the mile mark, the trail inscribed a switchback in the opposite direction and headed uphill to a forest road that is the actual McKenzie River Trail, gravel road appearance notwithstanding. After going under some power lines the road then descended back down to the river, that little detour making no sense to me at all. At any rate, the hike returned to the more comfortable milieu of fungus, flowers, and forest.

Bridge, leading from light unto dark
At about the 2.5 mile mark, the trail crossed Frissell Creek on a stout wooden bridge and from here on in, it would be all new trail for me. Underneath the bridge, the small creek flowed on its way to the river, the waters of the creek coursing amazingly clear.

Where the McKenzie divided around an island
After crossing Frissell Creek, the trail tended to stay fairly close to the river. Because of the thick forest and vegetation, it was not always easy to get the "big picture" of what the river was doing. At times, it seemed that the water flowing below the trail and through the trees had to be a creek instead of the river, although no creeks were nearby according to my GPS. The mild mystery was solved when  the river clearly divided around a heavily wooded island, sending a much smaller volume of river water on the trail side of the island just to confuse me.

Backpacking sites called to me
At a large bend in the river which was hidden from sight by the forest, the trail went high into the woods and temporarily left the river behind. At the four mile mark, the trail crossed a paved forest road before sideswiping a nice backpacking campsite next to the bridge at Deer Creek, The campsite was one of several seen on this hike and all of them were fairly luxurious when compared to my usual meager camping spots when backpacking. I really must come back and backpack the full McKenzie River Trail sometime, but I digress.

The well-engineered bridge at Deer Creek
Deer Creek has carved a rather large and deep valley in the surrounding mountains so I really was expecting a creek commensurately sized to match the geological terraforming. However, the reality is that Deer Creek was just a small creek, nothing more than any of the other creeks already encountered on this hike. The wooden bridge crossing the creek was more impressive though, spanning the comparitively wide canyon. Because of the width of the bridge, it shook and swayed in the middle as I walked across.

The texture of Deer Creek
Deer Creek made for a logical turnaround point, and I ate a quick lunch there while meditating upon the reflecting pools of the small creek. After that, it was back the way I had come, with the same enjoyment of forest, shade, river, flowers, and fungi. By this time, the other side of the river was bathed in sunlight and the bright reflections rippled zen-like on the pools of the various creeks running across the trail.

Sparkling clear water on a small creek
By this time, the last trail runner had long passed by but I still had to step aside every now and then for mountain bikers trundling past. Unlike the trail runners though, their facial expressions said they were enjoying their ride. I couldn't see my facial expression of course, but hopefully it was adequately conveying how enjoyable this hike had been.

My view for most of eight miles
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Lemolo Falls

Despite the profound enjoyment received from hiking, one should always be aware there is always an ever present element of danger in any given hike. There are so many ways to get into trouble, from falling trees to landslides to being robbed by rude deer. In my view however, the most dangerous part of hiking is the drive to get there. A recent case in point was on the drive to the trailhead near Lemolo Lake. I was tootling along in that happy empty-mind mode of driving when I felt something crawling on my middle finger. WASP!! I tried shaking it off but the lethally armed insect desperately clung to my middle digit. Finally I just sort of rolled it around between my fingers, frantically scraping it off onto the floor before it could sting me. The malevolent bug was indestructible however, and I could see it already crawling up the car seat to reclaim its rightful throne on my finger. At that point I decided to do the smart thing and pull over and deal with the wasp in a more prudent fashion. It was right then and there I noticed the car drifted across the center line but fortunately no onrushing cars were in the vicinity to further complicate an already complicated situation. Come to think of it, the forest might be safer than the real world!

Ho hum, just another spectacular cascade
That's not to say that the great outdoors does not have it's risk, though. But a lot of trail safety involves risk management decisions, with the outcome dependent on those decisions. For instance, one time I was hiking in the desert when a dreaded rattling sound emanated from the dried grasses in my feet. Rather than scream and flail, I stopped and calmly assessed the situation, located the snake, and made the right move to get out of its venomous reach. But then there's times where in hindsight, I have to ask myself what I was thinking of when deciding what to do, and that was the story on this hike. Spoiler alert: not that big of a deal (this time) and all turned out well but I wanted to make the point that smart people can do dumb things sometimes, like on this hike. 

Small springs seeped onto the trail

Dumb people do smart things on occasion too, and the smartest thing done on this day was simply to get out onto the trail on a warm spring day. Wanting some quality river time with an extra large helping of massive waterfall to go along with, I selected the North Umpqua Trail from Lemolo Lake to Lemolo Falls as the lucky trail of of choice. As the footpath descended through lush woods, it quickly became apparent this would be a good photography day.

A twisted stalk flower hangs like a spider from Mars
The trail was dropping down into the North Umpqua River canyon and the slopes on the right were adorned and bedecked with copious amounts of wildflowers and the slopes on the right had a rushing mountain river flowing below the trail. What to to take photos of? Why, everything, of course! And that again is the story of why I hike so slow.

Columbia windflower plays affable host to a longhorn beetle
It was mostly a white flower slow, with star-flowered Solomon's seal, Columbia windflower, vanilla leaf, inside-out flower, and yellowleaf iris all contributing from that end of the color spectrum. For a little variety in color, columbine (orange), candy flower (pink, sometimes), wild rose (pink, again), and rhododendron (eminently pink) contributed to the floral rainbow. I hardly ever see twisted stalk flowers but did run into a couple of flowering specimens on this hike, their spidery looking flowers dangling below their leaves like so many alien pod babies.

This bug was extremely camera shy
Bugs were crawling all over the vegetation and I added longhorn beetles, lacewings, and one strange bug (who was most camera shy) to my photographic inventory of insects great and small. That shy bug clearly could see me and rotated behind the plant it was on, doing his best to hide from camera view. I finally reached around with one hand and got a quick picture when it split the difference between hand and camera. Still don't know what kind of bug it was, though.

The North Umpqua River, all hike long
The North Umpqua Trail is 78 miles long and I have hiked on most (but not all, amazingly enough) of those miles. The river is not always visible for all of those miles but can be seen often in bits and pieces in many trail segments. However, this river section is one of my favorite river views on all the miles of the NUT that my feet have trod. Here, the river leaps from pool to pool, often doing the leaping via the photogenic medium of scenic cascade or noisy white-watered chute. On a warm day (like this one), the cool air emanating from the river and frequent cascades are always appreciated by overheated hikers.

Thundering Lemolo Falls
After a mile and a half or so, a loud roar announced the presence of Lemolo Falls. The river was still carrying the spring volume so accordingly, the falls were at their cascading best. There is a trail on the other side of the river that provides a great and unimpeded view of the falls but the trail is short so I've never seen it from the other side. From the North Umpqua Trail you get a partial view of the upper half of the falls, although you can get a better view by bushwhacking down a steep slope, holding onto trees for support as you do so. Any complaining about the view being less than all of the falls is just whining in my opinion, for the trade-off is you get a longer hike on the beautiful North Umpqua Trail.

The rhodies were putting on a show
The path below the falls was quickly overtaken by tall rhododendron bushes putting on a spectacular show. The trail was festooned with pink rhodie blossoms and an already slow hike remained slow but the photography was fun. Eventually, the trail dropped down to river level downstream of Lemolo Falls and now we get to talk about the bridge crossing the North Umpqua River.

It was a lot worse than it looked
In years past, a stout wooden bridge crossed the river. Over time and floods, logs began to pile up against the bridge supports. First it was one log, then two, then several and then many severals. You could see the bridge flex and cant to the downstream side with all the weight and pressure of the backed up logs and clearly, it would be just a matter of time before the bridge let go.

Time to walk across a very shaky bridge
The Forest Service sent in a crew to remove the logs and build a stronger bridge. It took some time but the new bridge was made out of metal and was indestructible. Well, at least until a tall tree fell on it. So there I am, looking at this mortally wounded bridge with a "Closed" sign on it and really it didn't look that bad, so I decided to go across. In my defense, if you look at the photos, it really doesn't look that bad, but appearances can be ever so deceiving. The closer to the point of impact, the more the bridge leaned toward the river, and it moved and trembled unsteadily under each of my footsteps. Clearly, this was not the smartest decision I've ever made but at least I did get to the other side of the river unscathed. But, boys and girls, please do as I say and not as I do and avoid scrambling across broken bridges that have "Closed" signs on them.

One of many cascades on the river
I only went about a mile further before backtracking and renegotiating the Challenge of the Bridge. By this time the day had warmed up enough to be considered hot, and it was all uphill to the car. It was still a slow hike, but now my snail's pace had little to do with Mother Nature but more to do with Auntie Gravity as I trudged uphill. Before I began the drive home though, I made a thorough inspection of my car for more wasps, just in case. You see, I do practice safety, except for maybe when it comes to bent and broken bridges.

Random whitewater shot of the North Umpqua
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pistol River Beach

After  a couple of memorable hikes on the Oregon coast, made memorable for both right and wrong (tick bite reference from the day before) occurrences, it was time to head back home. Katchan would head to the Bay Area by way of Roseburg, and the rest of us back to good old Douglas County to stay. John and Edwin were in such a hurry to get home, they got away before Katchan and I could invite them to a getaway hike on Getaway Day. 

Low tide on Pistol River Beach
Still designated to be in charge by my one remaining follower, I chose Pistol River Beach, so off we went to Myers Creek Viewpoint, which overlooks the beach reposing on the south side of imposing Cape Sebastian. The tide was well out and the numerous islands and sea stacks were now bona fide landforms instead of islands, as they had been stranded by the retreating tide. 

Myers Creek sparkles in the sun
After scrambling down to the beach, we crossed Myers Creek, which was no great feat as the creek had fanned out across the sand, becoming no deeper than an inch or so. The morning was glorious what with a clear blue sky, imbued with that crystalline air quality normally reserved for a cold winter day. The sun sparkled on the creek like so many diamonds tossed by a jilted fiancée throwing a temper tantrum. Despite the sun, it was frigid cold, thanks to a stiff breeze blowing across the beach strand.

Time for all good hikers to go explore some islands
What makes Pistol River Beach special though, are the numerous islands and rock formations. These sea stacks rival those of Bandon Beach, which is more renown solely because it is located in a city, albeit a small one. Pistol River Beach is located between Gold Beach and Brookings and is not as visited because of the work to drive there. At any rate, the low tide had exposed all the islands and we were able to walk the sandy maze between them.

Walls of rock dwarfed us little people
It is a Pistol River Beach truism that every island has another island behind it. "But Richard," you say "that would make them endless!" To which I reply, "Yup". They did seem endless as we wandered between them. In some little bays, the walls of the islands loomed maybe 100 feet above us, and it felt like we were walking among the ruins of an ancient citadel. An island just off shore looked like an Aztec frog statue from the time of Nezahualcoyotl, waiting for stone flies to eat for all of eternity.

Anemones wait patiently for prey
As we made our way south along the beach, the large rock islands and towers abruptly ended at a series of tide pools sited in a field of small kelp and algae-covered rocks. Pink and blue anemones were "blooming" in the crystal water, resembling colorful flowers instead of the predatory organisms they are. Small sculpins (a spiny fish that inhabits tide pools) darted furtively among the nooks and crannies of the pools. Small crabs brandished their pincers to hopefully deter being picked up by curious humans. Beds of mussels were being preyed upon by colorful starfish and we spent a few minutes discovering and uncovering the various forms of life that exist in this small vignette of marine ecology.

Cross currents and tides
So, now that we hiked past all things rocky and islandish, be they gigantic, large, or small, it was all sandy beach walk across exposed tidal flats to the Pistol River, located about a mile beyond the tidepools. The river was flowing deep, the relatively clear water running with an aqua tint to it. Obviously, there'd be no wading across today, it would have to be a healthy swim instead, for those inclined to do such a thing.

The Pistol River blocks our way south

Blocked from further hiking southward, we followed the river inland until Highway 101 blocked further progress eastward. Here, the river pooled languidly behind the beach dunes and we explored the would-be lagoon until there was no more shoreline to explore. But hey, there were a whole bunch of sand dunes between lagoon and beach and we scrambled up the soft sand to attain the dunes.

Trails, used by the current residents of the dunes
Judging by the many footprints, this area gets a lot of visitors but not of the human kind. All manner of critter tracks criss-crossed the pristine sand and it was almost a shame to mar the dunes with our comparatively clunky boot tracks. By the time we reached the actual beach strand, the low tide had gotten even lower than a grifter's scruples, exposing and stranding even more islands than before.

Land forms on an alien planet
On the hike back to Myers Creek, we had acres and acres of glistening sand to walk on. The sand had been carved by retreating water into abstract formations that resembled a satellite map of a river delta in miniature. The even lower tide allowed for further exploration of the numerous stranded islands and we partook thereof before Katchan and I departed for home. This short hike was just perfect for Getaway Day.

A cinnabar moth basks on the beach
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Illinois River Trail (to Indigo Creek)

A quick limerick about this hike:

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus
This is a tale of a hike in extemis
If I may be so bold,
This story to be told
Of a tick, a man, and his penis!

Quintessential sunny day in the Siskiyous
Yup, and here I thought it was only deer I had to worry about! You know, it had been an enjoyable run of several years where the ticks completely left me alone while simultaneously pestering and tormenting my hiking buddies. Being the totally empathetic individual that I am, all kinds of jokes, quips, taunts, and verbal slings and arrows of outrageous fortune were directed at hikers less fortunate than my tick-immune self. Clearly it was time for karma to champion the cause of my picked-upon comrades by making me repent for every tick-magnet joke that ever found its way out of my mouth or onto my blog page.

Unsullied by the Biscuit Fire
After our challenging hike on the Oregon Coast Trail the day prior, it was made known to me that today's venture needed to be a "mountain hike". Well, fortunately for your eminent hike director, the Siskiyous were just a short drive from the coast so we headed up the Rogue River to Oak Flat, a primitive campground next to the Illinois River just upstream from where it joins up with the Rogue. This area had been burned in Oregon's largest wildfire ever, the massive Biscuit Fire of 2002. Burning just a few acres short of a half-million, the fire nearly burned all the way to Oak Flat. So, it was no real big surprise when after a short walk on the Illinois River Trail in a forest untouched by fire, and as green and shady as a forest should be, we walked out into the Biscuit burn area. 

World, meet Bridges' triteleia
The Siskiyous, unlike most other mountain ranges in Oregon, were not created by processes volcanic in origin. Nope, the rugged Siskiyous were seismically extruded from deep within the earth and are comprised of serpentinitic soils and heavy metals. Accordingly, the soils here are nutrient poor, which would explain the slow recovery from the Biscuit Fire, ably demonstrated by our hiking in terrain still denuded by the fire, even though the fire occurred eighteen years ago. Plant life must adapt to the peculiar blend of minerals in the Siskiyous and that would explain why we saw so many plant specimens common in the Siskiyous but not so much anywhere else. I was able ro recognize some of the usual suspects like California ground cone, luina, yerba santa, and elegant brodiaea. Growing all over the first part of the trail was another brodiaea type of flower, one that I had never seen before, that I was able to identify after copious research on the Internet: Bridges' triteleia (Triteleia bridgesii ). I learn something new every hike!

The bridge at Ethel Creek might, just
might, be in need of some repair
Even though we were just twenty-five or thirty miles from the coast, it can get quite hot in the comparitively arid and dry mountain range and we quickly shed jackets and sweaters as we toiled uphill in the rapidly heating-up sun. In spite of the relative aridity of the terrain, numerous creeks flowed across the path, seemingly at odds with the overall dry clime. The bridge at Ethel Creek had taken a hit from a falling tree and the fence railings were irretrievably shattered beyond repair. We were still able to walk safely across, despite the lack of safeguards.

Epic view from Mother-in-Law's Buzzard's Roost
Walking uphill should always provide a reward and this one did, the climb culminating in a superbly scenic overlook at Mother-in-Law's Buzzard's Roost. The pointed tip of the Roost would be a worthy destination in and of itself, but when the roost is poised over the deep Illinois River canyon, well it just goes to a whole other level of landscape view. The tip of the rocky spire was only about ten feet higher than the overlook and the rough terrain dropped away at our feet into a river canyon that was about one thousand feet deep. At the bottom of the canyon, the remote and inaccessible Illinois River snaked in between the surrounding mountains like the watery turquoise serpent it is. Much higher above and still mostly denuded from the fire, rose the rugged peaks of Horse Sign Butte, Lawson Butte, and Game Lake Peak. Amazingly, a trail allegedly leads from Oak Flat Campground (a low-water wade across the Illinois is required) to Game Lake, which would be like a four-thousand foot climb over eight miles or so. You'd really have to hate yourself to pull that one off and besides which, I'm not even sure if the trail exists anywhere else besides on maps.

Horse Sign Butte, in the rugged Siskiyou Mountains
At any rate, we had a much easier time of it after we crested at Mother-in-Law's Buzzard's Roost, beginning a long descent down to Indigo Creek. Here on the south-facing slopes, there was no real wildfire recovery in process. Most of the snags from the Biscuit Fire had toppled over long ago to be replaced by nothing. Well, that's not entirely accurate for the once and former forest had been supplanted by a regrettably robust growth of poison oak and buck brush. The poison oak as we all know, is more than willing and able to make hikers rue a hike through the accursed oily-leaved devil-spawned spreader of itchy torment. However, ticks thrive in malevolent abundance in the buck brush, patiently waiting for months and months to leap on the first warm blooded animal that walks by and on this day, that would be us. We quickly discerned that we were prime candidates to become tick dinner, so we stopped frequently to perform tick checks and we all plucked the odious arachnids (ticks are not insects, by the way) from our respective selves. For the remainder of the hike, this would be the hiking mode du jour because the ticks were so pervasive.

Silver Peak rules over the Illinois River and Indigo Creek
We had been hiking steadily downhill and the complete and utter lack of forest provided a great and awesomely unimpeded panorama of the surrounding landscape. Way below the trail, the Illinois had forsaken its snaky to-and-fro journey for a route that was straight as an arrow in a slot canyon for about a mile or two. At right angles to the river and between us and the Illinois was the equally impressive canyon of Indigo Creek running into the larger canyon of the Illinois. A grassy pasture at Frantz Ranch lay below the massive pyramid of Silver Peak, which someday I will hike to the top of. On our side of Indigo Creek was Fishhook Mountain, looming like a lesser version of Silver Peak. The view was magnificently epic and this is the reason we hike through tick-infested brush.

Indigo Creek, on its way to the Illinois River
The trail bottomed out at Indigo Creek, where a stout footbridge spanned the wild stream tumbling in a narrow and rocky defile. Downstream of the bridge were a series of beautiful swimming holes, if you could actually find a way down there, that is. The canyon was rough and rugged and I'm not sure you could safely get down there without mountaineering equipment and know-how. The canyon and creek scenery deserved an extended session of contemplation so we sat down in the shade of a sheer cliff and ate lunch while admiring the view.

Be glad there are no photographs of the "tick incident"
After the climb out of the Indigo Creek canyon under a hot sun and through tick-laden brush, we rounded Mother in-Law's Buzzard's Roost, and began the relatively gentle descent down to Oak Flat. It was definitely shadier and cooler on this side of the ridge we had just hiked over and around. However, an uncomfortable burning sensation "down there" was calling my attention with ever insistent urgency. During the hot slog away from Indigo Creek, I had drank enough water to feel it sloshing in my belly with each step taken. Because enough water had been drunk to stimulate the call of nature, I went behind a nearby tree with the dual purpose of relieving myself and performing a primitive backwoods medical examination. 

California ground cone was a welcome diversion from ticks
I remember being totally aghast and gasping "Noooo..." Right where a tick should never be, right next to The Anaconda's lone eye, there it was, completely embedded with disgusting little spider legs flailing in annoyance at being discovered. If I thought the pain had been uncomfortable before, that paled in comparison to the removal of the evil eight-legged invader of southern nether regions and as that little backwoods surgery took place, I could almost hear Glenn, Lane, Dollie, John, Dale, Rheo, and all the other hordes of tick victims I had ever made fun of over the years laughing in triumph as they all high-fived each other in it's-about-time celebration. We should all be thankful that in the horror of the moment, photography was completely forgotten, which was OK because I didn't bring the wide-angle camera lens anyway.

I can just sense the ticks waiting for to hike through

Because of my impromptu tickectomy procedure, I arrived at the trailhead well behind my compatriots who were blissfully unaware of my mentally scarring episode with the tick. Some of them were just putting on their shirts, sheepishly explaining they were doing tick checks in case I presumed they were having wild sex while waiting for me to arrive.  "Heh-heh", I laughed "I have a funny story about that!"

Victims of the Biscuit Fire
I've got to hand it to my people. If it would have been me listening to a hiking buddy recalling a penile encounter with a tick, I'd be rolling on the ground with laughter at my buddy's discomfiture. But not my peeps! After listening to my tale, a look of mutual horror crossed each one's face and with all the dignity that each could muster, they each dispersed behind their respective trees for a subsequent and more detailed tick check. I guess it's universal, no male likes to hear about tick bites on certain body parts, except for maybe me, I still would have laughed.

A tiger beetle is a much nicer alternative to ticks
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.