Thursday, April 2, 2020

North Bank Habitat

It's a surreal experience, this living life during a pandemic, isn't it? The other day I was watching the news, something I do a lot more of these days, and in between reporting the gloomy state of the world, the channel took a commercial break and an advertisement for Febreze air freshener came on, complete with perky jingle, like there was nothing at all unusual about the situation we all find ourselves in. Thousands are dying but hey, you do want some air freshener to remove that annoying pandemic stink, don't you?

Bird's eye view of the picnic area lawn
Now I don't really blame Febreze, after all they need people to buy their product or else they go out of business. It is fighting for its survival just as we are fighting for ours. But that sort of illustrates the situation we find ourselves in, living in fear that has so many aspects of normality, the normality thereof being jarringly abnormal during these dire times. For instance, here in Douglas County, while people are staying at home more than usual, nobody I know here has yet contracted the virus. So, I'm gardening, cooking dinner, mowing the lawn, picking my nose, etc; engaged in all these routine activities with a sense of dread as I wait for the plague to travel down I-5 to devastate and ravish our little corner of of the Oregon sandbox. It's like the slowest moving disaster ever. And speaking of slow moving disasters, I recently busted out of quarantine and went hiking at the North Bank Habitat.

The National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had recently closed down all "developed" trailheads and campgrounds in Oregon and Washington so as to comply with the stay-at-home order issued by each state. It's kind of ironic because hiking is the ultimate in social distancing and is healthy both on a physical and mental basis. But having seen the goobers congregating en masse at trailheads, I absolutely comprehend why they felt the need to shut everything down. I made a round of phone calls asking about the possibility of hiking in "undeveloped" areas and was told absolutely no way but was also told they were not going to stop people from hiking, just from congregating. Well, that provided a legal loophole wide enough to stride completely through with trekking poles in hand, so off to the nearby North Bank Habitat Management Area I went to hike or get into trouble, or all of the above.

The world within
There were only one or two cars parked along North Bank Road outside the Habitat's locked gate and I added my vehicle to the impromptu parking lot. After getting geared up, I walked around the gate and headed up a gravel road to the actual trailhead, halfway expecting the SDP (Social Distance Police) to arrest me. As I started walking, it was a mostly sunny day with plenty of clouds puffing along in the blue sky above. The temperature was chilly though, and I began to doubt the wisdom of hiking in shorts and a sleeveless vest, but was too lazy to stop for a wardrobe change.

An Oregon wasp harvests an English daisy
Spring was beginning here at the Habitat, and I spent more than one occasion lying prone in the wet grass to take photos of buttercup, English daisy, red-stemmed storksbill, saxifrage, popcorn flower, dandelion, and Oregon grape, just to namedrop a few. I also saw my first stinky Bob of the year, a small member of the geranium family that has nothing to do with my friend Bob who may also stink, but nobody that I know of refers to him as stinky Bob except maybe his wife. Also of photographic interest was a varied population of winged bees, flies, and wasps visiting the aforementioned flowers. Obviously, this was going to be a slow hike!

For me, this path had that alluring new trail smell
From the East Pavilion, there are a myriad of trail options to choose from, radiating from the picnic area like spidery spokes on a wheel. Today's trail of choice was the Deer Hollow Tie Trail, simply because I'd never been on it. Maybe if I was lucky, the trail wouldn't be steep. Ha, like that would ever happen in the North Bank!

View to the Soggy Bottom drainage

After a short and relatively level walk to a muddy and grassy swale, the Deer Hollow Tie Trail immediately inclined upward in keeping with that quaint North Bank tradition of punishing all who dare to hike there. My leg muscles were not appreciative of that at all! But as the trail gained elevation, the view peering up the Jackson Creek drainage improved and there were lots of contemplative view soaks that were more than adequate compensation for the sweet misery of walking uphill.

Was this a great cloud day or what?

Simply said, this was a great cloud day. Above the rolling hills and creek valleys, small puffy white clouds scudded against a deep blue sky. Because the clouds formed and reformed constantly, the view changed every few minutes as sunlit patches and cloud shadows moved across the hilly landscape. Over the higher ridges of the Habitat, darker and more ominous clouds hovered, causing me to believe rain just might be in my future. 

Two steps forward, one slippery step back
What was in my more immediate future, though, was mud. The trail was damp and the resulting mud was slippery slick, making the labor of walking uphill that more taxing as I constantly fought for traction on the wet soil. I'm glad to report I remained upright for the entire walk up to Middle Ridge, despite a close call or two.

Hey hiker dude, you look like our next meal!
The trail alternated between open grassy slopes and shady woods. In the forest, I spied a couple of turkeys frantically running to get away from the scary hiker. Buzzards floated overhead on upwelling wind currents to check on whether I was going to keep on hiking or succumb to the rigors thereof. I'm also very glad to report I disappointed the gracefully soaring vultures.

The river perambulates around Whistlers Bend
After a couple of miles of this, the trail leveled out and spit me out onto a grassy ridge with a stunning view of local landmark Whistlers Bend, a prominent horseshoe-shaped oxbow in the North Umpqua River. Beyond Whistlers Bend and flanking the river, a scenic jumble of wetlands, pastures, and farms sprawled across the landscape. Of course, all of this lay under a constantly shifting tapestry of clouds as resultant sunbeams and shadows danced and flitted over the terrain. The view was awesome and this new previously unhiked (by me) trail might just become a favorite of mine.

I hate hiking!
I was somewhat disappointed to reach the intersection with the West Barn Road because from prior experience, I knew what trail travail awaited me. After a totally misleading pleasant meander through a copse of still leafless oak trees, a steep hill loomed straight ahead, looking like an attractive grassy wall, but a wall nonetheless no matter how pretty it might appear. And unfortunately, the trail went straight up it, with nary a pretense of a switchback. Sigh, sometimes I really think I should get an easier hobby. Steeling myself with resolve, I plodded wearily up the trail where I was rewarded with another view of Whistlers Bend.

Roseburg and Sutherlin were getting rained on
To the west, the clouds were portentuous, ominous, and dark with tendrils of rain clearly visible underneath the cloud cover. If any of that were to drift my way, I'd most assuredly be in for a wet time. Additionally, I'd be much colder than I already was, because a chill wind washed up from the valleys below, sweeping over the bare ridge (Middle Ridge) I was hiking on. I was still too lazy to stop for a wardrobe change, though. In their own menacing way, the moody clouds were absolutely spectacular as they gloomed over the scenery, and much photography ensued. A bit of rain ensued as well, but the shower only lasted a minute or two and would wind up being the only rain that fell on my little parade.

The North Gate Road took me down into the valley
At about the five-mile mark, all the bad uphill stopped when Middle Ridge Road intersected with North Gate Road. I grabbed North Gate Road for my egress off of exposed and breezy Middle Ridge, and that's when all the bad downhill started. My usual North Bank routes generally have me hiking up North Gate Road and that is one nasty steep trail that has had me muttering, on more than one occasion, about why on earth did I ever decide hiking was a worthy way to spend my time. Based on today's experience, it's not much better going downhill as knees and leg muscles both get taxed by the constant braking on the descent. 

Yup, I hit the ground on this stretch of muddy trail
The route down to Soggy Bottom was unsurprisingly muddy and I had three mud-ski experiences and one pratfall on the descent. I was somewhat amused by the pratfall because on my way down to the ground, I involuntarily uttered something that sounded a lot like a Klingon mating call "Qopbogh meQ jImuSHa'mo' tuj chenmoH mud!" I wonder why those tortured larynx-spraining vowels even came out of my mouth because it wasn't like anybody was going to hear me and if they did, it wasn't really any sound that could translate into anything intelligible or meaningful, unless that anybody happened to be Klingon. At any rate, me and the muddy trail were not very socially distant at that particular point in time.


Once down to Soggy Bottom, I hiked past a woman riding a horse while her two dogs walked behind the end of the horse that should always be more socially distant. At that point, I put the camera away and focused on hiking quickly to stay ahead of the horseback party. Just call me socially distant, much to the chagrin of the two dogs.

Red currant pinked up the trail
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Hey, based on the recommendations to keep this coronavirus under control, no touching the face -- stop picking your nose!

    1. Didn't know I had to worry about the NPP (Nose Picking Police Department) as well as the SDP (Social Distance Police)! Feeling oppressed here.