Saturday, October 31, 2020

North Umpqua Trail (Hot Springs Segment)

Just when you think you've seen it all, you find out you haven't. We were hiking on the North Umpqua Trail on Halloween day and as I approached Columnar Falls, there was a comely lass posing in front of the falls for a camera dude squinting into the viewfinder, kneeling on the trail and totally engrossed in his photography avocation. Her attire and general vibe were medievally rustic as she was wearing a brown Little Red Riding Hood-style cape and hood. At that particular moment, I was picking out an off -trail route down to some logs for a lunch spot and at first glance vaguely noticed that she was wearing matching flesh-colored shirt and pants. On a second look though, the odd flesh-coloring was explained by the fact didn't have any clothing on at all other than the cape, which may have led to a third and fourth look just to confirm the second look. And there she was, standing on the North Umpqua Trail, close enough for me to notice a whole flock of goose-pimples to go along with her Oregon grapes and deer ferns, euphemistically speaking. We inadvertently made eye contact, forcing us to awkwardly acknowledge each other's presence:

Me: Hello, how are you today?
Lady Godiva: I'm fine, doing well. 
Me: Aren't you cold? 
Lady Godiva: Yes.  

That had to have been the oddest conversation ever to take place between a fully-clothed man and an unclothed woman in a freezing forest in the entire history of humankind, but hey, it was Halloween at Umpqua Hot Springs, after all!

Plenty of clothing on our group

The fully-clothed part of our hike began at Toketee Lake, the comparitively warm waters covered with a thin layer of mist. It was frosty cold so unlike Miss North Umpqua Trail, we were all properly attired in ski caps, mittens, sweaters, sweatshirts, parkas, or some variation thereof. The first half of the hike was through shady woods so we really felt the lack of warm sun as we hiked. The forest was damp with condensation and water drops hung off of leaves, twigs, and hiker's noses.

The trail was mostly leaf-littered

Between my last hike here and this current edition, leaves had fallen en masse onto the trail so our feet swished through them as we hiked. Because of the near constant shade, the fall colors were muted, tending toward pale and light yellow hues. The waters of the nearby North Umpqua River were dark and black, the lack of color also attributable to the lack of sunlight. 

The forest was a mix of color and trees

At the halfway point, the trail crossed over the river and I compulsively scanned the banks and rock islands for my hiking pole that had been lost to the river currents during my last hike here. Didn't see it, but then I didn't really expect to. The bridge crossing was notable in that the crossover did put us on the sunny side of the river where autumn really began in earnest. Let the fall colors begin!

Autumn fanfare

The forest understory was mostly comprised of the ever ubiquitous vine maple, and the small trees were really putting on a show with yellow, orange, and red leaves all lit up by sunbeams like so many multihued stars in the universe's brightest galaxy. Tall firs interspersed with bigleaf maple trees loomed over all lesser life forms growing or hiking underneath, the big leaves glowing bright yellow in the ample sunlight higher up. Needless to say, hikers with cameras soon lagged behind those without.

Penny and Missy cross the North Umpqua River on a rainbow bridge

Some of our crew turned around at the stout footbridge spanning Deer Creek while others continued on. Some of our group that had never seen the delicate beauty of Columnar Falls so the remaining contingent hiked on for another mile and a half to the falls where we observed a delicate beauty of a different sort as we ate lunch. Across the North Umpqua River and high on a slope, were the pools of hot water collectively known as Umpqua Hot Springs and while we ate, groups of hikers would arrive at the springs and immediately begin removing clothing. Across the river, there was one last pool of hot water with a bunch of naked dudes whooping it up. We, with our ski caps and down jackets, were severely overdressed but on the plus side, we were quite comfortable in the chill outdoor air.

Sun illuminated the autumnal leaves

All good things come to an end though, and we packed up our gear and returned to the trail. The last time I saw Aphrodite of the Falls, she was holding a ceramic moon and sun over her head, posing in front of the falls while her photographer friend captured the scene. I couldn't help but be captured by the beauty of what I was witnessing and of course I am referring to the Canon ESO 5D Mark IV camera in his hands. The Umpqua National Forest Nymph still looked cold, though.

Tinder fungus thrives on a log cut

For more photos (none of which are of our Naked Lady of the Woods, sorry) of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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