Saturday, November 28, 2020

South Slough

South Slough has definitely grown on me. For years I'd turned up my nose at its little five(ish) mile loop but after enjoying the incredibly lush forests, well groomed trails, and awesome slough scenery it's safe to say I've been a convert for several years now. So, when the Friends of the Umpqua penciled the reserve (the wordy formal name is South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve) onto their calendar, I figured I'd join in, especially since a hike is so much more relaxing when one is not in charge of the outing.

A little worse for the wear but still green

It was late November, right in the middle of winter's icy commencement but you'd never know it by hiking on the South Slough trails. While thimbleberry and deer fern were well in the process of shutting down for the winter, most of the other predominant vegetation such as moss, ferns, salal, and rhododendron were very much from the green arc of the color wheel. Accordingly, green was still the dominant color along the trail and if you ignored the yellowing thimbleberry leaves, then it looked and felt a lot like spring, especially since the sun was out.

A log surrenders to the inevitable

The hike started pleasantly enough for it went downhill for the first couple of miles or so. Of course, we would pay for all that nice downhill goodness, but why worry about it now? Let's just live in the moment and enjoy the easy hiking while we can! As we angled down to the slough, directionally and relatively unimaginatively named North Creek birthed into existence when hundreds of rivulets and rills trickling down the slough's rim braided together into one stream. The babbling of creek and comrades both was a constant as we hiked down the gently sloping and heavily forested creek canyon.   

Unclear on the concept of camouflage 

The well-maintained trail was quite civilized, so much so that I began a desperate search for a fallen tree to climb over, a landslide to scramble across, or a bear to growl at; anything else to break up the overt niceness of the path. The only thing I could find that added an element of wildness to the hike was a faint side trail that led down to an overlook of the North Creek arm of South Slough (labeled as Sloughside Marsh on the printable trail map). The partial view was nice and the thick brush simultaneously scratched my arms, face, legs, and Richard-hike itch. Plus, there were some bright red coral fungi sprouting out of the damp earth, looking more at home in a Martian rock garden than on a Pacific Northwest forest floor.

Bridge crossing between marshes Sloughside and Rhodes 

Normally, the brackish waters of the slough just idly pool by with no discernible movement. However on this day, the tide was clearly and visibly waning as the slough slowly emptied its water into Coos Bay, unseen and several miles to the north. The dropping water level exposed mud flats myopically blinking their light-sensitive eyes in the bright morning sun. After crossing a gracefully arching bridge spanning the gap between marshes Sloughside and Rhodes, we reached a five-way trail junction which led to at least five choices of where to hike next.

Old pilings gradually disappear into the slough

We ended up hiking four out of the five trail offerings which is at least a B on a surprise quiz in calculus class. The Sloughside Trail, as its name suggests, follows the slough on a trail atop an old eroding and crumbling dike. Best to hike it while it still exists, kids! The view atop the old berm is epic though, as you stare downstream in the general direction of Coos Bay, which the slough empties into or fills from, depending on whether the tide is incoming or outgoing. 

It's called Tunnel Trail because...?

After eating lunch on some wooden viewing platforms on the nearby Marsh Edge Trail, we grabbed the Tunnel Trail to begin the work of closing off this loop hike. The path was a wide track flanked by thick shrubbery that arched overhead, mingling and then comingling with thick shrubbery doing the same thing from the other side. The colliding vegetation forms a tunnel for hikers to hike through (and a convenient people-trap for deer to waylay said hikers) which is why it's called the Tunnel Trail.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Sloo

Another lengthy gawk-stop took place at a two-tiered viewing platform whose decks and inter-tree walkways had me wanting to revisit my childhood and play Gobblers and Monkeys all over again. The trail exuded a fantasy novel vibe as we hiked out of a marshy arm of the slough on a mile-long zigzagging boardwalk bisecting the marsh at water level before continuing into the woods. I use the term "water level" loosely because all you could see next to the boardwalk was marsh grass, reeds, and skunk cabbage, all of which seriously encroached the wooden walkway. However, if you were to step off, you would find yourself waist deep in brackish water wondering why you ever did such a thing.

If I don't go in, the deer can't eat me

The hiking had been easy so far but our vehicles were still parked on the slough's rim and since we were at slough level, it was now time to do a little work in the form of hiking uphill. The path inclined through woods lush and green while Hidden Creek (which was not at all very well hidden) trickled musically right next to the trail. But going uphill allows hikers-cum-photographers to use photography of fungi, vegetation, and trail tunnels as the means of masking tiredness engendered by challenging gravity when walking uphill, not that I ever do any of that!

It's just a matter of perspective

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

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