Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Cathedral Hills

Cathedral Hills is another one of those places that I'd never been to because of a preconceived notion the hikes are too short to justify the drive from Roseburg. However, a friend recently made mention of the Cathedral Hills trail system and with the idea of hiking there now placed irrevocably onto the part of my cerebral cortex that warehouses possible hiking destinations, the distinct possibility of hiking there had to be considered. Besides which, any place with the word "Hills" in it will always stand a chance.

It was a bit chilly at the outset

It turned out that stepson Carl and family had just moved into a place literally just down the hill from the Sky Crest Trailhead so I made a surprise swoop to see the new digs and to temporarily free grandson Liam from the stultifying constricts of parental dictatorship via the escape route of hiking with Grandpa. Didn't need to ask him twice!

Madrone trees were very much a thing on this hike

There are several trailheads with which to access Cathedral Hills but we chose Sky Crest Trailhead solely because it was just up the hill from Liam's house. There were only a few cars in the trailhead parking lot when we arrived and in this age of Covid, that's a good thing. 

A frozen web, ready to snare frozen flies

It was downright chilly at the start and the surrounding vegetation was lightly frosted like an old dude's unshaven chin. But hey, trails heading uphill are made for warming up cold hikers and the heat generated by the exercise kept some of the chill at bay. Thick woods comprised of scrawny madrones and dense patches of manzanita bushes flanked the track as it gained elevation. Periodically, the vegetation and forest cover opened up, affording views of nothing but gray, for the low cloud cover hid from sight any vistas that otherwise would have been enjoyed by the two of us.

A burl mars an otherwise perfectly smooth madrone trunk

A good map is essential because this relatively small park presents a myriad of trail options that intersect each other with great rapidity when hiking. The BLM website has a downloadable pdf map which was an invaluable asset in negotiating the trail system so as to arrive back at the car. Don't you just hate it when you can't find your car at the end of a hike? Hasn't happened to me yet, but then again I usually carry a map when I hike and strongly urge all hikers to do likewise.

Frosted pine trees were the only view we had today

Our route was a loop hike on the Skycrest Trail, Outback Loop, Hogback Trail, Cloverlawn Loop, Backside Loop, Outback Loop (again!), Ponderosa Pine Trail, Outback Loop (redux), Bowl Trail, Upper Hogback Trail, Outback Loop (a repeat customer!), and finally, the Skycrest Trail (Round 2). Now you see why a map is essential and even though we had one, we still got "misplaced" for a bit. I'd blame the navigator but that would mean taking personal responsibility for my own actions, so I'll just falsely accuse Liam instead.

Lichen finds a purchase on a smooth manzanita trunk

The route crested at the intersection of the Skycrest Trail and Outback Loop and from there it was a steady descent toward the general direction of busy Espy Road Trailhead. Most of the hike was spent in easy companionship chit-chatting about life in general and I was grateful for the quality time spent with Liam today. Virtually all of the descent was also spent surrounded by madrone, oak, and manzanita. Not to mention, there were also some poison oak bushes flanking the paths, even though I just mentioned it.


Most difficult!

The lower part of our route was a combination of the Outback Loop and Backside Loop that basically hugged the southwestern corner of the park. Several trails branched off to the right, each one of those trails being belligerent tests of manhood that charged madly up wooded ridges with nary a pretense of switchback or any other modern invention designed to ease the grade. Naturally, we namby-pambies stayed to the left at all junctions. For a little more mileage we grabbed the Ponderosa Pine Trail after being asked for directions by a random hiker, like we would know anything about this park on our first visit! But we were reading our map at the time, and that made us more knowledgeable than the hapless mapless fellow asking us for directions.

Setting for the "Witches of Cathedral Hills" movie

Somewhere on the Ponderosa Pine Trail, I missed an intersection on the map (but not on the ground) while monitoring our progress. So, while we were actually on track the whole way, I, the trail, and the map were now all out of sync with each other. Navigationally, it was obvious we were heading in the correct direction so we continued walking in the expectation that we'd soon figure it all out soon enough. In essence, we were following the return leg of the Outback Loop which consisted of a picturesque trail on a ridge crest wooded with usual suspects madrone, manzanita, and leafless oak.  

Liam patiently waits while Grandpa checks the map YET AGAIN!

This part of the hike was the only real sustained uphill stretch of trail but no complaining allowed for the trail was quite photogenic as it wandered through the manzanita and other hardwood trees. The vegetation was sparser here than in the lower woodlands, so we got to see cloud cover hiding the vistas from sight all over again. I imagine that on a sunny day, there'd be some views to partake of. Both of us enjoyed our first Cathedral Hills experience, it's a good early season hiking option and I'll have to drag my friends here at some point in the near future. Stay tuned!

Moss slowly and inevitably claims a tree

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

Monday, December 14, 2020

Cape Arago

It was a King Tide day and at Sunset Bay State Park, Big Creek was unnaturally full of water being forced upstream by the incoming tide. In between waves, I stood next to the creek and took several photographs of the bay, keeping a wary eye on an incoming wave that just kept coming and coming without any inclination of slowing down any time soon. Bye, gotta go! I took off running and all was well until I dropped my hiking pole. Dammit, that wasn't in my carefully crafted plan for escape! I reached down and picked it up, fumbled the pole pick up, then fumbled it again. Finally, got a firm grasp on the sucker and then I really had to move as the surge roared up Big Creek, covering up where I had been standing just seconds before with about 3 to 4 feet of fast moving water. A King Tide is nothing to mess with, dudes and dudettes.



King Tide is a non-scientific term for an abnormally high tide. Oregon gets them several times a year and Shore Acres State Park is the perfect locale for experiencing the huge waves that sometimes result. The caveat is that a high surf is also required, because it is entirely possible for a King Tide to fail to generate huge waves and it's also possible for huge waves to manifest without benefit of a King Tide. But on this day, it was the perfect storm in that the King Tide was occurring in conjunction with a heavy surf generated by stormy weather. That was all I needed to wake up before dawn and arrive at Sunset Bay bright and early, trusty camera at the ready.    

A wave really would like to smite some hikers

I was more than happy to hike up on the forested bluffs overlooking the wild ocean after my near escape at Sunset Bay. But I shouldn't have felt that secure, for the waves, after surging into the unyielding cliffs, exploded into white-watered mayhem that often rose twenty feet or so higher than the trail, which was already twenty feet or so higher than the ocean. As I hiked through the woods, I could hear the booming surf cannonading in loud blasts up and down the coast, sounding like the most prolific thunderstorm ever.

A seagull rethinks its flight plan

As the route rounded the rocky cove of Norton Gulch, exposed rocky shoals came into view and the waves breaking over them were an awesome sight. A seagull was patrolling the shoreline and was probably questioning its life choices when one large wave enveloped the bird into its watery embrace, somewhat to my amusement. The constant mist from the waves refracted sunlight which is a non-romantic and very scientific way to say there were lots of rainbows.

Fountain in the Shore Acres garden 

As stated before, Shore Acres is the place to be when the big waves put on a show, what with the strategically sited viewpoint and observation area with easy access. Accordingly, throngs of photographers and videographers were gathered there to get their own personal iconic photos and/or videos of the booming waves. Rather than brandish my sharp elbows to rudely jostle for a place in the photography queue, I figured I'd hike to the secluded bluffs south of Simpson Beach and take some photos from there. However, the trail to the beach was gated shut with a dour-faced park ranger standing by, sternly enforcing the trail-closed edict. Seems that last year during a King Tide event, somebody went down to the beach and got themselves into trouble so now the park simply closes the beach trail whenever a King Tide event occurs.

Some of that Shore Acres action

Well, that screwed up my plans and since I wasn't ready to quit hiking yet, I backtracked through the Shore Acres gardens and made my way onto the trail heading up to the World War II bunker, since I'd never been to that landmark. Built as a watch station for Japanese submarines, the ruins of the bunker have long since been swallowed up by the forest and you currently would not be able to see the ocean from the bunker, much less a submarine unless it snuck up from behind, tapped you on the shoulder, and said "Boo, I'm a submarine!"

From defending the country to this

At the bunker ruins, vandals (or graffiti artists, depending on your point of view) had redecorated the old place. To be honest, all the color on the walls in a forested setting was visually interesting and kind of on the cool side. What was not cool were the spray paint cans left behind, along with several painted trees. I think the lack of respect bothers me more than the actual artwork. At any rate, the side trip to the bunker nominally served its purpose in extending the hike's mileage to a reasonable distance.

Large waves boomed up and down the coast

It was just about high tide and the waves would be as large as they were going to get today, so I hiked up the Cape Arago Highway until a resumption of the (open) coast trail presented itself. Wave-generated sonic booms permeated the forest and grassy bluffs, and I made my way to land's end like a concertgoer drawn to the front of the mosh pit. As I was happily doing my camera thing, one wave huger than most gave me a good soaking. It was quite the show and I stayed there for a fair amount of time until it became obvious the tide was receding and the waves were shrinking. While that was disappointing, at least the hike back to Sunset Bay was less eventful than my morning visit there.

Thimbleberry leaf: I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. O'Neill

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

Saturday, December 12, 2020

North Umpqua Trail (Marsters Segment)

About a month prior to this hike, I had hiked the Marsters Segment of the North Umpqua Trail. And it had been like five years since the last Marsters hike before that one. In between those two prior hikes, fire had come to play and frolic upon the Marsters, much to the chagrin of the resident flora and fauna. So, much of the most recent hike was spent making horrified comparisons to the pre-fire and post-fire versions of the Marsters. However, on this mid-December day, the element of fire-damage surprise was gone so there was more of a general appreciation for the hiking aspects of this particular segment of the 78 mile long North Umpqua Trail (NUT). Well, make that the 40 mile long North Umpqua Trail, for half of the NUT is currently off limits due to fire damage from last summer's Archie Creek Fire

Views were hard to come by on this day

At the start, the morning was as chilly as an ex-spouse's glare, and river fog misted up the canyon and surrounding forest. Higher up, it looked like it might be a sunny day but not for us, that would require sun reaching the bottom of the canyon. And what do the North Umpqua River and an unempathetic jogging philosopher have in common? Why, they both run cold and deep! The river was obviously in winter mode with the strong current flowing dark and black like it typically does in cold weather. It's also that time of year where sunlight does not reach river-level and we'd (the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club) best be planning to hike in the frosty shade all day. 

River fog ruled

While cold, it wasn't quite freezing so on the plus side, icicles did not form off of the tips of our runny noses as we hiked. Even though this was the second time within a couple of months that I had set my handsome feet on the Marsters, the devastation from the fire was still stunning. Maybe, the burned forest seemed even starker if only for the reason it was set against the murky background of the dark canyon and cold forbidding river, with thick river fog occluding much of the surrounding topography and what little sunlight there was.

Where landslide meets river

Several miles into the hike, the trail crossed a landslide that didn't really seem like it was yet done with its earth-moving business. A small stream of running water trickled down the face of the slide, which is always a bad sign. The trail was narrow and the path shifted and moved beneath our boots as we carefully made our way across. Shortly after this hike, the Marsters was closed because a large landslide had covered the road to the trailhead and I couldn't help but wonder if this landslide was the culprit (It wasn't).

Supernatural creatures inhabit the woods

So there we are, hiking in the mysteriously foggy woods, the kind of setting that makes it easy to believe in supernatural and spectral creatures, so don't blame me if I thought I saw a Sasquatch. We were hiking through a fire-blackened acreage of dead trees when suddenly on the ridge crest above, the sounds of a large creature stampeding across the landscape could clearly be heard. I whipped my head around toward the sound just in time to see the silhouette of a large apelike creature disappear into the thin sunlight illuminating the higher reaches. Actually, it was just a large tree falling, but just for a moment there, I believed. Besides which, falling trees when one is hiking is a spooky enough event, anyway.

Just another drippy day in paradise

Just like the hike from a month ago, the turnaround point was the trailhead at Calf Creek. While everybody else ate, I tried to take some photographs of ferns, mushrooms, and virtually anything else, but the increased moisture in the air was clouding up the camera lens within seconds of uncapping the lens. Sheesh, it was cold and now I can't take pictures either? What am I supposed to do? Just hike? The questions are rhetorical, no need replying to your sniveling whiny blogster, but I did make do by frequently wiping the lens (and my glasses, too) clean of condensation, darn early dew point anyway.

Fire does not age-discriminate

Near the Calf Creek Trailhead, a large pile of fallen fire-blackened trees covered the trail, and the climb over them was fairly tedious. Penny decided she would rather walk around them instead of clambering over like the rest of us mere mortals. The tree pile pushed her route away from the trail and onto an increasingly sheer slope, so she had to abashedly make her way back to the pile and scramble over like the rest of us lesser beings, much to our amusement. Life lesson: If you are going to do something like that, first make sure no one is watching!

It's not every hike where you can observe
mountain goats in their native habitat

I'm assuming everybody enjoyed the hike or if they didn't, they were kind enough not to complain within earshot, which was easy to do since I was leading from the rear anyway as per my usual customary wont. Despite the chilly weather and all the other harbingers of winter, it had been an enjoyable hike on our old friend, the North Umpqua Trail.

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

North Umpqua Trail (Jessie Wright Segment)

That little in-between season residing twixt autumn and winter is that special time of year spent trying to frantically squeeze in just one more hike on the North Umpqua Trail (NUT) before the winter snows arrive. I offer into evidence recent hikes on the Marsters, Dread and Terror, and Hot Springs segments of the venerable NUT. Of course, this year it's been substantially difficult to even hike on the NUT, what with nearly half of it rendered unusable by last summer's devastating Archie Creek Fire. But who's counting and what's one more hike on the NUT before winter's onset arrives?

Fire-scarred forest surrounded the trail

The day was ostensibly sunny but here on the cold bottom of the North Umpqua River canyon, a thin film of mist occluded the views and I kept rubbing my eyes just in case I was developing filmy vision or something like that. Even the river looked colder than normal, the water running as dark and black as a tyrant's soul as it rumbled underneath Marsters Bridge. In a telling sign that winter is indeed nigh, I wore a jacket for the entire hike.

A goblet of water for the wee folk

Several years ago, fire rolled through this section of the NUT and nowadays, the forest floor is littered with dead trees and limbs to go along with all the normal customary forest detritus. All that decaying lumber on the forest floor just begs for mushrooms and fungi to come dine and they so obliged. There were so many different ilk, color, and specie of mushrooms, ranging from tall parasols large enough to shelter me and other rodents in a rainstorm to tiny fungal caps small enough to shelter just a few individual atoms in that very same rainstorm. Not to mention, there were fungi of the non-mushroom variety ranging from tough and woody tinder fungus to bright yellow dollops of witch's butter. Toss in a healthy population of lichen and moss clinging to tree trunks and you could almost hear the communal munching of dead wood echoing throughout the forest.

The North Umpqua River, all hike long

At roughly halfway between Marsters Bridge and Deer Creek, the river widens considerably where it makes a graceful bend as only a river can. My own personal bends are pretty much limited to beginner's yoga and are nowhere near as graceful. The thick forest cover, which had been doing a pretty good job of hiding the river from view, thinned out and allowed your merry blogster to stop and contemplate the fantastic riverine vista. The water flowing past and over a series of small cascades was perhaps enhanced by the steep terrain rising away from the river, culminating in the rocky spire of Old Man Rock (unseen, from the river's edge), which was not named after me no matter what the grandchildren say.

Snag Rock, living up to its name

The former wooden footbridge crossing Eagle Creek had been vaporized in the wildfire from several years ago and its replacement is wisely made out of metal this time.  After crossing the aforementioned creek and bridge, the trail commenced another stretch of fine river scenery. Here, the river bounds in a series of energetic cascades and rapids that might challenge a river rafter or kayaker. In the middle of all the watery turmoil and roil squats a troll-like boulder aptly named Snag Rock. The huge rock lives up to its name, for it had snagged several snags (another word for dead trees) that had attempted a doomed river float. 

I crawled like the lowly worm I am, and I liked it!

A recent storm had knocked down a bunch of trees onto the trail right near Boulder Creek and I used my well-honed crawling skills to slither past them. Another large, albeit wooden, footbridge spanned Boulder Creek and that was my turnaround point. The creek was running low as it exited its namesake Boulder Creek Wilderness, the water collecting in languid greenish-blue pools. As I ate my lunch by the creek, some large winged insect crawled by, which was strange for it did have those wing things for added mobility. I doubt the wings were just for show, maybe the bug just needed the exercise.

Some of that amazing light and mist on the hike back

The hike back to the trailhead at Marsters Bridge was uneventful but I did get to enjoy the awesome river, forest, and fungal scenery all over again. However, the river fog had thickened considerably, rendering the woods as mysterious and inscrutable as the calculus of complex numbers. As the day waned, the sun finally made it down to the canyon floor, illuminating the mist with ethereal sunbeams that awed this hiker who thankfully, had a camera with which to commemorate the show.   

Fog? What river fog?

At the trailhead, the fog lifted just long enough to put Rattlesnake Rock (which was not named after me, no matter what my wife says) on display against a rare blue sky. If this run of conducive weather continues, maybe I can get in a few more North Umpqua Trail hikes before winter arrives for good.

Vestigial remnant of autumn glory

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

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Coquille River

Didn't see that coming! At the end of my hike in the Bullards Beach State Park area, there was parked a van covered with all kinds of decals for windsurfing gear and paraphernalia. The striking combo of white van and dramatic background of dark and foreboding clouds triggered my inner photographer. The rear doors of the van were open so I casually approached the vehicle with the benign intent of politely asking the occupant for permission to take a photo. Yikes! The van was solely occupied by a pair of rabid dogs (wolfhounds from Hades, even!) that let me know vociferously and with much rabidity that my presence anywhere near the vehicle was most definitely not canine approved. I staggered backward in surprise and shock, but really, that was just the last travail on a hike that did present several other trials and tribulations. Also, it was the only travail that involved snarling and sharp teeth but then again, I wasn't hiking with my wife.

The lighthouse presides over the mouth of the Coauille River

There is no official trail along the Coquille River but one can follow a series of use paths tamped out by curious rivergoers or simply follow the wide river when the paths peter out. After shooting some photos of historical Coquille River Lighthouse, I began walking upstream on the aforementioned paths. The sun was out and the river sparkled in the morning light while the town of Bandon sprawled peaceful and quiet on the other side of the river.

Remnants of a bygone era

Bandon's been around since the 1850's or so and much of its history is that of port and harbor on the Coquille River. Once the lighthouse environs were hiked away from, I observed vestiges of that former history in the form of pilings and wooden pillars where once stood viable piers, wharves, and maybe a crab shack of ill repute or two. Notably, the tide was visibly surging upstream through the decaying pilings. Good thing I'd be well off the river banks by the time the tide actually crested.

Raccoons patrol the sandy banks of the Coquille

For the most part, hiking along the river was fairly easy. The tide was rising but not yet fully risen, the ground was firm, and the weather bright and sunny. And yes, you guessed it, that was all too good to last. Bad weather was in the afternoon forecast and by mid-morning, a dark cloud bank scudded over and that was it for the nice sunny day. Additionally, the hiking became a bit tedious when a water-filled slough entered the river at right angles to my route. Time for some bushwhacking!

One of a whole slew of sloughs

It was just a little slough, yet it was too wide to jump over and too deep to wade across, so I followed its banks inland until the watery channel petered out. Part of following the channel involved beating my way through dense patches of Scotch broom, scratchy low-growing conifers, and thorny bushes of gorse. Eventually a pile of logs provided the means of getting across the channel and I made my way back to the river, which acted like nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened at all.

"Make speed in the gathering storm..."
(Paul Kelly)

That was just the beginning. The sloughs came with increasing frequency with each one being wider and deeper which was really annoying because ahead, I could clearly see Bullards Beach Campground, my intended destination. The campground was less than a mile away but it might as well have been located on Jupiter's twelfth moon, thanks to the intervening sloughs. As I negotiated my way around each water channel, the daylight dimmed considerably thanks to increasingly dramatic clouds emoting over the coast. The wind picked up and obviously, rain would be happening at some point in the afternoon.

A waterfowl flees the scary hiker
trying to cross the water channel

What was also increasingly obvious was that the water channels would not let me get to the campground via the Coquille River. The largest slough yet pushed me well to the west and nearly all the way to the beach foredunes, which was almost where I had started this hike from. Giving up on the river-walk thing in entirety, I veered north through some scrubby hinterlands, eventually crossing the Bullards Beach roadway. From there, I grabbed the paved trail leading to the campground, the path providing nice overlooks of the wide river. However, the weather was trending toward downright belligerence, so it was deemed prudent to start heading back to the lighthouse before things got too miserable.

The wind moves sand at high velocity

After taking a sandy footpath that led to the beach, I commenced hiking south into the wind. Airborne rivers of fine particulate matter flowed just a few inches above the sand and my booted and pantsed (panted?) ankles and shins didn't care. My pace was not all that quick because the foreboding clouds were wildly photogenic in a moody and stormy way; naturally, lots of photography ensued. High tide was surging and I had to run from waves every now and then. The constant wind and surf churned up small clouds of seafoam that were spirited away by the breeze to points unknown. Hiking on the beach in stormy weather is wild, yet totally exhilarating, and I enjoyed every tempestuous minute of it. 

This van guarded by devil dogs

After an adrenaline-fueled backpedal away from that van full of snarls and growls, I heard a chuckle from in back of me. It was the wetsuited owner of the van and devil dogs, quite amused by my discomfiture. But, he did let me take my photo and that capped off a great hike and photography combo.

A storm cometh. It has been foretold.

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