Friday, April 30, 2021

Takelma Gorge

Squeeze the atoms and they get excited. And when atoms get excited, great things can happen. For instance, expanding gases within the narrow confines of a piston cylinder can move a car to a trailhead. Pinching atoms through a narrow nozzle can propel a rocket into the upper atmosphere and in the unfortunate case of Space-X, the same overly excited atoms can blow the whole thing up upon landing. Watch Cousin Fred stuff himself into his cycling shorts and you realize some excited atoms are much more useful than others. And moving on from poor Cousin Fred, force a placid river into a narrow defile and you get a seething white-watered maelstrom of riverine ire. And that leads us to today's topic about hiking along the Rogue River and Takelma Gorge, and here you were all hoping I'd spew more prose about Cousin Fred and the miracle fabric that is Spandex!

British soldiers stand at attention

You'd never know an angry river would be part of this hike, judging by the scene at the Woodruff Bridge Trailhead. Initially the river was as serene as a contemplative monk in a state of bliss. The surface was smooth and if we weren't in the shadows and if the day hadn't been cloudy, the river would have reflected the scenery back at us with all the aplomb of a master painter. So much peace and tranquility reigned in the bucolic woods, I nearly wanted to fold my legs up into the lotus position and meditate, but then I'd have to call 911 to come unfold me. Besides which, a sudden explosion of fur and hooves from a stampeding elk rudely disrupted my harmonious ponderings about peace and tranquility in the forest. The atoms in my lower intestinal tract became "elk-cited" too, like a poor man's version of a SpaceX rocket but without the subsequent explosion upon touchdown.


I've hiked on this trail many times and always, the vine maples have been one of the main attractions apart from the river and gorge. In spring or summer, the galaxy of leaves overhead imbue the very air with a soft green glow. In autumn, forget the green because it's all brilliant orange, gold, and red when the foliage set off their annual arboreal fireworks show of autumnal color. But in late April, the vine maples just kind of look at me, yawn a disinterested "Meh!", and go back to sleep. Although a few leaves were emerging, the pleated folds somewhat resembling a Spanish fan, mostly the trees were twiggy, bare, and bereft of any leaves.

Trillium matriarch (or patriarch)

So, while the vine maples said it was still winter, the trilliums were not in agreement. A healthy population of the elegant tri-petaled flowers were profusely abloom on the forest floor. Beetles and flies were happily bathing in pollen contained within the flowers, their legs and antennae coated with fine yellow dust. The older and more mature trilliums were turning various shades of pink, maroon, or magenta. So, according to the vine maples and trillium it was neither winter nor spring but somewhere in between or both at the same time,

The Rogue undergoes a personality change here

After a mile or so of a relaxing hike alongside the languid river, things began to change. The river picked up speed, practicing for its upcoming gorge run. Rapids formed with increasing rapidity and the river was now making noise. I too may have been making some noise but definitely was not picking up speed. There were a number of large fallen trees spanning the river as well as several others stranded on small islands or shoals in the current, all in mute testimony that the river (just like me!) is not always as easygoing as it likes to make itself out to be.

Entrance into Takelma Gorge

Takelma Gorge was formed eons ago when lava flowed across the landscape. A river is not to be denied and after patient probing, the persistent Rogue River found a small crack in the lava and then wormed itself into the soft ashy underbelly beneath. The volcanic ash was then easily eroded until the small crack became much larger Takelma Gorge, where the differing strata of lava and ash are clearly visible on the gorge's walls. The gorge begins where the river makes a sharp turn at a rock formation I call "The Fishhook" and from a clifftop vantage point, one can stare straight down a hundred-yard length of the gorge itself.

The river eventually disappears from sight in the gorge

The trail generally stays level while the river loses elevation so the net effect is that the river drops out of sight somewhere down in the bottom of the chasm. It can still be heard though, complaining vociferously about the claustrophobic conditions in the gorge. For the next mile or so, the canyon scenery was stunning and I periodically left the trail to photograph things from the edge (but not too near the edge, I do want to see my 65th birthday, after all!). And after that display of geologic awesomeness mixed with self-righteous hydrologic fury, the Rogue River exited the gorge and returned to its natural peaceable state of enlightened contemplation.

Newly minted dogwood blossom

On the hike's return leg, my own little enlightened contemplation was rent asunder when a startled deer, no doubt surprised by my incredibly handsome arrival, burst out across the trail and got my intestinal atoms agitated all over again. While the deer disturbed my commune with the overtly calm environs of the Rogue River flowing above the gorge, the deer was still a more preferable sight than Cousin Fred and his cycling shorts.

It's all a matter of perspective

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

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Buck Rock Tunnels

Hey, I wet the bed last night! No, not THAT wetting of the bed! After I received my second Covid-19 vaccination, the following day was spent feeling ill, feverish, and generally sorry for myself. Sometime in the middle of the night though, the fever apparently broke, leaving bed and blankets soaked with cold and clammy perspiration, or at least I hope it was cold and clammy perspiration! It's so ironic that a vaccine designed to keep you from getting sick has to make you sick to keep you from getting sick. On the plus side, the ordeal left me feeling peppy, energetic, and as upbeat as an optimist on mood enhancers, which in turn directly led to my lacing up my boots the following morning at a primitive trailhead in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Lichen adorns a standing tree trunk

The Buck Rock Tunnels began life in 1883 when the Oregon and California Railroad began excavating both ends of a tunnel through Buck Rock as part of an intended rail route up and over Siskiyou Pass. Just a year later in 1884, the railroad company had exhausted its capital (boy, can I relate!) and the project was abandoned, leaving behind two tunnels that will never meet in the middle. Nowadays, the tunnels make for the endpoints of a nice and short 5'ish mile hike to the historical tunnel entrances. The east tunnel is partially collapsed but the west tunnel is in pretty good shape and naturally, is a more logical and oft-visited destination.

The trails are mostly on old jeep roads

Before it became a monument, the area was crisscrossed with a braiding network of jeep roads. Flash forward to post-monument designation, the roads have since been co-opted into hiking trails. It's a good thing too, for poison oak absolutely thrives in the area and the wide roads keep the pernicious itch-giver well away from my bare legs and arms. However, the quality of the roads comprising today's route was not always that great and on occasion the roads degenerated into faint single-track paths through grassy swales and meadows.

Ceanothus perfumed the trail and called in the bees

At the start, the road gently angled upwards through what initially was scratchy ceanothus blooming away in mad profusion, perfuming the trail and calling in all bees. Representing the tree end of things were scraggly oaks just beginning to put out leaf buds. Before long, the trail entered a shady forest comprised of madrone, big-leaf maple, cedar, and other conifers. Despite the greenery surrounding the trail, the whole vibe felt kind of dry and no doubt, it can get quite warm here in the summer. 

Typical forest scenery on this hike

I thought I had the place to myself but a rustling in the undergrowth caught my attention. I just managed to get a glimpse of a large grayish mammal slinking through the brush, about the size of a medium-sized dog, trailing a bushy tail that resembled that of a squirrel. But this was no squirrel, it was too large. At the end of this hike, I ran into the only other person I'd see today, a fellow hiker who was a Monument regular and she speculated I had seen a groundhog. I had been guessing maybe a raccoon but who knows, I just did not get a good look at the critter fleeing into the brush.

Epic view to Peak 6678

After a mile or so, the old road broke out onto an open slope surrounded by low growing chaparral, and a nice view of the valley created by creeks Carter and Hill was had. The Old Siskiyou Highway could be seen snaking its way up the valley floor up to Siskiyou Summit. On the other side of the valley loomed Peak 6678, mottled with dark forest and some small snow patches, while toy trucks labored up I-5, the freeway traversing the peak's slopes while also on its way to Siskiyou Summit.

Follow this gully up to the west tunnel entrance

Despite the aridity of the terrain, there were several seeps and springs when the trail re-entered the shady forest. The relative humidity and coolness was invigorating and no doubt the local wildlife appreciate the life-giving aspects of the small pools of water just off trail. At a dry gully, somebody had made a trail arrow out of some rocks and the gully would be the route up to the west tunnel entrance. As an aside, there are no trail signs at what turned out to be plenty of intersections so as always, bringing a map is really a good idea

Free hugs inside!

An obvious path in the gully led to the tunnel entrance, the black portal appearing dark and mysterious in the forest. Ignoring the low growl emanating from the inky blackness of the tunnel, I went in for a look see. Of course, I am kidding about the growling, the tunnel was fairly benign and free of trolls, bears, lions, deer, or any other hiker-eating creatures of the night. It was dark though, the only light (besides my flashlight) being that spilling into the tunnel from the entrance. The walking part of the tunnel ended at a shelf that really ended after a short crawl where a certain lone hiker was heard to utter "Well, the Buck stops here!" After a quick exploration of the tunnel, I headed back out to daylight, blinking myopically in the bright sunlight like the pallid cave creature I am, and resumed my journey. 

The upper route was more open

It is possible to continue on to the eastern tunnel entrance and I'm sort of kicking myself a bit for not doing so. However, I'm still taking it easy from the hernia surgery and was still feeling a bit peckish from the vaccine fallout so I opted to return from the west trailhead by taking a loop that climbed up fairly close to the Buck Rock Summit, and was glad I did.

Nothing but scratchy ceanothus and ticks at the high point

The trail went through a forest that transitioned from trees to swaths of scratchy and thorny ceanothus, the aromatic blooms attracting bees and butterflies alike. The rough track crested on a ridge before dropping through a series of grassy meadows where the trail at times went somewhat faint but still remained followable. There were great views to the north and east and the simple activity of admiring Tom Spring Mountain, Greensprings Mountain, and Grizzly Peak kept me adequately entertained on the descent. Bear Creek Valley sprawled well below with Emigrant Lake notably not containing all that much water. 

I don't like to see wildfire smoke

While the scenery was cool and all that, my attention was drawn to Peak 6628 and Wagner Butte, for wildfire smoke was clearly boiling up from behind. Last summer, the Alameda Fire catastrophically burned up Bear Creek Valley, immolating and vaporizing huge swaths of the towns of Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix so we are all a little sensitive about fires these days. However, the aforementioned only other hiker I ran into told me what we were looking at was a prescribed burn so not to worry. But still...

Tom Springs Mountain, to the northeast

So, this was my first time hiking on this trail and I enjoyed the experience. I don't think you'd want to do this when summer heats up though, but for now it was fine. I think I'll definitely come back because after looking at a map of the area post-hike, there is an old road that circumnavigates Buck Rock and that would be a worthier seven to eight mile hike, plus you can also access the eastern tunnel by doing so. In the meantime, I'll try to avoid accruing another hernia, or receiving another vaccine shot and will continue working myself back into hiking trim.

Shooting stars doing their shooting thing

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

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Cathedral Hills

What a difference a few months can make! I had first visited Cathedral Hills in late December and the paths were frosted with ice and the woods were mostly brown. Despite those failings, I had been impressed enough with the park that I volunteered to lead a Friends of the Umpqua outing there and about 20 of us set out from the Sky Crest Trailhead. Within a few yards into this hike, a veritable army of showy and ornate red Indian Warrior wildflower plumes were marching into battle to champion the cause of turning green forests red. Clearly, this spring hike would in no way resemble my comparatively drab December foray.

Indian Warriors wins "Best Wildflower in Show"

I'm not sure how a vibrantly colored plume of a wildflower became known as Indian Warrior but it's a more intriguing moniker than pedicularis densiflora, its scientific name. The warriors grow a foot or so high and are parasitic when convenient, usually in the presence of manzanita or madrone. Just like some children, the plants are perfectly capable of living on their own but will parasitize when given the opportunity. In this case, the opportunity presenting itself is when the aforementioned manzanita and madrone root systems are nearby and readily available to be tapped into by the Indian Warriors. If it seems like I've done some undue research on these remarkable plants, it's because I'd never seen them before until I spotted my first specimen about two inches into the hike.

Elegant cat's ear

Even without the eye-catching Indian Warriors, this would have been a good wildflower hike. The terrain was dotted with thin stands of madrone, oak, manzanita, and assorted conifer trees. The vegetation underneath the trees was grassy and green, with wildflowers adding some additional colors to the rampant greenery. Bright magenta-colored shooting stars were displaying their floral pyrotechnics, aided and abetted by small fawn lilies of some sort. California red bells were a thing, and so were dark purple larkspurs to go along with all the other usual springtime suspects.

Trail through oaks either benign or poison

While the wildflowers and spring greenery would have made this a great hike even in poor weather, we enjoyed the extra luxury of hiking on a superb spring day. The sky was colored a deep blue, the air was crisp and clear, and the temperature was mild and perfect for hiking in. The bright sunlight accentuated the virtual rainbow along the trail, ranging from orange-trunked madrones, burgundy-limbed manzanita, bright green oak leaves just leafing out, and the floral rainbow dominated by the scarlet Indian Warriors. There was some reddery to counterpoint the greenery unfortunately, and I refer to the oily red new leaves of poison oak, which was everywhere. Fortunately the wide and well-groomed trails kept the evil itch-spawning plant at bay.

Brought them all back, too!

As leader in charge of this hike and the only one of twenty Friends of the Umpqua members with any knowledge of Cathedral Hills Park, it was incumbent on me not to misplace any of our hikers, an easy thing to do given the plethora of trails and intersections thereof. I'm going to give myself a well-deserved pat on the back here, for having the wisdom and foresight to supply all participants with a map and cue sheet. That way, all the speedier hikers could go on at their own pace while we laggards lagged behind at our own laggardly "speed". I'm glad to report that due to and under my awesome leadership, nobody got lost.

Trail on a wooded ridge crest

Basically our route, beginning at Sky Crest Trailhead, contoured around the east side of the park, dropping down to popular and busy Espy Trailhead. After eating lunch at the ruins of some old structure overgrown by vegetation, we tackled the lone uphill portion of this hike, heading up to the aptly named Sky Crest Trailhead. Here the Outback Loop traces a route atop a ridge photogenically wooded with tall manzanita bushes and scraggly oak trees. Brief openings in the manzanita and trees provided vistas of nearby Peak 3792 and the distant mountain ranges escorting the Rogue River to the sea.

California ground cones were common
only in one spot (that we noticed)

As we crested the high point of the hike, Diane noticed a ground cone blooming underneath a stand of madrone trees. And then we noticed another and another and another, and so on and so forth. There literally hundreds of them, looking like, well, looking like pine cones on the ground, which would be quite the trick for the non-coniferous madrones. Ground cones do not have chlorophyll, so they parasitically attach themselves to the root systems of madrone trees, just like the plentiful Indian Warriors. With so much leeching and grifting off the madrones taking place, it's a wonder that they thrive as they do.

Macro lenses make tiny baby stars look
much larger than they really are

This was the first time that any of my companions had ever hiked at Cathedral Hills and all were duly impressed, with several telling me that they'd have to make this a regular spring destination. Despite the accolades, my tip jar still remained empty but to be honest, enjoying a superb woodland hike with good friends was payment enough!

Shadows play upon the trail

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

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Tahkenitch Dunes

Four and a half months and ninety miles ago, I purchased a new pair of boots that had since been servicing my hiking addiction in good stead. But then came a recent eight mile hike on the Elk Creek Trail that was noteworthy because I had forgotten to charge the camera's batteries so no photography ensued, and also because one half of my boots turned the underside of my left foot into confetti. What the heck (on both counts)? When you don't take pictures, then it's like the hike didn't happen but when your foot is blistered into shreds then you wish it didn't happen. This particular boot miscreant had been purchased at REI which, if you are a member, has a generous gear return policy so if my left foot and boot continue their philosophical disagreement about life and hiking, then I may go back and trade the boot duo in for a roomier model.

Off and running (dog) or walking (everybody else)

The Tahkenitch Dunes area is a beachgrass-dotted expanse of sandy dunes situated between coastal forest and an ever encroaching young forest taking root behind the beach foredunes. Accordingly, this erstwhile sandy hike does manage to serve up some quality forest time in addition to the taxing soft sands of the dunes. Naturally, a sublimely lush and green coastal forest was enjoyed when we hiked up and over the heavily wooded ridge crest separating the trailhead from the dunes. Normally, the trail is shared with a healthy population of rough-skinned newts but on this day, we (Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club) were the only rough-skinned users of the trail.

Where forest becomes dune

After about a mile and a half of uphill walking through a verdant forest, the trail crested and then dropped us onto the dunes and we blinked in the bright sunlight like those white grubs that scurry away when you turn over a garden rock. And thus began the muscle-taxing portion of this hike as we followed the soft and sandy track across the dunes and into the new forest lurking between dunes and beach, eventually winding up on the seashore after another mile or so of hiking.

What low tide looks like

The tide was way, way, low; for the ocean had retreated further than the Roman army fleeing Hannibal's forces after the defeat at Cannae. The vast expanse of wet sand glistened in the morning sun like the skin of a silver eel taking a bath, and the beach strand was wide enough for two 747's to land on side by side while holding hands. Tidal flats were exposed by the retreating surf and we mostly walked as close to the water as possible.

Out of its elements

One oddity (besides Lane) we encountered were a number of purple starfish found beached on the beach. Normally, starfish inhabit rocky islands and tide pools so it was a small mystery as to why we found them on wet sand today. Per my Internet research, there are a number of reasons that this could be so, one of them being that just like some humans, they inadvertently get too close to the beach during breeding season and accidently get swept up by tidal currents. There are also other plausible causes such as storms and more than likely, the overall warming of the sea.

Can't get blisters on your feet if you don't have feet

While sandy, at least the wet strand was fairly firm for hiking on but all that changed when we left the beach for a return to dune hiking. Trudge, trudge, trudge all over again, the leg-taxing tedium broken up by the spectacular vista of Threemile Lake on a spring day. Regular readers will recall that generally I refer to Threemile Lake as two Onepointfivemile Lakes because as the water level drops, the lake gets neatly bisected by a sandy isthmus. However, on this day the lake was swollen with collected rainwater and lived up to its three-mile name.

Faster hikers (without blisters) trek through the dunes

The original blister on my left foot had been behaving quite nicely thank you, but chafing from the tape holding the Second Skin pads in place were creating new blisters on the big toe. So, when we first reached the beach, I taped those up and now at the lake, the tape was putting new blisters on the neighboring toe. Talk about your basic domino theory or ripple effect, blisters were spreading like a pandemic across my left foot. Needless to say, it was a slow and painful trudge through the soft sands of Tahkenitch Dunes where I mostly just wished the hike would come to an end. Sad, because normally I don't ever feel that way about a hike.

Threemile Lake was remarkably full

Fortunately, the hike did come to a close and once I removed my boots, my poor toes got some proper relief, assuaged somewhat when John and I stopped for some adobada tacos at my favorite eatery in Reedsport, the rather generically named Mexican Express taco stand. Now, both my lips and foot were seemingly on fire but unlike my foot, the lips and other sensitive mouth parts were quite happy about this.

If I could only be half as elegant as a trillium!

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