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.

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