Saturday, April 2, 2022

Tahkenitch Dunes


John stated he wanted to partake of "King Neptune's Pedicure". I speak John, so I'll translate: He wanted to hike barefoot in the surf. Since he was the designated leader for the Friends of the Umpqua this particular weekend, we were totally at his mercy as to the destination of the hike. Given his proclaimed desire for wet feet, the destination was Tahkenitch Dunes, the loop rendition of this hike serving up a mile or so of beach walking or in John's case, surf hiking.

The clouds would eventually burn off

After the long drive through foggy conditions that had 15 or so hikers wondering if they would ever see the sun on this day, we laced up our boots at the trailhead and set out on the trail, which immediately inclined up through the forest. The constant coastal fog keeps things well watered and accordingly, the forest here is healthy and lush with a vibrant understory of coastal huckleberry, ferns, and rhododendron thriving underneath the spruce trees and Douglas fir. Moss covered all that did not move and fungus, ever nature's recycler, was busy decomposing the ample decaying biomass on the forest floor.

The club emerges from the deep dark woods

The short and wooded trail soon spit us out onto the bright and sandy dunes like so many cave salamanders, our eyes blinking myopically in the comparatively bright light. It wasn't full-on sunny though, as heavy gray clouds still blocked the sun, but blue sky in between hinted at the clouds' eventual dissipation and demise. 

All the soft sand you could ever want to walk on

The trail leading away from Tahkenitch Campground heads straight to the beach but before we could get John his saltwater pedi, a left turn was made onto the dunes trail. Here, it was all sand and beachgrass and too bad John didn't want to partake of Queen Sandy's pedicure instead. At any rate, we hiked among the hummocks of beachgrass while calves complained about hiking in soft sand and despite my usual and customary whining, I actually felt walky and enjoyed both the exertion of the hike and scenery.

Epic view of Threemile Lake

At the intersection with the Threemile Lake Trail, we made another left turn and headed uphill in the shifting sand, beelining toward an overlook of Threemile Lake. The viewpoint serves up an epic vista of the lake, which normally dries itself into two separate bodies of water. On this day though, it was its three-mile-long single self, sited and sighted in a long and slender bowl sunk in a forested basin. Clouds artistically reflected on the mirrorlike surface and we slid down a long sandy hill like so many Jacks and Jills to eat lunch on the lakeshore.

The beach portion of this hike commences

After a lakeside lunch and laze, we hiked over to the beach where the clouds finally melted away and all beach hikes should take place under a blue sky and springtime sun. John took off his shoes and proffered his crusty feet to poor King Neptune. I'm surprised that gagging King Neptune didn't hurl tidal waves in our direction in response to John's effrontery. But he didn't, and everybody happily hiked along, with or without hiking boots and smelly socks.

We went as far north as Tahkenitch Creek, which was mostly roped off to protect the endangered snowy plover. The water flowed across the pristine sand at its delta and we could clearly see the tide forcing itself upstream like a watery proctologist's probe, not that I really know what that is like. Disgusting and gross simile aside, the incoming tide and wide creek was our cue to lace up our boots (in John's case) and grab the sandy trail heading inland.

"Back in the day..."

Tahkenitch Dunes used to be one of my favorite weekend backpack camping places. Here, one could pitch a tent at the edge of the creek and observe creek, beach, and sunset from the campsite. But now, the migrating creek has gobbled up the camping spots and forest service rangers have roped off the creek's banks. Sigh, all I have left are memories. On the plus side, there were some nice views of the creek as we hiked while I bored younger hikers with "Back in the day..."

The loop was closed off by hiking through the same emerald forest we had started on. But now, sunlight filtered through, or tried to filter through, the thick forest cover, infusing the very air with a soft green glow. Palmate leaves of tall rhododendrons spread their leafy fingers out like so many green monkey hands begging for handouts, while salal bushes filled up the spaces underneath, their leaves totally devoid of any anthropomorphic metaphor. This green section of trail was a good way to close off the hike.

It's so hard to be humble!

I was feeling pretty proud of myself at the end, for I had felt energetic and walky throughout. Maybe I was finally able to kick Covid to the curbside, although I don't want to get too cocky about this, I don't really need a viral comeuppance for my conceit. Stay humble, Richard, even though it's so hard, you can do it because you're the best and everybody basks in the glow of your bestness. I think I just failed at being humble. 

They say imitation is the sincerest form of
flattery but in this case, they'd be wrong!

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

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Lower Table Rock

Many epochs ago (before I was born, even), the Rogue River began carving out the wide Rogue Valley that now contains Medford and other cities and towns. However, while soft volcanic ash proved to be quick and easy work, the hardened lava riverbanks remained impervious to any would-be hydrologic terraforming and resolutely stood in place in what is now high above the valley floor. In present time, the two mesa-shaped remnants are local landmarks Upper and Lower Table Rocks, and the much-loved trails to the top of each receive heavy use. The hike up either mesa is not particularly long but the combination of fantastic scenery and wildflowers seemed to be just the thing to do while trying to get my post-Covid legs back into hiking shape.

A parklike grove of oak trees, replete with turkey calls

The first part of the Lower Table Rock hike is relatively easy and civilized. The trail tread is smooth and performs a level(ish) wander through parklike groves of leafless oak trees. From deep within the grove, unseen turkeys noisily gobbled the morning away while buttercup, larkspur, and shooting star bloomed at ground level. This hike was going to be easy! Oh, talking about turkeys reminds me for some reason that I should mention that I was hiking with John, Jennifer, and Dianne.

View to Sam's Valley

Anyway, like that level grade was going to last! The trail gradually inclined until at some point, it just became another steep trail. But for tired hikers with cameras, the elevation gain served up some sumptuous views of the nearby farming community of Sam's Valley, neighboring Upper Table Rock, and a bunch of clouds blocking what would normally be an epic view of Mount McLaughlin. 

Henderson's fawn lily graced the slopes of Lower Table Rock

The grassy slopes of Lower Table Rock were festooned with patches of Henderson's fawn lily, an elegant, pinkish-purple colored cousin of your everyday cream-colored fawn lily. Growing in the shade underneath the ample quantities of oak and madrone trees, were blue-colored hound's tongue flowers and flamboyant California red bells. Unfortunately, also thriving everywhere on the slopes was poison oak, the oily red leaves just beginning to bud out. 

This glade of oak trees welcomed us to the Table Rock summit

After a steady uphill trudge past wildflowers, trees, viewpoints, and rash-giving plants, the path sideswiped a large lava wall before spitting us like so many watermelon seeds out onto the flat table top of Lower Table Rock. A beautiful little glade of oak trees served as an arboreal welcoming committee as the trail struck out across the wide and flat terrain.

Popcorn flower was busy popping in the grasses

The two Table Rocks can get quite brown and dry in summer but this is spring and the flat table top was covered by green grass offering a colorful counterpoint to the vibrant blue sky above. A wide dirt path, noted as a primitive air strip on the map, led straight across the grassy plain. Patches of white popcorn flower colored up the erstwhile green vegetation while vernal pools of rainwater were mostly dry or drying up. On all sides, mountains and ranges ringed Lower Table Rock and cottony clouds hovered over the valleys. Way cool, but it would get even better.

Wow, already

My friend Jay said it best, when I brought him up here a couple of years ago: "Wow, already!" From the abrupt edge and at the feet of Lower Table Rock, sprawled the pastoral farmlands and large cities contained within the Rogue Valley. Way below, the Rogue River snaked through a series of wetlands and ponds. While relaxing and view-soaking on our clifftop aerie, we played the Name That (snow-covered) Peak game and we had ample opportunity to spot Siskiyou Mountains friends Grizzly Peak, Wagner Butte, and Mount Ashland. Toward the distant Cascades, we were able to pick out Devils Peak, Hillman Peak (on Crater Lake's rim), and Mount Bailey. Mount McLaughlin was the largest and nearest peak but remained invisible thanks to a bank of clouds giving the iconic volcano a cloudy hug.

Manzanita does its part in making this a superb wildflower hike

After a repast of both nourishment and scenery, we followed an unofficial rim-hugging path that led through thorny patches of fragrant ceanothus bushes, all buzzing with industriously busy bees. The ever evolving view provided more vistas of ponds, river, mountains, and sky. The ceanothus bushes provided none of the above but did scratch bare legs as we bushwhacked by.

Yup, flat as a table

We returned by way of the unerringly straight primitive runway like four model planes taxiing to their hangars, some more model-like than others. Now in the afternoon, the sky and valley vistas had hazed up a bit and just like me, had most definitely been clearer in the morning. Shadows lengthened on the way down as we hiked, and we arrived at the trailhead in short order, fully sated by the day's activities.

"Curse you, poison oak" he said, shaking his fist while
scratching at the rash rapidly forming on his upper arm

It had been a good hike. The weather had been superb: awesomely sunny but not hot. This had been my first shorts hike in 2022 and my white legs were probably reported as an unexplained bright light on top of Lower Table Rock. Another first, regrettably, was my first poison oak rash on my leg and arm, probably obtained when lying in the grass taking pictures of wildflowers. At any rate, the two firsts are directly related but even the subsequent itchy rash did not detract from the day's highlights.

We finally did get to see Mount McLaughlin

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

Sunday, March 27, 2022

North Umpqua Trail (Swiftwater Segment)

In 2020, the Archie Creek Fire raged along the North Umpqua River, immolating over 130,000 acres of beautiful forest, not to mention numerous homes and businesses. Also falling victim to the massive wildfire, the lower 30 miles or so of our beloved North Umpqua Trail was rendered impassable for hiking. Even if one is inclined to stealth hike on the officially closed trail, the incessant piles of scorched and fallen trees are an effective deterrent. However, rumor had it that part of the Swiftwater Segment of the North Umpqua Trail had been recently cleared and opened, so I just had to go get a look-see.

Here, the trail was untouched by fire

The fire scars and damage were eminently visible from the Susan Creek day use area, the starting point for today's venture. However, the day use area itself was relatively untouched by fire but just after the Susan Creek crossing, trees proudly bore their scorch marks like so many tribal tats. The fire did not get very far into the picnic area, although it did hop-scotch up into the surrounding slopes after jumping the North Umpqua River.

Snow queen bloomed in purple abundance

From the first step onto the trail, it was eminently obvious that spring was very much happening along the North Umpqua River. The forest floor was carpeted with healthy layers of snow queen, woodland violet, and trillium flowers. Also playing their part and vying for the Miss Supporting Wildflower sash were oxalis, bittercress, spring beauty, and candy flower. With all the flowers to photograph, this was not a very fast hike.

Here bee, bee, bee!

There's something insidious about spiders and trilliums. Here, you have an elegant and stately wildflower to entice bees, photographers, and other invertebrates. And yet, cream-colored crab spiders lurk among the pistils and stamens within the flower's interior and on more than one occasion, I have caught the conniving arachnids in flagrante delicto, happily dining on their victim. It just doesn't seem fair, from the bees' perspective, it'd be like a lion ambushing you as you ate a steak at Applebee's. Predictably enough, crab spiders were spotted on the abundance of trillium flowers blooming away on the forest floor and pity the bees.

Tioga Bridge now has battle scars

After a short walk along the North Umpqua River, the trail crossed over the river via photogenic Tioga Bridge. Built on the piers of an old roadway washed out by a 1964 flood, the stout bridge has become a local landmark since its restoration in 2012. The Archie Creek Fire had swept over the river here and while the bridge survived, scorch marks now adorn the wooden beams and trusses. However, the structural integrity of the bridge remained intact and I hiked across, safe and secure on the stout span.

What this part of the Swiftwater Segment
looks like for most of the three miles

Just after the bridge, there is a T-intersection with the North Umpqua Trail where one can go left on the Tioga Section or right on the Swiftwater Segment. The Tioga was clearly closed although the trail showed obvious signs of having been worked on. The Swiftwater at this end is an old road bed which means it's much wider than a footpath and presumably easier to clear fallen trees from. Despite some strong inner temptations to hike the Tioga Segment, closure notwithstanding, I made the right turn onto the Swiftwater.

Seasonal creeks kept things fresh

Seasonal creeks soon became a thing, as they flowed in abundance across the trail. Because the forest is now bare and stark, the noise of flowing water clearly carried all along the route. The small gullies that contained water were green and overly mossed while moisture-loving plants, such as spring beauty and candy flower, happily flourished as if there had never been a fire in the first place.

Life abounded on the forest floor

The forest was mostly dead and if not completely dead, then on life support. However, despite the arboreal skeletons standing everywhere, a veritable choir of songbirds were twittering and tweeting among the charred trees. On the ground, grass, moss, and wildflowers thrived, the vivid green vegetation in sharp contrast to the surrounding tree graveyard.

Wreckage at Bob Creek

After a couple of miles, the North Umpqua Trail morphed into a real footpath and descended steadily down to Bob Creek. The trail used to cross Bob Creek on a stout bridge but the fire ruined the bridge, the remnants of which were haphazardly piled up next to the creek. It would be indeed a strenuous and sketchy endeavor to scramble up and down the creek's formidable and bridgeless defile, only for the privilege of bushwhacking on what appeared to be an unmaintained continuation of the scorched North Umpqua Trail. I called it good here, and headed back the way I had come.

A halo of woodland violet

This section of the North Umpqua Trail used to be one of my favorite hikes because of the lush and verdant greenery flanking either side of the trail. Naturally, things are markedly different than before and during my remaining time on this planet, the forest here will never be like it was. However, I still enjoyed this walk and found it quite beautiful in its own ashy way. Forest fires are part of life, although they don't really need to be as destructive as the Archie Creek Fire had been, and life abounded among the bones, carcass, and general air of death of what once was a vibrant forest. It's just a different kind of beauty and despite the carnage, it's still very much a pleasant hike.

If you like charred wood, then this is your hike

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

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Viewpoint Mike

You may find this hard to believe, but I don't particularly like hiking uphill. Ironic, given that I spend so much time doing that very thing, but it sure seems like all good hikes inevitably wind up going uphill at some point. It's a necessary evil, when it comes to hiking. Forbearance is the key to making peace with uphill hiking though, and I've since learned long ago to simply accept the things I cannot change. However, a recent bout with Covid left me a little short of breath and now the struggle is real, the complaining justified and not all that funny. But the trail still calls to me and I chose Viewpoint Mike because while uphill, the short 5-mile hike (my first since getting Covid) would provide some good feedback as to what kind of post-virus hiking shape I'm in.

Brrr...let's go hiking already!

At the start, the temperature was a chilly 34 degrees and the cold air slapped at my face like the flipper of an annoyed seal. There's really only one thing to do in that case and that is to start attacking 1,000 feet of elevation gain between me and the 2.5 miles to the summit. If you don't get warm doing that, then check for the pulse you do not have, you zombie.

Tall trees make me feel small and insignificant

As the trail wound its way ever upward, the whole vibe was definitely Siskiyou foothill. Leafless oaks dotted low growing grassy meadows with occasional rock formations scattered throughout. Interspersed intermittently throughout the hike were shadier woods consisting of a mix of madrone, Ponderosa pine, cedar, fir, and the ever ubiquitous oak. And it almost goes without saying, poison oak grew everywhere underneath the trees, which is why I mostly stayed on trail.

A lone Oregon sunshine brightens up a bed of moss

Spring has just arrived and the early spring wildflowers were beginning to bloom. Yellow seemed to be the color du jour and desert parsley, Oregon sunshine, and buttercup were only too proud to hoist the yellow standard in the low grasses. Not to be outdone by their butter-colored brethren, lavender snow queen bloomed on the forest floor while purple grass widow, arguably the most elegant wildflower ever, gentrified the grassy slopes.

Rail and trail

The route switchbacked back and forth up a wooded ridge where at the edge and summit thereof, sits the actual viewpoint of Viewpoint Mike. On the way up to the overlook, much of the path was flanked on the downhill side by wooden rails and I can only speculate that the rails-for-trails are there to prevent bikers and hikers from shortcutting down the hillside. And I can only rail (pun intended) at the idiocy of going for a hike (or bike ride) while being unwilling to actually hike (or bike) on the trail.

The trail was relatively benign in the middle section

The first third of the route ended at a gravel roadway, where signs direct hikers down the road for a bit before the track resumes on the opposite side. This middle portion of the hike is a relatively level wander through sparse oaks and low growing grassy pastures. Water and mud was a thing though, as the hillside was leaking water through a number of seasonal seeps. My boots and pants legs became wet and muddy and they better have liked it.

Not that bad, unless you've just had Covid

After the brief level respite, the trail began heading uphill in earnest. While I have hiked on much steeper trails, my post-Covid legs and lungs really felt this section of trail. Nonetheless, perseverance won out and legs and lungs kept doing their job, despite the obligatory complaining. 

Viewpoint Mike rocks!

Just like my head, the lush growth thinned out near the top. Here, the trail wandered through an old flow of lava sludge where the only things growing on the black rock were lichen, moss, and the occasional desert parsley plant blooming in the cracks. The thinning woods allowed for ever increasing trailside vistas down the Rogue River valley, tantalizing your merry blogster when just like that, the actual viewpoint was arrived at.

Lost Creek Lake from Mike's summit

And what a view it was! Lost Creek Lake sprawled across the mountainous landscape, the dark blue-green waters contrasting with the dark forested hills and the gray sky above. To the west lay a prominent valley carved out by the Rogue River, and little pieces of the river could be seen here and there. Not quite as scenic but visually interesting nonetheless, were the complex of holding pools and ponds belonging to the Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery, sited just below the dam holding Lost Creek Lake at bay.

The weather made a decided turn for the colder

As I tarried at the overlook, the day definitely became grayer and more overcast and as a result, the temperature dropped noticeably. When I had begun the hike, it was 34 degrees at the trailhead and up here on the viewpoint, it was now 31 degrees. That was my cue to head downhill back to the car.

Grass widow grieves her dearly departed

I must say that the Covid did not affect my downhill legs at all, and I made quick work of the return leg like a veritable King of the Downhillers. If only every hike could go all downhill but then again, it wouldn't really be hiking now, would it?

Natural telescope

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

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Jacksonville Forest Park 2/19/2022

Take a bowl of spaghetti soaked in red marinara sauce, flip it upside down on a white tablecloth, and voila, you'll have your very own rendition of a Jacksonville Forest Park trail map. And do make sure to clean up the mess before the wife gets home! Messy culinary metaphor aside, the point I'm trying to make is that trails proliferate everywhere in the esteemed woodland park, filling the map with squiggles that resemble a ball of wriggling baby snakes (or bowl of spaghetti) more than a network of well-used footpaths. There are so many paths, routes, and junctions that the very idea of leading a hiking group there would (and should) fill one with trepidation. Appropriately enough, Lane (the designated hike leader for this Friends of the Umpqua outing) was justifiably trepidated. 

A flock of Eagles and Monkeys gather in the forest

Glenn and I had hiked this route just a couple of weekends prior to the official Friends of the Umpqua hike, so I'm not going to rehash the hiking thereof since the club hike was the same route described in my prior blog entry. However, the complexity of the hike presented a degree of difficulty not normally encountered because on our chosen route there were at least 38 trail intersections presenting 38 opportunities to peel inattentive hikers away from the group. Unique challenges require unique solutions, so we'll talk about those instead.

Chuck leads the Turtle charge, such as it is

Because Lane, Glenn, and yours truly were familiar with the route, the 17-member group was partitioned into three teams, based on hiking speed. In order of anticipated rapidity (or lack thereof) the teams were named after animals: Eagle, Monkey, and Turtle; and stickers were handed out to all hikers like so many kindergartners on a field trip. And guess who was in charge of Team Turtle? In response to the cruel japery directed my way by those who felt superior to our slow but mighty team because they could walk faster, I could only remind them that it was a turtle that had won the race against the hare.

A rolling stone gathers no moss, but
standing trees on the other hand, do

Two-way radios were distributed to two leaders in each team (except for the Turtles) and all leaders were assigned code names: Eagle Beak, Eagle Claw, Monkey See, Monkey Do, and Turtle Head.  Additionally, each team leader was given a list of check-in and regroup points and I must say, the whole system worked quite well other than the many turtle insults broadcast over the public radiosphere. I chose not to respond in kind and just retreated into my shell.  

Jacksonville Creek had some water in it

Because I had been here just a couple of weeks prior, I noticed Jackson Creek was carrying a bit more water this time out, thanks to some intervening rain. As always, I had my trusty camera with me but really, I didn't take a lot of pictures, preferring instead to concentrate on my duties as chief turtle herder and overall hike sweep.

An oak, uncertain about which direction to grow

As the hike wore on and the trail trended towards the uphill, some hikers dropped into the next slower group down and accordingly, I soon acquired more turtles in our bale and yes, a group of turtles is really called a bale. At any rate, I preferred to think of the neo-Turtles that were former Monkeys as Turkeys.

Manzanita was in bloom on Upper Twin Peak summit

One of our regroup points was atop Upper Twin Peak where we fed the animals, so to speak. We ate lunch on the wooded summit while soaking in the view of Mt. McLaughlin and Bear Creek Valley, enjoying the hiking camaraderie, and denigrating all things turtle. With so many hikers all chatting and chomping atop the summit, it was quite the zoo. The main thing for the three team leaders was that all hikers were present and accounted for. So far, so good.  

Lichen clings to life on a tree trunk

The good news from a hiking standpoint was that after the summit of Upper Twin Peak, the route was all downhill, causing some of the Turkeys to self-promote back up to Monkey rank. As an aside, the Monkeys were indeed pretty rank all right, but that's another story.

A maple leaf, about to get devoured by moss

It was a pretty satisfied and happy group that last gathered at the trailhead for a final head count when the hike was over. In speaking to some of the participants post-hike, the consensus seemed that as the hike started, there was much grumbling and talk of mutiny because of the stultifying team hiking rules and regulations. However, after the first several dozen trail intersections or so within the first set of miles, everybody saw the need for being organized and all would-be rebellious types soon became happily compliant. Should have named that group Team Sheep.

I wear my badges with honor

My only complaint about the whole outing is that apparently, my new trail name is now Turtle Head. Not sure I particularly like that, I'd gladly shed my turtle shell, but then I'd either be homeless or naked and not really sure which.

Quite the menagerie

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