Monday, January 24, 2022

Elk Creek Wild and Scenic River

Last year, I hiked along Elk Creek but you'd never know it. On that particular day, I had forgotten to charge batteries and as a consequence, the hike was done without a working GPS or camera. It was as if the hike had never happened, the only supporting evidence being several angry blisters on my feet. Apart from the frustration of inoperable electronic gadgetry, I really did enjoy the hike and made sure to put it on the Friends of the Umpqua's April calendar. I figure if I forget my batteries again on the club hike, at least there will be corroborating witnesses.

This view, all hike long

The inception of Elk Creek's current designation as a Wild and Scenic River began in the late 1960s, when Congress approved the construction of several dams to control flooding on the Rogue River. However, for the next subsequent set of decades, the Elk Creek Dam project became mired in a figurative stinging nettle patch of acrimony and litigation. While the matter was being disputed, the dam was actually built and a new Elk Creek Road was constructed above the would-be lake level. Eventually, the project was scrapped and nowadays the BLM is letting Elk Creek return to its natural state while the decommissioned roadway serves as an easy hiking and biking trail. 

The hike got off to a frosty start

On the morning of this scouting expedition to Elk Creek, the old road at Homesteader's Trailhead more resembled an ice skating rink than hiking trail. The paved surface was colored white with heavy frost, and I made sure to step carefully on the slick pavement, so as not to fall and hurt valuable body parts. The good news through, was that the morning sun would quickly render the frost short-lived, thereby increasing my chances of being long-lived.

A cascade on Elk Creek

Close to the trailhead, Elk Creek is more wild than scenic. The hard-to-see stream, silted and cloudy with winter runoff, burbled and babbled through stands of maple and alder trees. Game trails and sketchy use-paths allowed a certain lone hiker to brave thorny blackberry brambles for a closer look at the enthusiastic stream while getting scratched up in the process.

Blackberry leaf in the morning sun

Speaking of blackberry brambles, their leaves had been bronzed and colored by cold temperatures, frost, and maybe some snow. A veritable rainbow of frosted leaves dangled just so in the morning sunlight and all hiking came to a screeching halt while I practiced my photographic art, seemingly taking photos of every illuminated leaf.

Hoary, just like me!

Just like me, some of the leaves were photogenically frosted and several hundred photos later, rimed leaves became in short supply. The morning sun had melted most of the frost, thawing out leaves, roadway, and at least one incredibly handsome hiker. The lack of frosted leaves compelled me to wade out of the scratchy bramble patch and resume walking on the historic roadway.

I felt like I was being watched

After about a half-mile or so of hiking, the valley floor opened up to a series of pastures that I assume belonged to some old homesteads and ranches that had more than likely been condemned and consigned to the bottom of the would-be lake. Ruins, some graffitied with macabre and occult runes, dotted the pasture lands on the valley floor like so many Oregon-style Roman ruins.

Swimming hole, come summer

A gravel track led to a large swimming hole on Elk Creek. Here, the water was as deep as a philosopher's pondering and the current flowed past a rock cliff that surely must be a diving platform come summer. From leafless trees, crows squawked at me like a flock of ex-wives as I stopped to admire the creek scene, eventually leaving the swimming hole to the black birds and their other animal friends.

Celestial feathers

It was a glorious day along Elk Creek, the blue sky accentuated by green pastures and general lack of trees. Across the valley floor, Tatouche Peak was the obvious high point on a forested ridge. The trees on the valley floor, mostly oak, maple, and alder, were all still bare-branched, rendering their woods austere and stark. Wispy clouds formed in feathery profusion in the sky above, the white contrasting nicely with the deep blue sky. Just a nice day, all around.

Pastures sprawled in the Elk Creek valley

Elk Creek Road is only 5 miles long end-to-end, making 10 miles the maximum possible distance. However, I turned around at the Alco Creek bridge, where a sign warned of a 7 ton weight limit. Hey I've been trying really hard to keep my diet, there's no need to mock me like that! When I hiked here last year, the crumbling pavement had really blistered my feet and today, they were starting to feel hot and that was a pretty good reason for turning a 10 mile hike into a 7 miler. Fortunately, my ego is sufficiently big enough for me to withstand any cruel mockery that might be directed my way by friends and barbarians alike.

Some large rocks (not these) had rolled onto the roadway

So it was back the way I had come and on the way back I ran into the only two people I'd see all day: a cyclist and a skateboarder. We exchanged pleasantries and each of us continued on our way, happy to be walking, cycling, or skateboarding on a trail next to Elk Creek instead of gurgling at the bottom of the intended lake. Afterward, I successfully uploaded my GPS route and photos, which meant this hike really did happen!

Bare trees against a bare sky

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

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