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.

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