A long weekend in Summer is always a good opportunity to get out and explore some wild places. Especially Memorial or Labor Day weekends. Independence Day can fall on Wednesday, for example, breaking that week up. But the other two are always on Mondays making the planning a long weekend easier. This year was no exception.
It is hard to say now why I was looking into Oregon, but at some point I have stumbled upon a very useful book – Backpacking Oregon: From Rugged Coastline to Mountain Meadow, by Douglas Lorain. Now, I’ve seen trip books before. Very often they are not entirely useful. For some reason the author’s or publisher’s frame of reference is a bit different – there is a strenuous 2 day trip with the length of … 8 miles. C’mon, who are they writing this for? Falcon guides are notorious for that. Even for Alaska their trips are short (Alaska! The largest most wild state in the Union). Lorain’s book, on the other hand, has many long multiday treks. He also has interesting ratings for the scenery, difficulty, and solitude.
So, after some painful selection, I settled on the Rogue River Trail. This trail follows a section of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River. Generally people raft it. However, due to popular demand there is a quota on the number of rafters. Backpacking the trail, on the other hand, doesn’t require any permits at all! This is after all is the forest service land and not a national park (Gates Of the Arctic didn’t ask for permits either, for a different reason) . On the negative side, as usual, anything goes place can have many people who don’t exactly follow the Leave No Trace philosophy. I found a couple of trip reports from Rogue River trail (one and two), but not much really. So hopefully there won’t be insane crowds there.
One problem with the route was that it was one way shuttle route. It required some handling of our transportation system. Initially I thought of doing this shuttling myself. The Internet was full of scary notices of cars being broken into around that area. On the other hand I’ve also read some reviews of shuttle companies who left the clients’ cars unlocked. However, the shuttle drive would have taken way too long so I decided to hire a shuttle company. Most of the companies that do rafting trips can also shuttle your car. Generally the fee is $110 for a vehicle. I found a place called Orange Torpedo in Merlin, OR. They seem to be the cheapest and had good (advanced) customer service.
Since the drive to Rogue River would be quite long I figured that it would be a good opportunity to visit some other interesting places around Southern Oregon. Crater Lake NP was one option. However, with the available time all we would be able to do was just come, look at the lake, and leave. That wouldn’t be very interesting. Completely by chance I saw on the map of Oregon a place called – Oregon Caves National Monument. That we could do, and it was right on the way.
Thursday, May 24
Rogue River, as well as places like Grand Canyon, is located in this middle land that is too short for flying to but a bit too long for driving. In addition to that it is not located close to any major airport (there is one called Rogue Valley International Medford Airport with MFR id. Not sure how much the flights cost though.) So we would have to do a lot of driving to get there and back. The usual plan for a trip like is to get up at some ungodly hour and book it hoping to get to the destination early enough. However, I always wanted to try leaving the evening before, then camping somewhere half way. In this case we can get to the starting point in the afternoon but can still have good sleep. Well, this was the trip to try it.
I found an NPS campground by Shasta Lake called Antlers. It was a bit far – 5 hours driving. Starting at 7PM and with traffic we could only make it there by 1AM. Perhaps I should have looked into commercial RV places as well. Two cars set out – Craig’s and Suji’s. I was in Craig’s car. We didn’t stop anywhere for a nice dinner and made it to the empty quiet campground by midnight. The other car showed up at 1AM, but it was still a relatively good timing. Perhaps on Friday we would have made less progress, but next time I can also book a campground closer.
Friday, May 25
Regular camping get up time at 7AM. There wasn’t exactly a lot of sleep, but good enough. Our Antlers campground was in fact right on the Shasta lake. It was a bit difficult to get to the water, but still. It had some sort of amphitheater for lectures and stuff. Nice campground, just the noise from I-5 was omnipresent. It seems that most of the cam sites were designed for RVs. They had huge parking spaces. Originally they told me that the second car should be parked somewhere else, but there was plenty of room for two. After packing we stopped at Camp Shasta Coffee Co for some breakfast. People who run it were actually from Santa Cruz. They decided to retire and run a small restaurant. They had good breakfast and nice non-acidic coffee. As a result I didn’t give them any tips. Sorry, guys, I didn’t mean to, I’ve just got distracted. I did make a good review on Yelp for them. After that we just have to drive to Merlin, OR to meet the Orange Torpedo people.
I have to admit that North of Redding I-5 becomes this beautiful fun road. Not at all that boring smelly thing South of Bay Area. There were mountains all over, forest. The freeway was going up and down. We were trying to locate Mt Shasta but it was kind of cloudy. At some point it started raining. To some extent it was expected, but still I was hoping it wouldn’t happen. Then Craig’s sophisticated Prius showed a little light indicating that it was below 3C outside. No way it could be that cold! Actually it could because the rain turned into snow. Not a deadly situation. Just backpacking in wet snow is a bit … unpleasant. Well, the hope was that this snow would not extend to the area we were going to. It was nice to see the mountains (on the West side) and hills (on the East) covered with the fresh snow. Beautiful. But this dreadful sleety weather persisted into Oregon.
After a bit of a kerfuffle with the gas purchasing methods in Oregon we made it to Merlin. It turned out to be a small almost one-street town. Our Orange Torpedo place was just as small operation – very no thrills shop, with some handy gifts, and a lot with vans and boats. They set us up, checked several times the date on which our cars will be at the Foster Bar loading place, and loaded in their van (same 12 passenger white van we used on many trips). Aside from us they didn’t seem to have any more customers. We stopped at the Smullin visitor center trying to find a useful topo map for the full trial. They had two topo maps each covering a half. They also had well printed river route which I already had. The lady from Orange Torpedo who drove us was a bid annoyed with the delay. Our guys were still asking all sorts of silly questions like where to camp better, where is the trail, how to poop, etc., which annoyed me. But finally we managed to get to Grave Creek loading station.
One funny thing was with the keys. So the general idea is to bring a spare key and then the shuttle people would lock it inside the car somewhere when they leave it at the end. That algorithm was working fine in basically the last century. With the current cars that open on the proximity of a specific key, that don’t even require that key in the ignition, it presents a problem – how do you lock keys like that in a car like that? For now the torpedo guys came up with a solution to lock one key in the second car that was parked far enough in order not to affect the fancy one. That worked, but this problem will get worse in the future.
There were mostly rafters there, preparing for their activity. We were the only backpacking group. After some packing and preparation were were off.
A bit from the trailhead there was the trail register. To my disappointment it showed many groups (all from Oregon) that already started hiking the same trail this day. Well, I couldn’t blame them – the trail was gorgeous. It was well maintained – bridges in good order, no fell trees or rock falls. The trail itself, it seems, was chiseled in the side of the rock canyon that Rogue River made over the years. It wasn’t the scale of the Grand Canyon, but still; plus the rocks here were tougher than the sandstone. The environment around was sort of like Henry Coe in early spring after some rains – trees are green, juicy poison oak everywhere, flowers, moss. The weather was great too – cloudy, not to hot, not to cold. Perfect.
On the way we saw some crazy rafters doing strange things. Found some garbage, as usual (two flip-flops). The weather turned to humid and sunny, then light rain. Nothing significant, but I was sweating profusely even under my light pack. Despite following the river, which usually goes down, the trail was kicking buttock muscles – it was up and down all the time. Not a walk in a park or forest at all. By about 6PM the question came up on where exactly to spend the night. That was a bit tricky. This land was not governed by NPS so camping was allowed anywhere. However, anywhere was in a short supply. We needed flat area empty of trees, bushes, or rocks big enough to accommodate our 4 tents and some common area, preferably close to water. The trail, as I said before, was going practically in the rock cliff, which created spectacular views but made access to the river rather difficult, especially coming back to the trail. Then there were lots of rocky places and very thick poison oak and other bushes. So, in the end we were pretty much limited to the campgrounds listed in the trail map. There was one site at about 6 mile mark. It was fine, in the trees, relatively flat and reasonably close to the river. The next one was a couple of miles ahead. Since it wasn’t clear if the next one would be any better I’ve decided to take what we had. There were some meadows and flattish spots but I eventually found a large enough place for a camp. There were some mosquitoes, a snake. The river, at the close examination, was beautiful – powerful stream like smaller Colorado. The water was just full of sediments and had greenish color.
Saturday, May 26
Get up, somewhat grudgingly. We did pretty good mileage on Saturday in half a day. So it was a bit tiresome. This day day we should do about 12 – 15 miles. The weather was good – cloudy with good temperature, a bit humid. The trail was fine, covered with green vegetation. It was rather strange where the core of engineers, I suppose, put the trail – right in the middle of a very steep slope. Wouldn’t it be easier to put it at the bottom next to the river? The terrain is a bit flatter there. Perhaps they were worried about the river flooding in Spring and washing away the trail. Well, it didn’t wash away all the bushes and trees. Then why it wasn’t built at the top of the ridge? Should be easier.
The first thing we saw in the morning was a beautiful brand-new steel bridge over the Bunker creek. There was that campground we were contemplating the day before, right under this bridge. It looked certainly nicer, but not significantly, in my opinion.
By lunch time the sky cleared out and it became warmer. Warm enough for Damon and Sasha to take a dip during lunch. Lunch place was a bit tricky to find. The main trail has lots of small obscure very steep off shoots, mostly going down to the river. Perhaps they were going to some possible camping spots, maybe for a single tent. Perhaps they even led to some sand bars, it was hard to say. So, for lunch I just took one of those off-shoots and went down to the river. The spot was nice, just getting back to the trail was a bit difficult.
After lunch it was the same deal, just with sunny weather. At some point we went to a small grassy meadow. Allegedly Grey’s Cabin used to be there. There were still a couple of old apple trees growing. Perhaps the remains of some homestead. By about 4PM we reached Quail Creek. It was the last recommended campground place before the civilized area. Plus the next one was about 3 miles away. Quail creek place had a small sandy beach area which was good for swimming, so we broke the camp there.
Swimming in Rogue River was quite refreshing, in terms of temperature, if you know what I mean. The water wasn’t that crystal clean. Due to all the turbulence the sediments were constantly mixed instead of settling down. As a result the river seemed more like a very cold green miso soup. Well, still good enough to wash away all the sweat. It was a beautiful evening. Right on the river with forest lit up by the setting sun. For some reason there were numerous turkey vultures circling overhead. Why would they do that? In fact what exactly do they eat there? There must be enough food to support that many.
Sunday, May 27
Foggy morning again. The wild part of the group – Suji, Damon, and Sasha – decided to skip the tents and enjoy the beach in the open. For some reason I thought that without a tent I’d slide into water. So I was enjoying my empty tent.
We have reached Rogue River Ranch historic site within about an hour from stating. It wasn’t a completely wild place – there was a gravel road going to it. There was a retired couple taking care of it. I wonder how much it really cost to maintain it. The couple were probably volunteers. There was a house with lost of interesting artifacts, large lush green open space, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, even some solar panel installation.
The lady caretaker said that the next big installation – Paradise Lodge – has has ice cream and beer on sale. This made the hiking a bit difficult. With anticipation you start rushing, it is a bit hard to maintain good mental state and enjoy the process. It seems that the goal becomes more important. We met a family of Oregonians on the way hiking the whole Rogue trail like us. They had young kids so I thought it would give those kids good incentive if they knew that there was ice cream in the future. The kids were either too tired or experienced and didn’t display substantial enthusiasm.
After Rogue River Ranch the trail goes on the gravel road for about 2 miles. After that, starting from Marial Trailhead it becomes the forest service land. We stated seeing many more hikes on the trail. A lot more than on the first half from Grave Creek. There was also more use, more facilities, and less maintenance. I suppose different agencies have different approaches to their assets. We saw many dayhikes either doing the whole half of the trail or just hiking it from their lodges. I suppose there was a way to experience this trail like this. But it like seeing Grand Canyon without actually hiking down to the Colorado River.
Paradise Valley and Lodge was just as the name suggested. Beautiful lush picturesque green. There were a couple of cabins, some cattle. Cattle there was just mostly for show. They were grass fed. However, the lodge cannot really sell their meat because it had to be USDA inspected. Since it was quite a hassle the cows mostly live long and in the end their meat wasn’t that tasty (one worker in the lodge told me all this). We really had to work for our ice cream. By mistake Suji took a wrong turn, so we added about two miles extra in the process of looking for the actual lodge building.
The lodge was located on the bar above river. I suppose it protected it from the floods also. The whole Paradise valley is actually located on a step above the river and not at the same level. The building looks like a regular old ski resort, or perhaps like Clair Tappaan Lodge. However, it had a nice outdoor sitting area with the view of the river. Good thing they didn’t build some Caribbean size monstrosity. But I suppose this place wasn’t warm or fancy enough for the average public. Craig said that they did make some improvements since the last time he visited.
They did have ice cream! Mostly Oregon or Idaho brands. That was surprising. I thought they’d have what the rest of the world has – standard Nestle stuff. The price was good too – $3 a pop. At this location they could charge pretty much anything. I was wondering, on the way there, about the maximum I would be willing to pay for that ice cream.
We had some lunch, ice cream, took photos. I was looking at books and photos in the lodge. There was an organized group in the same outdoor area that had their prescribed lunch. Two guys cooked it – simple salad and tacos. The big family caught up with us. Then one of the organizing guys came up to us and said “sometimes a great opportunity presents itself. Our guests didn’t finish all the food we cooked. Can you guys help us clean it up?” Free lunch? Of course we would help you. They had some fresh greens, some chicken with souses, and tortillas. Not bad for the price. So our group and that family of Oregonians we’ve met basically cleaned up all the leftovers.
After that lunch walking was a bit … difficult. All that food, plus it became rather humid – some sort of rain was coming. We also saw a lot more activity on the river. Power boats were going up and down. I suppose all that goodies in Paradise Lodge had to be brought in somehow. Rafters, going mostly down river. There were also camps on the rare sand bars, with toilets and food storage boxes with electric fences around them (why didn’t they use regular metal ones? Maybe it was difficult to attach them very well to the shore. Those storage boxes were just sitting on the sand).
One interesting place on the way was Brushy Bar. There was a small patch of pine forest with grass underneath. Quite a contrast with the surrounding area of thick bushes tied together with poison oak and black berries. This place had a fire about 100 years ago. For some reason just pines grew back. There was a small guard station and two toilets.
The day was coming to the end and we had to find a nice place to camp. That turned out to be rather difficult. This place in the river had a lot more rafters. Those guys didn’t have to carry all their stuff so they were having quite a party in some places. With loud music and fires. There was probably no shortage of alcohol either. In addition to that besides us there were other hikes who wanted places to camp that were not spoiled by human activities. And, of course, we didn’t want to crash on someone else’s camp.
The first place that was open was a site on a sloped sand bar. It did have electric fence with a box (I would actually be surprised if bears would be tempted by our so-called food with all that abundance around). But it felt cold. It was behind the ridge and sun was already out. So we passed it. A bit later, on the west side of the same ridge, there were many small places, some grassy and some on the beach. But nothing big enough to accommodate all of us. There was also one noisy party of rafters, then there was another group of rafters. Well, there was a flat spot to have kitchen and three sleeping bags. So I figured there was no need to look for perfection and picked this site.
Our immediate neighbors were some small group of rafters. They had all the goodies – a BBQ, a bottle of some whiskey, beer, fresh meet. The smell was rather difficult to bear while I was eating my pea soup with salami. But hey, it was just food. Plus after a couple of days of backpacking your start appreciating good food better. Somehow Suji set her sights on that bottle of whiskey that the neighbors prominently displayed on one of their metallic containers. So she went there to exchange some of our chocolate for some that liquor. Unfortunately, that transaction didn’t happen.
To kind of mend fences one girl from that group came over to chat and brought a beer. She talked about where she grew up, her college, her moving to take care her grandmother in Monterrey. Old Craig was all over her. I personally was wondering if she was already a bit drunk or she was like that all the time. That was our evening entertainment.
Monday, May 28
The night was eventful. That day I have joined the sleep outside section of our team. There was a nice flat grassy spot behind the rock that provided nice shield from the wind. There was some talk about ticks, but I haven’t seen any yet. It would have been fine, but it started drizzling at about 3AM. Suji didn’t even wake up. Sasha had his spiffy waterproof bag so he didn’t care. I thought that the rain may intensify and put up my tent. It is still nice to sleep without a tent. As long as nothing falls from the sky.
Get up at the normal time. The rain didn’t intensify during the night, still remained a light drizzle. Some hard core individuals didn’t even wake up. Before we could proceed we had to check out one thing that the funny girl from the previous night mentioned. She said there is a natural water slide a bit up the creek that joins Rogue right next to the camp site.
Right before the bridge there was a trail. It started fine but then became quite treacherous due to fallen trees. It reminded me about that creek we were trying to forge in Redwood NP. But then the trail reappeared and soon the mentioned water slide. I have to admit that I expected it to be higher and scarier. It was actually fine. Nice little water fall with a pool. Great find. If the weather was warmer we might even have tried it. Perhaps leave it for the next time.
Then slogging to the end. It was the last day after all and we just had a couple of miles left, or so we thought. The was just going up and down all the time. We met more rafters, some hikes from either end of the trail, or maybe the lodges. A bit after lunch we reached the Illahe Lodge. The lodge was a large house situated a bit on a hill side. There are probably good views from there, thought it is not possible to see the river. That was pretty much the end. The trailhead was just a short hike across some green pasture and fruit grove.
After that a short hike on the road to the Foster Bar busy boat ramp. It seems we were the only hikers there. The rest of the crowd was dealing with their boats and such. Our group mostly was taking care of their appearance – washing, changing – as if we were going to some party or something. The biggest problem for me as a leader was to decide where to go. As usual people have their opinions, but they don’t want to impose them. Still the underlined context is that they may not be happy if things don’t go their way (group selection is very important for this kind of situation, but it should have been done in advance). Anyway, due to the lack of information and no Internet access I have made the decision to drive to Grave Creek and then regroup. There were really just to options – Grave Creek or Gold Beach. The decision to go to Grave Creek was done mostly because some people wanted a shower. But then the plan for the cars to follow didn’t really pan out – Craig went left Suji went right. It took us about half an hour to meet again. And there really was just one way out of Foster Bar to the civilization. That was a good thing otherwise we would have been driving around separately for a while. That area was so remote that there was no cell reception. Funny, but exactly that what people were doing as recently as 10 years ago. Anyway, in the end we went to Gold Beach instead.
Gold Beach was a nice small town right around US-101. It was just freezing cold there from the ocean wind. We just stopped at the fist small mall. It had some shops, some sort of museum, and places to eat. I personally was looking forward to some local fresh salmon. The season was open already. One place was ok, but they didn’t have salmon. The other place that was just opening had it, but it was not cheap. We have almost set down there. They had nice entourage, white table cloths. But then I’ve decided to leave it. For some reason it didn’t go together well with our group and the trip. I hope that lady wasn’t too upset about it. By the time finished dinner the little museum and the gift shop were closed so no souvenirs from Gold Beach, OR. I did find a reasonable place to camp though – very close to Oregon Caves, and it had shower. So everyone was happy.
Our accommodation for this night was in Lone Mountain RV resort in O’Brien, OR. I suppose calling your RV park a resort sounded classier. However, the drive to the campground was all worth the effort of going West from our finish point. It was just gorgeous ocean views. There was one beach front park after another with beautiful vistas under the setting sun. Then, a bit in California, we turned into US-199. That one didn’t have ocean views, but there were mountain with forest and rivers.
The RV resort was strangely quiet. The owners/hosts had one RV on the site. Then there were facilities, some sort of log cabin, lots of RVs just sitting there, empty space for campers like us, tee-pees, and no people. Strange. What was those RVs doing there? I mean, sure, perhaps people are tired and sleeping, but not all of them. Maybe they just store or park there. We got that enormous camping spot with table, fire ring, and wood for mere $25. Bargain. The owners were an older couple from California who moved to Oregon to take care of this “resort” and live closer to their children (and the children could take care of them). Not a bad place to retire. After setting in there was a fire, some food. Suji and Kim went to get some “entertainment” but brought strawberries instead (which was a much better choice). And we could fry the marshmallows that Damon was carrying all the time. There wasn’t going to be rain so 2/3 of the group just slept on the ground.
Tuesday, May 29
I still had one breakfast left so I could do quick camping oatmeal. That idea wasn’t well received. So we went to the next town appropriately called Cave Junction and had a standard American truck load of calories. I guess all that weight lost during the trip was back. After that the Oregon Caves National Monument was just down a windy road.
The place was really in the middle of nowhere – in a thick of the forest with just one road going there. There was a chalet with appropriate facilities and the monument itself. I suppose it would be a nice place to stay. Very secluded. It was designated national monument by president Taft. Not sure why he didn’t designated this place a national park, especially at that time when not many people lived there.
The park offered two great tours – a short one, 90 min walking tour through the caves (they were explicit, repeating several times, that there some walking during the tour, a little bit of up hill, some ducking under low ceilings and ladders. There was even a point to turn back. Seriously? Have our society woosed out so much?). The second tour was much more interesting – 3 hours of squeezing through the caves. I was hoping to take the second one. However, we came about 2 weeks too early in the season (What? See the above comment). Well, we had to settle for the short tour.
It wasn’t too bad. A lot cleaner than the long one most likely. But still, it was guided by a real geologist. He explained most of the formations in the cave, how they came about and what happened to them after the cave was discovered. There were actually two man-made tunnels to make the tour circular for better throughput. I wonder how many visitors they get on average. The monument, after all, is rather off the beaten path. There were a couple of very interesting shoots – there was a whole in the ground that closed now, but during the time the water made interesting stalagmites there. One place closer to the end one big stalagmite had a lot of human signage on it. I suppose people wanted to leave some marks of their visit. However, the penmanship looked very good. So it turned out that the signs were done about 100 years ago (no wonder, people don’t write that well now a days). The Park Service didn’t remove them because they were already covered by a thin layer of sediments, the stalagmite was still growing.
After that there wasn’t much else to do other than drive home. We didn’t stop anywhere to eat. I was munching on some leftovers from breakfast. The weather was good on the way back so we had great view of Mt Shasta all the way passed Redding. There was one great vista point that I’ve missed a bit South of the Oregon border. It was on the mountain slope facing South with the view of Shasta.
That was one good trip. My first visit to Oregon. It turned out to a nice place. I really liked the lush green forests there. Oregon Caves National Monument is a highly recommenced place to visit. Thought I’m not sure I will ever be there for the long tour – it may be very hot there.
Will I try to go there again – yes, definitely. Just need to find time.
My photos are here.