Much needed rain and snow arrived (aptly) on Thanksgiving. A welcome relief from the drought and a dry, way-too-smokey summer. It felt great to breathe particulate-free air again. And to see crisp blue sky. Then we got a break in the weather. While The LovedOne was doing her usual Saturday shift at the library, I went for a short stroll at the nearby Ken Denman Wildlife Area. This is one of those places we’ve driven by a lot – on the way to the Upper and Lower Table Rocks – but never stopped to visit.
During World War II, this area was occupied by Camp White, an Army training base for 40,000 soldiers. In 1954, the federal government gave 1,760 acres of the decommissioned camp to the Oregon Game Commission (today’s Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) for wildlife management purposes. Some of the camp’s old ammunition storage bunkers (“igloos”) are still in place. The wildlife area’s Military Slough Unit is adjacent to the TouVelle State Recreation Site. Both the site and the wildlife area require a parking permit but the site’s day use fee ($5) is cheaper and easier to obtain, so I hiked from there, along the Rogue River, into the wildlife area.
I soon crossed into the wildlife area, where there are walkable old roads, hiker and equestrian trails, an interpretive trail, and a myriad of user trails seeking access to the River and Little Butte Creek. Signage is non-existent except on the interpretive trail. I continued on, through dense riparian thickets, clumps of oak forest, and open meadows to the confluence of the river and the creek.
From the confluence, I followed the most heavily used trail along the east side of Little Butte Creek, dodging away from it periodically on side trails to get close to the creek. If it weren’t for these use trails, it would have been hellish (if not impossible) to get through the blackberry thickets guarding the creek’s banks. About a mile and a half from the parking area, the trail left the creek to swing through more meadows, before returning to it one last time.
Once I left Little Butte Creek for good, the trail became an old road and, a little over 2.5 miles from the parking area, brought me to one of the wildlife area’s less-than-deluxe parking pull-outs on Agate Road. The wildlife area is in the middle of some of the most industrialized land in the Rogue Valley, but I was oblivious to all that – rambling along the creek and through the meadows – until I got to this point. Ah, civilization.
From Agate Road, I headed back a different way – along an old gravel road that became a trail and then a road again as it passed by several of the old WW2 ammunition bunkers.
I continued on the old road past the bunkers to where I could get views of Upper and Lower Table Rocks across the meadows. That made me think of all the times we’d gazed down from atop the Rocks without realizing we were looking at this wildlife area.
The old road I was on eventually crossed Touvelle Road (the main road into the wildlife area) and I followed that road to its end near the confluence. Then it was the trail I’d come in on back to the parking area, making a slight diversion to check-out part of the interpretive trail I’d missed earlier.
All told, I did about five easy, interesting miles with no appreciable elevation gain. At this time of year, wildlife was limited to woodpeckers, of which there were many, chirping and bouncing from tree to tree. The ground near the parking lot was strewn with acorns, many of which the woodpeckers had dutifully inserted into a nearby tree. Hundreds and hundreds of holes pecked and acorns inserted all the way up the trunk.