Lower Table Rock Plateau (Southern Oregon) 23-Dec-2019

The horseshoe-shaped Upper and Lower Table Rocks are among the most popular hiking spots in the Rogue Valley. We’ve certainly hiked both of them a bunch. The Spring and early summer wildflower and vernal pool displays on these mesas are particularly attractive. But it’s the winter months, when the luxuriant poison oak, voluminous ticks, and feisty rattlesnakes are on holiday (i.e., not a creature was stirring, etc.), that open-up some off-trail possibilities.

Two years ago, I’d ventured west around the arc of Lower Table, through pesky brush and across slippery boulder fields, to the easy walking that is the majority of this rarely visited western side of the plateau. Going around the arc was necessary because the middle of Lower Table’s horseshoe is a conservation easement closed to the public. On that hike, I crossed a piece of the old trail that used to run from today’s parking lot to the middle of the horseshoe. That old trail is on public land and I got to wondering whether it could be found and used to minimize the thrashing needed to reach the open top of the mesa. The LovedOne, temporarily free from the library, and needing an adventure fix, joined today’s quest for the old trail.

Winter weather has been arriving in bouts – with snow above and gloom below – but today promised (and delivered) a break in the action, with sun mixed with artisanal clouds. We went up the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trail to the top of the eastern arm of the mesa,

Pond on top of Lower Table Rock
On the readily accessible eastern arm of the mesa

then crossed over to where the old airfield road drops off to the west. This road had been gouged up the inside of the Rock in 1948 to service an airstrip constructed on top of its eastern side by John Day, a local cattle rancher and developer.

On the old airport road off the top of Lower Table Rock
On the old airport road off the mesa

This old road is a little vague just as it leaves the eastern mesa but pretty soon becomes a wide, if somewhat brushy, trail. A short way below the mesa we passed an old gate intended to keep cattle off the airstrip when they were run on what is today the conservation easement.

A mushroom sprouting among leaves, Lower Table Rock, Oregon
A tiny mushroom on the forest floor
An old gate across the old road, Lower Table Rock, Oregon
The old gate

I knew where the old trail crossed the ridge but not where it met up with the old road. So we left the road and did a rising traverse through stubby oaks and madrones to the ridge. After some twists and turns along the ridge, we found the old trail.

A view of the western side of Lower Table Rock, Oregon
The western side of the mesa from the ridge
Upper Table Rock from Lower Table Rock, Oregon
Upper Table Rock from the ridge

The challenge now was to get from the old trail to the flat, open western side of the mesa. We followed the ridge northwest, over a narrow, very-exposed-on-the-east-side section,

A narrow ridge at Lower Table Rock, Oregon
A narrow, rocky piece of ridge was the principal obstacle

past an old sign that said “Trail to Summit” (the highest point (2,049 feet / 625 m) on Lower Table is actually just west of the north end of the old airstrip),

The old "Trail to Summit" sign on Lower Table Rock, Oregon
The old “Trail to Summit” sign

under a section of barbed wire fence that is yet another remnant of Lower Table’s cattle ranching past,

Crawling under some barbed wire on Lower Table Rock, Oregon
Crawling under some barbed wire (arrow)
A tiny fluted mushroom emerging from leaf litter
Another tiny fluted mushroom seen while crawling

to finally emerge on the open expanse of the northern and western portions of the mesa. This is what the eastern mesa looked like before John Day built a landing strip on it in the 1940s. We wandered over to the western arm of the mesa, enjoying the views along the way. When the horizon isn’t shrouded in clouds, there’s a pretty spectacular view of Mount McLoughlin from the mesa’s high point.

Top of the north side of Lower Table Rock, Oregon
On the open mesa
Looking at the west side of Lower Table Rock, Oregon
The western arm of the mesas – it’s easily possible to walk to its very tip
Looking west from Lower Table Rock, Oregon
Looking west
Sams Valley from the north side of Lower Table Rock, Oregon
Looking northwest into Sams Valley
Bird watching on the north side of Lower Table Rock, Oregon
Bird watching from the mesa

Fire rings, a low stone structure, and trash (a bag of which we hauled all the way back to the parking lot 😡 ) signal that there are likely other ways to reach the mesa than following the ridge from the east. The old airport road can still be followed down the middle of the easement and a later constructed road runs west off the mesa into a cluster of dirt roads that eventually reach paved roads. Our guess is that all of these other approaches cross private land at some point, making them (from our point of view) inaccessible.

A circle of stones on Lower Table Rock, Oregon
A non-prehistoric rock structure on the mesa (with an empty champagne bottle)

After taking in the views, we headed back along the ridge to the old trail and then followed it down to the old airport road.

Hiking on the west side of Lower Table Rock, Oregon
Going back

Despite being at least 25 years past its sell-by date, the old trail, except for its lower 100 feet or so, was remarkably easy to follow to the road. Finding and following this old trail up to the ridge would remove a lot of the struggle out of reaching the western arm of the mesa. The weather cooperated , I didn’t peg The LovedOne’s adventure-o-meter, a “Trail to Summit” sign was there for encouragement, and we found the old trail. 🙂 Overall, a pretty good adventure hike, and a superb escape from the frenzied consumerism of the Christmas season. 😀

A map of our track on public lands to the western arm of Lower Table Rock, Oregon
Our track on public lands to the western arm of the mesa

In the above image, the purple line is the boundary of the Table Rock Management Area (Nature Conservancy) and the orange shaded areas are administered by the BLM. The red line is our track back; the dotted blue line is an optional hike to the end of the western arm. (1) Old gate, (2) Start of old trail, (3) Old sign on the ridge, (4) start of open ground on the mesa.


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