Circling the Ditch (Southwestern Oregon) 29-May-2020

The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail is undoubtedly one of the best known trails in Southwestern Oregon. For some 21 miles, it follows the route of an old ditch dug (in the 1870s) to supply water from the Little Applegate River to a hydraulic mine in Sterling Gulch. Because of its linearity, doing a loop hike involving a long stretch of it requires some improvisation. So back in 2015, we figured how to do such a loop from the Deming Trailhead by combining a little road walking with the then newly opened connector trail from Wolf Gap. Although today was forecast as a hot one (some 20°F (12°C) above whatever passes for normal these days), the weather in the days ahead was forecast to involve exciting bursts of water and electricity, so we ventured forth today to repeat this loop.

We wanted to do a longer hike and this loop, at 11.4 mostly level miles, was just the thing. It starts with a 1.8 mile, 1,300-foot climb from the Deming Trailhead to Wolf Gap but, after that, it’s all downhill or level. It was a hot day (as expected) but also somewhat muggy due to moisture coming in ahead of the bigger weather. It reminded us of our attempts to hike in Tennessee in early summer (we did that just once 😥 ). An early start and the forested parts of the trail helped make the heat manageable. We had to dodge a lot of poison oak and flick a few ticks but no biting occurred. Given the drought we’re currently in, and the lateness of the flowering season, we were pleasantly surprised to see quite a few wildflowers still in bloom along the trail. Seeing these more than made up for the heat. 🙂

Walking up the Armstrong-Deming Road
Thimbleberry
Brodiaea (?) with guest
Checkermallow
Field Morning Glory
Ballhead Ipomopsis (love the little blue anthers)
Descending from Wolf Gap
Mountain Blue Penstemon
A blooming grass with guest
Along the ditch trail
Elegant Brodiaea with guest (in flower on left)

For about half its journey from Wolf Gap Junction to the Deming Trailhead, the ditch trail is mostly south-facing and open to the sun as it runs through oaks and madrones. There were welcome patches of shade when the trail dodged into a drainage or through a copse of madrones.

Along the ditch trail
Varileaf Phacelia with guest
Deer Brush (Ceanothus) with butterfly
Along the ditch trail through a copse of madrones
A madrone abstraction
Along the ditch trail
Ceanothus with beetle
Common Clarkia

About 5.5 miles from Wolf Gap Junction, the trail turns into Sterling Gulch and becomes north-facing. From here to Armstrong Gulch and on to the Deming Trailhead, the terrain we traversed was lusher (there’s even a fern garden!) , cooler, and forested with Ponderosa pines.

Turning into Sterling Gulch
Orange Honeysuckle
Under a canopy of big-leaf maples
Henderson Triteleia
Common Wild Rose
Closing-in on the Deming Trailhead
Our loop along the ditch: (W.) Wolf Gap, black indicates the road walk, red indicates the Wolf Gap and ditch single-track trails
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5 comments

  1. Along with the Siskiyou lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon), the Triteleia is one of the showiest flowers out there. This time we were lucky to find a whole field of them rather than just a flower here and there. 🙂

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  2. That is a great hike. We did the loop using a shuttle that ferried us from Deming to Wolf Gap. Great scenery at Wolf Gap and south part of loop. Great flower pictures!

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