The Table Rocks are another set of compelling hiking areas near us. They’re very popular and best known for the wildflower displays and ecologically-sensitive vernal pools that burst out on their flat summits in the Spring. A visit then in search of new or different wildflowers – or better photos of old favorites – has become a bit of a ritual. Not this year. The Rocks are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Nature Conservancy, who chose to close this area for several months because of the Big V. The closure was eventually lifted but then there was a lot of heat and smoke in the valley. So the last time we were able to visit was just before Christmas in 2019. But it rained ( 😀 ) yesterday, clearing the air and dropping the temperature. And some artistic clouds appeared! So we headed out to reprise a hike we did in 2019 that took us off the popular paths and through the wild center of the formation.
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.
After our exploration last week of the inside of Upper Table Rock, we (or at least I) thought it would be fun to do the same at Lower Table Rock. But there was a problem. The inside of Lower Table is covered by a conservation easement that does not allow for public access. So we couldn’t use the old road through there to reprise our Upper Table experience. BUT we could walk along the top of Lower Table since this is Nature Conservancy land open to public access. On Lower, however, there’s no old road on top, as there is on Upper, to make travel easy. So when I mentioned that this would be more of an adventure hike, the LovedOne decided going to the hairdresser was the smarter move and left me to face the wilderness alone. Sigh.
The Upper and Lower Table Rocks are roughly U-shaped plateaus, reflecting their genesis as lava-filled meanders in the primordial Rogue River. We’ve done our share (and then some) of hiking at both rocks. The vast majority of visitors to either rock follow an established trail to the plateau, then follow one of several well-worn use trails out to the top of the basalt cliffs for a view of the Rogue Valley, and then go back. On Upper Table, it’s possible to follow an old road around past the VORTAC station and out the U’s other arm. A few people go that far – there’s a geocache at the end of that arm – but not many. Out there, however, another old road descends into the mysterious space between the arms. What’s in there? Obsessive hikers wanted to know! So, faced with sunshine but no snow, we decided to plumb this deep mystery for ourselves – The LovedOne having been coaxed out of the library for this one!
The Upper and Lower Table Rocks are well known (and well used) hiking and wildflower venues just north of Medford, Oregon. They present different, but always attractive, short- and long-distance vistas throughout the year. By Fall, the expansive wildflower meadows that graced the plateaus in Spring have gone fallow. Any surface water has been supplanted by hardened soil and the color palette has shifted from multiple colors to various muted hues of yellow and gold. Reasons enough for a return visit (one of many to date) to Upper Table Rock. This Rock is horseshoe shaped, with the legs of the “shoe” pointing south. Popular guides to this area usually mention only the short hike (3 or so miles round-trip) to the tip of the eastern leg. But you can craft a longer (8 or more miles roundtrip) and more varied hike by venturing over the top of the shoe and out to the tip of its western leg. So, on a day with near perfect weather for hiking, I (today being one of The LovedOne’s library volunteer days) set out to enjoy the colors of a different season, and a longer hike, on Upper Table.