Fawn Butte – Blue Grotto Loop (Southwest Oregon) 07-Feb-2021

The Blue Grotto is a geologic feature just above of the North Shore Trail on the north side of Lost Creek Lake. It’s where a seasonal stream has cut a 40-foot (12 m) waterfall through a greenish rhyolite formation that is ash from the eruption of Mount Mazama, the volcano that created the Crater Lake caldera. The Grotto is at its best in the late winter to early Spring when runoff brings the waterfall to life. We figured that rain and snow melt from a big storm a week ago had by now found its way to the Grotto’s waterfall, so we set off on our annual visit. In previous years, we’d simply hike out-and-back on the North Shore Trail from the Lost Creek Trailhead, which is a lovely hike. Then I discovered an old road that runs past Fawn Butte, above and parallel to the North Shore Trail. This makes it possible to form a loop that includes views from the hills, a visit to the Blue Grotto, and a walk along the lake.

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Viewpoint Mike (Southwest Oregon) 02-Apr-2020

We’re into week two of our shelter-in-place and hiking is still allowed. Provided, of course, you stay 6 feet (2 m) – or more – away from other people. This admonition to maintain a social distance of 6+ feet apparently confused a lot of people, who then gathered in large groups at beaches, in parks, and at trailheads to discuss what it means. 🙄 The powers that be were not amused by this failure to grasp the obvious and reacted by closing our state parks, our one national park (Crater Lake), and a bunch of national forests (mostly the developed parts but some trailheads too). The Bureau of Land Management chimed in with a few closures of particularly popular hikes under their jurisdiction. Sigh. Now we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the social distance message has finally 😡 been received, so that hiking (or any other outdoor activity) isn’t just banned outright. đŸ˜„

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Fawn Butte Loop (Lost Creek Lake) 26-Feb-2020

We’re having a run of unusually good hiking weather for February. So good, in fact, that we’re now officially classified as abnormally dry (which differs from being classified as abnormal – but I digress). Anyway, if this condition isn’t remedied by some late winter / early Spring storms, we could be in for a long, hot, dry summer. 😩 Suffice to say that the climate that was (and which we all got used to) is not the climate that’s going to be (and to which we’ll all have to adapt). In the moment, however, cool air and warm sun confronted us. I decided to take advantage of it for a hike. The LovedOne used it to get a start on this year’s gardening. We should note that February is, even for southern Oregon, suspiciously early for gardening. Let’s just say we’re adapting… 🙄

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Blue Grotto Redux (Lost Creek Lake) 07-Feb-2020

Lost Creek Trailhead to Blue Grotto, Lost Creek Lake, Oregon

It rained some. Then it snowed some. Then it did these things again (and again). The snow pack deepened. Creeks rose. Intermittent streams came alive. It was thus time for our near yearly pilgrimage to see the Blue Grotto in full flow. This is where, in a narrow canyon on the north shore of Lost Creek Lake, a seasonal stream falls some 40 feet over a pour-off composed of soft greenish rock, which is ash from Mt. Mazama (which exploded, some 7,000 years ago, to form Crater Lake). The walk to the Grotto from the Lost Creek Trailhead (7 miles out and back, with no appreciable elevation gain) is a pleasant stroll through oak and pine forests, across meadows, and over several side creeks, with views of the lake all along the way.

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South Shore Trail (Lost Creek Lake) 17-Jul-2018

South Shore Trail Lost Creek Lake Oregon

Lost Creek Lake is a 3,340 acre (when full) reservoir operated by the U.S. Corp of Engineers. It’s situated on the main stem of the Rouge River in a scenic valley basin approximately half way between Crater Lake National Park and Medford, Oregon. The Corps calls the trails that go around the north and south shores of the lake, as well as the trail that goes northeast up the Rogue River from Peyton Bridge, the “Rogue River Trail”, even though that name is usually reserved for the iconic trail that runs along the Rogue between Grave Creek and Foster Bar. Anyway, we’ve hiked the “North Shore Trail” before, particularly in the Spring when the Blue Grotto is in full flow. We touched on a piece of the “South Shore Trail” as part of a loop over Viewpoint Mike last year but had yet to hike all of it.  So, despite smoke from numerous lightning-sparked wildfires clouding an atmosphere whose temperature was pushing above 100ÂșF, today seemed as good a time as any to try that hike.  The LovedOne begged to differ, opting instead to do the library friends taxes in air conditioned comfort while muttering something about no fool like an old fool as I headed out the door. Continue reading “South Shore Trail (Lost Creek Lake) 17-Jul-2018”

Blue Grotto (Lost Creek Lake, Oregon) 02-Feb-2018

Blue Grotto Lost Creek Lake Oregon

Lost Creek Lake is a very large reservoir situated on the main stem of the Rouge River in a scenic valley approximately half way between Crater Lake National Park and Medford, Oregon. Two trails – the North Shore and the South Shore – circle the lake. Situated at about 2,500 feet elevation, these trails are open year-round, even when snow (ha!) closes those further up in the Cascades.  Thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers (the folks who actually operate the dam and this lake), both trails are well-built and well-maintained, and very easy to hike or bike.  The LovedOne was still catching-up on her library stuff, so it was up to me to take advantage of today’s outstanding Spring-like weather (the snowshoes are back in storage – sigh) by hiking to the Blue Grotto, where a seasonal stream falls some 40 feet over a greenish rhyolite cliff.  The green rock is actually ash from the eruption of Mount Mazama, the volcano that created the caldera now known as Crater Lake.  Continue reading “Blue Grotto (Lost Creek Lake, Oregon) 02-Feb-2018”

Dam You Elk Creek! (Oregon) 09-Apr-2017

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon

Elk Creek is a tributary of Oregon’s Rogue River whose confluence with the Rogue is just northeast of Shady Cove, Oregon.  In 1986, about three miles upstream of the confluence, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began construction on what was expected to be the Elk Creek Dam.  It was to be the last of three dams (the other two being the William L. Jess Dam (1977) on the Upper Rogue River and the Applegate Dam (1980) on the Applegate River) authorized by Congress in 1962 to help control flooding along the Rogue River. The Rogue’s capacity for horrendous flooding was well established and the two existing dams have done a great deal to mitigate that threat.  But the Elk Creek Dam was not to be (nor did it need to be).

In 1988, when the dam was only one third its designed height, construction was stopped by litigation and additional studies that demonstrated it did not make economic sense and would also significantly impact salmon. Twenty more years of environmental, political, and legal wrangling ensued before the dam project itself was finally abandoned as a lost cause.  In 2008, the partially built portion was explosively breached (“notched”) to allow for restoration of the creek channel and surrounding habitat, as well as for unhindered movement of salmon.  In 2014, after replacement of bridges and the installation of trailheads with amenities, the USACE officially opened more than seven miles of roadways in the Elk Creek Lands to the public as a new park for hiking and biking.

While we’ve enjoyed past hikes around neighboring Lost Creek Lake, we had not yet explored Elk Creek.  So, with the weather continuing to be cranky and unpredictable (“I might rain on you – or not – no wait, let’s try snow – no, no, wait – how about highs winds and rain – no, wait, how about …”)  a short, easy hike along the Elk seemed like a good idea.  We did this as a shuttle, leaving one car at the northern (Homesteader’s) trailhead and then driving back to start at the southern (Yellow Rock) trailhead.  Both trailheads have parking and pit toilets.  The trail heads north from the Yellow Rock trailhead over a stout pedestrian bridge that leaps a side channel of West Branch Creek.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The pedestrian bridge over a channel of West Branch

The “trail” is actually the old county road that ran along the creek.  In anticipation of the old road disappearing into the depths of the new reservoir, the USACE built a new Elk Creek Road 200 feet or so up along the hillside to the west. The old road is still paved but is nonetheless a nice walk – you can’t hear any traffic on the road above but you can hear the creek gurgling away to the east.

Shortly after leaving the southern trailhead, we crossed the well-flowing West Branch of Elk Creek,

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The West Branch of Elk Creek

over yet another robust pedestrian bridge.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The bridge over the West Branch of Elk Creek

The trail passes extensive meadows that are old farm lands being restored for habitat. We imagined a riot of wildflowers here a little later in the season. The weather cooperated to the extent of not raining on us but persisted with one of those milky overcasts that suck the color out of photographs. But no complaints lest it start snowing!

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
One of the meadows along the trail

The trail doesn’t stick close to the creek the whole way but there are a few spots where you can easily access it. The first of these is at a ford about one mile from the trailhead. The creek is currently swollen thanks to all the rain we’ve gotten this winter but by summer it should have shrunk to a less dangerous, more swimable piece of water.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
A swollen, cold Elk Creek

A little upstream from the ford, we found one of the several small cascades that give the creek some character (and a voice).

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
A small cascade on Elk Creek

We continued along the road, looking for wildflowers. Some of the smaller ones were out but, as noted before, it’s still early for the bigger, showier ones. What jumped out at us was a brilliantly red, non-native flowering quince, one likely brought in by the folks who homesteaded this valley in the late 1800s.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
A flowering quince

Lacking flowers, we were, as usual, drawn to the shapes and colors of the rock gardens and lichens along the trail.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
An ecology of rocks, moss, and flowers on the wall of a roadcut

A little shy of 3.5 miles from the trailhead, we crossed the vehicle bridge over Alco Creek,

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The bridge over Alco Creek

and soon came to the southern end of the meadow at 7 Mile Bend. We left the paved trail here and followed an obvious dirt road over to where there are excellent swimming holes for when the creek calms down in the summer.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
A cascade and swimming hole at 7 Mile Bend

We continued on the dirt road as it swung back to the trail at the north end of the meadow at 7 Mile Bend.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
Back to the trail at 7 Mile Bend

A short while after regaining the road, we passed what surely qualifies as whitewater on the Elk – something maybe for kayakers but not swimmers!

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
Whitewater on Elk Creek

Just beyond 7 Mile Bend, we crossed the pedestrian bridge over Middle Creek,

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The bridge over Middle Creek

and made another close pass at Elk Creek,

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
Elk Creek just downstream of the Homesteader’s trailhead

followed the now gravel trail as it rises to pass along the new Elk Creek Road, and soon arrived at the Homesteader’s trailhead.

We could have called it a day at this point but, no, we’re geeky enough to want to see what created this trail in the first place – the remains of the Elk Creek Dam. So we drove back to the turn-off to the southern trailhead and down to what looked like an obvious, but unsigned, parking area about 0.9 miles north of the dam site.  The gravel piles remain in place “just in case” there’s some desire to restart the dam project (ah, hope springs eternal, etc.).

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
An 2016 aerial view of the remains of the Elk Creek Dam

Other folks were wandering around, so we strolled down the road to have a look at the “The Notch” in the dam and the partially completed intake structure.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The partially completed intake structure (right), with The Notch in the background (left)

The dam was somewhat unique in that it was being built with roller-compacted concrete, a joint-less technique that needs neither forms nor finishing, nor does it contain dowels or steel reinforcing.  Just layers of concrete literally rolled-out and compacted in place.  A cheaper and quicker method, but not quick enough.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The Notch, where the dam was blasted apart to make way for salmon

The dam was originally scheduled to be 240 feet high, but had reached a height of only 80 feet before work was stopped.  So while the remains of the intake structure look massive,

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The remains of the intake structure

you have to imagine it rising (had it been finished) some 240 feet over your head, to the height of a 30-story building!  The lowest water level in the planned reservoir would have been about at the rebar in the remaining structure!

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
The original design of the intake structure

So, geek-fest over, we swung north for the short hike back to the car. It was at this point, of course, that the milky overcast finally cleared to give us a blue sky look at Berry Rock for the last 10 minutes of our hike. Oh, the irony!

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
A blue sky view of Berry Rock (3,466 feet)

Overall, a very pleasant hike (5.5 miles; 300 feet of elevation gain; add two miles round-trip for the walk to the dam site) despite it being a less than optimal weather day. We saw deer, a hawk, turkeys, a kinglet, and several other small birds which refused to stay still long enough for identification. Certainly worth a return visit (as a hike or bike ride) for wildflowers in two-three weeks or for swimming later in the summer. So kudos to the USACE for turning a bad dam into a good park.  The USACE brochure is not clear on this, but some newspaper accounts [accessed after the hike] of this new park indicate that you’re not supposed to go wandering around the old dam site. So our bad if we broke some rule we didn’t know about.  But it would be nice if the USACE could figure a way to clearly, safely, and legally allow folks to get a look at this unique piece of Oregon’s dam history.  It’s the least they could do for the 100 million or so taxpayer dollars poured into this non-dam.

Rogue River Elk Creek Oregon
Our tracks in the Elk Creek area

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Viewpoint Mike Loop (Lost Creek Lake) 24-Jan-2017

Viewpoint Mike Lost Creek Lake Oregon

After the Great Storm (aka the Big Dump) of 2017, we were able to sneak in a quick hike before the Spawn of the Great Storm was upon us.  Now that too has passed and a period of sunny high pressure is settling in for a few days.  Oh, bluebird days ahead!  To celebrate the return of the Sun, while waiting (yet again) for the snow to settle, we decided to try the short low-altitude hike to Viewpoint Mike overlooking Lost Creek Lake, where the William L. Jess Dam impounds the Upper Rogue River.  The trail meanders 2.5 miles (and gains ~1,000 feet) across several ridges on its way to a rocky outcrop about 600 feet above the dam.  An out-and-back hike is fine but a loop hike is better still, so when we found that, back in 2009, the Ashland Hiking Group had made a loop out of this hike, we decided to try that.  This was Plan A.  But 2017 is not 2009 and we would discover, part way into the loop, that a Plan B was needed.

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North Shore Trail (Lost Creek Lake) 13-May-2016

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon

Lost Creek Lake is a 3,340 acre (when full) reservoir situated on the main stem of the Rouge River in a scenic valley basin approximately half way between Crater Lake National Park and Medford, Oregon.  It was created in 1977, mainly for flood control and power generation purposes, with the completion of the William L. Jess Dam.  Since then it has become a major local recreation area, with boating, fishing, beaches, and miles of lakeshore trail (for hikers, runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers).  Situated at about 2,500 feet elevation, the trails are open year-round, even when snow closes those further up in the Cascades.  But, like most of the water management reservoirs in our area, the level of this lake rises and falls some 60 feet with the seasons – going from a mud-rimmed bathtub in winter to a “real” lake during the summer.

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