The breeze beats gently on my face as I head upward. All around, stalks of wild grasses rise out of stony ground, forming a green backdrop to clusters of camas and Indian paintbrush. Soon, the trail becomes steep, winding through Oregon white oaks before disappearing into pines and firs.
Winded, I stop for a moment and look behind me. I behold a world of shadow and light as decks of clouds move across the valley below to gather over mountains to the south and west, their tops frosted with new snow. Near one, higher than the rest, streamers of vapor hover, unleashing a spring shower.
Roxy Ann peak was named in the 1850s for Roxy Ann Bowen, who settled near the base of the mountain with her husband, John.
Prescott Park is named after Medford police officer George J. Prescott, whose murder in 1933 marked the end of the "Good Government Congress" scandal. Prescott was killed when he tried to arrest Llewellyn A. Banks, leader of the organization that had won several Jackson County offices through voter fraud. Prescott was sent to arrest Banks after a grand jury found evidence of the fraud. As Prescott arrived outside Banks' house, Banks pointed a hunting rifle through a window and shot him. City officials looking for a suitable memorial for Prescott remembered his early support for the park.
A backcountry hike in the high Cascades or the Red Buttes? No, this stunning panorama can be enjoyed just a few miles from downtown Medford. It's what you see from the Madrone Trail near the top of 3,571-foot Roxy Ann peak in 1,740-acre Prescott Park.
Strangely enough, in my 17 years exploring Southern Oregon's hiking trails, this was the first time I'd been up Roxy Ann. Like so many others who let busyness keep them from fully enjoying their home ground, I'd failed to explore one of the best outdoor parks in my own backyard.
In hindsight, my excuses for waiting so long seem feeble. For a long time, I was discouraged by reports of vandalism at the park. I was also put off by the fact that there was a road to the top even if it was barred to the general public except for bicyclists and walkers. It made the park seem too accessible. I didn't want to be constantly aware of traffic and face piles of discarded beer and pop cans.
Fortunately, the city of Medford has made great strides in recent years to turn Prescott Park into the gem it should be. There are two gates along the road, both of which are closed at 8 p.m. at this time of year to discourage the party crowd. The roadside and trails have also been largely cleared of litter in recent years. During my hike two weeks ago, I noticed only a few cans after parking just below the upper gate.
I even found the crowd problem to be minimal by going during the workweek when the park was lightly used. I saw only a couple of people walking up as I headed down late in the day. Otherwise, I had the place to myself.
In those hours, I saw what makes the park special this time of year. On slopes just below the summit are some of the largest concentrations of camas I've seen in the Rogue Valley. This violet flower, whose roots were used as food by American Indians, loves moisture, which collects amply during the winter in a rocky, meadowy area on the south side below the crest. I also saw clusters of red Indian paintbrush and cream-colored cat's ears, named for the feline shape and furry texture of their petals. And for lovers of madrones, the Madrone Trails is aptly named. Some of the most impressive specimens on this trail are more than 200 years old.
As it winds near the top, the path also boasts good stands of Oregon white oaks that give way slowly to ponderosa pines, incense cedars and Douglas firs near the crest, where there is ample shade for resting and eating lunch.
The views from the summit are stunning. To the south and west rise Mount Ashland and the Siskiyous; to the east loom snow-capped Mount McLoughlin and the southern Cascades.
Coming down, you can find turns in the trails to take a pictures where trees mask the east Medford subdivisions at the mountain's base — making the area appear more secluded than it is. But on the day I was there, the buildings didn't bother me. In that charged spring air, the texture of the houses and fields seemed to roll into and blend with the distant mountains.
At this time of year, I always get a hankering to visit high places. I get a similar feeling in the fall, wanting get my bearings by seeing the broad sweep of nature. The difference is that in the fall, that desire comes from an impulse to store up impressions for the winter before weather limits my time in the outdoors. In the spring, that high view opens me up. Seeing nature from above as it reconstitutes itself makes me think of all the places I can hike to during the summer.
In the past I've often made my spring pilgrimage to one of the Table Rocks. Now I know that Roxy Ann gives me the same sense of promise. It may have taken me 17 years to experience its wonders, but now that I have, I'll soon be back.
Steve Dieffenbacher is a Mail Tribune page designer/copy editor. You can reach him at 776-4498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.