Standing atop Hobart Bluff, I'm reminded of the four sacred mountains of the Navajo — Mount Taylor, the San Francisco Peaks, Mount Hesperus and Blanca Peak — marking the traditional boundaries of the tribe's territory in the Southwest.
On a clear day, this Oregon promontory about 20 miles from Ashland offers views of Mount Ashland, Mount Shasta, Pilot Rock and Mount McLoughlin. Although the four summits don't quite mark the four directions as in Navajo lore, there is solace in their containment — the world for a moment seemingly in balance.
Yet when I was at Hobart two weeks ago the weather contradicted that initial idea of harmony, giving perhaps a truer picture of the area. It was a day of stray clouds that blossomed into thunderheads. It never did rain, but the day was filled with the growing possibility of it, an unpredictability that seemed fitting for the ecology there.
The hike begins along the Pacific Crest Trail in a meadow filled with wildflowers and ends on a rocky escarpment dominated by the contorted limbs of manzanita, juniper and mountain mahogany. Just past the beginning meadow, you enter a forest of incense cedar, climbing gradually through stands of grand and Douglas fir to patches of Oregon white oaks and serviceberry bushes before making the final ascent. It's an interesting, baffling combination of vegetation, yet logical if you realize that the bluff is at the intersection of the Cascades, the high desert to the east and the Siskiyous to the west.
The trail is reached by driving 3.7 miles down Soda Mountain Road after going about 14.5 miles up the Greensprings Highway from Ashland and turning right. Eventually you'll see the trail marker on the left side of Soda Mountain Road.
I have been to the bluff several times, but this was my first hike there in spring, when the wildflowers were at their peak. Near the summit, yellow arrowleaf balsamroot and white and purple phlox were dominant. On the slopes just below, crimson columbines and Indian paintbrush held sway. In the forest before the climb, it was trilliums, larkspurs and Oregon grape. And in the meadow at the beginning, it was blue-purple camas that drew my eye.
Although popular because of its vistas and relative ease, the trail was empty except for me and my hiking companion that day. The mountain mahogany trees were still displaying small cream-colored blooms. Later, they'll put out long and elegant seedpods that curl from the branches like luminous rings.
Despite its proximity to Ashland, the views from the bluff are surprisingly wild-looking. The panorama in the direction of Mount Ashland is marred by only one visible gravel road, with the town itself hidden by hills. In the opposite direction, Mount McLoughlin can be seen rising over heavily wooded slopes, a white pyramid in the overcast sky. And in yet another direction, Mount Shasta's snowy crown stands like a ghostly image at the edge of another forested horizon.
Like rereading a good book at different stages in our lives, it's important to walk trails at different times of year to appreciate their seasonal variations. But there is another reason to do so. Nature moves to rhythms that will never be totally comprehensible to us as we bring our own preoccupations and predispositions. It can take miles of hiking to really "see" nature without "the pale cast of thought," as Shakespeare said, marring our purpose for being there, which is to sense its seemingly infinite variety one-on-one.
Because of its proximity and the amount of time it takes to navigate the trail, Hobart Bluff is an ideal place to do this. After a short walk, you can just sit and watch the day proceed slowly over the rim. Time stretches.
Given enough of it, the senses take over, and for a little while you can relax in a purer world of wind, bird calls and vistas, even as storm clouds gather. It's a centered, wordless world, where the peaks you see are singularly beautiful, and for those few hours at least, directionless.
Reach Steve Dieffenbacher at 776-4498 or firstname.lastname@example.org