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  • Waltzing through the Takelma Gorge

    Upper Rogue River trail reveals wildlife and different angles on the spectacular
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  • There was a brown blur and the scrabble of something furry on my bare foot. Yaugh! It vanished as quickly as it had come, then there was just the river's burble mocking my nervous laugh.
    I had been sitting on a log that lay across a patch of sand and stretched into the river below the Takelma Gorge. The mystery mammal — I'd like to think it was a baby river otter (but it was more likely a woodrat) — was one more critter on a fauna-filled day.
    There was the doe that bounded off the trail into mysterious silence in front of me, the American dipper patrolling his stretch of river upstream from the gorge, the red-faced turkey vultures dining on the deer carcass near the trailhead.
    You visit Takelma Gorge for its beauty, not necessarily for the wildlife. But you never know what you're going to get.
    Almost alone among my trail-enthusiast friends, I had somehow never gotten around to this easy (and easy to get to) trail and its centerpiece, the whitewater rushing through a dark crack in the Earth.
    Drive north on Highway 62 and turn left on the well marked road to Woodruff Bridge a little past milepost 51. You can park just off the road or find a spur to a turnaround and more parking. There's a lovely little double waterfall at the bridge and a trail that heads upstream, but the gorge is downstream on Upper Rogue River Trail No. 1034.
    The path winds through huge, old Douglas fir and almost immediately skirts the river's edge. Five-petaled white anemones are abundant here and easy to identify, even for a botanizing tyro like me. Count the petals.
    The first mile or so is gentle, green and easy, with occasional spurs down to little gravel beaches that dot the riverbank. Don't forget the mosquito repellent. Anopheles whatever and her friends need only a little bit of standing water to breed, and they are lurking in the trail's low spots where the greenery crowds the trail, and the increase in humidity is palpable.
    The river is wide and placid here, if fairly swift. If you're carrying an iPod, any Strauss waltz is appropriate.
    I was surprised to hear the "zeet-zeet-zeet" that introduces the American dipper, because the little, gray birds are usually found near more turbulent water. But I walked down to the river, and there he was, a wren-looking little guy that flew low over the water and lit on a protruding snag just downstream.
    Often called the "water ouzel," the dipper is found throughout the mountains of the American West, where they have a unique way of making a living. They simply walk along the bottom of the water gobbling up the bugs and larvae they find. I assume this one has a rushing stretch of river he works above or below this wide place.
    You come to the first Takelma Gorge viewpoint, marked by a little wooden sign on a tree, at a point Bill Sullivan ("100 Hikes in Southern Oregon") says is 1.6 miles from the trailhead.
    The gorge is a big crack in the lava spewed by Mount Mazama thousands of years ago. Whitewater roars down the canyon, hooks a sharp right around a prominent bluff and cascades over a series of falls through a narrow canyon.
    Turn off the Strauss, and cue up Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," one of the more dissonant parts.
    For the next half-mile or so the trail winds through the rocks and here and there offers viewpoints, each promising a different look at spectacular. Where the forest runs to the edge of the abyss, moisture drips into the blackness and falls here and there into shafts of sunlight where it sparkles like jewels.
    Beyond this section is the little beach where I took a quick dip and had my foot tickled. If you go farther, 4.6 miles from the trail head, you come to River Bridge, where there's a campground and a good place to leave a shuttle car if have a partner and want to make it a one-way trip. I didn't, and turned back happy.
    Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.
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