Hike back in History

Table Rocks' abundant wildlife dates back to when lava covered the Rogue Valley
Wildflowers were beginning to bloom on the top of Lower Table Rock Tuesday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

If you have a comfortable pair of hiking shoes, Jad D'Allura would like to lead you on a hike late Sunday morning.

But you'd better pack a lunch and bring something to drink. While it'll be just a short hike, he will be taking you back some seven million years to a time when lava flowed in the Rogue Valley.

The hike schedule includes:

April 2, 7:30 p.m., Lower Table Rock: Steve Godwin, BLM wildlife biologist, will listen for the sounds of night creatures such as pygmy owls, great horned owls and screech owls. Bring a flashlight. Participation is limited to 20.

April 3, 10 a.m., Upper Table Rock: SOU geology professor Jad D'Allura will talk about the formation of the Table Rocks and their unique geological features.

April 9, 10:30 a.m., Upper Table Rock: Barbara Mumblo, botanist with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, will lead a wildflower hike. Participation is limited to 25 people.

April 9, 10 a.m., Lower Table Rock: Retired archaeologist and historian Jeff Lalande will talk about the role of the Table Rocks in the culture and legends of the Takelma Indians.

April 10, 10 a.m., Upper Table Rock: Michael Parker, SOU biology professor and herpetologist, explores the life and times of reptiles and amphibians. Participation is limited to 20.

April 16, 9 a.m., Upper Table Rock: Michael Altman, herbalist and certified nutritionist at SOU, identifies plant species and discusses their medicinal uses.

April 17, 10 a.m., Lower Table Rock: Molly Morrison with The Nature Conservancy and the BLM's Bucky Dennerlein talk about ecological and conservation efforts on the Table Rocks.

April 23, 8 a.m., Lower Table Rock: Harry Fuller, a Klamath Bird Observatory field-trip leader, gives an expert's view of birds and their habitat. Bring binoculars. Participation is limited to 15.

April 30, 10 a.m., Upper Table Rock: Nature photographer David Sherman will help shooters discover winning shots of flora and fauna.

May 1, 10 a.m., Lower Table Rock: Robert Kentta, cultural resources director and elected official of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, will discuss the history and culture of ancestral tribes.

May 7, 10 a.m., Lower Table Rock: BLM wildlife biologist Jeff Stephens leads a trek looking for slithery, furry and feathered inhabitants. Joining him will be Mike Laurance, a BLM environmental interpreter.

May 8, 10 a.m., Upper Table Rock: Heather Armstrong, a BLM environmental interpreter, will lead a family hike on Mother's Day.

May 14, 10 a.m., Upper Table Rock: BLM botanist Marcia Wineteer looks for wild plants and wildflowers.

May 15, 10 a.m., Lower Table Rock: SOU biology professor and entomologist Peter Schroeder searches out six- and eight-legged creatures. Participation is limited to 20.

May 21, 8 p.m., Lower Table Rock: BLM wildlife biologist Tony Kerwin talks about bats — from their habitats to the threats they face. Bring a flashlight. Participation is limited to 20.

May 22, 12:30 p.m., Upper Table Rock: Watercolorist and retired teacher Sylvia Miller leads a nature-sketching excursion. Bring a sketchbook, sketching pens and pencils, and a portable watercolor set. Participation is limited to 15.

For more information on the hikes, check out www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/tablerock/index.php or www.nature.org/oregon/preserves.

A geology professor at Southern Oregon University, D'Allura will lead a group onto Upper Table Rock as part of the popular educational walks on Upper and Lower Table Rocks offered each spring by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and The Nature Conservancy.

The weekend hikes, which begin Saturday and continue through May, will be led by experts on topics ranging from botany to birds and wildflowers to wildlife.

Because attendance is limited and hikes generally fill up, you may want to register quickly, suggested Molly Allen, environmental education specialist with BLM's Medford District.

"These are popular hikes because they are so close to Medford and the flat-top mesas are pretty unique here," she said, noting that about 40,000 people hike the Table Rocks each year.

Research by the Oregon Department of Geology indicates the twin mesas are what remain from an eruption of Olson Mountain, an extinct shield volcano immediately east of what is now Lost Creek Reservoir. Scientists explain that a shield volcano spreads lava across the ground rather than spewing it out of a cone. The Table Rocks are the last remnants of lava that once coated that portion of the valley floor, they conclude.

Growing on the Table Rocks are more than 75 species of wildflowers, including the dwarf woolly meadowfoam, a plant found only in this area, Allen said.

"The weather has been kind of cool, but with the forecast in the 70s later this week, a lot of the wildflowers are already up — they are just waiting for the sun to come out to bloom," she said.

In addition to a myriad of wildflowers, there are also vernal pools teeming with life, various creatures to see along the way and a spectacular view of the Rogue Valley.

The free hikes are three to five miles long on a moderate grade and last three to five hours. No drinking water is available. Restrooms are located at both trailheads. Dogs are not allowed on the trails. To reserve a space on a hike, call 541-618-2200.

BLM owns 1,280 acres on the Table Rocks, which were designated as areas of critical environmental concern in 1984. The Nature Conservancy established a nature preserve at Lower Table Rock 30 years ago and acquired 1,710 acres adjacent to BLM lands in 2009. A cooperative management plan covering about 4,870 acres of Table Rock land is being fashioned by the agency and the group.

To that end, students from the Southern Oregon University Research Center will conduct surveys on the trails of the Table Rocks over the next three months to gather information from visitors about what they enjoy about them and suggestions for improvements.

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