It was once said of naturalist and hiker extraordinaire John Muir that he "could take a crust of bread and a pinch of tea and go like a cat over cliff and crag, a day's trip no mere athlete could follow."
A man of boundless spirit and energy, Muir would have made quick work of a trail within the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest that evokes his memory. The Muir Creek Trail earns a Forest Service rating of easy, and for the most part it is. It occasionally rises steeply to climb a hump in the woods, but it's otherwise flat.
If Muir were alive today, he would probably use this trail merely as a run-up to the Buck Canyon Trail, popular with wilderness backpackers, with which it connects. But for those who just want to spend a few hours in nature, without much strain on their leg muscles, this trail is a delight in itself.
Beginning near the confluence of Muir Creek and the upper Rogue River, it cuts immediately away from the creek and won't come close to it again for a mile or so. About three miles from the trailhead, the creek runs down the face of a rocky decline, forming Muir Creek Falls, a good destination for your hike.
On the way there, you'll come to pretty views of mountain meadows and pass through a classic Northwest forest of Douglas fir, western white pine and western hemlock.
If you're hiking with kids, you could allow them to splash through one of the smaller creeks that cross the trail, as a reward for enduring the uphill stretches. Adults, on the other hand, may want to skip across logs and rocks to keep their hiking boots dry.
Fallen trees barricade the trail now and then, forcing a decision. Shimmy over, crawl under or bushwhack around them?
There are plenty of gargantuan trees — Douglas fir, especially — still standing, awaiting a hug. As Muir put it, "Happy the man to whom every tree is a friend — who loves them, sympathizes with them ... while we rejoice with and feel the beauty and strength of their every attitude and gesture."
Once the trail reunites with Muir Creek, you'll have your pick of improvised paths through the underbrush that lead to the gorgeous, crystal-clear stream. No one — not even Muir in one of his meditative reveries — could keep his bare feet immersed in these frigid waters for longer than a minute or two.
Wearing insulated boots, I have fly-fished the creek for cutthroat trout, mini-lunkers in the six-inch range. Though these fish would satisfy nobody's notion of big game, they are wild at least, and not hatchery-bred.
Muir was acquainted with Southern Oregon, at first from afar. In his account of "A Perilous Night Spent on Mount Shasta" in 1875, he reports gazing at "many a snow-laden peak far north in Oregon."
When he came to Oregon for the first time, in 1879, he did not step foot in the southern part of the state. After sailing from San Francisco to Seattle, he did some wilderness exploring and then traveled to Portland, where his lectures were a big hit with standing-room-only crowds.
It was the urge to see Crater Lake that finally drew him to our area. In 1896, he camped two nights there. Upon leaving this "one grand wonder of the region," it's likely that he boated down the Rogue River, guided by members of a local mountaineering club, on his way to the redwoods in Northern California.
It's nice to think that Muir's route took him past the creek that would one day bear his name. But National Park Service historian Steve Mark doubts that it did.
"As far as I know, he never saw this creek," says Mark, who has given talks at Crater Lake about Muir's visits there. (Muir returned in 1908.)
Mark cites the book "From Abbott Butte to Zimmerman Burn: A Place-Name Gazetteer of the Rogue River National Forest" by Jeff LaLande. The entry for Muir Creek reads: "This name was adopted officially in 1916; it may commemorate John Muir, the famous naturalist who accompanied Gifford Pinchot and others to view Crater Lake in the 1890s, but more likely honors a local resident."
Two other go-to sources on such matters, the "Oregon Blue Book" and "Oregon Geographic Names," make no reference to this Muir Creek, though the latter does list a creek of the same name in Wallowa County, named after a man who prospected there.
In the absence of definitive information, what's the harm in believing that there is a connection between the great conservationist and the creek/trail in our own backyard?
Directions to Muir Creek Trail: Take Highway 62 toward Crater Lake, proceeding on Highway 230 at the junction north of Union Creek. About a half-mile past milepost 10, the trailhead will be on the left, just before the bridge. If you cross the bridge, you've missed it.
Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.