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MailTribune.com
  • Tales of the Table Rocks

    The iconic mesas are a can't-miss treat
  • The Table Rocks aren't just one of the most iconic places on the Rogue Valley skyline, they are a happening place, no matter the time of year.
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  • The Table Rocks aren't just one of the most iconic places on the Rogue Valley skyline, they are a happening place, no matter the time of year.
    They are a place where family outings happen, athletic endeavors unfold and first dates happen. They are also close, free and full of beauty, says Bureau of Land Management park ranger Molly Allen.
    The twin mesas, located just north of the Rogue River in Jackson County, offer trails that are accessible year round. Upper Table Rock is about 2.5 miles round-trip, and Lower Table Rock is about 2.8 miles. Both gain between 735 and 810 feet, with Lower Table Rock offering a slightly more gradual path.
    Allen has been a park ranger for eight years and has still not tired of the paths.
    "I am hiking them three or four times a week from April through the first part of June," she says. "It's a wonderful job. I love being able to show kids the uniqueness of the Table Rocks and how they can help take care of them."
    To say the mountains are extremely popular would be an understatement. Recreation planner Trish Lindaman says the rocks attract 40,000 to 50,000 people a year, and she once saw about 60 vehicles parked at the Upper Table Rock parking area.
    Each formation offers a spectacular view, although the twin, cliff-edged mesas' looks can change drastically depending on where you are standing and at what time of the year.
    The rocks are home to more than 70 species of animals and 340 species of plants, including 300 types of wildflowers. Red bells and hound's-tongue are particularly eye-catching, Allen says.
    Keep your eyes open for snakes, lizards, coyotes, black-tailed jackrabbit, deer, bobcat and a variety of birds.
    Hiking can get a little muddy at times in the fall and winter, and it's sometimes too hot in the summer. Spring offers the best of weather and rare wildflowers, which start to bloom around February and continue through June.
    Vernal pools on the plateaus fill up during rainy periods. The dwarf woolly meadowfoam — a small, white flower endemic to the rocks — grows near the pools, which also provide homes for a rare species known as the fairy shrimp — tiny, transparent crustaceans.
    After sweating it out to get to the top, hikers will be treated to views of the Siskiyous and Cascades, and bird lovers will find it a great place to watch swirling groups of turkey vultures taking advantage of the thermals.
    Just about anybody can take on the trails, Allen says, though it is best to be prepared with good shoes, proper clothing and water. Packing along some snacks will provide some energy for those running low on calories.
    "Take water, even though you think you will only be out there for a while," Lindaman advises.
    The mountains have been around for a while — a long while. They were formed by lava flows approximately 7 million years ago and shaped by erosion. The Native American Takelma tribe inhabited them for thousands of years.
    The tops of the rocks are so flat, an airstrip was built on Lower Table Rock in 1948. The landing spot is now part of a trail. "Upper" and "lower" refer to the mountains' location along the Rogue River, not their height. Upper is located upstream, while Lower is farther downstream.
    The rocks are jointly managed by The Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management. Those groups offer a series of educational hikes each spring led by botanists, biologists and others which draw nearly 5,000 people every year.
    Interpretive signs are placed at both trailheads and along the paths to provide information, and restrooms are available at both trailheads.
    Dogs, horses, fires, wildflower picking and camping are not allowed. Hikers should be aware of steep sides, watch for poison oak and snakes, and keep an eye out for runners who may be descending rapidly.
    "It is land that belongs to everyone, and we are all responsible to take care of it," Allen says. "It is important to stay on the trails and not be creating new trails to help prevent the spread of noxious weeds."
    To get to Upper Table Rock, take Table Rock Road about 5 miles from Medford and turn right on Modoc Road for about a mile to the parking area on the left.
    To reach Lower Table Rock, drive north on Table Rock Road from Medford. Turn left on Wheeler Road. The trailhead is a half mile on the left.
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