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  • Southern exposure

    New book features best hikes of Southern Oregon
  • The best part of writing a book about Southern Oregon is the chance to feature those wonderful places few people have heard of, let alone visited.
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    • Honorable Mention
      Watson and Toketee falls: These two kings of the North Umpqua Canyon, each spectacular in their own way, are just a stone's throw from each other along Highway 138 east of Roseburg. Watson Falls is...
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      Honorable Mention
      Watson and Toketee falls: These two kings of the North Umpqua Canyon, each spectacular in their own way, are just a stone's throw from each other along Highway 138 east of Roseburg. Watson Falls is the third-tallest waterfall in Oregon at 272 feet, and Toketee Falls might be the most unique, blasting its way into a bowl of columnar basalt down a double-tiered, 120-foot cascade.

      Crack In The Ground: In the Christmas Valley desert, a trail runs along the bottom of an exquisite two-mile-long crack in an immense field of lava rock. The hike into this geologic oddity — the crack is up to 70 feet deep — is short but memorable, taking hikers from sagebrush desert into an environment 20 degrees cooler and greener, home to Ponderosa and western juniper along with beautiful shapes and patterns in the basaltic lava.
  • The best part of writing a book about Southern Oregon is the chance to feature those wonderful places few people have heard of, let alone visited.
    Gearhart Mountain and the Red Buttes Wilderness, Devil's Punchbowl and Magic Canyon, Vulcan Lake, Puck Lake and Wildhorse Lake — all offer spectacular beauty yet resonate with only a tiny fraction of Oregon's populace.
    To bring the state's southern half to life was the goal for Art Bernstein and me when we decided to write "Hiking Southern Oregon," a just-published Falcon Guide that features everything from the high desert mountains of the southeast to redwood forests of the coast (and, yes, we drop just a touch into Northern California).
    The two of us have been writing about Southern Oregon for a combined three decades. Bernstein, author of 20 books, published his first hiking guide in 1986, back before it was cool. As a journalist, I stumbled into outdoor writing at the Grants Pass Daily Courier, where I worked for five years.
    In this project, we brought all of our experience together and, after a few million emails, finally agreed on 100 of our favorite hikes (a process about as easy as picking a favorite child).
    The result, after three years of hiking, mapping, writing and lots of driving, is a mixture of kid-friendly journeys and challenging adventures.
    While popular spots such as Crater Lake and the Oregon Caves are highlighted, it's those remote pockets of the Southern Cascades, Siskiyous and Steens that we hope make the book stand out. Each hike has a color map, photos, mile-by-mile directions and GPS coordinates to help reach places not always easy to find.
    To give you an idea of what we're talking about — and the incredible diversity of this region — here's our top 10 favorite hikes.
    (The book is available for online purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Falcon Guides).
    The namesake peaks of the Red Buttes Wilderness might be the most antisocial mountains in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
    Located almost directly atop the border between the two states — and just south of Applegate Reservoir — these brilliant, reddish-orange humps of the Siskiyou Range are so remote they've largely escaped local consciousness.
    A moderate hike of 5 to 10 miles round-trip brings you into the realm of this peridotite rock that originally formed in the ocean floor millions of years ago — you actually can see fossilized sea shells — on a stunning stretch of Pacific Crest Trail that also passes Echo Lake, Lily Pad Lake and offers views of Mount Shasta.
    The Star Trek-themed name might well have been inspired by the appearance that this lake inhabits a different planet.
    Emerald green and sitting in a phantasmal basin of buff-orange serpentine bedrock, Vulcan Lake is surrounded by a virtual desert of stunted and bizarre trees in one of the most unique landscapes you're likely to find.
    Located within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness — and still scarred by the 2002 Biscuit fire — the trailhead sits at the end of a brutal washboard road northeast of Brookings. The hike is a mere 2.8 miles round-trip.
    The tallest mountain in Crater Lake National Park provides a view almost beyond imagination, taking in the entire sweep of the United States' deepest lake.
    And the hike, despite reaching a summit of 8,929 feet, isn't bad at 4.4 miles round-trip with 1,245 feet of climb. The trail traverses ash, pumice and loose gravel before climbing to a lookout at the top. Views extend not only across the exploded volcano, but also across Cascades peaks from the Three Sisters (north) to Mount Shasta (south).
    Yes, yes, there's no arguing that Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is located squarely in California.
    But at less than 30 miles south of the state line — and with easy access via Highway 199 south of Grants Pass and Cave Junction — why not include a collection of trails among the world's tallest trees?
    The best route in this rich old-growth forest is Boy Scout Tree Trail, a 5.5-mile trek of easy to moderate difficulty off Howland Hill Road, that weaves through an almost nonstop collection of trees the size of Saturn rockets.
    Oddball geology, high-desert features and a truly stunning cliff-walled meadow make this trail into the heart of Gearhart Mountain Wilderness one of Oregon's hidden treasures.
    The trail, east of Klamath Falls, traverses a forest of sagebrush, pine and aspen, but the rocks are the main attraction. Formations of ancient lava stand in layered towers and odd shapes along a trail that's good for either a day hike or backpacking trip.
    The trail runs less than 2 miles round-trip to the first highlight — rock towers known as the Palisades — or a total of 11 miles to a spectacular cliff-walled meadow.
    The rarefied heights of Southwest Oregon's tallest mountain is within reach on a trail that goes within striking distance of its 9,495-foot summit.
    The hike is strenuous, climbing 3,777 feet, but with six to eight hours, many people in good shape can reach the top of Mount McLoughlin.
    The trail, which begins just off Highway 140 between White City and Klamath Falls, climbs within 1 mile of the summit. The final section is a rock-hop and scramble to the summit.
    A spectacular tour of the Sky Lakes Wilderness, this loop winds over alpine ridges and down into blue pools of the Seven Lakes Basin.
    Best explored in late August and September, this jewel of the Southern Cascades can be explored as a 10- to 14-mile hike or (better yet) backpacking trip.
    The wilderness is home to more than 200 small lakes, all tucked between Crater Lake and Mount McLoughlin. This hike can begin at the Seven Lakes Trailhead or Sevenmile Trailhead.
    A cathedral of silver-gray stone encircles a small emerald lake high in the Siskiyou Wilderness in an eerie basin polished almost bare by glaciers.
    The scenic highlight of a wilderness area between Grants Pass and Crescent City, Calif., the journey to Devil's Punchbowl requires a challenging 9.6-mile round-trip with 2,300 feet of climb (which comes all at once on a series of very steep switchbacks).
    Reaching the punchbowl means navigating a barren landscape marked by cairns where it feels as though you're hiking into the belly of the mountain. Spend the night here during a full moon on a clear night, and the basin seems to almost glow.
    In the depths of the Rogue River canyon, there's a sense of being swallowed by a place altogether separate from the outside world.
    The mountains encase the valley in thousand-foot walls, and the river glides deep and green past wildlife, wildflowers, sandy beaches, deep forest and a civilization of rustic lodges built beginning in the 1930s.
    A full 40 miles one-way from Grave Creek boat launch (near Grants Pass) to Foster Bar (near Gold Beach), the trail can be enjoyed via two easy hikes or one epic backpacking adventure. Hikes to Rainie Falls, or from Marial to Paradise Lodge, are short and sweet, 3.4 and 6.6 miles round-trip, respectively.
    A multicolored basin perched a vertical mile above the Alvord Desert showcases one of the most incredible sights in the Pacific Northwest: Wildhorse Lake.
    Located just below Steens Mountain's 9,734-foot summit, this day-hike scrambles down a zig-zag trail into a basin filled with wildflowers in a valley that seems to hang in the sky.
    At 2.6 miles round-trip and 1,100 feet of climb, the hike is easy to moderate, but the high elevation, exposure and otherworldly feeling creates an experience well beyond the average day-hike experience.
    While you're here, consider a short hike to Steens summit and explore Big Indian, Little Blitzen and Pike Creek canyons (all featured in the book).
    Statesman Journal writer Zach Urness can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-399-6801.
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