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Trails less traveled

The latest hiking book focused on Southern Oregon is called "Hiking Oregon & California's Wild Rivers Country," and it stands out from several other recent offerings in two important ways.

First, Illinois Valley author Justin Rohde has chosen the wild Illinois, Chetco and Smith rivers as his territory, a region that features many trails less traveled, several on U.S. Forest Service or BLM land that you won't find on official maps or in other guides.

Second, Rohde has made use of his professional background in geographic information systems to create maps for the 21st century. While he hiked these trails, he used a GPS unit not only to superimpose the trails on a topo map, but to create elevation profiles, as well.

This book, like many other hiking guides, rates trails as "easy," "moderate" or "difficult/strenuous." For the experienced hiker, however, the elevation profile serves as a more objective and visual description of the degree of difficulty.

"This book is tiered to experienced hikers," says Rohde. "It's for people who can navigate some level of backcountry trail. You'll find that we have a number of more primitive trails here in the Illinois Valley."

When Rohde says "primitive trails," he points to several routes that may have downed logs across them, encroaching brush or plenty of rocks. He knows these trails intimately, because he has helped clear several of them, either by himself or as part of a volunteer trail crew with the Siskiyou Mountain Club.

Each of the 45 hiking trips in this book uses an easy-to-follow format. A summary box at the top of the page lists the length, total ascent and difficulty of the hike; land ownership, fee (if applicable), season(s) of access, dogs permitted (Y/N), nearest town, and trail highlights. This is followed, as you'd expect, by directions to the trailhead. Next is a detailed listing of the trail highlights and a section on the trail's natural history.

"Botanical diversity is the number one characteristic that sets our area apart from the rest of Oregon," Rohde explains. "If you're into rare plant associations, rare plants, conifer diversity, this is the place to be."

Many of these trails, says Rohde, showcase this diversity.

In the trail descriptions, you'll learn where to go to see the largest Brewer spruce in Oregon, a rare stand of old-growth Port Orford cedar, bog orchids, and the endemic Stadler oak. For the geologically inclined, several trail descriptions point to unusual rock strata. You'll even read about the best places to watch spawning salmon and steelhead.

Human history, too, is showcased on many of these trails.

"The Illinois Valley is the center of the old gold-rush days," says Rohde. "Some of these trails are old gold-mining trails — or even old Indian trading routes."

The Upper Althouse Creek Trail features remnants of the area's first telephone line strung on trees, leading away from an old gold-mining boomtown. The Osgood Ditch Trail parallels one of the region's oldest mining ditches. You'll see an old homestead site on the Illinois River Trail. The Elk Camp Ridge Trail follows what may once have been a Native American travel corridor. These examples just scratch the surface of the area's rich history that you'll find showcased on the trails covered in this hiking guide.

Off all the routes covered here, two brand new trails qualify as hidden gems, according to Rohde.

The Little Illinois Falls Trail, between the towns of Kerby and Selma, extends from the Little Illinois Falls Trailhead to the Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Wayside

"It uses a historic ditch line, and it's a great hike, accessible year-round."

His other vote goes to the Westside Trail, which starts at the Illinois River Forks State Park.

"It's an entire trail system made up of between six and eight miles of new trails," says Rohde. "They're easy to navigate, and it's a great family hike."

The hikes are grouped into six regions: Oregon Caves and the Kerby Peak area, Red Buttes Wilderness, Siskiyou Wilderness and Takilma area, Smith River National Recreation Area, southern Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and northern Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The book ends with highlights of the 352-mile Bigfoot Trail in the southern Klamath Mountains.

Packed into the 126 pages of this guide are adventures for hikers of all levels of experience and fitness. "Hiking Oregon & California's Wild Rivers Country" is available from Backcountry Press (http://backcountrypress.com/Wild-Rivers) and at local bookstores for $19.95, and as an ebook for $14.95.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Email him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org

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Part of the Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area is seen from the Mud Springs Trail. Photo by Justin Rohde.
This view looks north into the Illinois Valley from the Historic Sanger Peak Lookout Trail. Photo by Justin Rohde.