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Oregon Outdoors: Crystal Clear Cascades

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PROSPECT — Utah tourists Jamie and Jim Atkins capped off their Tuesday waterfall tour by stopping in town for some cold water when they realized they had missed one.

“Some guy asked if we had seen something called Pearsony Falls, and we said no,” Jamie Atkins says.

“He said it’s just right there, across the street.”

So they hiked a short distance to discover the wide, 15-foot cascade of crystal clear Mill Creek water gurgling over mossy rocks and framed in sunlight like a painting hung in a hospital waiting room to soothe addled nerves.

“It seemed almost magic,” Jim Atkins says. “It was the best of the group. And we literally almost drove right past it.”

Pearsony Falls may be the forgotten middle sibling of a trio of Prospect-area waterfalls spouting enough water to host its own late summer waterfall tour for Rogue Valley residents trying to beat the heat or avoid the smoke without traveling too far.

Mill Creek and Barr Creek falls are the area’s two other main draws for waterfall watchers, joining the aptly named Avenue of the Boulders as the terrestrial attractions — all a short walk from each other and accessible from the Prospect State Scenic Viewpoint parking lot off Mill Creek Drive just outside of Prospect.

Just a short jaunt up Mill Creek Drive toward town is a similar yet unsigned paved parking lot for access to Pearsony Falls as well as the upper end of the Avenue of the Boulders along the Rogue River just upstream of the Rogue River Gorge.

Collectively, they are quintessential Western Oregon — large Douglas fir trees, cool and clear water as well as a basalt canyon that represents remnants of the region’s ecological identity in the exploding of Mount Mazama to eventually create Crater Lake.

At just a hair short of an hour’s drive from Medford, this foursome offer a quick respite from the valley without a heavy investment in time or money.

The most visited of these falls is Mill Creek Falls, where the creek cascades into the Rogue as if it were shot out of the forest on the east side of the Rogue Gorge.

Water plunges 173 feet to the river, and most of the viewing is from a 100-foot bluff on the river’s west side, so the afternoon sun highlights the tumbling water for plenty of jpeg moments.

The trail from the parking lot to the falls overlook is less than a half-mile with an elevation drop of less than 200 feet, so it’s plenty accessible for those who don’t cast themselves as hikers.

More savvy falls-viewers can find the side trail that leads down to the river for a look up at the falls and dip their feet in water flowing through a collapsed Mount Mazama lava tube.

About a quarter-mile farther down the trail is Barr Creek Falls, a smaller rivulet that gushes out of the forest and dribbles 240 feet down a basalt gorge wall to a small Rogue pool below.

It is best viewed from a rock outcropping that sits viewers like guests at an outdoor amphitheater watching nature’s take on gravity play out.

Both Mill Creek and Barr Creek have roles in local history.

Mill Creek was named for a water-powered mill built along the creek in the 1870s when Prospect was born. Barr Creek was originally called Bar Creek and named for cattle bars next to the waterfall to keep cattle from straying into the water.

Hikers can head back up the trail and continue upriver to find one of the signature pieces of upper Rogue geotourism in the Avenue of the Boulders.

This section near the top of the gorge is where the Rogue gurgles around a series of massive, house-sized basalt boulders intertwined with soft summer pools and even small sandy beaches.

When Mount Mazama exploded violently 7,700 years ago, it tossed large boulders as far away as Canada. These traveled about 20 miles to the Rogue and deposited themselves there.

Historically, this was the end of the watery road for the Rogue’s migrating wild salmon and steelhead, because the waters are impenetrable to upstream swimmers. However, when Lost Creek dam was closed post-construction in 1977, it blocked all upstream passage there.

A short drive up Mill Creek Drive yields another impressive viewing from a Rogue River bridge just outside of Prospect.

That’s where the Atkins took one last and brief view of the Avenue from up high, wondering aloud why others weren’t there to share this.

“You guys are lucky to have this in your backyard,” Jamie Atkins says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

A family explores the Avenue of the Boulders along the upper Rogue River near Prospect Sunday morning. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Mill Creek Falls was named for a water-powered mill built along the creek in the 1870s. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune