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Enjoy coolness, plant diversity on Limpy Creek Tr

Record-breaking heat early this week had hikers thinking of cool mountain trails, but they'll have to content themselves with lower-elevation routes until deep winter snows melt.

A short trail near Grants Pass gives visitors a taste of the plant diversity that attracts botanists to Southern Oregon, but you don't need a Ph.D. to enjoy the Limpy Creek Trail. Waterfall lovers will find a 25-foot cascade that cools the air on hot days. Tree lovers will enjoy looking at 17 species of trees in the area. People who like to look at plants will be able identify six species of ferns.

This mostly flat, one-mile trail is a perfect place to take a visitor who wants to see a little bit of Southern Oregon outdoors but may not have the strength or endurance for a daylong hike on steep mountain trails. The trail has been covered with gravel where it crosses damp places, so your city friends can walk there without fear of muddying their shoes.

The soil around Limpy Creek makes it hospitable to a wide variety of unusual plants. Limpy Creek lies on a ridge of serpentine, a mineral rich in magnesium and low in calcium.

Many plants can't handle the calcium-poor soil, but those that have adapted to the generous amount of magnesium thrive.

Many of these same plants thrive in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, the remote mountainous area west of Grants Pass. You can see them on this trail without breaking a sweat or driving miles of winding backcountry roads.

Along the trail there are interpretive signs that explain how the plants have evolved to tolerate the serpentine soils, and benches to encourage people to stop and look at the water or catch a view.

To get to Limpy Creek, take Interstate 5 north to Grants Pass, then head west on Highway 199, toward Crescent City and the redwoods. Just after Highway 199 crosses the Applegate River, turn right on Riverbanks Road and continue about three miles to Limpy Creek Road. Turn left on Limpy Creek Road and follow it about three miles to the trailhead.

Along the trail you'll see everything from common trees such as big-leaf and vine maples to relatively rare conifers such as Port Orford cedar and Jeffrey pine.

Port Orford cedar grows mostly in a narrow band along the coast and is near the extreme eastern end of its range at Limpy Creek.

Jeffrey pine is a close cousin of ponderosa pine and looks quite similar, but Jeffrey needles tend to stay on the trees longer, giving the trees a denser crown. Bark of mature Jeffrey pines often smells like vanilla or pineapple, and their cones tend to be larger than those of ponderosa pines.

Halfway through the trail, there's a waterfall that should still be running noisily after one of the wettest winters in recent memory. A meadow near the waterfall makes a good spot to enjoy lunch, or just appreciate the simple gift of being alive.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com