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Big trees and rushing water on Big Pine Trail

Big trees and rushing water entice hikers onto the trails of Taylor Creek Canyon and Briggs Valley. You can enjoy a family picnic and take the kids on a hike to the world's tallest pine tree from the day-use area at Big Pine Campground.

To reach the Big Pine Nature Trail, exit I-5 at Merlin and follow the Merlin-Galice Road eight miles. Turn left on Briggs Valley Road (FR 25) just past Indian Mary Park. This single-lane paved road twists up through Taylor Canyon, over Lone Tree Pass and into Briggs Valley, eventually coming out on the Redwoods Highway.

Big Pine Campground is on the right at 12 miles. Along the way, you pass several access points for the 10.5-mile Taylor Creek Trail and shorter spur hikes, including the 1.8-mile Burned Timber Interpretive Trail loop, one of many trails in this area that combines meadows and cascading water with old and young trees.

The 250-foot-tall granddaddy pine tree, a 300-year-old Ponderosa with a 5.5-foot diameter trunk, is just yards from Myers Creek, where three short loop trails circle a small grove of old-growth pine and Douglas fir. This tree is somewhere near the end of its long life. The Big Pine and its fellow giants got their start when a fire exposed the forest floor to sunlight about 300 years ago. The firs, now almost as tall as the pines, grew up sheltered beneath them.

Each loop trail is just a fraction of a mile. Mostly, the trails stay in deep shade, where the ground is littered with decaying giants and an understory of tanoaks and occasional scraggly yew trees.

If you are traveling counterclockwise on the longest .7-mile loop, the one-mile Taylor Camp Trail cuts right. This trail climbs from fire-charred old growth and some towering snags to a mix of young and old trees on a logged-over ridge. You can hear the rush of Windy Creek tumbling toward Briggs Creek below you and see flashes of white water through the trees. At about .5 miles, the trail intersects a narrow gushing stream. This is a good place to rest and enjoy the moment.

For those who plan to camp or picnic, Big Pine Campground offers a meadow that's just right for an informal ballgame and posts for stringing a volleyball net. If you want more hiking, cross FR 25 to Big Pine Spur, which connects to Taylor Creek Trail in 1.2 miles. From the junction, you will be about three-quarters of a mile from the upper (south) end of Taylor Creek Trail, which starts at Sam Brown Campground in the Myers Creek drainage of Briggs Valley and travels north to Lone Tree Pass, then parallels the South Fork of Taylor Creek on its plummet to the Rogue River. Except for strategic footbridge crossings, the path stays on a bench above the creek and offers glimpses of pools and riffles on the floor of Taylor Gorge.

For a comprehensive look at the trails, campgrounds and roads in Taylor Canyon and Briggs Valley, buy a Siskiyou National Forest map at the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest office, 333 West 8th St., Medford, 857-0928, or online at www.fs.fed.us/r6/rogue-siskiyou/maps.

Mary Beth Lee is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail her at gentlejourneys@ashlandhome.net.