A little river walk in the Siskiyous

This morning before the day heated up too much we took the more spry of our two old dogs and headed out for a little walk. The border between Oregon and California is only about 15 miles from us by road; after crossing into California the roads are unpaved but not bad, and follow various river branches up in the Siskiyou Mountains.

The place where we parked was just before a bridge over a small river and then we hiked up along that river, crossing to the other side when our way was blocked. In August the water is low, but we saw plenty of winter driftwood lodged nearly ten feet above the current water level.

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View upriver, from the bridge

It was mostly shady and cool and the rocks were great: huge outcroppings of basalt that may have continued down and under the river into the very roots of the earth, and smaller boulders of other types. We thought they were great; our dog Brook found them rough going at some points but did fine, finding her own route uphill from us at some points. Crossing a river, even such a small one, was new to her; I think she was a city dog before we got her as a rescue at age 5, and in the 6 years since we have seldom gone hiking with the dogs. Dan goes goldpanning, for fun, and has forded many a river in that pursuit, so he led the way and helped Brook out when she got too close to strong currents. She was nervous, though not too nervous to stop each time in midstream for a drink.

We saw an unusual plant in a flat dry area above the river: the “Ground cone” (Boschniakia species, perhaps hookeri or strobilacea). This is a parasitic plant that forms a tuberous growth upon roots of trees or shrubs, deep underground, then sends up a long flowerstalk with this pine-cone-like flower. Only the flower appears aboveground; there are no leaves.

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There was a group of perhaps ten such cones within a circle ten feet in diameter. I looked and photographed from a distance because there was poison oak around and I’m very sensitive to it. But I got one shot that shows the dry flower petals, and the seeds.

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According to descriptions I found on the web, the petals are purple, and the plant is a prolific seed-producer–“a single plant may produce more than a third of a million seeds.” [from The Natural History of Puget Sound Country, by Arthur R. Kruckeberg, in Google Books] The ten or so cones we saw may all have been from the same plant. The flowers are said to be hermaphroditic, having both male and female parts, so they can self-fertilize.

Not far away was a very robust Douglas fir with a branch that was almost another trunk, in size. Below, within the reach of idiots with spray paint, “Felix” had immortalized his contempt for nature in bright red letters (hidden by shadow and rough bark, in the photo). If I had surprised him at his little task, could anyone blame me if I tied him to the trunk and carefully spraypainted him?

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In open areas there were madrones, which have bark that peels in gorgeous patterns and colors.

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Back at the road, we went past the car to take a look each way from the bridge. In one direction, traces of old hydraulic mining could be seen.

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In Gold Rush days, and again in the 1930’s, gold miners of all sorts were around here, from humble individual panners to gangs that tore aside mountain-sides with pumps and hoses to sort out gold from the dirt and rock. The damage to this hillside must have been done at least 70 years ago; a few trees have managed to take root but the slopes remain mostly bare and prone to further erosion or landslide. This is public land and I think hydraulic mining is restricted, but with the high price of gold we are seeing more dredgers in the rivers. They use a big suction hose to vacuum up sediment and small rocks for sorting; one person runs the hose while another often works underwater moving big rocks to get at what’s underneath. Dangerous and destructive, a double thrill.

But down below this little river carried on, looking just fine.

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It’s hypnotizing to watch the water go over the rocks. But our dog Brook felt she’d scrambled over enough rocks for one morning. As soon as she determined we were just loitering on the bridge, not continuing across it, she waited in the road between the bridge and the car, and we finally gave in and headed home.

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