The Cook and Green Trail and Some Really Weird Trees… Part I

The way madrone trees shed their bark is strange enough without having a pair of eyes staring out at you. We found this specimen along the lower end of the Cook and Green Trail.


Today’s post will take you along with Peggy and me on our latest backpacking adventure. This time, the trailhead was a mere 30 minutes from our house! The Cook and Green Trail follows Cook and Green Creek up to Cook and Green Pass where it connects into the Pacific Crest Trail, the PCT. (That’s a lot of Cook and Green; they were gold miners who worked the area in the 1870s and 80s.) Starting at the pass, we could have made a right turn and hiked to Mexico or a left turn and hiked to Canada. Another time. (grin)

Peggy points out a PCT marker showing the trail south. Had we followed it, we could have been to Mexico in a thousand miles.

We were greeted by a pair of signs at the Cook and Green trailhead, which I found amusing. Both were products of the US Forest Service. I don’t think the hand on the first poster is that of America’s preeminent spokesperson for fire prevention, Smokey the Bear; I think it belongs to Bigfoot! The second sign warned us about bears. Serious stuff.

Did this sign use Bigfoot to emphasize fire prevention? Or is it a clawless Smokey? It’s puzzling.

It’s smart to be aware of bears when backpacking, but you should not let them keep you out of the woods.

I am a veteran of the backcountry of Yosemite, where the bears actually run a school on how to steal backpacker’s food. (Fake news, but just barely.) So I wasn’t too worried about the bears of the Rogue River and Klamath National Forests. Still, the poster is worth reviewing. Avoid confrontation: That’s always sage advice when you are dealing with a grumpy animal that can outrun you, outweighs you, and comes with long claws and sharp teeth. You don’t want to surprise them and you don’t want to get between a mother and her cubs. That having been said, bears aren’t particularly interested in eating people.  If they were, they would move into towns where there are lots of people to eat. Mainly, they prefer to avoid humans, like most sensible wild animals.

Your food? Well, that’s a horse of a different color, or at least a bear that has hung out around careless people. When I see bear poop that includes bits and pieces of the plastic used to package  freeze-dried backpackers’ food, I know to be on the lookout. BTW, a Yosemite bear would laugh at the advice to hang your food high in a tree. Guess what, bears climb trees. And if mama bear can’t climb a tree in Yosemite to retrieve your chow, she sends her babies up. The advice in Yosemite used to be that your food bag had to be at least nine feet off of the ground and nine feet away from the trunk, with no ropes hanging down! I’ve watched bears play tether ball with food that wasn’t hung high enough. Now the park rangers want you to carry plastic bear-proof barrels. I’ve never worried much about bears when away from Yosemite. Still, care is called for.

It’s good advice about dogs. Way back in history, I was out backpacking with my first father-in-law’s Springer Spaniel, Sparky, and came across a bear. Sparky jumped behind me and then stuck her head out between my legs and started barking vociferously. The bear stopped and growled before ambling on. I told Sparky that if the bear had charged I would have picked her up and tossed her out in front of me.

The Cook Green Trail begins its journey through a burned-out area. In 2012, we watched from our home as huge billows of smoke climbed above the forest and a fleet of helicopters used large buckets to dip water out of Applegate Reservoir, one mile above our home, to fight the Fort Complex fire. It was only a few miles away, and we watched nervously. Today, new growth is returning to the area as nature performs one of her miracles.

This photo captures the area where the Fort Complex Fire stopped burning along the Cook and Green Trail. It’s a good example of burned and non burned forest. On the burned side, the green near the ground shows where the forest is beginning to recover.

While the hike through the burned-out area was interesting, our fun began on the other side. Peggy came across a mile marker that she felt needed to be decorated, a madrone tree featured eyes peering out from its strange, peeling bark, several oak trees were dressed in moss, tree roots created weird sculptures, and the Mother of All Roots stood higher than me.

Someone, probably the forest service, had placed mile markers along the first section of the Cook and Green Trail. Peggy decided to decorate the marker by adding sugar pine cones beside the marker and rocks in front.

I thought these moss-covered live oaks were quite unique.

This is a close up of the tree moss.

We also found this interesting growth. At first I thought it was stag horn moss but it may be a lichen.

Tree roots can create fun sculptures. I’m not sure I would want to meet up with this one on a dark night!

More ordinary, but still interesting, this root had taken a detour around a rock and captured it.

And here we have the Mother of All Roots!

I stood next to it just before the root connected to the trunk to provide perspective. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

NEXT BLOG: We hike on to No-see-um camp, which turns out to be closer to a sacred grove than a bug infested swamp, and hike up to Cook Green Pass where we find PCT through hikers and mountain lion sign.


38 thoughts on “The Cook and Green Trail and Some Really Weird Trees… Part I

  1. I have a few bear stories to tell from my days living in the Yukon and cooking in wilderness camps, but for all that nothing too terrible ever happened I never did get comfortable hiking in the Canadian wilderness because of the bears. It didn’t stop me, but I’m always a bit on edge. I’d much rather hike in Oz – snakes and spiders don’t bother me, or better still NZ where’s there’s nothing scary at all 🙂

    • I’ll bet cooking in the Yukon enticed a few bears in, Alison. 🙂 I certainly worried more in Alaska about the bears than I did in the Sierra’s. But mainly it made me more aware. It actually gave an edge to the wilderness that I liked. It put the wild back in. But having said that, what’s not to love about hiking in New Zealand! 🙂 –Curt

  2. From my comfortable perspective in suburban England, your travel accounts have all the exoticism of – I don’t know – Jack London or Fenimore Cooper. With modern perspective and humour. Keep ’em coming, Curt!

    • You and Peggy as well. Except there was no room! The big trees on our property are Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. No big cones. Glad you are enjoying the comments on nature. I’m a ‘nature boy’ at heart.

  3. Alaska Trail Guide: Do you know the difference between a false bear charge and a real one?
    Me: No, what is it?
    Alaska Guide: During a real charge, the bear doesn’t stop – best to avoid charges altogether.

  4. Today’s treasures were all those tree close-ups! The peeling bark, the eyes, the lichens, and the moss were like abstract art, and the scary “creatures” made out of roots and vines would have scared the living daylights out of me. I have whistled my way though any woods known to have bears, and they must not like my tunes because I have yet to see one on the trail!

    • Whistling your way through woods and not seeing any bears. Not a bad idea, Lex. They hear you coming and get out of the way. Around here they almost knock on our door. 🙂 I had a lot of fun with the trees. Roots, I’ve discovered, are great for making fantastical creatures. So I look out for them. The moss fascinated me. Thanks. –Curt

  5. The photos are like gnarled magic. As to the lay down and play dead it is wise advice. I don’t know if I could do it but I hope so should the tactic ever be needed.

    • Gnarled magic… I like that Sue. I’ve also heard that a sharp whack on the nose discourages them. I know for a fact that screams work from the time I woke up with one standing on me. 🙂 –Curt

      • Every time I think of your experience my hands sweat. I can tell you I would be screaming, if I hadn’t had a cardiac arrest from the shock of it.

      • Fortunately, it was a small bear, Sue. I think it was smelling my breath to see what I had eaten for dinner. I can’t think of why else it’s snout was next to mine. 🙂 –Curt

  6. Love the bark photos. Really stunning.
    My daughter and her boyfriend encountered a bear while hiking in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. She was very scared!
    I saw a few in Yosemite but they never put me in any danger as they were too far or I was in my car driving.
    They are amazing creatures but they are not pets for sure.
    Glad to read that you enjoyed your hike. Pretty cool that it is so close to your home.

    • Thanks!
      I’m careful around bears but rarely frightened by them, especially black bears in the lower 48. Grizzlies are different.
      Over the years I’ve had several encounters, a few up-close and personal, but I’m still here! 🙂 –Curt

  7. The moss-covered live oaks were my favorite. Most amusing was the fact that I didn’t even blink when I read “Starting at the pass, we could have made a right turn and hiked to Mexico or a left turn and hiked to Canada.” That’s the same lure as those wonderful interstate signs. There’s one where a Texas state highway crosses I-20 and the sign says Atlanta. Decisions, decisions!

  8. Shame on WordPress! I’m a little more careful in decision making when I have a 35-40 pound pack on my back, but out on the road, it is sometimes fun to see a sign and say, “Oh, that sounds like fun, maybe I’ll go there.” I liked William Least Heat Moon’s approach to picking out towns with interesting names and using them as his guide. Have you ever seen the guideposts that list different places and the distance?
    Now whether to head for Dallas or Atlanta… –Curt

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