Tale of a Trail… Gold Miners, Wild Life, Scenic Asides, and Strange Surveyors

Our property backs up to the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest which in turn shares a boundary with the Klamath National Forest. Together, they include well over a million acres of wilderness! We love it. As do the deer, bears, cougars, foxes, coyotes, etc. We even had a wolf pass through a couple of years ago. This sign marks the boundary between our property and the National Forest. It also marks the beginning of our trail. Surveyors came through a few months ago to check out the National Forest boundary. They moved signs and marked trees in red paint. Peggy thought that maybe they were having a little too much fun.
I wonder why.

For quite some time, we have been making a detour into the forest as part of our daily mailbox walk. It adds an extra mile to our exercise. Plus it is just plain fun. The problem is that the hike only works for late fall, winter and early spring. Otherwise, we are dealing with poison oak, ticks, and little burrs. No one wants poison oak, the ticks may carry Lyme disease, and the burrs are just plain nasty. We come home with dozens in our socks and they are very difficult to remove. Inevitably we miss a few and they end up in our laundry. For some reason, they are attracted to our underwear, mainly Peggy’s. But you can bet I feel the pain…

This spring, I decided to create a trail through the forest that would allow us year round access. It would be poison oak and burr free. Plus we would be much less likely to get ticks. They tend to hang out in bushes and brush off on innocent animals, people and maybe Big Foot, who, legend has it, likes to hang out in our neck of the woods.

I wouldn’t be starting the trail from scratch. Mainly I would be reclaiming and expanding on old miners’ trails and deer paths. My goal, as always, was to have minimum impact, which was pretty much guaranteed since my tools were a rake, mattock, and lopper. I call the lopper, Cindy. You may need to be of a certain age to get that. I tell Peggy that Cindy and I are going up on the mountain to have a little fun. She doesn’t worry; she just snorts. “Wear your gloves, honey.”

I was worried on my first day of trail making. It was two days after the cougar ran across our deck and the morning after our neighbor Bryan had his scary night-time encounter. There was a significant chance that it was still hanging around where I was working. The deer herd was out and came down to watch me work, however. They high-tail it when they are on the menu. Maybe they figured as long as I was there, the cougar wouldn’t be. I hoped they were right in their assumptions. If not, I would wish them good luck as I did my own high-tailing-it act. (Suggestion: Never take off running when you see a cougar. It confirms you are food and fun to chase. Stand tall, look the cougar in the eye, speak to it firmly, “Bad Kitty,” and slowly back away. I’m serious.)

In addition to being a pleasant stroll through the forest, the trail incorporates a bit of history. Miners came searching for gold during the 1920s and 30s. There are old sites for at least seven cabins, a cave, a wood stove, remnants of an old auto, and test holes that they dug following a quartz vein in hopes of striking it rich. They would dig down, find the quartz, shove a dynamite stick in, blow it up, and then check out the results. The test holes come down off the mountain and run right across our property. It could be we are sitting on a fortune. Ha.

Peggy and I have found seven flat spaces like this that were likely the sites of miners’ cabins. When they left, they must have taken the lumber and tin roof with them. We did find one section of tin roof and lots of old #10 cans.
This cave, dug by the miners is right off the trail.
A look inside the cave. We didn’t find any gold, but there were bats. Peggy and I call it the Bear Cave. It’s partly to entertain our grandkids but once, during the winter, Peggy and I found bear tracks leading toward it through the snow. I wanted to check it out. My buddy, not so much.
This is one of the test holes the miners dug that extend down onto our property. This one was surrounded by pieces of quartz that Peggy harvested for our yard.
This was one of the rocks that Peggy chose. The biggest. I swear it weighed at least 100 pounds. My back survived but my feet hurt the next day from being driven into the ground. I earned extra husband credits but no gold.

Wildlife has adopted the trail for their own use. We’ve found cougar, coyote and fox scat along it as well as deer. And I even found deer sleeping on it. Then there was the young buck who seemed to be having some problem…

I was hiking up the trail when a young buck started behaving strangely in front of me. This isn’t the most graceful pose. I am always amazed at how streamlined, almost fragile the legs look.
Uh-oh. Have you ever had one of those itches that is just impossible to scratch— at least in public?
Whoops.

In addition to miners’ history and wildlife, attractive trees and flowers are found along the trail as it winds its way through the forest.

Low bridge, everybody down! This madrone crosses over our trail, low enough to bump your head on. Especially if you are wearing a hat that blocks its view and are looking down for poison oak to remove.
The culprit that caused me to bump my head: Poison oak. Its three leaf arrangement is the give away.
I rather like the limb, so it will continue to bump the heads of unwary trail users. Hopefully not mine again.
The madrone trees have bloomed along the trail, making them easy to spot in the surrounding forests
The madrones (Arbutus menziesii) are finishing up now, but they were still in full bloom when I took this photo. I might add that they have a sweet, attractive smell that greets us when we step out our door.
The trail wanders under an Oregon big leaf maple.
Among towering pines…
And past numerous white oaks with their wonderful gnarly limbs.
The trail also passes by buck brush, which was blooming this spring and also has a distinctive sweet smell.
I photograph manzanita as much for its dead limbs as I do its live ones. This trunk reminded me of the alligators found along the Gulf Coast!
The flowers start blooming in March. They are rarely in profusion except for shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia)which are one of the first flowers to bloom. About the time one flower ends its season, another pops up.
Last week, I showed you some of the gorgeous irises that Peggy grows. Wild irises, possibly not so glamorous but still pretty, grow along the trail. This is yellow leaf iris (Iris chrysophylla).
Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), a lovely flower that had our book club gigging over its name, have come out in the last month.

I thought that the latest addition to our flower family was pretty face Brodiaea, but now I think it may be a rare Triteleia crocea, a closely related species that only grows in our area.

I’ll wrap this blog up today with my favorite flower, Calochortus elegans. Its common name is elegant cat’s ear. If you have ever owned a kitty, I’m sure you can see why.

My blogging friend Crystal Trulove from Conscious Engagement and her buddy Pedro are visiting today and went out for a walk on the trail. Here are photos of them along the trail and in the Bear Cave taken by Peggy. 

MONDAY’S POST: I’ve promised to tell you who shot Pavy’s pig, and I will. But I also want to discuss our summer blogging schedule, which will be slim at best. Peggy and I are taking a break to pursue some other interests. We intend to be back with a regular schedule in the fall. And I will continue to check in on you occasionally over the summer. The friendships we have formed are valuable.

A Wonderful, Whacky Pelican… Puerto Vallarta

I’ve spent a lot of time watching and photographing pelicans. Their committee-put-together look makes them a favorite of mine. But I have never seen one do this. It delighted me. I think it was trying to scare up a fish. The majority of brown pelicans make their living by diving from the air for dinner. This fellow may have been a bit young and small for the big time.

The Rio Cuale sits in the heart of Puerto Vallarta. It’s a delightful place with a long island in the middle (Isla Cuale) that includes good restaurants, fun shops, and some very interesting art. The island got its start in the 1960s as an airstrip for rich Hollywood types such as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and John Huston. 

My favorite thing about the Rio Cuale, however, is the rich wildlife it supports including a variety of water birds and giant iguanas. Bird life includes pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets and more. On my recent visit I was particularly taken by the young fellow featured above and a snowy egret.

Here is the young brown pelican behaving more or less like I am used to seeing brown pelicans behave.
I am not sure what the youngster is up to here. Scratching an itch? Spreading oil?
Its action here is clear. It’s preening. The pelican and other water fowl have an oil gland near their tail that they use for oiling their body to make feathers more waterproof.
Here it is again, apparently trying to scare up another fish.
And a final shot of our young friend. We speculated that maybe it was a little young for the normal brown pelican approach to fishing.
A few hundred feet away, brown pelicans were fishing in the more traditional way.
Kersploosh!
I caught this orgy of Pelican fishing in Puerto Vallarta in 2016. The insane dive on the right is one of the things I love about pelicans.
I must say that this snowy egret on the Rio Cuale provided a great photo-op as well.
Here’s the snowy egret in a more traditional pose.

The River Cafe is a short way up the Isla Cuale from where we found the pelican and the snowy egret. We like it for its tasty, well-presented food. But we also like it because you can almost always find iguanas hanging out in the trees and on the ground next to the river. This year we spotted a very green one…

It was so green, it almost disappeared among the leaves. The large flap of skin hanging down from the iguana’s chin is called a dewlap. No self-respecting Iguana would be without one. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We’ve had numerous encounters with iguanas over the years in Puerto Vallarta. But none matched the time when one came to visit us in our villa. I did a post on our welcome visitor, but just for fun, I decided to put up a few photos on him again.

It all started out with a stranger staring in our window at us. Naturally we had to see who had come to visit.
Outside, we found this large iguana staring at his reflection in the window. There were two possibilities: One he had found the love of his life. Or, two, he had discovered a large rival impinging on his territory. Iguanas can be quite territorial.
On closer inspection, our visitor appeared to be quite handsome. I imagine he was a heart throb.
His claws appeared a bit on the scary side. I, for one, wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.
I looked him in the eye, wondering what a lady iguana would see in him. I call this photo The Eye of the Iguana after the Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr movie “The Night of the Iguana.” The movie, directed by John Huston, was filmed in Puerto Vallarta giving the then small fishing village a kickstart to becoming a mega-tourist attraction.
Of course we had to invite Senior Iguana in for a visit. His tail is still outside. He was a big fellow.
He wandered around looking for his love/rival and then finally settled down on the floor like a dog. I couldn’t help but think he would make a great burglar deterrent! After a while, he stood up, checked our villa one more time and then wandered back outside. Next post I will feature a chalk art festival and several murals in Puerto Vallarta. After that, it’s hitting the PCT again, hiking south from Carson Pass.

An Active Volcano and an Interesting Bush… Hiking the PCT through Mt. Lassen National Park

The Pacific Crest Trail wanders along the east side of Lassen National Park and provides limited views of the mountain. I took this photo from the PCT south of the park boundary.

Section N of the PCT includes Mt. Lassen National Park. This series includes portions of the trail leading into and out of the Park as well as the Park. Unfortunately, the PCT passes through the eastern side of Lassen and misses some of the Park’s more impressive features. I was lucky to have Peggy exploring the Park from the road while I hiked the trail, so this post will feature photographs from both of us.

In 1988, I led a backpack trek in Mt. Lassen National Park to honor my old friend Orvis Agee. His family lived near the mountain and he had been working outside on the family ranch when it erupted on May 22, 1915. He was an impressionable 12-year-old. Fifty-eight years later when Orvis joined me on the first hundred-mile backpack trip I led in 1974, the memory was still fresh in his mind.

By the end of that trek, Orvis had become an inspiration for me on what older people can accomplish— and a friend. He proved that an active lifestyle doesn’t have to end at 60, or 70, or even 80, assuming you are healthy. In 1980, Orvis took me to the top of the top of the nearby 14,180 foot Mt. Shasta, a mountain he had climbed many times starting at age 60. He made his 30th and final ascent at 85. He went on his last backpack trek with me at 87! Peggy was along on that week-long expedition. We had just started our relationship and it was her first long distant trek. Given how much I enjoyed backpacking and liked Peggy, I really wanted her to enjoy the experience. I figured that hiking with Orvis would help. It did. As she noted to me later, “It’s really hard to complain when an 87-year-old cheerfully hikes down the trail beside you and sings “Wake Up Little Buttercup” to you in the morning.” Indeed.

Mt. Lassen sits near the southern end of the Cascade Range, a volcanic chain of mountains that reaches from Northern California into British Columbia. It is one of only two mountains that erupted in the contiguous United States during the 20th Century. Mt. St. Helens was the other. (I flew over Mt. St. Helens shortly after it had erupted and was amazed by the devastation.) Lassen, still active, serves as a laboratory for volcanologists and is closely monitored. Oceanic plates diving under the continents and islands around the Pacific Ocean assure continuing volcanic activity, not only for Lassen, but for volcanos all around the Pacific Rim.

Peggy, who was driving along the road through the park, had closer views of the mountain than I did. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
She planned on hiking to the top of the mountain but was concerned that she might miss me coming out at Chester. I promised her we would climb the mountain for her 70th birthday. The trail up is visible on the lower right. I climbed the mountain the year I led the Trek through the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This photo of the mountain was taken when Peggy and I had visited the park earlier.
As was this impressionistic reflection shot.
I really liked this meadow shot that Peggy caught. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Mt. Lassen sits in the caldera of was once a much larger Mt. Tahama. The large rock points toward what was once the edge of the mountain. Picture a line following the ridge and stretching off to the left. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The power of the 1915 eruption was such that it blew out huge boulders and started a major a avalanche that carried boulders like these far from the volcano. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A number of other geologic features common to volcanic areas, such as this boiling mud pot at the Sulphur Works, are located in the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This colorful hill was located above the mud pot at the Sulphur Works. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I found the Manzanita roots along the PCT near Mt. Lassen strange enough to feature on my Halloween post. Today, I want to focus on the rest of the plant. I was raised in what is known as the chaparral belt of the Sierra foothills where manzanita is common. As kids, we went on outings to gather the large mushrooms that grew under the bushes in a symbiotic relationship with their roots. It was like a treasure hunt.We’d bring the mushrooms home, slice them up, and then dry them on the woodstove that heated our house. My mother then added them to a number of dishes like spaghetti and beef stroganoff where they contributed their unique flavor and texture.

Our property in Southern Oregon also includes a number of manzanita bushes, but I have yet to find mushrooms under them. One of the bushes grows just outside our backdoor. Deer like to bed down near it, which seems a little strange since it features a deer skull. Peggy had found a dead deer on the road near our house, victim of an unfortunate encounter with a car. She decided that it would be interesting to cut off its head, bring it up to our yard, and let nature (translate maggots) clean it off. (Think of it as a scientific experiment.) When I had appeared reluctant to carry out the chore, she had persuaded a deer-hunting neighbor to do it, paying him with a can of beer and a Peggy-smile.

Our manzanita brush with the deer skull. Note the smooth bark.
The deer I disturbed when I went outside to take a photo of the bush and skull. She was not happy with me interrupting her snooze.
Ripe manzanita berries covered the bush. These are quite edible. (I consumed many as a kid for their sweet taste.) Judging from the berry-filled scat in our neighborhood, the local fox population is enjoying the berries now.
When I hiked the PCT through the Mt. Lassen area, the berries were still green. It’s easy to see how manzanita, which means little apple, got its name.

The plant is sturdy and can be quite beautiful with its entangled limbs and smooth, skin-like bark. It is often used in decorations. I found the dead bushes along the PCT l particularly striking.

A dead bush draped across a boulder rendered in black and white.
A dead bush set off by live manzanita.
I will conclude today’s post with this rather dramatic bush.

Peggy and I are on our way to Mexico for three weeks, so my posts on the trip down the PCT will be put on hold until I return. My plan is to feature some older posts, which will give followers a perspective on the variety of subjects they can find on my blog that I have covered over the past ten years.