Trail Talk – November 2017

The rains return to wash the smoky air. A sweet fragrance rises from the heavy layer of summer’s discarded madrone leaves and bark. Dogwoods become crimson, big-leafed maples brilliant yellow. Fall’s mushrooms push upward through the brightly carpeted forest floor and bloom in their unique ways. The seasons cycle through another year in our local woods.

Those dusty trails of last month become a distant memory as the ‘marbles on a cookie sheet’ granitic soils repack and become firmer underfoot. The rock-hard shale soils become slick with moisture and begin to stick to soles. Puddles form in low spots and dormant springs and seeps renew their life-giving moisture. No more trail ‘flour’ on the shoes as soft areas repack.

The brilliant monkey flowers give way to nondescript seedpods while poison oak produces its cashew-like nut. Madrone berries and manzanita (little apples) fruits ripen and redden, ready to provide fuel for robins and coyotes. Acorns fall to be collected by squirrels and jays, buried and forgotten, to sprout at another time to replenish the forest. Cones from the ponderosas litter the forest floor to be dribbled along like so many soccer balls.

There is a pregnant pause in the atmosphere as Earth’s north axis tilts farther away from Sol’s sustaining energy. Whispering winds in the forest canopy wait as well, not brave enough to be blustery quite yet, knowing the cold winter blast will arise soon enough. Once brave reptiles flee the paths for their winter burrows, prey scarcer now in the shortening days. Insects complete seasonal life-cycles, their carcasses littering the leaf litter, decomposing in turn to nourish the loamy soils where their eggs overwinter.

It’s the best time to take that leaf hike up Jackson Creek. A favorite autumn loop is the brown diamond hike from parking area P3 in Forest Park. Depending on the return route, this hike can be 3-5 miles, (longer if started at P2 to avoid the nasty Norling Road. steep area). Proceeding up Jackson Creek Nature Trail, hikers encounter a trail buried in brilliantly bright yellow maple leaves with a few crimson dogwoods tossed in for contrast. Meandering along re-awakening Jackson Creek, the gentle climb crosses a few well-placed logs left to discourage renegade mountain bikers. Heavy moss decorates the venerable maples and oyster mushrooms bloom on the decaying trunks of alders. Arriving at the top of the trail, hikers have options. Does one return on Jackson Creek Trail or turn left and head up toward Jackson Ridge? Sofie’s Trail bears left as one starts to climb and traverses the slope to rejoin Jackson Ridge Trail as it winds down to P5, Canyon Falls Trail, and a return to P3. Climbing to the top, Jackson Ridge Trail follows the ridgeline down toward Legburner Trail, where a left turn takes you down through a madrone forest to Sofie’s Trail, a right turn takes you through a mixed oak woodland and Claimjumper or Shade Cr Trail, and dead ahead takes you down past Jackson Ridge Shelter and a trio of viewpoint benches. Time for a hike.