Trail Talk – March 2017

Oh, but if we could hear what the stones have to tell us. So often we walk along the trails admiring the flora and fauna, ignoring the living rock beneath our feet. Sub-consciously we might appreciate the rock cycle and the millennia needed to morph sandstone to quartzite, but do we take heed of the rock around us when on the trails?

A journey into the High Sierra will bring you nose-first to the grinding forces of uplift and erosion. We see Ansel Adams’ photos as black-and-white representations, yet the reality is more stark—the High Sierras are a land of shadow and light, where any color seems foreign. In the foothills, those once- jagged granitic shards have been worn smooth by weathering elements. And in the stream beds the sands and silts bear little resemblance to their parent rock far above.

And so it can be to the trained eye in the hills of Southern Oregon. Here, we are blessed to be walled-in by mountains of diverse origin: the Cascades arising from violent volcanic action, the Siskiyous, a menagerie of metamorphics interrupted by masses of granitic intrusion. The forces that produced these ranges brought mineral wealth to the surface, and this wealth brought settlers from the featureless plains to “strike it rich.” What consternation our rocky hills must have caused for the flat-landers!

Jacksonville’s Forest Park rests on the junction of a granitic intrusion into surrounding shales and metamorphic uplift. A hike up to Granite Falls above Parking Area P-4 brings you through smooth boulders and along a deep erosion gully to a sheer wall of granite, where water flows about half the year. When you rest here on the bench, enjoying the murmur of softly-cascading water, gaze out and across toward Twin Peaks, knowing you are looking across to shales, not granites.

Farther down in the park, where the spur trail takes hikers from Rail Trail to Siskiyou, you climb a series of gentle switchbacks up and around another set of falls—Siskiyou Falls. Here, the wet season’s run-off babbles along down a series of chutes and falls, stair stepping over exposed metamorphics. Veins of white quartz play hide-and-seek with gray parent rock. On a blustery spring day, whispering wind brings to mind old friends quietly conversing around these rocky bluffs.

As you hike along the trails, take note of what’s underfoot. On Siskiyou Trail, your footsteps speak clearly when the crunchy granite soil ends and the smooth shale begins. Unlike the volcanic rock-laden “black sticky” of Medford’s Prescott Park on Roxy Ann Peak, the trails near Jacksonville are hike-able year-round. The loam soils of our hillsides contain copious amounts of clay, which packs into a surface smooth enough even for barefoot hiking and running! These same soils allow for trails to be constructed on fairly steep hillsides, of which our parklands boast their fair share. It’s good to have trails so close and so user-friendly. I can’t imagine a day when I can’t be on a trail, making tracks, making tracks, going there…