Faraway Places: North Umpqua River Area

Faraway Places: North Umpqua River Area

While visiting my boyfriend’s parents in Oregon for Thanksgiving week, we found time to explore the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway along the North Umpqua River. (Last year we took a day trip to the Redwoods in California and spent some time exploring the local hiking trails in Roseburg.) Despite the cool temperatures and persistent rain showers, the North Umpqua River and its surroundings were still beautiful. We hiked into 3 different waterfalls (Toketee, Fall Creek and Susan Creek Falls), and made a quick deter to see the massive columnar basalt cliff at the Soda Springs viewpoint.

Our first stop was at Toketee Falls, a spectacular double drop waterfall carved into an otherwise fairly sheer cliffside. The first section drops 40 feet into a hidden pool, before pouring out for the second 80-foot drop to the large basin below. The intermediate pool has been carved out of the rock over time through the grinding action of swirling sediment. Sand, gravel and larger rocks that are caught up in the current are pushed in a circular motion and gradually carve a cavity into the hard bedrock.

Toketee Falls

The rock formations forming the Toketee Falls cliff face were predominantly columnar basalt. We saw evidence of smaller examples of this in many other places along the trails, but the most dramatic example was the large columnar basalt cliff across the North Umpqua River from the Soda Springs view point. The formation of columnar basalt is described in this previous geology post. This particular location was so striking not only for its size, but for the myriad of colors it contained due to various types of lichen growing on the rocks.

Columnar basalt cliff

The second waterfall we visited was Fall Creek Falls, which is also a double falls, with tiers of 35 and 50 feet (the upper falls is not visible in the photo below). Although not set in as dramatic a landscape as Toketee Falls, this waterfall was more impressive in some ways because you could almost stand right at its base (as opposed to Toketee Falls where you could get no closer than the viewing platform across the basin).

Fall Creek Falls

Finally we hiked into Susan Creek falls, a 50 foot waterfall pouring over mossy rocks. Along the trail was a series of informational signs describing the various trees and plants common to the forest. Two of my favorites were the Sugar Pine and the Bigleaf Maple.

Susan Creek Falls

Although the forest was dominated by cedars, firs and other conifers, sprinkled within the forest was a species of pine tree I had never seen (or heard of) before: a Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana). Sugar pines are the largest species of pine tree in the world. The largest Sugar Pine measures 9.6 feet in diameter and 241 feet tall. This species also has the longest cone of any pine, measuring up to 26 inches long. The one I managed to find on the ground was no where near this large (it was closer to 14 or 15 inches), but it was still the biggest pine cone I have ever found. Like our Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus), the sugar pine also has five needles per bundle. These pines range from southern Oregon to southern California.

Sugar Pine cone in a bed of Bigleaf Maple leafs and Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium).

Sugar Pine cone (with me for scale).

Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), also know as the Oregon maple, is found only on the west coast, from southeast Alaska to California. It is commonly mixed with Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Western Hemlock, as it was along the Susan Creek Falls and Fall Creek Falls trails where we encountered them. Bigleaf Maple is aptly named, as it has the largest leaves of any maple, measuring up to 12 inches across. They were so big, I could essentially hide my entire face behind it. Although most of the leaves had fallen to the ground and turned brown, a few retained the yellow golden color from earlier in the fall.

Bigleaf Maple leaf – bigger than my face.


Bigleaf Maple leaf – still yellow.

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