Thursday, November 15, 2012

Happy Trails

Phew, there's a lot to catch up on! Work with the trail crew this summer had its ups and downs. To make a long story short, I became a certified Class A sawyer, worked with a great crew on trails all over the southwest corner of Oregon, and ended the season with a lot of hardware in my left ankle after suffering a bad break from taking a fall on Bolt Mt.

I broke my ankle just after I began the MS in environmental education program at Southern Oregon University. It was tough making it through that first term of my grad program on one leg and pain pills.

Before I broke my ankle and started school, I took a break from the trail crew and went on a road trip with my sister. The day she flew into Medford, we set off for Crater Lake. On our way there, we picked up some used wet suits (just in case we decided to hop in the Pacific later) that we squeezed into at a consignment shop called Get-N-Gear in Ashland. If you've ever tried on wet suits, it's not the easiest endeavor, especially not when you're in a tiny dressing room in an attic in July with no AC.

Our first pit stop on our journey were the Mill and Barr Creek Falls outside of Prospect, OR. We were taking the same trip I went on when I first moved here, but in reverse. We stopped at Becky's for some pie in Union Creek and checked out the Rogue River Gorge. The first time I visited this area, the snow on the sides of the road towered above my car. I actually camped in the snow behind the cabins at the Union Creek Resort back in March. I wasn't prepared for the drastic change in weather that came along with traversing into higher elevations.

After feasting our faces on pie and feasting our eyes on the deep blue depths of the Crater Lake, we headed for the North Umpqua hot springs, stopping to check out a few more falls along the way. The first time I tried to reach these hot springs, I couldn't find my way through the snow. By the time my sister and I arrived at our campsite along the North Umpqua River, it was getting dark. All we had for guidance on our hike up to the hot springs were two tiny flashlights. The little light we had didn't help much when we had no idea where we were going. After wandering around in the dark for awhile, we found our way up the steep trail and made it to the hot springs. Our efforts were rewarded with steaming pools cascading down a cliff under a brilliant night sky and the Umpqua River trickling by below.

After soaking in the springs and sleeping under a starlit sky, we awoke the next morning to make our way towards the coast. But first, we had to check out some more waterfalls...

We wove our way through the mountains to the coastal town of Bandon and decided to forgo camping for the night due to the chilly weather. Instead, we got a honeymoon suite with a beach view at the Table Rock Motel. We made up for it the next night though, camping on the beach in Casper, California.

The Sandman somehow brought us sleep that night during our sandy slumber and we awoke the next morning to waves crashing and gulls calling. We groggily jumped back in the car and wound our way down Hwy. 1 that day visiting the redwoods and the Anderson Valley until finally arriving in San Fransisco.

The adventure continued to unfold there when we met a friendly guy named Ben at a local club. He offered us a tour of the city the next day and we fell in love with the Bay area, especially my sister who now lives in Oakland...with Ben!

After that adventure, I plowed through my first term of school while recovering from my ankle injury and then flew back to Missouri for a little while. My mom was able to fly back with me to Oregon to help me recoup. We made yet another trip to Crater Lake while she was here and went wine tasting all over the Rogue Valley.

Shortly after she left, I began working at McGregor Park on the Rogue River near Lost Creek Lake. Right about that time, the salmon were returning to their spawning grounds in the Rogue River after spending several years down in the ocean to get big and fat. I was just as astonished at the sight of salmon as the kids I guided through the park. I had never seen them in the wild before and I was blown away by their massiveness and determination.

To introduce children to the salmon life cycle, we began many of our field trips by playing a game called hooks and ladders. The activity is an obstacle course that simulates the life cycle of a salmon. Students begin as eggs and play rock, paper, scissors to move through the salmon life cycle. Once they reach their adult stage, we send them through the obstacle course. First, they have to pass through a twirling jump rope that represents a turbine inside a dam generating hydroelectricity. If they hit the rope, they die and stand in a line with the other ill-fated salmon who become part of a fish ladder. If they make it past the jump rope turbine, the salmon kids continue down the river trying not to get tagged by their predator classmates until they pass through the estuary and enter the ocean.

Salmon spend about 3-7 years of their life in the ocean. Before they enter the ocean they undergo a process called smoltification that enables them to survive in a salt water habitat. The ocean provides salmon with adequate space and food to allow them to grow large. Once they are fully developed, they return to the exact same spot in the river where they were born relying only on their keen sense of smell.

In the hooks and ladders obstacle course, kids have to collect tokens on either side of the playing field and dodge ocean predators along the way. Once they have gathered enough tokens they have to climb the "fish ladder" of "dead salmon" and hop over a jump rope waterfall. The kids, just like salmon, don't get a running start, because they are moving against the current. Salmon can "leap" up to six feet to cross obstacles like waterfalls when returning to their spawning grounds.

Very few of the kids survive the course which they learn is also true for salmon. Only one out of one-thousand eggs laid by a female salmon survives to complete its entire life journey. Their only mission when they return to the river in which they were born is to spawn and die. Salmon don't eat at all in the river when returning to their spawning grounds. Male salmon develop hook jaws to fight for females and to defend nests called redds. These nests are constructed by female salmon who swish their tail to clear off a gravel bed where they lay their eggs.

During their journey up river, salmons' bodies begin decaying due to their weak immune system that results from not eating. About two weeks after spawning, both male and female salmon die and their carcasses become food for aquatic macroogranisms (insects), newly hatched salmon called fry, and bears who carry salmon carcasses into the woods and spread their nutrients in the forest.

Now, the salmon have all spawned and died and our field trips at McGregor Park are over. The fall quarter for this school year is also coming to a close, but I will be keeping plenty busy. I have almost fully recovered from my broken ankle and I will be working with the trail crew again this winter. Even though I was injured on the job, I loved every minute of my trail crew experience. I feel so privileged to be able to explore and help others enjoy this amazingly beautiful part of the world. I'm looking forward to continuing to blaze new trails and clear off old beaten paths so that others can spend more time in nature and soak in the spectacular views that I have been so lucky to see.

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