The Upper and Lower Table Rocks are roughly U-shaped plateaus, reflecting their genesis as lava-filled meanders in the primordial Rogue River. We’ve done our share (and then some) of hiking at both rocks. The vast majority of visitors to either rock follow an established trail to the plateau, then follow one of several well-worn use trails out to the top of the basalt cliffs for a view of the Rogue Valley, and then go back. On Upper Table, it’s possible to follow an old road around past the VORTAC station and out the U’s other arm. A few people go that far – there’s a geocache at the end of that arm – but not many. Out there, however, another old road descends into the mysterious space between the arms. What’s in there? Obsessive hikers wanted to know! So, faced with sunshine but no snow, we decided to plumb this deep mystery for ourselves – The LovedOne having been coaxed out of the library for this one!
Let’s just be clear up-front that this is an exploration best done only in the dead of winter. Then the rattlesnakes are hibernating, the poison oak has shed its leaves and its toxic oils have congealed, and the ticks are too cold to care (or are ensconced on a warm deer). Once the weather warms up, all of these non-cuddly parts of nature are out and about and ready to engage with the unlucky hiker. That said, it was 24ºF when we left the house and it stayed protectively cold during our whole hike.
We went up the established trail at good pace and were soon at its end atop Upper Table’s plateau.
The valley floor was clogged with fog under the inversion, but it didn’t extend very high today. So, by the time we’d climbed the 700 feet to the top of the plateau, we were under clear skies, with the fog now below us.
We walked to edge of the plateau and looked across that mysterious space between the arms. Now we just had to figure out how to get down into and across it to the old road on the other side. After walking along the cliffs for a bit, we entered a remnant grove of large, old oaks, madrones, and conifers (some of both are 4+ feet in diameter),
within which is a gentle ramp down into the inside, across some very mossy boulders,
and out on to the open, grassy slopes of the inner canyon.
Once there, we looked at our map, looked at the obviously well-used deer track, and then followed the hoof prints. Judging from the number of prints and the clarity of the track, a lot of deer use this area.
Bambi’s track avoided the thickets of buckbrush – just because it’s named for them doesn’t mean they want to plow through it too – and proved to be the economical way to reach a tiny bit of open water (vernally wet scrubland) at the head of the canyon.
From there, we went upslope to the west,
found the end of the still clearly visible and brush-free old road,
and followed it up toward the top of the plateau.
Just before the road makes its one sharp turn on the way up, we could look eastward to the other side of the canyon and to the route we’d taken to get into it.
After the road makes its turn, it widens, and we found ourselves in an unexpected colonnade of pines,
and then we were up on the plateau on familiar ground heading toward the service road (Pumice Lane) leading out to the VORTAC station.
We would follow Pumice Lane – still in use up to the station, reverting to trail from there on – back to the main trail. Along the way we passed a stock pond that had somehow filled despite the lack of any significant rain in the last few weeks.
We broke out into the open just before reaching the VORTAC station, for a big view to the east of not-so-snowy-at-the-moment Mount McLoughlin.
Along with the stock pond, water had also found its way into the vernal pools dotting the top of the plateau,
and primordial forces were already astir in the organic soup in these ponds. Come Spring there will be fairy shrimp in some of these ponds and dwarf woolly meadowfoams at the edges of others.
One last look at McLoughlin over last season’s grassy verge,
and we were soon back on the main trail heading down to the trailhead. A nice little (6.7 miles roundtrip; 1,100 feet of elevation gain) hike into a rarely visited part of a very popular hiking area. No big amazing mysteries (Saquatch, alien spacecraft, intelligent politicians, a giant ape, etc.) down there, just a piece of the ecology unique to this area. Worth a visit if you tread carefully – and don’t go in the summertime!