Soda Springs Trail (Oregon) 25-Apr-2019

The lure of unexplored trails is strong in this one. That, combined with the onset of wildflower season, lead me to a write-up about Dunlop Meadows in the hills just east of Medford, Oregon. While considering that, I came upon the Soda Springs Trail (USFS #1009) coming up from Camp Latgawa on Dead Indian Creek. Combining the two trails with a short stretch of road walking would be a round trip of about eight miles, so why not? Well, it’s one thing to read about a trail online; it’s sometimes quite another to actually find it on the ground.

The Soda Springs Trail starts at a lower trailhead near Camp Latgawa at the end of the Little South Fork Butte Creek Road. This trailhead has been “temporary” for 22 years, since the flood of 1997 washed out part of Conde Creek Road. From here there are two ways to reach where the trail continues on the east side of Indian Creek: the hard way and the easy way. I would, of course, go the hard way first. This involved crossing roaring Dead Indian Creek on a rickety bridge built by the camp, then climbing up past colorful Dead Indian Soda Springs to where the trail passes a wooden bench and “crosses” the creek again, but with no bridge this time.

The bridge over Dead Indian Creek
Iron colors the spring water a rich orange-red color
Terraces formed by mineral deposits
Colors and terraces
A bench marks the upper crossing of Dead Indian Creek
The trail (arrow) continues across roaring – and bridge-free – Dead Indian Creek

After some artful scrambling along large logs close above the creek, I reached the other side and found the continuation of the trail.

Where there’s a log, there’s a way
There is another small spring on the east side of the creek

Once past the creek, the trail contours a short distance to a junction where the Soda Springs Trail continues uphill and an easy, no-roaring-creeks-to-cross trail heads directly back to Camp Latgawa and the trailhead. I started up and immediately found that the trail had not received any maintenance in a long, long time. Following it required looking for cut logs, old chopped blazes, newer painted blazes, and the slight depression indicating a tread.

Looking northwest from above the Dead Indian Creek drainage
Following the trail (arrow) guided by cut logs
A stand of Oregon white oak
Little Calypso orchids were the wildflower of the day

About two miles up from the trailhead, the trail pretty much disappeared under fallen trees and branches. Over the remaining mile to the upper trailhead, I would find the trail sporadically – only to lose it again and again under fallen debris or encroaching brush. There were brief sections that were good, but not many.

The trail succumbs to fallen trees
Mount McLoughlin from a brief opening along the upper trail
The upper trailhead on Forest Road 2500-185

My original plan had been to continue on Forest Road (FR) 2500 to the Dunlop Meadows Trail but the floundering and navigating it took to get this far had drained my strength and enthusiasm. And I wasn’t keen on returning through all those fallen trees and brush. A look at the paper map (so old school ๐Ÿ™„ ) suggested that the quickest and most-fallen-tree-free way back would be to follow FR 2500-187 down to where it approaches the Soda Springs Trail and then bridge the gap with a little cross-country travel. And so it was.

But as I was ambling down FR 2500, I turned a corner and saw two black shapes ahead. Thinking they were just more dead trees littering the road (it’s currently blocked by several fallen trees), I pressed on. Then the larger shape turned and our eyes locked (this rarely happens with fallen trees). Whoa! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ The shapes were bears – a mother and a yearling! ๐Ÿป ๐Ÿป The stare-down lasted for only a few seconds before mom gave to hearty chuff, chuff and ran into the woods, followed by junior. Despite all the talk of bears in the woods, this is the first time in years that I’ve actually seen some in the wild. Pretty cool considering I thought all the bears had moved down to dumpster-rich Ashland. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I was not alone in the woods

The journey down FR 2500-187 went much quicker than the thrash up the trail. And my traverse back to the trail was expedited by a much faded, but brush-free, old road not shown on the map. I descended the lumpy Soda Springs Trail to its junction with the trail back to the camp and took that trail (the easy way) back to the trailhead.

Mount McLoughlin from FR 2500-187
Down the trail (arrow) above Dead Indian Creek

The colorful springs, Calypso orchids, and bears made the day but it was sad to (again) find a trail still listed by the Forest Service disappearing through neglect and lack of interest. ๐Ÿ˜ฅ It’s bad now and, in time, it’ll be too far gone for cost-effective (or any) rehabilitation. Aside from the Service’s usual budget woes, one reason trails such as this one have fallen from grace may be because they no longer go anywhere not already accessed by a gravel forest road or can’t be made part of a loop to interesting places. I still plan to visit Dunlop Meadows for the wildflowers but may have to hike & bike to that trailhead to get around the fallen trees currently blocking FR 2500.

My lollipop loop to the heights above the South Fork of Little Butte Creek
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4 comments

  1. It appears from the lack of mentioning โ€œThe Loved Oneโ€ that once again she showed wisdom and this time avoided the bear contact. It is frustrating to see many trails not kept up and never really cleaned up (if ever) till near the end of summer. We too want to see bears while hiking (never happened) but not too close.

    1. She was getting her hair cut, an act which takes precedence over all else. Aside from that, I couldn’t, in good faith, assure her that this “trail” was not the thrash it turned out to be. It’s sad to find it being let go. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The bears were a surprise – last time I recall seeing some in the wild was in Kings Canyon in the 80s.

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