Reelfoot’s Lair

Hiking Grizzly Peak in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

It isn’t really Reelfoot’s lair. Old Reelfoot, the last known grizzly bear in Oregon, was shot in 1890 near Pilot Rock, sixteen miles south of here in a different part of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It was another grizzly, unnamed in the accounts, who mauled a hunter on this mountain in the late 1850s and gave it the name Grizzly Peak. But the story has been attached to the wrong mountain for so long that it still seems appropriate to honor Old Reelfoot with the name of this account. After all, Grizzlies have a huge home range. It’s probable that he visited Grizzly at least once in a while.

He wouldn’t have traveled most of the way in an electric car, however.

We hiked the Grizzly Peak trail most recently on June 13, 2019. We made a full day of it, traveling first 12 miles north of Medford to Eagle Point for breakfast at the Barbed Wire Grill, then east up the Brownsville Road and Highway 140 40 miles to the Great Meadow near Lake of the Woods, where I had heard that a major camas bloom was happening. It was. Most of the west end of the immense meadow was covered with the purple flowers of Great Camas, Camassia leichtlinii. Thousands of Camassia leichtlinii. They made a spectacular show in the early morning light, under the high peaks of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, and I was immensely grateful to Kimberly Hill, whose pictures of the meadow on the Oregon Wildflower Facebook page the day before had alerted me to their presence.

Then it was on to Grizzly down Dead Indian Memorial Road, named to honor three Native Americans whose bodies, dead from unknown causes, were found along its course in the mid-1850s (the settlers honestly thought they were being respectful). We stopped briefly by Lake of the Woods, where I walked the trail out along Rainbow Bay for some photographs of Mt McLoughlin across the water; then we didn’t stop again until we reached the Grizzly Peak trailhead, coming in by way of the upper end of Shale City Road, through an area we have long known as “Elderberry Heaven” for the great number of elderberry bushes that grow there beneath a glorious view of McLoughlin’s snowy cone. The road to the trailhead was in better shape than I’ve seen it for years; it didn’t even begin to challenge the Bolt’s considerable abilities as a backroads vehicle.

Checker lily

The hike itself took most of the rest of the day. The Grizzly Peak trail is a six-mile loop with a 750-foot elevation gain, most of it in the first mile, and as we age into our late 70s it is beginning to be a challenge. But it is worth it for the wildflower show. The trail begins in a verdant conifer forest, a northern-coast-range type forest of tall trees and rich green undergrowth, inexplicably transported to a mountain in the southern Oregon Cascades: then it traverses a loop around the edges of a high plateau covered with a graceful mix of forest and meadow. We took the loop counter-clockwise this time. Views opened out toward Medford and Roxy Ann, looking tiny and lost in an immensity of space. The scar of the 2002 Antelope burn held even more views, across green slanting meadows laced with wildflowers beneath the black snags of the burned trees, a sign that the forest is recovering well. The best view was saved for the far end of the loop. We climbed a steep hillside to the west summit, through paintbrush and balsamroot and fields of rosy plectritis, to cliffs that look out over hundreds of square miles of landscape. The view stretched from Mt Shasta in the south past Pilot Rock and the high peaks of the Siskiyous to the Rogue-Umpqua Divide in the north. A fine place to munch granola bars and contemplate how very, very small you actually are. And maybe wonder how Old Reelfoot might have felt, sitting in this very spot, 130 years ago.

Clockwise from upper left: royal polemonium, Jessica’s stickseed, sulfur flower (with passenger), and Siskiyou onion.

Statistics: we covered about 120 miles on sun-generated electrons, using roughly 27 kwh of the 60 we had available. That works out to about 4.4 miles per kwh – good enough to take us another 145 miles, had we wanted to do that. The car’s EPA-rated range is 238 miles. On this trip, we were actually getting around 265. A small difference, but I’ll take it.

Dutchman’s Peak from Grizzly Peak. Rosy plectritis in the foreground.

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