Silent Creek

Fall has begun in the high country. Here in southern Oregon, our falls do not arrive in a blaze of color like New England’s or Upper Michigan’s; they ease in as quietly as the footfalls of kittens. A crispness and freshness to the air; a flush of red and yellow from the huckleberries in the understory. Later there will be new snow on the peaks and flashes of brilliant reds and yellows from the vine maples and bigleaf maples hanging over the rivers. Now, at the tag end of September, there is only a hint of these glories yet to come. But the huckleberries have already turned.

Huckleberry bushes along Silent Creek.

Last Wednesday, with the sky a brilliant blue and the weather forecasters predicting that the first Fall rains were imminent, we took advantage of an open day in our joint schedules and headed for the mountains. Our destination was Silent Creek, a tributary to Diamond Lake that enters the big lake at its southwest corner. This area, once a deep mountain valley, became a mostly level plain several miles wide when the massive eruption that created Crater Lake filled the valley full of pumice and volcanic ash. Silent Creek meanders across this plain through an open forest of lodgepole pine. The creek is glass-clear, fifteen feet wide, and rarely over eight inches deep. The sunny forest floor seems at least 90% covered with huckleberries.

We are both recovering from colds, and at 77 and 76 that means you don’t push for an early start: so it was after 10:00 AM when we pulled out of the driveway for the 80-mile trip to the trailhead. We picked up picnic supplies at the little store in Union Creek and spread them out on a sunny table in Diamond Lake’s South Shore Picnic Area a half-hour later for a leisurely lunch.

Melody at our lunch table on the south shore of Diamond Lake.
Mt Bailey across Diamond Lake from our lunch table.

It’s a little under a mile and a half from the South Shore Picnic Area to the trailhead where paved Umpqua National Forest Road 4795 crosses Silent Creek; it’s another mile and a half by trail from there to one of the creek’s headwaters springs. We drove the first of those 1.5-mile stretches and walked – or perhaps “sauntered” is a better word – the second. The woods were quiet; the light was golden and lovely. Small frogs hopped across the trail. Silent Creek lived up to its name – barely a ripple broke its smooth, transparent surface, the whole length from trailhead to spring. Fallen logs crisscrossed the creek, half in and half out of the water, bearing bushy green growths of monkey flower, some still in bloom. There were a few asters, and a few lupines, and a single strawberry blossom – well out of season – that had planted itself defiantly right in the middle of the trail. There were no berries on the huckleberry bushes. We were disappointed but not surprised: we knew where they had probably gone. On our way home, we stopped there. Beckie’s Cafe at Union Creek is famous for its huckleberry pies (see the full description in my previous post on Hershberger Mountain). They are served only from Labor Day weekend until the berries run out, which can be as early as mid-September. This year they are holding up. Supper capped with huckleberry pie at Beckie’s is one of Oregon’s finest gustatory experiences. I leave you with that.

Seep-spring monkey flower on a log in Silent Creek.
Clockwise from top left: dwarf lupine, strawberry, Parry’s aster, pearly everlasting.
We stopped at Teal Lake, a tiny pond between Forest Service Road 4795 and the main lake, on the way out.
A pair of mallards in eclipse plumage playing in Teal Lake.

I do need to add my usual note on the performance of the Bolt. I didn’t bother opting for a full charge the night before, so we left home with a 95% charge in the battery, roughly 57 kwh. We got back from this 160+ mile trip with 20 of those 57 kwh still remaining, and with the GOM showing more than 100 miles of range still available. I cannot for the life of me figure out why people still fear that a car like the Bolt (or a Tesla, or a Hyundai Kona Electric, or any of the several other long-range electrics currently available) will somehow run out of electrons on a trip like this. Like a gasoline car with a ten-gallon tank that gets 25 miles to the gallon – the same range as the Bolt – you fill the tank a little more often than you might like; because it’s electric, it takes a little longer to fill. That’s all.

The Bolt at the Thielsen View rest area on Highway 230. Mt Thielsen in the background.


Fleabanes (pink) and asters (violet) beside Road 530 on Hershberger Mountain.

The real attraction was Beckie’s huckleberry pie, but we needed an excuse. I thought of Hershberger Mountain.

Hershberger sits on the divide between the Rogue and Umpqua Rivers, high in the southern Oregon Cascades and just a dozen miles or so from the border of Crater Lake National Park. It is remote – getting there involves nearly an hour’s drive on winding Forest Service gravel roads after you leave the highway – so it gets only a few visitors each year. Those who go are drawn primarily by the flowers. Hershberger is one of the premiere wildflower sites in Oregon, with floral meadows that are often compared to Mt Rainier’s Paradise Park. Peak bloom is always well past by early September, but I thought there might be a few stragglers still around. And the turnoff onto those winding gravel roads from Highway 230 is only a few miles past the Union Creek Resort. Which includes Beckie’s Cafe.

Beckie’s is a treasure. Nestled in towering firs a couple of hundred yards from the rushing Rogue, the small, rustic, immaculately kept cafe is little changed since Ed Becklehymer opened it in 1926 to serve early motorists traveling to Crater Lake. The building has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places; the pies have earned rave reviews since Becklehymer’s wife began baking them right after the place opened. Among those pies, the huckleberry pie is way out in first place. Made from huckleberries picked by restaurant employees and others in the mountains surrounding the resort, it is served only from Labor Day weekend until the berries run out. Last year, that was just two weeks, and we didn’t manage to get up there before they were gone. This year, I was determined not to do that again. Labor Day weekend itself? No – that would be uncool. We would go the day after.

Morning light on the Rogue River beside the Hershberger Mountain road.

As we backed out of the driveway, I noted that the Bolt’s range indicator was estimating 347 miles. Comforting, even though I knew the real world wouldn’t give us that much. We turned onto the Hershberger Mountain Road around 9:20 AM, and after a brief stop along the Rogue near the road’s beginning and a somewhat longer stop at the base of the twin volcanic plugs known as the Rabbit Ears, we reached the turnoff to Road 530 – the spur off Road 6515 that leads to the Hershberger lookout – at 10:30. I turned onto 530, and immediately wished I hadn’t. We had been warned by the ranger at Prospect that this already-terrible road had been made much worse by the Pup Fire, a wildfire that had burned through the area in 2017, but I had hoped that, with the backwoods-driving skills I’ve honed over 60 years, I could ease the Bolt up it anyway. Within 150 feet, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. We would have needed at least a foot of ground clearance to make it across the ditches and exposed boulders in the roadbed; the Bolt has seven inches. Carefully – torturously – I backed out again. Even with the support of the backup camera, it took about ten minutes to cover those 150 feet backwards. I parked on the shoulder of 6515, on the edge of a lovely green meadow, and we started walking.

Hershberger Mountain from Road 530. The photo at the head of this post is a telephoto of the lookout, taken from this same place.

The Prospect ranger had told us that the walk along the road to the Ackerman Divide trailhead, which we intended to use, would be about a mile. It was a very long mile – nearly two miles, it turned out, when we checked the distance later at home. The Pup Fire had turned the forest around the mountain and its meadows into a mosaic of burned and green trees. The flowers, as expected, were mostly past, but there were remnants here and there of the glory that must have been present a month ago, including one very special find: Mazama collomia, a rare endemic that is found only in Crater Lake National Park and just a few other places within a 30-mile radius of the lake.

Clockwise from top left: mountain owls clover, Scouler’s bluebell (yes, it’s supposed to be white), bleeding heart, Siberian candy flower.
Mazama collomia, aka Crater Lake collomia, Collomia mazama – found only within 30 miles of Crater Lake.

We reached the trailhead around noon. Two trails begin here: the Ackerman Divide Trail, which drops steeply into a meadow called Pup Prairie, and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail, which stays more or less level for two miles before plunging into a cirque named, aptly, Hole-In-The-Ground. We had been planning Pup Prairie, but in our already-tired condition, more or less level won out. We took the Rogue-Umpqua Trail through the burned-over woods for a mile and a half, far enough to get a good view of the impressively rugged hulk of Highrock Mountain. A quick scramble to a ridgetop meadow – which yielded no views – and we headed for Beckie’s. We arrived home several hours later, with 141 new miles on the odometer and just under half the battery still available.

Highrock Mountain
The Bolt’s back window became opaque with dust. This photo was taken at Beckie’s before we brushed it off.

And oh, yes, the huckleberry pie was delicious. So delicious that it disappeared before I thought to photograph it: I had to borrow this picture from Beckie’s Facebook page to show it to you.