Day 5 (July 14, 2016 – Medford, Oregon): “Success After Failure”
It was 4:15am when we awoke to my alarm. Thinking that today was going to be a pretty easy day, I had my alarm set to 5am to sleep in a little bit but I guess I had forgotten to turn off the earlier alarms on my watch. So needless to say, with last night’s late check-in, we all awoke pretty sleepy on this morning.
It wasn’t until about 6:20am when we loaded up the car despite the early wake-up. I guess it took some time before all of us came around to finally getting started on this day. Anyways, five minutes later, without needing to pack up our stuff into the car bringing only day use gear and supplies today, we drove off.
As we were finding our way towards the Hwy 62 leading to Crater Lake, we stopped by a Shell station which only charged us $2.59 per gallon (easily cheaper than anything we’d have to pay for in California). Then, we went across the street to the Lil’ Pantry for a trio of breakfast burritos. And then at 6:40am, we were finally off for good as we headed north towards Toketee Falls.
The original plan was to drive to Toketee Falls and get this off of my bucket list, but when we realized how long of a drive it was to even get all the way out here, Mom suggested that we not only visit Toketee Falls and Watson Falls while driving along the Umpqua River, but we should also visit Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls today instead of punting them for tomorrow so we wouldn’t have to drive all the way back there. That would mean we were making tomorrow an all Crater Lake day, which actually might work out better for us.
Anyways, as we went past the turnoff for Hwy 62 going to Crater Lake, we kept north on the Hwy 230. Along the way, I saw signs for things like National Creek Falls as well as Natural Bridge, and they piqued my curiosity. Earlier on, we had passed by Mill Creek Falls near Prospect, which was something I kept in the back pocket for Saturday if we would run out of time today and tomorrow, but that would mean we’d show up at home very late Saturday night.
Regardless, we did make a stop for Mt Thielsen at 8:05am, which was a very jagged shaped mountain, but it was against the sun. We saw there was also a vista point for Mt Mazama, but there were too many trees in the way so we opted to not stop for that one. However, at 8:15am, we did stop for the Diamond Lake Viewpoint, which turned out to be a pretty nice stop – not only for restrooms, but it also had a nice view over part of Diamond Lake with Mt Bailey backing it. Looking further to the east, we got another view of Mt Thielsen’s jagged shape.
At 8:25am, we went back into the car, and continued driving west as we were losing elevation before finally reaching the familiar turnoff for Toketee Falls. Recalling that the trailhead was closed off seven years ago, I was happy to see it wide open for us to drive past the bridge then hanging a left where we could park the car near some giant water pipes where some pinhole leaks were spraying out like sprinklers or something.
It was 8:50am when we reached the parking lot. And thinking that this walk was going to be pretty short and trivial, we just put on hiking boots hastily and then walked through the forest before the trail meandered besides the North Umpqua River. Mom noticed one section that had a couple of whirlpool-induced heart-shaped openings of the gorge walls.
The trail kind of undulated up and down steps before going down the last series of steps as it curled around until it eventually stopped atop some rocky bluff that was somewhat concealed by the density of the forest. From the viewing platform here, we got the familiar angled views of Toketee Falls that we had always seen in calendars. But in person, it pretty much looked like what we had seen in the calendars.
Mom likened this falls to some kind of jewel. I thought this falls was special because of the pronounced basalt columns as well as the seemingly pristine scene below as there was a dark plunge pool into which the falls plunged. So we spent quite a bit of time taking photos here, but before we knew it, there were other people who showed up and crowded into the viewing platform.
One of the groups that rocked up to this viewing deck was a trio of younger people (one of them wore the familiar Oregon Ducks logo with that golden O). Two of those young folks actually hopped the railings and started to scramble down to I guess access the base of Toketee Falls. The terrain was quite steep and very dangerous, but I guess when you’re that young, you tend to think you’re indestructible. I wonder what their parents would think if they saw this…
Regardless, I struggled in my mind on how to rate this falls. Should it be a 3 and be put on equal footing with Mossbrae Falls? Or should it be a 3.5 putting it on equal footing with say Middle McCloud Falls. Despite this minutia, there was no denying that Toketee Falls definitely had an impact on our impressions and our overall experience.
We were in such a good mood due to this experience that we decided we mind as well go to the nearby Watson Falls so Mom and Dad could experience this place for their first time. This particular one was like a repeat to me, but I guess it never hurt to see what new ways I could experience this falls.
So after leaving Toketee Falls at 10am (seeing quite a few more people coming to the falls as we were leaving), we’d arrive at the parking lot for Watson Falls at 10:05am. There were already a handful of cars here, but we managed to find parking space and then promptly started the hike to get a closer look for this falls. I pointed out to Mom and Dad that the falls could be seen high up above the parking lot and that kind of upped the anticipation factor on their part to see what this falls had to offer.
The hike up was for the most part uneventful though Mom pointed out to me the series of mossy rocks that managed to find their way down to the flanks of the trail. We knew that these rocks and boulders flaked off the vertical cliffs surrounding the falls, but Mom did observe that these mossy rocks could have been stand-ins for the real trolls and goblins like in Disney’s Frozen. I told Mom that we had seen this kind of thing before where Julie and I went to Iceland and noticed mossy rocks as well that could also double as trolls. Maybe it’s no coincidence given the northern lattitudes and wetter climates.
Like before, we managed to get teasing glimpses of Watson Falls as we hiked up as well as from the footbridge over its creek. However, the last couple of switchbacks were a bit on the steep and slow side despite it being established trail, but judging how the sun might actually adversely impact the viewing experience with this falls, I hastily made my move first to capture the falls before the sun would breach the cliff and otherwise make this place quite difficult to photograph and/or enjoy as a result.
So after getting our fill of Watson Falls at 11:05am, it was now time to drive further to the east then to the north to re-visit (at least as far as I was concerned) Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls. Diamond Creek Falls (like Toketee Falls) would be new for me since seven years ago, this trail was also closed due to storm damage from earlier in the year.
The drive was mostly uneventful though it was remarkable how straight shot the road was as we headed east (more like northeast) from Crater Lake, and then we went north before swinging to the northwest as we pursued Salt Creek Falls as well as Diamond Creek Falls.
It turned out to be quite the drive just to even go from Watson Falls to Salt Creek Falls. But eventually by 12:40pm, we finally rocked up to the Salt Creek Falls parking lot, but with our National Forest Pass, it should be good for this spot as well.
First up, we walked over to a somewhat unsatisfactory top down view of Salt Creek Falls. It was quite the busy place when we showed up, but Mom and I also noticed that the high noon sun was actually behind the waterfall meaning we were for the most part looking against the sun’s intense rays. So we made an executive decision to just hike to Diamond Creek Falls in a loop before coming back to Salt Creek Falls where hopefully the lighting situation might improve (though that wasn’t a sure thing either).
At 1:10pm, we started the walk to Diamond Creek Falls. This time, I noticed that there were no remnants of a trail closure here unlike seven years ago. So now we crossed the bridge traversing Salt Creek, and then on the other side, we found ourselves in a forested area where we were greeted by some pretty persistent and seemingly aggressive mosquitos. Despite the DEET being applied, they seemed to still go after us, and I started to wonder if my Jungle Juice had lost its potency due to the age of the chemical or if these particular mozzies just happened to be more persistent and aggressive and it wouldn’t have mattered regardless of the DEET being applied.
When we reached the next trail junction, we ultimatley decided to do this looping trail in a counter clockwise direction thinking that it would allow us to be face-to-face with both of the named waterfalls on the North Umpqua River.
Initially, the trail passed by some interesting lava terrain providing views of the highway as well as the gorge below. Then, it skirted by what appeared to be a lake. The trail undulated with some climbing stretches, but it was really the constant presence of hungry mosquitos looking to get pot shots on us that weighed on our minds throughout this hike.
At 1:40pm, we reached a view point that peered across a gorge towards a very obstructed and hidden waterfall. I could hear the sounds coming from that falls, but it was really hard to see let alone photograph. I guess this must be the so-called “Lower Diamond Creek Falls” that people said was difficult to view.
This was one of those situations where I wondered why even bother if you can’t see a waterfall like this one. And it was a shame because I could clearly see that it was indeed an impressively tall falls that was worthy of a better view than this.
Next, we continued the hike where the trail skirted the rim of this gorge providing other obstructed semi-views of this obscured waterfall, but it was clear by 1:50pm when the trail was veering away from this falls that there would be no way to better experience this. And so onwards we went on the looping trail.
A few minutes later, we’d encounter another sign at a junction saying that the Lower Diamond Creek Falls was beyond. Could this be going to that waterfall that was obstructed?
I somehow doubted that since we had now walked quite a distance away from that obstructed falls. So we followed this spur path which steeply descended on a fallen log with steps carved into it before skirting a narrow and slippery wet section that ultimately dropped us down to the level of Diamond Creek where there was a log crossing. Beyond that crossing, we followed the trail, which eventually led us right to the base of the impressive Diamond Creek Falls at 2:10pm.
I don’t know why the sign called this the “Lower Diamond Creek Falls” if there already seemed to be a lower one further downstream, but regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed checking out this falls and it seemed like the mozzies weren’t as bothersome at this falls given that it was cool enough to create a breeze and keep them at bay.
Meanwhile, it looked like the early afternoon sun was starting to create shadows on the right hand side of the wide fan-shaped falls, which kind of conspired to make our photos a bit washed out or too dark given these extremes in contrast. Still, we worked so hard to get down here so we mind as well enjoy it.
Mom and I were busy evaluating this falls while documenting it. I had wavered on making this falls a 2.5 or a 3 and it was kind of reminiscent of Rocky Brook Falls on the Olympic Peninsula but wider. Since the situation with the shadows wasn’t going to improve, we had our fill of this falls and promptly headed back up to the main loop.
At 2:40pm, we made it to another lookout of the Diamond Creek Falls. The view from here was something more familiar to me as I had seen photos from this angle in some books and in other literature. I wondered if the trail to the base of the falls was something recent or not. Anyways, it was a nice comprehensive view from here and the shadows afflicting the right hand side of the falls didn’t seem to be as bad in this position.
Five minutes later, we reached another trail junction. Upon consulting the Plumb book, we saw that the spur path to the right was following Falls Creek, where there were three more waterfalls, but the nearest one was at least 0.8 miles one-way. We saw that we wouldn’t have the time to do these plus they didn’t seem to rate well so we continued to the left on the loop path, which would ultimately take us back to the original footbridge upstream from Salt Creek Falls in another mile.
At 3:15pm, we made it back to the top of Salt Creek Falls. Unfortunately, our fears were founded when we saw that the afternoon sun didn’t exactly improve the lighting conditions on Salt Creek Falls. In fact, the falls was still in shadow and the only lit up part was the basalt cliffs adjacent to the falls right below us.
Mom and I decided to spend the rest of our time hiking down towards the bottom of Salt Creek Falls. We steeply descended the familiar trail leading down to a rock slide area that essentially killed the last 100 yards of the trail to the base. So we were content with the view from this position not really seeing a need to scramble all the way down to the bottom. Plus, a handful of other folks felt the same way and stayed up here as well even though I did recall earlier on that one couple did make it to the bottom.
So we took our time documenting the falls from this position before heading back up. By 3:55pm, we finally returned to the parked car where Dad was chilling out the whole time Mom and I were re-visiting Salt Creek Falls.
As we drove off shortly thereafter, we made a couple of stops to view Diamond Peak as well as Odell Lake. But besides that, we made on gas stop in Chemult before Dad took over the driving duties and headed all the way back to Medford. I had originally intended to check out the Natural Bridge Campground just to see if that place was worth checking out, but since I dozed off while Dad was driving, I figured that he wanted to get back to town for dinner, and that was pretty much what we did.
We settled on this spot called Elemental Tapas Bar and Restaurant in downtown Medford at 6:55pm. This downtown area seemed kind of dead, but the tapas bar was fairly busy. We were seated right away and we wound up ordering things like a Moroccan Lamb, Ceviche, Papa de Toro, Duck Salad, and their House Paella. They didn’t have the Pata Brava (which featured Iberico Ham) nor did they have Sangria. So our experience was a bit of a mixed bag though the food was quite good.
Still, they were pretty short staffed so we skipped on the flan and ice cream dessert, and we’d eventually leave the restaurant at 8:50pm, and then we’d be back at the Candlewood Suites at 9:05pm. It was yet another late end to an otherwise successful day, and Mom certainly felt like today was a big success given that yesterday felt more like an anticlimax.
I told her that sometimes you gotta taste the lows or the failures before you can have success. For that’s what makes the highs so much sweeter, and this was certainly the case today. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going tomorrow as we’ll focus more exclusively on Crater Lake while hopefully fitting in the stuff we missed like Natural Bridge as well as Mill Creek Falls and Barr Creek Falls among others…