Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Rainy Season Rewards
By Tom Baake
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A visitor enjoys Elk Creek Falls in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest south of Powers.

From main highways to city streets to forest backroads, all routes took a beating this winter. Slumps, slides, washouts, fallen trees, culvert clogs, downed branches, torn-out brush, whole hillsides liquefied…

If there’s an upside, after several years of less-than average rainfall, the drought’s broken, wells replenished, everything got a good deep watering, and the lakes and rivers are full. And then some!

The spectacle of the full force of nature is awesome to behold. Waterfalls are perhaps the ultimate compression of natural forces. They are the gauge, so to speak, of winter’s output, and their fury grows with every storm.

After the kind of winter and early spring we’ve had, waterfalls pour forth from every mountainside, and some of the big ones are in breathtaking shape. A few weeks ago I wrote about Golden and Silver Falls, our best known, 25 miles east of Coos Bay, which are in a splendid rage right now. You can read the story and get directions in the archived story at www.southcoastshopper.com/articles/TomsStories/3-16-17.html

With torrential rain continuing, it’s going to be waterfall season for a while longer. And we are in serious waterfall country, with not only the better-known big cascades but also innumerable seasonal seeps and falls. Every turn in the road seems to reveal another, from high, lacy ribbons to stairstep pools to thundering horsetails to natural waterslides.

The picture will unfold on a ride up coastal river canyons or along any forest byway, but the road to Powers and beyond into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest provides one of the best pictures of both the good and the not-so-good, the former with beautiful forestlands and dozens of waterfalls, and the latter with the rough conditions mentioned earlier – lots of evidence along the way of how hard the forest has been hit this stormy season.

Still, with waterfalls to the left, waterfalls to the right, it’s easy to get distracted by them and miss a bad bump or pothole. Scouting for waterfalls and watching out for road hazards makes this a stimulating journey, but the rewards are worth it.

Getting There

Make your way on Highway 42 to Myrtle Point. If you’re coming from Bandon or Bay Area cities,  bonus visual treats include shimmering, seasonal Winter Lake stretching what seems like miles into the distance as you come into Coquille, and then the Coquille River Valley countryside between Coquille and Myrtle Point in all its verdant green glory.

About 4 miles beyond Myrtle Point on Highway 42, take the Powers turnoff and skirt the valley’s margins, passing through Broadbent in a couple of miles.

You might have caught glimpses of this trip’s other reward: the Coquille River’s south fork has almost-unreal appearance right now, hard to describe, a silky, luminous green ribbon which the road more or less follows up to and beyond Powers, with many places along the way to stop and check it out.

On the road to Powers, it seems as if every couple of miles brings another rough, rocky stretch where the pavement’s been compromised, or more like pulverized, sometimes with an added bonus of a deep pothole. This route suffers even in a mild winter, and I can only applaud the road crews who must be sick of fixing these same sections year in and year out. But what can you do? It’s like those sections on US 101 between Port Orford and Gold Beach. These hillsides are basically always moving.

The road crews eventually get it patched up, and cart away the debris, and the forest jungle grows in again and smoothes out the scenery, and we’re good for another year. And of course there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying it right now, it’s just a little raw and wild yet. And that river!

Once in Powers, follow signs to Agness, China Flat, Illahe as the road doglegs through town. About 4 miles beyond is the National Forest boundary, and a couple of miles farther is the first of the really impressive waterfalls – Elk Creek Falls, up a short trail through a towering old-growth forest.

 Back on the road, the waterfall route continues. More details in upcoming articles. For now, here’s hoping you can enjoy this remarkable seasonal spectacle accessible right “out your back door.”

And remember to watch out for rocky stretches and the potholes. Sounds like the name of a country band.

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.) 
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