Hike up Table Rocks leads to a colorful new world
Zach Urness/Daily Courier

Wildflowers explode on Lower Table Rock.

The Table Rocks, which tower above Medford and Central Point, burst with color during the spring, when the flat-top buttes are consumed with a carpet of wildflowers.

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By Zach Urness of the Daily Courier

From a distance, the Upper and Lower Table Rocks near Central Point are not overly impressive.

They appear to be brown mountain stumps, like giant rocky hills that have been sliced cleanly off at the base.

As you’re driving south on Interstate 5 toward Medford, these flat-topped mesas don’t catch your eye like the snowy cone of Mount McLoughlin hanging in the distance.

But these dull brown cliffs hide a colorful top.

With the coming of spring, the Table Rocks become an ocean of color. Wildflowers of purple, white, blue and gold blanket the dark volcanic rock called andesite, which forms these mesas.

With names such as Purpled Eyed Grass, Rusty Popcorn Flower, White Navarretia, Blue-Eyed Mary, Goldfields and Farewell-to-Spring, these flowers grow in multi-colored swaths large enough to make it seem as though someone is shooting fireworks up through the rocks.

The wildflowers aren’t the only aesthetically pleasing aspect. At roughly 800 feet above the plain, the plateaus feature panoramic views of the surrounding Siskiyou and Cascade mountains, including Mount McLoughlin and, on a clear day, the rim of Crater Lake.

You also can peer downward from the 125- to 200-foot cliff edges and view farmlands, tiny houses and the Rogue River, which winds its way through the rocks like a giant turquoise eel.

The Rogue River has played a major role in the formation of both Table Rocks. The Rogue Valley was filled with a thick lava flow roughly 7 to 9.6 million years ago. In that time, the river — along with other natural phenomena — eroded away the rock left by the lava, carving out the valley and leaving these mesas behind.

These landmarks once were home to the Takelma Indians, who called the Rogue River Valley home for 1,500 years, according to estimates by the U.S Department of the Interior.

The Takelma used the Upper Table Rock as a natural fortress in 1853 against the U.S Army, which was seeking retribution for an attack on local settlers.

The trip to visit this beautiful and historical land is easy today.

Each mesa has a well-groomed trail to follow to the top.

The distance from the trail head to the plateau at Upper Table Rock is about 1.1 of a mile, winding through scrub oak grasslands, with an elevation gain of approximately 720 feet.

Once at the top, you’ll find a remarkably flat surface with multiple trails to follow, one of which winds its way around the edge of the horseshoe-shaped top.

The trail up Lower Table Rock is slightly longer (1.6 of a mile) and steeper (780-foot elevation gain). At the top is a wide airstrip trail that leads through a vivid display of wildflowers. You’ll also come across tiny pools of water called “vernal pools,” which accumulate during fall and winter rains, and provide lifeblood to the wildflowers.

If you go east upon arriving at the top, you can look out upon the Upper Table Rock. At the end of the airstrip, on the south end, there are various viewpoints.

The Upper and Lower Table Rocks might not look like much from the highway, but travel to the plateau during spring, and you’ll view a display of colors fit for the Fourth of July.

NOTES: Both trails are open year-round, although it’s fantastically hot there in the summer. ... There is no fee to hike the Table Rocks. ... There are informational signs at both trail heads, and along the Lower Table Rock trail. ... The best time for viewing the wildflowers is from March until June. ... The table rocks are among the most popular sites for hiking the Rogue Valley with more than 10,000 visitors each year. To avoid crowds, plan trips during the week. ... Guided educational tours are available at various times during the season. See http://www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/tablerock/index.php for more information.


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