Takelma Gorge a tear in the Upper Rogue
Zach Urness/Daily Courier

The Upper Rogue River Trail leads past the stunning Takelma Gorge, a place that presents catastrophic danger for dull-witted 25-year-old amateur photographers such as myself.

Click here for a photo gallery of the Rogue River.

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By Zach Urness of the Daily Courier

The Upper Rogue River’s Takelma Gorge is a place that presents catastrophic danger for dull-witted 25-year-old amateur photographers such as myself.

The reason is simple: On a sunlit day, the gorge is beautiful. The river slices through large volcanic rock like a turquoise blade, pounding and churning through jet-black cliffs that reach 150 feet.

Capturing the scene, though, is not a simple task.

To get a proper picture, it’s necessary to scramble down the canyon’s steep edges, grabbing hold of tree roots and anything else handy to prevent sliding into the Rogue’s freight-train-like current.

Most people, I imagine, wouldn’t go through this type of trouble for a picture.

But for a 25-year-old photographer, the danger of finding that perfect shot is like a fly being lured toward an electric lamp.

Thankfully, I escaped unscathed during a recent hike through the gorge between Woodruff Bridge and the River Bridge campground.

Located on the Upper Rogue River Trail, this path is rarely traveled this early in the season (April) despite being among the most interesting on the river.

The area gets its name from Upland Takelma Tribe, a war-like band that was dubbed “Rogues” by early French trappers and later “Rogue River Indians.”

Along with the Native American history, the gorge also has an intriguing geologic history. It was formed several thousand years ago when Crater Lake’s active volcano filled the valley with lava and ash.

The ever-diligent river found a weak spot and beat its head against the rock until it created the narrow passage and carved out the gorge.

The trail through this unique area begins in the Woodruff Bridge Picnic area, which as of April 16, was covered in large part with snow.

The first section of trail was fairly boring and a little hard to follow because of the snow and a barrage of trees that have fallen across it.

But after about a mile and a half, the action picked up.

The Rogue becomes more and more agitated as you near the gorge, turning from a muddy color into a rushing silver white.

Suddenly, the river twists sharply around a large basalt cliff and whips into the skinny chute at the head of the gorge.

The trail rises ever higher along the cliffs — though it’s never overly steep — as the river drops far below.

At the highest point, you have to look straight down to see the thin blade of the Rogue as it cascades down a series of small waterfalls.

The gorge eventually widens into a stretch of cliffs rounded out like huge skateboard ramps. Then the river drops into an area of small sand beaches where the Rogue finally mellows back into its lazy roll.

The beaches mark the end of the gorge’s best views, but there is one more curiosity I found along the trail.

About 3.5 miles downstream is the Union Rogue Baptist Camp, which appears suddenly on the left side of the trail and features multiple small cabins with names such as Jonah, Noah and Paul.

There also is a main dining hall, plenty of rusted-down playground equipment, a rickety basketball hoop nailed to a tree and a shelf with Mason jars.

I eventually moved away from the little riverside village and continued on to River Bridge Campground where I turned around and completed the roughly 9.2-mile hike in fading light, which, thankfully, discouraged any thought of more photographic opportunities.

Extra point: For those with a few days to spare, I recommend a backpacking trip upstream from River Bridge Campground past Takelma Gorge nine miles to Natural Bridge Campground, past Union Creek Campground and the Rogue Gorge. Travel another 24.7 miles to Rough Rider Falls and the Crater Lake Viewpoint and finally arrive at the Rogue River’s headwaters at Boundary Springs. The whole trip is about 38.6 miles one way.


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