Thunderbird Falls

Snooping around on lidar, I found a rocky canyon in the Umpqua Nation Forest with a waterfall in it.  I went in with low expectations and came out with an incredible experience with one of the most significant locations in the area.

I have seen a lot of waterfalls in Douglas County and areas beyond.  It can sometimes be difficult in finding new waterfalls to explore, but also ones that are worth the effort.  This creates a scenario where one can feel like they have "seen all of the significant ones" in the area.  Turns out, this feeling would be dramatically incorrect.

Considering most of my hikes do not involve trails, I rarely spend time on them.  This trip requires multiple trail miles to get to the creek, meaning I spent significantly more time hiking along a trail than I possibly have done in this forest over the past 20+ years.  I think the Eileen Lake backpacking trip is the only one where I spent more miles on a trail.

Along the trail, the aptly named firebush was everywhere.  This one is set against a burnt stump, giving it a unique natural background.

 

One interesting thing about firebush is that the flowers pop out of these odd spines.

 

The first trip, I found it fairly easy going, though the second trip I understood its challenges a bit more.  There are several places where it gets challenging to make your way past huge logs, log jams, and tricky spots in the creek.  Overall, it is beautiful along the creek and wildlife was abundant.  There were countless frogs, 3 garter snakes (including me scaring one as I came around a corner, to the point it raised its head and jumped before dashing across the water), and a few deer.  No fish, no salamanders or newts.

 

There was a few dozen pacific tree frogs along the creek.

 

We saw a few crawdads on the second trip.  They were wary of predation from a distance.

 

A rock within a rock.

 

This rock has its own rock collection.

And I found a gimmicky feature on my phone that is ripe for abuse:

Super slo-mo is actually pretty cool.  Only problem is that it takes movement to get the video to actually start recording instead of pressing a button and forcing it.  I tried to get some frogs jumping but it was ineffective.  And for the record, the first one turned portrait all on its own.  Don't @me.

 

Interesting limb growth on that tree in the center.

 

I knew off of Google images of the site that I would most likely be seeing a lot of columnar basalt.  Initially as I headed up the creek, it was pretty bare of this type of rock.  These two were exclusions.

 

A couple turns away from the falls and the route should narrow substantially as I come into the canyon.  It did this in very quick fashion.

 

The columnar basalt looks like it's growing right out of the ground, as that madrone is growing out of the basalt.

 

The first of the canyon with a nice cascade-fed pool below it.  The water here looks at least 10' deep, probably closer to 15, maybe further.

From here, business starts to pick up.

This basalt formation is fascinating in how it leans back against the rest of the hill.

 

A 90 degree turn away is this monstrous beauty.  If any rock wall can simultaneously exhibit power and grace, this one does.  The thin separation between vertical and horizontal basalt is apparent.

Another 90 degree turn and this is the rock you see:

It is breathtaking.  The eye naturally looks behind and above to see more amazing rock formations beyond.

 

It is around here where two waterfalls are visible.  The lower is a slide-like run into a fairly deep pool.  The upper crashes through a narrow crevice into something still out of sight.

 

When I first saw the pool and how deep it was, I questioned whether I was going to cross it.  As I peeked closer at the upper waterfall, I knew I had to.

 

The water here is about waist deep and dark.  There is nothing in it, but I really dislike going through water where I cannot see the bottom.

 

Here's a 360 photo taken while standing in the pool.

From here, it is obviously desirable to go all the way inside.  The mossy rocks next to the lower fall are really problematic:

The second trip was with my dad, Duane Cannon, who we see here looking at getting on top without breaking things.  The same decision path I'd have to make in just a minute.  They're wet and lack much in the way of foot or hand holds.  Coming down, I nearly slipped off and bounced into the pool.  This part is not for the faint at heart, nor the unskilled.  Beyond that, I would add lucky as being a good attribute to have here.

Up on top of the lower waterfall, things become clear.

The second-to-last photo was taken on the first trip, when the sun was out more.

 

Another incredible example of columnar basalt geology.  Here the basalt is vertical, then it morphs into horizontal with very little transition.  I believe that this is because the rock on top folded over before it completely solidified.

 

Here's a 360 from inside the upper area.

 

The upper waterfall has a couple sections, making it difficult to see at all.  The water here was really deep, footing was not reliable, and the water itself was really deceptive.  Places that were knee high looked identical to places that were waist high.  I believe that the pool itself has sections that blindly drop off above 10' deep.

 

It is tantalizing to think what it looks like above this tier.  It is daunting to think of how to get there.

I messed around a bit more, then turned to see this scene:

This photo felt very good to take.

 



Pretty nice feature.

 

There is another waterfall that is above the upper twisting one pictured, as well as some interesting geology.  The question now goes to how accessible those areas are.  At first glance, the answer would be "not very".  However, closer inspection shows the route here (to the immediate right of the large pointy rock) not out of the question.

 

There also appears to be a path next to the leaning rock.  Both are sketchy, but both appear to be within my ability level.

 

The heading back begrudgingly begins.  Without question, this is one of the most remarkable locations in the Umpqua National Forest.  I know I wasn't the first person back there, but there was no boot path and no signs of human travel.  With the high number of wildlife hanging out in the open, I take that as a sign that there is little foot traffic, even for that which does not leave footprints.  As destinations go, I struggle to rank this one.  I think Duncan Falls (here and here) is #1, but only because of the overall trek.  #2 typically is the Devil's Staircase (here and here).  I would place this over the Devil's Staircase.  It has a feeling that inspires awe and is something that moves me.  Most locations, I check out for a few minutes and then scoot along.  I think there's a part of me that will never leave this place.

3 thoughts on Thunderbird Falls

  1. What an incredible Umpqua gem. And I’m talking about the area….not the cool rock within another. Would love to get a tour some day. Thanks for sharing.

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