These are not your father's spring guided hikes on the Table Rocks.
Hikers this year will hear new perspectives, get different views and even hear a new language during the upcoming series of free hikes offered in April and May on Southern Oregon's two signature mesas.
The 26th annual series of Saturday and Sunday hikes are sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and the federal Bureau of Land Management and kick off April 5 with the first ever all-Spanish interpretation hike.
Upper and Lower Table Rocks, two of the Rogue Valley's most recognizable features, are managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Lower Table Rock offers a moderately difficult, 1.75-mile trail to the top. To get there from Interstate 5, take Exit 33, go east for one mile on East Pine Street and turn north at the signal onto Table Rock Road. Drive 10 miles to Wheeler Road and turn west. The trailhead is off Wheeler Road.
Upper Table Rock offers an easy/moderate trail with some steep sections over a 1.25-mile trek to the top. To get there from I-5, take Exit 33 and go east for one mile on East Pine Street and turn north onto Table Rock Road. Drive 5.3 miles to Modoc Road and turn north. The trailhead is accessible off Modoc Road.
Hikers should bring their own water. Dogs are not allowed on either trail to prevent the disturbance of ground-nesting birds and other animals. Also, horses, bicycles and other vehicles are prohibited on the trails.
In the past, the conservancy and BLM have conducted a handful of bilingual hikes, but this new effort is designed to reach out to the Hispanic community who may have been left out of the Table Rocks interpretive experience because of a language barrier.
"There are people who want to get outdoors and learn about nature, but they may not have the opportunity to do that in a language they understand best," says Molly Morrison, the conservancy's stewardship coordinator. "We thought that we wanted to encourage people who are most confident speaking Spanish to enjoy the Table Rocks."
Geologists believe Lower Table Rock and its sister feature, Upper Table Rock, are the last traces of a vast lava flow 7 million years ago from Olson Mountain, an extinct shield volcano just east of Lost Creek Lake.
Geologists believe the vast majority of the flows eroded, leaving only the two horseshoe-shaped plateaus that have become signature features of the Rogue Valley.
The area is rich in wildflowers and rare vernal pools. One plant — the dwarf woolly meadowfoam — is found only on Upper and Lower Table Rocks.
The spring hike series has long been a staple here, with cutouts of the hike schedule dotting refrigerators across the Rogue Valley since the first set of hikes in 1989.
Hikes range from three to five miles round-trip along a moderate trail and normally last three to five hours. Hikers must pre-register to participate and they should dress for the weather, wear appropriate shoes and bring their own water.
Restrooms are available at both trailheads and no dogs or mountain bikes are allowed.
Along with the requisite wildflower, geology and birding hikes, this year's lineup has two other new hikes joining the all-Spanish ascent.
On May 3, Kevin Ratkovich, president of the Southern Oregon Skywatchers, will lead a night hike to look for Mars, Jupiter and other celestial bodies. While night-hiking one of the Table Rocks during a full moon is a bucket-lister for many Rogue Valley hikers, this hike ensures the shiny moon doesn't disturb star-gazing.
"We've been dreaming about offering that opportunity for a couple years," Morrison says. "It's a view of the sky you can't get anywhere else in the valley."
The following week on Lower Table Rock, Michael Karnosh from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde will lead a hike while discussing traditional and culturally important plants that the original Table Rocks residents found.
Karnosh's hike will be preceded by an April 6 hike led by Amy Amoroso, natural resource director for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians. She will discuss the tribe's connection to Southern Oregon and the Table Rocks.
Both tribes have an agreement with the BLM and the conservancy to help future stewardship efforts on the Table Rocks, Morrison says.