• Theresa Verboort

In the beginning...

I first became aware of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness of Southwestern Oregon many years ago, when we were traveling up I-5 from Ashland.  As we were driving north, I saw a sign that said “Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, with an arrow pointing to the west.  I had never noticed it before.  It caught my imagination.  How had I lived in western Oregon my whole life and not known about this?  

            So I looked it up.  The Kalmiopsis is a wilderness area set aside in the Siskiyou mountains of Oregon, not far from the California border.    

            Eventually I booked a guided hike into the wilderness.  Finding the trailhead was an experience in itself, involving narrow back roads into the eastern edge of the wilderness.  A small group of us finally gathered at the trailhead with our guide.  We were led up through a woodsy hillside to where we were treading along  a narrow path cut into the steep, rocky hillsides along the Illinois river.  I was surprised by the amount of greenery growing out of the rock strewn soil. Large boulders  were piled along the path, and sometimes the path veered around rocky outcrops that jutted out.  We were high above the river when we looked down.  We could see rafters floating by, and the water was so clear we could see the rocks on the bottom.  I fell in love with the rugged beauty of the place.  

            We passed a rivulet, tumbling down the hillside, and rested in the shade of the overhanging trees and shrubs.  You never know when you’ll come across one of these little areas.  After resuming our trek we finally found the lovely Kalmiopsis Leachiana, from which the wilderness gets its name.  It grew stubbornly out of the stony hillside.  I was fascinated to see the rare, lovely plant.  It looked to me like a type of azalea, with deep pink blossoms.

            I’ve toured the place twice, once from the east and once from the west, out of Gold Beach.  The one word that describes it best, I think, is rugged.  Steep, forested canyons fall into troughs and valleys at the bottom.  An abundance of rain keeps the place green most years. There is a flourishing cornucopia of plant and animal life.  One interesting aspect is the juxtaposition of many kinds of trees growing together. You may see madrone, red oak, fir and spruce, cedar or alder all growing in close proximity to one another.  There are lovely rivers and meadows and ponds. There are plants and creatures that live nowhere else on the planet.  Naturalists love to explore it, as well as nature lovers.  It’s a treasure that has been invaded in the past by loggers, miners, and fire.  Just last year the Illinois Fire did horrendous damage.  It will take decades for nature to reclaim it.  Trump wants to open the Siskiyou National Monument to mining and logging.  Who knows what damage that will do to this precious place?

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