Carlyle Stout pauses high above Grave Creek during a 52-mile bike loop from Galice to Wolf Creek and the ghost town of Golden. - Courtesy Carlyle Stout

Up and over 'The Rogue River Ramble'

The State of Jefferson is a dream for mountain bikers and road cyclists, with hundreds of challenging single-tracks in the Sikiyous and Cascades and miles and miles of paved, scenic, rural roads.

To celebrate the arrival of spring, my friend Art Buck and I decided to ride "The Rogue River Ramble," a 52-mile loop described in "75 Classic Rides Oregon: The Best Road Biking Routes" — the bible for Oregon road cyclists.

With 3,127 feet of climbing from Galice to Wolf Creek and on to the ghost town of Golden, the route follows the Rogue River to the Grave Creek put-in at the start of the Wild and Scenic Section, then veers right and follows Grave Creek for 20 miles to Wolf Creek and then along Coyote Creek to Golden. It is mostly uphill on the way out, with some climbs at 11-percent grade, but it makes for an exhilarating, well-deserved downhill on the return.

For several miles, the road parallels Grave Creek, and we cycled along its banks, enjoying the clear, green water coursing along tree-lined banks of alder, maple and willows. It looks like a classic brook-trout fishery with riffles, pools and tailouts. It was a warm day, so I thought a hatch might materialize, but I never saw a trout rise.

One surprise for us was the number of mining claims along Grave Creek. Federal law requires that mining claims be conspicuously posted, and they were. We did not see any evidence of mining activity, but there were many signs tacked to the trees along the creek.

The road is off the beaten path and very rural, so we had it all to ourselves and never saw another cyclist. We did ride past a few houses, but most were primitive and evoked visions of Appalachia. This area is a very different slice of Southern Oregon. "No Trespassing" signs were plastered on fences, gates and driveways by residents who take their privacy seriously, but we did see several locals, and when we waved to them, they responded in kind.

After about 10 miles, the road turns away from the creek and climbs far above it in a narrow serpentine. There were no trails or roads down to the creek, and I suspect very few people go down in the canyon, which is wild and remote. From occasional overlooks, we could see inviting, turquoise pools way down below that beckoned to us, and we'd gaze longingly at them.

Wildlife was abundant. Wild turkeys strutted through groves of oak trees, alerting us with their tell-tale gobbles. Black-tailed deer loped across the road, and California ground squirrels scampered from the shadows. Acorn woodpeckers pecked in staccato bursts on dead snags, and turkey vultures cruised the thermals above the canyon.

Arriving in Wolf Creek, we stopped at the Wolf Creek Inn, originally named the Wolf Creek Tavern. Built in 1883, it is the oldest continuously operated hotel in Oregon. In 1975, the state purchased the inn, and craftsmen spent four years restoring it. Today, it is a state park and offers meals and lodging. Historians researched old floor plans to make sure the restoration was accurate, and they did a good job. The inn is an architectural jewel.

There is a drawing room where guests congregate to relax and read. Everything looks as it did in the mid-1920s. We were famished by the time we arrived at 12:30 p.m., and we had a delicious lunch. I opted for cold microbrew on draft, homemade clam chowder and a Caesar salad with smoked salmon.

Nine rooms are available for lodging, and we toured some of them. The beds have quilted bedspreads, antique lamps reside on bedside tables and mirrors hang above wooden dressers; at once quaint and romantic. There is even a ballroom upstairs.

After lunch, we headed for the little-known ghost town of Golden, four miles from Wolf Creek. A mining town, it was unique because it had two churches and no saloons. The Community Church has been restored somewhat and is open to the public. We went inside and were pleased to find it just as it was years ago; there was no vandalism or graffiti.

The miners here used hydraulic mining, which wreaked devastating damage to Coyote Creek and the local flora and fauna. But Mother Nature is resilient, and the area has largely recovered thanks to many hours of habitat restoration by locals.

Golden has two other buildings besides the church: an old livery and a general store, the latter which is not open to the public, but we could peek through the windows and see the counter and bare shelves.

The ride back to Galice was almost all downhill, and we had to brake frequently on the twisting descents. By mid-afternoon, the temperatures were in the low 80s. We worked up a thirst and quenched it at the end of the ride with a cold beer on the deck of the Galice Store overlooking the Rogue River. The Rogue Ramble is another gem in the State of Jefferson. Whether you ride it on a bike or drive it in a car, it is a spectacular journey and one we will remember.

Carlyle Stout lives in Ashland.

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