SAMS VALLEY — Allie McAfee strolled atop Upper Table Rock Wednesday serenaded by a choir of Pacific tree frogs in an adjacent vernal pool, and she chose her steps carefully to avoid the little yellow asters that glowed on the drab-green floor.
"I just saw the first purple grass (widow) last week at Lower Table Rock," says McAfee, a regular at the Rogue Valley's signature mesas. "There were also ladybugs all over the place. This weather's just been crazy."
Blooming wildflowers before the Super Bowl. What the...?
A week straight of 60-plus-degree weather in Southern Oregon and a snowpack well below average has turned the natural world upside down, and in the process it has taken away traditional winter pursuits such as skiing, ice-fishing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing, but it has kick-started some of the outdoor rights of spring.
With a glass-half-full attitude, we offer five things you can do — including wildflower viewing on the Table Rocks — that you wouldn't be able to do in a normal winter.
You should not be able to fish Diamond Lake in a boat today.
But you can, like "Fish On!" John Linson, who has been launching his boat at Diamond Lake since early January — and as recently as Saturday.
"I've been fishing Diamond Lake for 50 years, and I'm pretty sure I'm the first guy in recorded history to fish out of a boat in that lake in January or February," Linson says.
The reason that's likely true is a perfect non-storm of sorts at this High Cascades lake in eastern Douglas County.
For most of the previous century, angling was closed at the lake in winter. It became a year-round fishing lake on New Year's Day of 2013. Since then, the lake has been partially or completely frozen during the first two months of the year.
This year, warm rains melted what ice was on the lake by early January and melted enough snow to make the lake's north ramp accessible, so boat access to the ice-free lake is available.
Linson made his most recent trip Saturday with four friends fishing out of two boats.
"We caught the &*!# out of them on the lake," says Linson, a 63-year-old Prospect angler most famous for winning The BlackBird $5,000 fishing derby there three consecutive years. "It was overcast but no wind. Five limits (of rainbow trout) in about four hours. It was crazy."
You should not be able to Stand-Up Paddleboard in Applegate Lake without a wetsuit.
Dont' tell that to SUP-veteran Jackie Auchard of Medford, who has taken this largely spring-through-fall sport in the Rogue Valley to new winter heights.
On Wednesday Auchard took her SUP to work in Ruch with her, then hit the high-mountain reservoir wearing light workout pants but no wetsuit.
"When we have these strangely warm days, we try to get out there real quickly after work," Auchard says.
You should not be able to scramble up Pilot Rock.
But you can, if you really want to now that Pilot Rock is about as clean and ice-free for an early February as most hikers can remember.
Most years, ascending this Siskiyou Mountains landmark east of Interstate 5's Siskiyou Summit is very seasonal, and snow usually keeps mid-winter hikers from getting to the trailhead let alone to the top of this 5,909-foot volcanic plug.
While people regularly hike — or snowshoe — up the trail to the base of the rock in winter, they rarely venture up to the peak.
"It could be real hazardous in a normal winter," says Gabe Howe, executive director of the Ashland-based Siskiyou Mountain Club. "Normally, you wouldn't want to be up there. Icicles could break off and fall on you."
While the trail is muddy, it is accessible, and hikers have been plying the snow-free trail most of the winter.
You should not be able to hunt for morels.
"We were thinking the same thing, because the daffodils are already blooming," says Chelsea Silva, a member of a Gold Hill morel-hunting family. "Usually when that happens, the mushrooms come early."
Chelsea's mother, Donna Silva, is a long-time morel hunter and buyer, and she's usually starting to ply low-elevation forests for them in late February or early March, Chelsea Silva says. However, she's found these delicious products of the duff as early as Valentine's Day during warm, dry Februarys like this one, she says.
"It wouldn't hurt to try now," Chelsea Silva says.