Rain Forests of the Pacific Northwest
One of the reasons for the establishment of Oregon State Parks was to preserve its native trees. That policy was set back in 1929 as follows:
To create and develop for the people of the state of Oregon a state park system, to acquire and protect timbered strips on the borders of state highways, rivers, and streams, to secure in public ownership typical stands of the trees native to Oregon, to maintain the public right to the use of the sea beaches of the state, to seek the protection of our native shrubs and flowers and to preserve the natural beauty of the state.
The traveler will be overjoyed to find that several parks along the coast manage to satisfy all of these requirements, with several representative swatches of old-growth rain forest.
The last grove of uncut old-growth rain forest on the southern Oregon coast is found on the slopes of Humbug Mountain, which slides right into the Pacific Ocean. The picnic area encompasses a lush meadow where Port Orford children hunt for Easter eggs surrounded by tall trees on the back side of the mountain. The campground is only a few steps from a long stretch of ocean beach that invites beachcombing. The trail to the summit of the mountain is a wonderful excursion for all seasons.
Plants and Wildlife
Big-leaf maples (a large, water-loving, broad-leaved tree common in the rain forest) are seen at the beginning of the Humbug Mountain Trail. Two rare, prized trees are found along the trail Port Orford cedar and myrtlewood (which flowers in spring) along with old Douglas firs, western hemlock, and huge rhododendrons. Early spring brings pink wild currant blossoms, flowering red elderberry, and the first lovely trilliums edging the trail, followed by other wildflowers that include fairy lanterns, false Solomon's seal, vanilla plant, yellow violets, smilacinas, and bleeding hearts. White flowers of sorrel carpet the forest floor. Splotches of red or orange on decaying wood are from slime molds; yellow is from fairy cups or witches butter. Lichens and liverworts add subdued contrast as well as contributing minerals. Blackberries, thimbleberries, huckleberries, and salmonberries find enough sun along the edge of the path to flourish. Tanoak trees are dominant along the upper trail on the mountain.
Listen for the odd two-note song consisting of eerie, quavering whistles belonging to the varied thrush, which Edwin Way Teale called the"true voice of the rain forest." Chickadees chatter, and Douglas squirrels (chickarees) sometimes shrilly protest your presence. The forest floor looks like the debris in an unkept house, but it decays and becomes nutrients in a rich soil with decomposers such as fungus, millipedes, bacteria, and insect larva that work slowly at these cooler temperatures where logs pile on top of each other.
This is not like the tropical jungle where decomposition is speeded up and nutrients are used up quickly, leaving a depleted soil. The biomass in the temperate forest exceeds that of the tropical forest, but the number of species is less. The forests of the lonely southern coast of Oregon have vast numbers of black-tailed deer. From the summit, binoculars help spot gray whales migrating along the coast.
Humbug Mountain Trail
A parking space along US 101 is located at the trailhead. Or access this trail in the middle of the campground (part of the Oregon Coast Trail) by crossing a walkway that spans Brush Creek and passing through a tunnel under US 101. Then start climbing 1,748-foot Humbug Mountain past lovely trees with occasional tree-framed glimpses of the coast in the vicinity of Port Orford. This is a fairly strenuous, though not difficult, 3-mile climb with a grand view south from a grassy knoll at its summit (take a lunch, even a book if you'll be alone). The best of the old growth is near the beginning, where green moss drape over tree limbs.
Not many visitors know about the 2.6-mile Recreation Trail (also part of the Oregon Coast Trail) that uses some of the roadbed of the old coast highway in this area (a hazardous stretch for truckers). Walk to the east end of the campground, past the toll booth, to the signed trail. After crossing a small creek, the path goes uphill and west at the edge of forest. Wonderful views are soon the norm as the trail follows a flat shelf above the ocean until it descends the short distance to its end, which is just across from the good clamming area at Rocky Point.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication