Down in Southwestern Oregon, along the Rogue River are not just one Table Rock, but two. They are Upper and Lower Table Rocks, horseshoe shaped buttes that were part of the Table Rock Reservation. We have spent quite of bit of time with Lower Table Rock as this butte was fully contained within the reservation, and the tribes saw this butte as a sacred place. The butte served as a natural fort, to protect against invaders, and was used by the tribes during the signing of the Rogue River Reservation in 1853 as a safe place for the people while negotiations took place.
The people of this valley, primarily the Takelma tribe, are my people, one of my ancestral tribes. So this trip was very thought provoking. I wonder about the peoples and their use of this place. The relative natural setting without any apparent clearings for native structures, meaning to me that this place was rarely used, it was a sacred place, perhaps a place for defense, or to escape from natural disasters. Otherwise there were few signs of native use. Some rocks on the landscape were arranged in interesting ways, probably placed there by someone. The circular patterns most probably meant something to the tribes. I was immersed in the environment of the tribes of the past, and because I seem to come back here each year, there may be some meaning to these experiences.
Upper Table Rock does not get the same attention. Half of the butte was within the reservation, and today there is a trail to the top, from the trail head off Modoc Road. Upper Table Rock gives great views of the surrounding valley and ranges, and there are some unique ecosystems at the top.
First, I was not feeling like a climb that day, but I decided on a whim to take the trail. I had been invited on several other hikes but had not brought the right shoes or clothing. But I decided to circumnavigate Upper Table Rock on Modoc road and saw the trial head and decided to go for it. I only had my slip on shoes that I normally wear to work and shorts and a t-shirt. I found one water bottle in my car and took off.
The trail was easy going. I felt OK most of the way up, took my time and was not overly winded. I had spent a good part of the summer hiking miles around New York and Washington DC so I think I had built up some stamina. It was not too hot, and the horizon was hazy, a result of the fires in Northern California, so this helped. I did not drink a lot, and actually found a full water bottle on the side of the trail half way up. I took some to fill my bottle and left the rest. I fell in among a madrone forest sprinkled with pine and other trees. The madrone is so interesting with its curling bark and red inner layer. My great uncle Frank Forster used to use the wood for his carpentry. Its a very beautiful wood. Reaching the top, I knew that I was there because the trees ended. It was also perfectly flat with a rolling prairie on top. The whole area is sprinkled with lava rock. The pattern is so random it must have been this way for a very long time. But following the trails on the top I found several rock shapes that looked mad-made, whether of native culture or otherwise I don’t know. I went straight to the other side of this leg of the butte and was able to see Lower Table rock in a haze. I wished for a better camera, but the other had no power. So I was limited to my phone, which takes good photos. Checking the meter on the phone I only had less than half power so I knew my photography time would be limited. On the way I found a few other plants of interest. A form of juncus which dries a shade of yellow, wild roses and the madrone.
I walked north along the inner seam of the south leg and so buzzards drifting and catching the updrafts at this edge. They were fast so I could not catch them with my camera. I walk north until the trail seemed to end. I wanted to get closer to Lower Table rock to take better photos of that butte from the North leg of Upper Table
Rock, so I set out westward, trying to get across the lava strewn fields. I found walking through the tall grasses was more difficult because the stickers would get into my socks and I could not see the lava so I would stumble a lot. So I adopted a pattern of following the edge of the round lava boulder fields. This helped me progress better but after about a half hour of this and I realized that I would not make it all the way west and then back to the car in time to get home at a decent hour.
So I headed north, found a recently driven road and followed that for a bit. I saw a white airplane warning tower peaking over the top of the butte, as I think there is a small airport on the valley floor and after a time turned back. On the way back I found an empty plastic water bottle and picked it up and a roll of toilet paper, just laying in a middle of the lava field. I picked these up to clear the area of this litter. I wish people would pack out their litter.
An excellent trip and learned lot about the butte. The haze was very apparent. I wonder what the Takelmans of long ago did when there were fires. The Table rocks may have been a hiding place from the fires.
I found the trail head down and headed back. I took a side trial which descended quickly, and when getting back to the trail, I found walking down is incredibly strenuous on the joints. When I got back to the car I had been on the hike for about 3 hours. I had at least one blister on a toe and for four days I was in muscle pain for this excursion. My shoes held up well but needed to be tighter and stiffer to deal with the lava shards.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.