The Wild Rogue area is in the Klamath Mountains, which are made up of land that was once part of ocean crust or island archipelagos, carried toward continental North America by plate tectonics. They were joined to the existing continent, and folded, faulted, and broken upon collision.
To search for the geologic origins of the Rogue River is to look back over an ocean of time so vast that the rigors of science are reduced to speculation. - Roger Dorband, from The Rogue: A Portrait of a River
Sedimentary deposits comprise most of the geology in the roadless areas. They date back from the Upper Jurassic Period of the Mesozoic Era (136-190 million years ago, near the time of mammal evolution) and include sand, silt and other substrates prone to landslides. The Rogue formation occurs from Graves Creek west to Booze Creek and is composed of volcanic rock including greenish lava flows and rocks comprised of lava cinders and fragments.
A variety of conifer and hardwood tree species and evergreen shrubs provide the majority of vegetation in the Wild Rogue Area. Evergreen hardwoods such as madrone, chinquapin, and tanoak dominate plant communities. Oregon white oak series is found on dry slopes and canyon live oak is found on rocky sites.
Old-growth forests are very prevalent in the area. Conifer species include Douglas fir, white fir, sugar pine, ponderosa pine, incense cedar, Port-Orford cedar, and Pacific yew. Jeffrey pine is often present on the serpentine soils. Understory species in older forests include rhododendron and salal. The Wild Rogue North Watershed Analysis (which studied the watershed that includes the Wild Rogue areaa) found that 32 percent of the forests were older than 150 years. Other, smaller vegetation communities are associated with riparian areas, meadows, rock outcrops, rock cliffs, or talus slopes and contribute greatly to the biological diversity of the area. Meadow habitat is very limited in this watershed. Sites dominated by rock are common within the wilderness area and the Rogue River canyon.
The Wild Rogue watershed includes a number of streams, from short, seasonal creeks, to larger perennial streams. The steepness of the Rogue canyon contributes to the many waterfalls on several of the smaller creeks. The tributary stream systems provide water that is much colder than the Rogue River and are vitally important for native fish that find refuge from the main stem’s warmer waters for the return to their natal streams to spawn. These areas, known as thermal refugia, are particularly important for anadromous fish that arrive when river flows are lowest and water temperatures are high. This is especially true for particularly summer steelhead.
The Siskiyou Mountains are world renowned for botanical diversity. The Wild Rogue is home to exceptional botanical resources, including rare plants, mosses and fungi. Beargrass, pictured here, was an important plant for Native Americans who used it for basket and rope-making. One species of interest is the Rogue River stonecrop (Sedum moranii). This plant is endemic to the Wild Rogue area. It grows on rock outcrops and cliff faces primarily located along the north bank of the Rogue River. Another species of interest is the white flowered ginger (Asarum caudatum var. novum). This species occurs near creeks in late-successional forest habitat. While it has yet to be described as a “new” (to science) species, it has only been found on BLM lands in and near this area.
Native Americans lived along the Rogue, or “Gelam” River for thousands of years. The Takelma, or Da-Gel-Ma, translated to “those who live alongside the river,” lived near Bear Creek and the Rogue through Gold Hill and Grants Pass. There was a band of Takelma in the Upper Rogue called the “Ha-ne-sakh’s” or “rotten log people.” Another band of Takelma lived along Galice Creek called the “Tal-tuc-tun-te-de.” The Tutuni lived in the lower reaches of the Rogue watershed. Natives lived primarily on acorns, salmon, deer and camas. The Takelma regularly set fires to manage brush and to favor plant growth and deer forage.
The Rogue River was named by French trappers who fought with Native Americans on the river beginning in the 1820s. The French called the tribes “les Coquins” (the Rogues). The river thus became known as “La Riviere aux Coquins” (the Rogue River).
Gold was discovered in southern Oregon in 1851. European immigrants quickly descended on the Rogue Valley and genocide against Native people began. In the winter of 1855-56, a band of ‘Rogues’ hid out at what was later to be known as Battle Bar and Big Meadows. The next spring,
soldiers came down the Rogue River and killed many
Native Americans at the last battle of the “Rogue Indian Wars.” Survivors were marched north to the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations. The remains of a cabin and a plaque memorialize the site of the massacre.
Famed adventure author Zane Grey (1875-1939) purchased an old mining claim at Winkle Bar, where he went on to write several books. He celebrated the river in both fiction (The Rogue River Feud, 1929) and non-fiction (Tales of Freshwater Fishing, 1909). His cabin, along with Whisky Creek cabin (pictured here) still stand today and are popular attractions for river and wilderness visitors.
An excerpt from Roger Dorband's The Rogue-Portrait of a River:
There is something memorable in the name Zane Grey. Once heard, it is
seldom forgotten, just like the name of the southern Oregon river that
he loved. Zane Grey and the Rogue River are forever linked. During Grey’s lifetime, his name was a household word...In 1912, at
the age of 40, he published Riders of the Purple Sage, his most famous
novel. It sold more than a million copies and established Grey as the
most popular and highest-paid writer in America, a distinction he held
for 20 years...
Conservationism, an orientation so out of step with the industrial juggernaut exploiting the natural resources of America in his day, and ours for that matter, was just the beginning to dawn in the hearts and minds of a few outstanding men…Zane Grey coined his own phrase in appealing for conservation. He used the title Vanishing America for an article that appeared in the news organ of the Isaac Walton League, a conservation organization which he co-founded in 1922. The phrase appears again in Tales of Freshwater Fishing. In a conversation Grey had with a resident gold miner along the Rogue at Whiskey Creek, both men decry the Forest Service’s plan to cut military and fire roads down the Rogue. “But all wilderness dwellers, hunters and fishermen, and lovers of the forest, hate automobile roads, and know they are one great cause, probably the greatest, of our vanishing America."