It’s a place where hawks and eagles soar, a place that puts a smile on your face and brings joy to your heart as Grant goes up, up and away to see Oregon wine country.
In early morning, when the light is soft and the air is still, there’s a sense of peace in the world. But as dawn approaches at the Sportsmen’s Airpark near Newberg, Oregon that serene silence is all too quickly broken. For this is where Roger Anderson gathers folks who travel from all over the world to let their hearts soar on one of his unique adventures.
Anderson’s Vista Balloon Adventures has been based in Newberg the past ten years.
Anderson and his wife, Catherine, specialize in giving people a bird’s eye view to a corner of the greater Willamette Valley that stretches across Yamhill County. The balloons are huge – big as houses. Each balloon requires five or six “crew” (volunteers who lend a hand) to assist with each morning’s launch.
First, powerful fans blow cold air (the process is actually called a “cold-air inflate”) into the nearly 200,000 cubic feet of nylon fabric.
How big is that?
“Visualize 180,000 basketballs,” offered Roger Anderson with a wink and a nod.
Once the balloon has been filled to its limit, ignition occurs as powerful propane gas burners light up and heat up the air inside the balloon.
It’s what gives the craft its lift.
It’s really a rather simple premise based upon the fact that hot air rises, but it gives passengers who ride aboard a different point of view to the landscape.
Hot air ballooning is a lovely and magical way to see a beautiful corner of Oregon and build lasting memories through a unique outdoor adventure.
Grant climbs to new heights this week – high above the Willamette Valley – to reach a mountain peak that you may have missed.
It’s the size of it all that steals the scene on a back road adventure that rises and winds for daylong getaway.
You’re on the trail to the mountain called Marys Peak; highest point on the Oregon Coast Range and it may just steal your heart along the way.
In fact, more than twelve miles of trails criss-cross Marys Peak, nearly all of them connected to the spacious parking area where many folks begin their adventures.
The most popular trail is the mile-long Summit Trail that leads you up a moderate grade. Soon, you’re face to face with an amazing scene: a bird’s eye view of the grand Willamette Valley.
You easily spy the small town of Philomath – then the larger Corvallis, Oregon just beyond.
Marys Peak stands tall at more than 4,100 feet and that makes the trees, the insects, flowers and grasses distinct – even rare for the Oregon Coast Range.
That alone makes the site worth a visit.
Perhaps you‘ll consider a longer stay. If you packed a tent, sleeping bag and food, nearby Marys Peak Campground’s secluded sites offer an affordable overnight stay.
At the least, do bring hiking boots and a camera on this getaway – they will provide you a comfortable and enjoyable way to savor Marys Peak: a unique mountain of dizzying heights and colorful delights.
At Silver Falls State Park, fourteen foamy white curtains whirl and ripple and tumble and shimmer at one of the most delightful parklands in Oregon.
Adam Bacher, an Oregon resident and noted landscape photographer, says he’s lucky enough to capture the falls from every angle.
“To me, Silver Falls State Park is like a miniature Columbia River Gorge,” noted Bacher.
The two of us paused just yards away from the full force of the majestic and loud South Falls. “In one afternoon, on foot, you can see three major waterfalls and several smaller ones in less than a mile and a half of easy hiking.”
We held tight to the steel guardrail alongside the ten-foot-wide trail and were just about to duck behind the famous whopper waterfall that’s on the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park.
Bacher’s a pro who finds the walking is pure pleasure inside Oregon’s largest state parkland. In fact, across more than 9,000 acres, you will find many waterfalls that boom and seem to shout for your attention.
“They come in all shapes and sizes, Grant-- we have a little over seven miles of canyon trail in this park, with three different access points and several different hiking loops. You can choose how far you want to go and which falls to visit, so if you’re looking for waterfalls, you can get the whole package right here--and we owe it all to prehistoric volcanoes.”
The geologic history behind so many falls in one location is impressive! It seems millions of years ago, successive and destructive lava flows covered the entire western region of Oregon.
But over time within this parkland, the wind, rain, and ice eroded or cut through the lava to create tributary creeks and their falls--plus the mainstem Silver Creek. So much beauty from long-ago devastation is worth pausing to consider!
Down the Trail of Ten Falls, Bacher offered a photo tip: let each waterfall guide you to their larger scenes: “Each item in nature is in it’s own unique context and so the more of that kind of foreground that I can show, I think the more it enhances the photo…I mean those cracks are literally layers of lava and who knows, a million years apart, a couple hundred thousand years apart…the geology here is just fascinating.”
Adam Bacher insists that you will slow down at Silver Falls State Park – the trails, the scenery, the wonder of it all – gives you little choice.
“I count my blessings that I have access to something this beautiful an hour and a half from Portland. It’s all pretty incredible!”
Grant takes advantage of every opportunity for a new adventure.
He recently enjoyed a big payoff for his efforts as he learned the tactics and techniques for catching the Oregon seafood delicacy called Dungeness crab.
Steve Fick first explored the Columbia River estuary as a kid, so he knows his way around the vast waterway where the river meets the sea.
He and his longtime friend, Jim Dickson, intended to teach this greenhorn how to catch his supper from the sea.
For Fick, the first lesson is simple enough: always wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device.) He insisted it’s a personal lesson in life and safety:
“You always wear it Grant, because if you fall overboard, particularly with heavy rain gear on, it’s very difficult to survive. The water is always cold and can sap your strength in a matter of minutes.”
We left the snug harbor at Hammond, Oregon and slowly motored the short distance downriver to an area just off Clatsop Beach.
Fick had prepared five large crab traps with varied baits – a strategy he often used so to “see what the crabs prefer.”
Sometimes he’ll use turkey legs, chicken wings, shad or salmon carcasses – even a can of tuna for crab bait. Anyone say, “lunchtime?”
Each Oregon crabber must carry an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Shellfish License. Each crabber is allowed to use up to three crab traps.
We timed our trip to fish our traps the last hour of the incoming tide and through the high slack period, (that’s often the best crabbing time.)
Steve said it’s the safest time to crab in the estuary:
“There is no reason to be out here on the ebb tide – that’s the out-going tide. It can be the most dangerous part of the tide cycle and this river can change so fast. You just don’t take chances out here.”
Fick said that each trap should “soak” for 15-20 minutes – that allows enough time for the crabs to locate the bait and enter the trap.
Each crabber is allowed a dozen male crabs apiece, and in Oregon they must be five and three-quarters (5¾) inches across the back.
Females are protected to preserve the breeding population of crabs. A crab gauge or other measuring device is essential gear since some crabs miss the mark by only a hair’s length.
Jim and I pulled in the last of the five traps. “Oh, man look at that, I screamed. “It’s a mother load and I think they’re all legal.”
I asked Fick what he enjoyed most about the adventure that’s just off his front door step:
“Oh, it’s simple and everyone can be involved in it. It’s easy to catch a dozen crabs per person with lots of action for kids. And – you never really know until you pull the pot up what you got…you know and that is fun!”
Some say it’s the speed, others say it’s the jumps, while few argue that there are risks, all agree that mountain biking can offer a true adrenalin rush.
And why wouldn’t it? Speeding down a narrow forested trail – weaving left and right so to stay on the right track, but with jarring bumps and jumps that shake, rattle and roll you along. Suddenly, a five-foot tall dirt berm appears out of nowhere and tests your agility as you fly airborne high above the ground.
It’s the rush of speed and the test of stamina that mountain bike riders find when they travel to one of the hottest locales in Oregon.
It’s called “Free Riding” and it’s on a little piece of cycling heaven where the riders catch “big air” across 500 acres of Oregon State Forest at Black Rock Mountain in Polk County.
The volunteer organization that makes it all work is called the Black Rock Mountain Bike Association or “BRMBA” for short.
Rich Bontrager, the association president, told me that the group is now seven years old and fifteen hundred members strong.
He noted that it all started with a simple dream: “I think we all need to help get people off the couch and out in the forest … to see that there’s other stuff out here than the city pavement or a computer game – it’s that sort of thing that draws folks – something new and different and exciting.”
The bikes that they ride are specially designed to take punishing workouts across the forest – aluminum framed bikes with heavy-duty front and rear air shocks and disc brakes are common and the bikes can reach $5,000 or more.
Whether catching big air or enjoying the freedom that comes from speeding down a forest trail on two wheels, the riders agree that there’s something for every level of experience at Black Rock Mountain.
“You’re out here in the trees and you’re away from everything else,” noted Glascow. “You’re far away from the daily grind. You can have a stressful day or stressful week and you come out here and ride a bike – it’s all gone!”
Adventure of a different sort waits for bike riders who visit Stub Stewart State Park in Washington County.
In fact, new construction on “free ride” trails with features similar to those you will find at Black Rock are currently under construction at Stewart – in addition to the 17 miles of hiking and biking trails that already exist. Look for completion of the new “mountain bike only” trails in 2010.
Don’t forget to check out Ride Oregon either! It’s a wonderful resource – a bike riding clearing house of sorts - that can put you on the right track to other mountain bike trails across the state.
Oregon is blessed with abundant rivers that offer countless whitewater rapids. In fact, many of the state’s rivers provide thrilling settings for exciting outdoor adventures.
We gathered to run the Nestucca River’s whitewater rapids with guide John Krauthoefer, (Firefighter’s Guide Service: 503-812-1414,) who casts baits for king sized steelhead from aboard his fifteen-foot inflatable raft.
The Nestucca River is a fabulous coastal stream located in southern Tillamook County and is famous for its runs of salmon and steelhead.
Krauthoefer is hooked on a new plan that’s supported by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In fact, Chris Knutsen, a fishery biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, took a day off work so he could join us on our adventure too.
So grab your rod and reel, don’t forget the waders as we go fishing for wild winter steelhead – not to keep – but to keep them alive for a fishery future.
Anglers are encouraged to participate in the brood stock program, but they must register at the Tillamook-based North Coast Watershed District Office.
You can also visit the Cedar Creek Hatchery to observe the brood stock steelhead and learn more about the Nestucca River program.
Fore more information on purchasing an Oregon Angling License and located an Oregon Fishing Guide.
Early morning light, when the air is cool and clear, high cascade peaks like Mt Jefferson are a marvel. Plus, you can watch the Metolius River come to life!
That’s especially true near Camp Sherman where the Metolius River bubbles from the ground to curl and wind along an 8600-acre river corridor.
It is so special a place that it’s been protected as one of America’s Wild and Scenic Rivers since 1988.
In nearby Sisters, Oregon, the folks who live and work in Central Oregon like it that way.
That includes Jeff Perin, local fishing guide and owner of The Fly Fishers Place.
Perin is often found creating hand tied imitations of nature’s creations and said “artistry and utility go hand in hand” for one of the hottest recreation activities around:
“What I think is really cool about fly fishing is that regardless of where you are in the sport, how much gear you have or don’t have – it’s still the same sport and everybody can do it. Plus, it’s so beautiful here and we have so much great water – at any given time in Central Oregon, there’s always some place to go fishing.”
It is so special a place that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has operated the nearby Wizard Falls Hatchery since 1947.
Manager Steve Hamburger says 45-degree water is the reason; it’s the perfect water for raising trout.
More than four million baby trout are raised at Wizard Falls Hatchery for release into scores of lakes and ponds across Oregon.
Visitors come from all over the state too and stroll the 35-acre hatchery grounds that are more akin to a parkland than a fish hatchery.
Nearby campgrounds make the living easy too.
There are ten U.S. Forest Service Campgrounds along the Metolius River that offer a place to stay and relax.
There are no hook ups, phones or TV at these campgrounds, it’s self-contained camping without fancy conveniences.
Hamburger said that seems to be okay with the campers who return to the Metolius River area season after season.
“They came here when they were kids and now they have kids so bringing their youngsters out and it carries on from generation to generation. They really do enjoy that and the kids love it.”
As Jeff Perin said, “ This belongs to everybody in Oregon and they should all come see it, enjoy it and be proud of it – it’s that special a place.”
The Metolius River may runs through the heart of Central Oregon, but it also builds lasting outdoor memories in the hearts of the people who visit each year.
Central Oregon’s Cascade Lakes Highway is a path once taken, you’ll never want to leave, but ---you might try a summer detour!
We did just that at Sparks Lake, 25 miles west of Bend and we found adventure on the water with Wanderlust Tours.
Jeff Gartzke was our guide for an afternoon canoe paddle across Sparks Lake.
We joined an enthusiastic group of folks who were sporting PFD’s and - with paddles in hand - each was eager and ready to go aboard canoes to see the lake from a different point of view.
Gartzke noted that flat-water paddling is an easy activity that requires a short amount of practice time, especially on Sparks Lake:
“Sparks Lake is one of about 12 lakes in this region that we have to choose from for our afternoon paddle trips. It is well over a mile in length from north to south and people are impressed by the scenery – it’s as photo-friendly as Central Oregon’s high lakes can get.”
At 5400 feet in elevation, Sparks Lake is perfectly suited to a canoe adventure with awesome views of South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor.
Sparks Lake was formed more than ten thousand years ago when lava blocked the Deschutes River.
In fact, a narrow channel -- defined by volcanic rock shorelines -- connects two halves of Sparks Lake.
The lake covers approximately 400 acres and it is no more than ten feet deep.
We paddled, we smiled and we laughed as we toured the lake as a slight breeze eased our down wind paddle.
After an hour or two, we arrived at a sprawling sandy beach.
The site offered plenty of elbowroom for a shore side lunch and a cold brew to go with the expansive view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
It was a stunning setting not lost on our fellow paddlers, including local resident Mike Sawyer:
“Oh – love it” he noted. “This lake is one of the reasons I live in nearby Bend and I enjoy coming out here as often as I can. I hike, ski and boat – it’s a wonderful place to live, work and play.”
Gargzka smiled and agreed – he offered that the contrast of the rugged rock, broken by the soft, colorful beauty of the shoreline’s wildflowers draws him back to Sparks Lake each week.
“It’s a true testament – a true trial – to find something in central Oregon that isn’t volcanic in origin; it’s volcanic all around you. Any rise in the landscape, any hill around you is volcanic in one form or another and the scale of it all makes my work a dream job. This is my office right here. Can’t beat it!”
Oregon offers a treasure trove of interesting places and fun activities that can reveal much about our region’s past.
In Fossil, Oregon all you need are some simple tools, keen eyes and curiosity to learn more about the state – as you dig into Oregon’s past.
“You take a rock, crack it open – and there’s a fossil or two,” noted Wheeler School District Superintendent, Brad Sperry. “It’s that simple! Our entire area contains fossils. So, it’s really a matter of how much work and time you wish to spend digging then slicing open shale rocks that determines the quality of the fossil that you collect.”
It’s a much different slice of outdoor life for the visitors who stroll through the back gates at Fossil’s Wheeler High School – pass under the goal posts of the school’s football field and then take a step back in Oregon history.
It’s the only public fossil dig area in Oregon that offers surprises with each handful of dirt and rock that you turn over.
Sperry added that the area has been known to the locals for years: “Oh yes, it’s been kind of a local secret, the community has known of it and they come up and kick around in the rocks to pick up a fossil or two. About eight years ago, we were discovered and today, there are even websites dedicated to the Fossil Field – lots of folks come to visit.”
Today, the fossils that you dig reveal a much different scene in this part of Eastern Oregon.
In fact, 30 million years ago the region was more akin to today’s Oregon Coast Range Forest – a temperate rain forest with ancient firs and cedars and ferns and even prehistoric insects. All of it adds up to a stark contrast to the high desert sage and juniper country that surrounds Fossil in the 21st century.
Just down the street, the new Paleo Lands Institute will teach you much about the fossils that you collect.
The Institute enjoyed it’s grand opening this past summer and Anne Mitchell, the Institute’s Director said the PLI provides a new way to look at the high desert.
“Many people come out to Fossil and say, ‘I want to dig up a fossil.’ Now, when they actually get here, they start learning about the fossil’s context in history. Our center was designed to be sort of a hands-on, get a little dirty and comfortable with ancient history location and I think it helps people see that history is real and not just something to read about in books.”
Sperry noted that fossil digging isn’t free – the district appreciates a small donation – and he emphasizes that there’s little need to take more than a handful of the fossils. He’d rather see more people coming back again and again instead of loading up by the bucketful.
He also said that simple tools, like a hammer and chisel – plus, a bucket – are all you need to get started.
“It’s all about kids and families and the excitement of finding fossils and realizing they’re 30 million years old. It is like Christmas morning and seeing what Santa brought you. Well, take the rocks, crack them open and it’s Christmas time. You never know what you’re going to find.”
Trying something new and risky takes courage, but if you’re convinced that it’s right for you, the risk can often pay off with unique adventures.
Safety is everything when Steve Gibons, owner of Scappoose Bay Kayaking, gathers paddlers together on the dock at Scappoose Bay Marina.
Chris McOmie and I joined Steve, his wife, Bonnie, and a half dozen other adventurers for a daylong kayaking excursion.
The first step: we slid into the cozy confines of the small cockpits of a smooth sided 14-foot long tandem sea kayak.
We listened intently as Steve explained a basic rule of kayak recreation: First, a reassuring fact: more people tip over at the dock than any other place on the water – either getting in or out.”
Many of our fellow paddlers were like us – relative newcomers to the recreation and to this stretch of Multnomah Channel at Scappoose Bay.
It’s a place where tide and weather can change in a heartbeat.
But on this gentle summer’s day, the bay and the nearby Columbia River were smooth and calm, so no need for us to worry.
Instead, we used our time to practice the basic forward and reverse paddle strokes that Steve taught us – paddle strokes that we would soon put to good use.
“We’re going to paddle out of Scappoose Bay and down the channel,” explained Gibons, the lead guide for our afternoon paddle trip: “Our ultimate goal will be the northern end of Sauvie Island and a beautiful little area called Cunningham Slough. Remember, this is not an Olympic event – it’s all about taking our time and enjoying the wildlife that’s in the bay itself.”
Steve explained that summertime low water conditions kept the motorboat crowd off this area of water:
“Since sea kayaks draw only four inches of water, we have easy access into tiny bays and sloughs – it provides a unique opportunity to see many different wildlife species like herons, eagles, osprey and black tail deer.”
Bonnie Gibons is also a partner in the decade-old kayak rental and touring company. She explained: “Unless you get out into nature, you can’t experience it. Kayaking is the best way to experience wildlife because we are so quiet and can slowly paddle our way up close.”
Fellow paddler, Randy Wiltgen, said that there are hundreds of miles of watery trails across the Portland area – plus, many more miles along the coast – protected from wind and bad weather:
“You often feel like you’re a million miles away from people and yet you’re not! And you see so much that you never see from shore – so many wildlife species allow you to get really close. It’s exciting!”
It is a fact of Pacific Northwest angling life that few fish species that swim in our rivers or streams can match the massive size and strength of the prehistoric fish called “sturgeon.”
Sturgeon can exceed ten feet in length and weigh more than four hundred pounds, so few would argue that the fish provide a terrific angling challenge.
One of the best places to try your luck with hook and line to catch a sturgeon is the Columbia River estuary near Astoria.
A slate-gray morning rises across the powerful Columbia River.
The otherwise drab gray sunrise touched the shore and only dully lightened the dark skyline as Joe Salvey, of Fish Hawk Adventures, motored his boat away from the placid port at Astoria, Oregon.
Salvey is one of the regular Oregon Fishing Guides who takes newcomers and experienced anglers alike across the lower Columbia River each day.
Joe noted that we had much to look forward to: “Right now, the sturgeon fish are coming in out of the ocean to eat the anchovies that are coming in here to spawn – this best time of year to catch a big one.”
The fish that live here are big – so is the gear: nine-foot rods, heavy duty reels loaded with 65-pound test line, large hooks that held sand shrimp or whole anchovy for bait. All of that terminal gear was held on the bottom with 8 ounces of lead weight.
My turn came as my fishing rod doubled over and throbbed down hard.
I wrestled it from the rod holder and held on for dear life.
“Oh, it's a nice one, Joe,” was all I could mumble as I prayed the hook would hold tight.
“Oh, look at the size of that one Grant! Biggest one of the day,” shouted Salvey.
Finally, time and patience held as I brought the large sturgeon to the side of the boat. Salvey slipped the net under the 38-pound fish.
“Wow! Now that’s some kind of a keeper!” I noted with a huge smile.
As the morning tide reached full ebb, each angler had similar opportunities to repeat what I had enjoyed: hooking and releasing or landing and tagging a legal limit of one sturgeon per licensed Oregon angler between 41 and 54 inches in length.
There were plenty of smiles and plenty of sturgeon to go around as we all agreed that the sturgeon’s strength was unmatched.
Ed Bruser, another longtime angler and frequent client on-board Salvey’s adventures, may have summed it up best: “I always describe it as standing on the side of the freeway and hooking the back of an F-350 doing 75 miles per hour. It’s exciting to catch these fish.”
The Oregon coast is a splendid place boasting unique sights and sounds that will amaze you anytime of the year.
Grant takes us to Shore Acres State Park along the southern Oregon coast for a unique holiday light extravaganza.
The park’s “Holiday Lights” offers the very best in community service and a wonderful holiday gift for you to enjoy.
It’s safe to say that most holiday lights don’t hold a candle to the ones the Friends of Shore Acres State Park put up each year.
The folks who show up each weekend beginning before Halloween and go the extra mile to light Oregon’s only botanical garden state park.
If you’re quick enough to keep up with the woman who started it all, Shirley Bridgham can tell you how it all began – more than two decades ago:
“We started with 6,000 lights – just 6,000 lights and one Christmas tree. And then we doubled that each year until we got up to 150,000 lights,” said Bridgham. With a chuckle, she added, “Then we started going up by fifty thousand lights at a time.”
Back in those days, Shirley and her husband David Bridgham enlisted a dozen or so of their friends to help out. But now, with more than five miles of electric cord and 275,000 lights, the job requires organization and direction.
Shirley’s figured that out too – with a three-ring notebook that is crammed with pages and maps and photos of the park.
“Well, this book shows me what we start with: that is, all the kinds and styles of lights to use and then every single shrub gets a tag. The text that I’ve developed tells me how many lights, what color to use on the bush and so forth.”
She’s not kidding – every shrub, bush and many of the trees get a tag and eventually one or more string of lights.
Shirley boasts that one time she logged more than eight miles of walking across Shore Acres sprawling seven acre garden – directing, advising and motivating her volunteer troops.
Like holiday elves, fifteen hundred volunteers now follow the Bridgham’s lead –while a small, dedicated group of twenty-five or so will spend all of their free time on weekends, putting up the park lights and displays in time for opening night on Thanksgiving Day.
They will stretch 3400 strings of lights and it is hard, painstaking work to get them to look and to work just right. Many say it is also the sort of work that makes them feel good and puts a smile on their face.
Preson Philips, the state park manager in charge of Shore Acres, agreed that people feel good lending a hand to get the park ready. In fact, he said that all the work, all of the expenses – even the electric bill – are all paid by the “Friends of Shore Acres:”
“I don’t know if I can explain it,” noted Phillips. “ I believe there is something about this site, this garden, this community where pure volunteerism from the community comes out each weekend to make this happen – maybe it’s just pride in the park.”
“Pride” resonates across the seven acre park, despite uncertain times, tough economic times in a county with one of the state’s highest unemployment rates, note David Bridgham.
“This event is a touchstone! This place is where the community comes together and it’s a tradition. People know it’s going to be here every year and they can be a part of it.”
Shirley Bridgham agreed and added “It’s magic – for 36 nights each year – it is magic come true. Especially if you are here are the sun drops out of sight across the ocean out there – the magic that begins at dusk is amazing.”
David added, “What thrills me is that there are so many adults who don’t know the Christmas or the holidays without coming out here to see the Holiday Lights and that’s s touching, even rewarding. It puts me in the Christmas spirit.”
The Holiday Lights – a magical gift for you from the good friends of Coos County who keep the lights burning in a special place by the sea called Shore Acres.
The Holiday Lights continue through New Year’s Eve, the park is open daily and closes each night at 10pm. There is no entry fee, but there is a three-dollar state park parking permit required.