If travel is a state of mind, Oregon sure makes you wonder how one region can offer so much wide-ranging recreation and scenery -- and how you will ever be able in one lifetime to experience it all. Even for the seasoned traveler, an endless supply of secret places is available for exploring.
So, slow down and savor a once-in-a-lifetime experience this summer on a river steeped in legend, lore, and interesting characters and enjoy one of the most breathtaking boat rides into the Rogue River Wilderness.
The Rogue River is world famous and has attracted adventure seekers for decades, some as well known as the river itself, like Zane Grey, the western novelist who came to the canyon to write and even set one of his novels there.
Once a lifeline of sorts for folks who lived along the river, boats have been used for over than a century to deliver food, supplies, and news from the outside world into the rugged canyon.
Now, they’re lifelines of laughter and smiles that help folks reconnect with Oregon’s outdoors.
Speedy jet boats launch family excursions and recreation into a distant world away from the routines, noise, and general hubbub of city life.
Early morning -- when the air is still and nature is waking up Oregon rivers like the Rogue are a marvel. As daylight grows, people come out to play at Jerry’s Rogue Jets and Rogue Mailboats along the Rogue River waterfront at Gold Beach.
Jet boat pilot, Jeff Laird, keeps the century-old tradition alive as he launches our tour at 8 a.m. sharp -- it’s 104-mile round trip journey into the Rogue River Canyon and it is the longest trip that’s offered.
The journey was outrageously fun as Laird deftly steered and throttled his 32-foot long specially designed jet boat, powered by three 450-horsepower engines.
We plowed through white-water cauldrons, splashed and swung right, then left, over skinny shallows to avoid bulging boulders, and rocketed across two-foot standing waves.
“Hang on, guys -- should we go faster? Little bumpy here -- whoo hoo!!!” Jeff shouted to us.
Everyone onboard was wet and grinning with delight.
The jet boats can reach speeds of 60-mph -- but we motored along at less than half that speed in half a foot of water -- it was shin deep shallow and amazing.
Then he throttled back the powerful engines and we slowly cruised through the deep shadows of the Rogue’s calmer stretches.
Cliffs and canyons are the rule along the river’s course through the Oregon Coast Range, where eons of water and wind have eroded the exposed rock into smooth, unworldly sculptures.
Along shore, small waterfalls spout across rocky rims, slap a shelf here and there, and plummet into deep, swirling whirlpools.
Settlers arrived in the canyon of the Rogue River by the mid-nineteenth century, following the trails left by early trappers and miners.
As I gazed up the steep forested walls, it was hard to imagine anyone scratching out a living in such remote terrain but as Laird said to me:
“Really, Grant, this part of Oregon is defined by its remoteness and rugged geography. It has never been an easy place to live -- many have tried and failed -- but there is something about this canyon that speaks to an individual’s soul and says, ‘Without trying, what’s the point of living?’”
One of the pleasures of so much isolation is the abundant wildlife -- a bald eagle may cruise by overhead; Canadian geese may be seen shepherding their young from one shore to the other; an osprey might dive to catch its finny prey in the water. Even black bears are regularly seen strolling the shoreline. It’s fitting that so many critters are more at home in the canyon than any of us ever will be.
Laird told me that he had been leading the watery escape for Jerry’s Jet Boat Tours for nearly 25 years. He is a jet boat pilot with family roots that run as deep as the river canyon. You see, his uncle is Jerry Boice, one of the men who started jet boat touring nearly half a century ago.
“I get up every morning thinking ‘Golly sakes, I get to go drive tour boat for the day,’ Laird said with a chuckle. “This 104 miler is the best trip for the rapids, the thrills and the splish splash.”
It is an awesome collection of wilderness: From forest hilltops that touch the sky to remote, to steep canyon walls that touch the hard charging whitewater rapids -- easy to see why Jeff Laird comes to work each day.
“How many guys get to do this? Look at the people out here, they’re smiling and having fun and a lot of people cannot say when they go to work, they give people a smile, and that means something to me. It’s really why I like my job so much and hope to keep at it for another 25 years.”