Our 2010 Grant’s Getaways schedule started with an adventurous late winter blast on the Clackamas River.
Located less than an hour from Portland, the Clackamas River is an easy day trip with scores of campsites that can be found in the Mt Hood National Forest near Estacada.
I joined a hearty group of water-lovers who gathered along the Upper Clackamas River to celebrate their passion for adventure on one of the most exciting stretches of whitewater rivers in Oregon.
The pros called it training while I called it scary!
We were dressed for the occasion in dry suits, gloves and booties – plus, helmets and Type III PFD’s to take advantage of a rare sunny break in an otherwise soggy late winter season.
Karen Driver, owner and operator of All River Adventures told me: “It’s little more than seven miles to our take-out, but I do believe the rapids’ names say it all. So get ready for the likes of the Maze, Big Swirly and Rock ‘n Roll…it’s going to be wet, wild and a whole lot of fun!”
Broken by boulders and frothy foam, I quickly learned that teamwork was the secret to keeping the boats afloat atop the cold, dangerous water.
Karen Driver added, “We keep an eye on the weather and keep an eye on the water levels. It takes a long time to keep track of all those things, but it’s essential because the river level can change in heartbeat if we have a heavy shower.”
Ryan Seaton, another longtime guide said that there’s no room for mistakes on the roaring rapids. “When we are in a scary spot, I always remain calm – everyone in the boat looks to the guide to remain calm and keep things in control – Even when I am scared – keeping cool – goes a long ways to reassuring my people.”
The Clackamas River rapids will cool you off, lift your spirits and even take your breath away for their awesome power.
“When you get on the river,” added Karen, “your stress just goes away and you get to be a kid – and we all need to be kids – We don’t want to grow old. We want to grow happy!”
In July, another watery adventure showed off Oregon from a different point of view – the spectacular side of outdoor life through the Rogue River Canyon with skipper Jeff Laird at the helm.
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.
Speedy jet boats launch family excursions and recreation into a distant world away from the routines, noise and general hubbub of city life.
Jet boat pilot, Jeff Laird, keeps the century-old tradition alive as he launched our tour at 8am sharp – it’s 104-mile round trip journey into the Rogue River Canyon – longest trip that’s offered.
The journey was outrageous 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 four-foot-tall standing waves.
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.
It is an awesome collection of wilderness: from forest hilltops that touch the sky to remote, steep canyon walls that touch the hard charging whitewater rapids – it was easy to see why Jeff Laird enjoys his 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 folks cannot say that when they go to work – this gives people a smile – and that means something to me. It’s really why I love my job so much.”
And I love mine! Especially when it puts me in touch with Oregon’s wildlife! Like last April - at daybreak – where I discovered a unique version of “sagebrush romance” along Foster Flats Road near the Malhuer Wildlife Refuge in Harney County.
A word of caution: you must rise well before dawn to catch up with this featured wildlife show and then make it the start of a long day’s journey to enjoy many other unique sights at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
It is a stunning strutting show as more than two-dozen sage grouse meet on a communal breeding ground called a “lek.”
Ecologist and wildlife guide Steve Shunk joined me as we sat alongside a not-so-camouflaged lineup of vehicles filled with folks who similar ideas oh how best to begin their day.
We were drawn to an intriguing show as male sage grouse puffed up their chests and strutted in quickstep back and forth displays with tail feathers fanned out in impressive display.
Nearby, Shunk pointed to a group of smaller, drabber females or “hens” that watched the male or “rooster” grouse go to such great lengths to win over their favors.
Shunk noted, “ We have our own mating rituals – we get all primped up and wear fancy clothes and go out on dates – but to do what these birds do: distend their bodies and make the odd sounds is just something that most people don’t have any perspective on. There’s just nothing like coming to see this event in person.”
Every now and then a real battle royal would break out between two male sage grouse – Shunk offered that dominance is the key word in order to understand the bird’s behavior.
“If you’re a younger male and you want to challenge the older male, you have to go right up to him – stare him down and wait to see what happens.”
What most often happened was a flurry of feathers and dust as the birds went round and round across the sage covered flat.
And within seconds it was over – and usually the older, larger male assumed his victorious position near the females.
Sage Grouse were once common species in the high desert, but today development has reduced their habitat. So, refuges and protected wildlife areas are critical to the bird’s survival.
Shunk added, the sage grouse strutting is an incredible way to start a day’s adventure at Malheur Refuge:
“If people are willing to get up early, yes we’ll start here – I love being up at sunrise. To come up here and see this and then travel thru the wetlands, it’s a nice diverse natural experience.”
Oregon’s natural world paid off with other rewards last October when it was time to try something new and different with a pro who knows where to find delightful epicurean rewards following simple, easy efforts.
Longtime chef and local restaurateur and all around Oregon adventurer, Leather Storrs, figured it’s simple: if you want to harvest wild mushrooms, first - learn their habitat.
In the Tillamook State Forest – where sun and shadow dance through the towering doug fir trees while Storrs’ well-trained eyes were fixed down close to the ground where there’s a culinary reward waiting to be found.
“Ohhh, there we are – chanty number one – it’s always good to get off the dime early,” exclaimed Storrs with a hearty laugh.
Chanterelles have a golden-orange hue and their chalice shape make them hard to spot – but their allure is a woodsy flavor that’s hard to resist.
Since 1999, the gorgeous fungi have been Oregon’s official State Mushroom.
Chanterelles are not the only mushrooms in the forest. Storrs, an experienced mushroom hunter said that there are dozens of other mushrooms that grow here and most are none too friendly to people and many are downright dangerous.
“When you’re doing it without knowledge and confirmation, there’s no reason to take any chances. I learned in culinary school an old saying:‘There are old mycologists and there are bold mycologists, but there are no old, bold mycologists.’
Storrs may not be an old, bold mycologist, but he is one of Portland’s finest chefs.
His restaurant, the "Noble Rot,” set in NE Portland, is where Storrs has mastered the art of cooking a wild chanterelle recipe that can be with many other foods.
He cleaned an approximately one pound of chanterelles – (he never washes them in water but prefers to clean them off with a soft rag or brush) and he also prefers smaller, button-sized mushrooms.
Storrs then proceeded to slice them lengthwise, (he likes to preserve their overall shape and size as much as possible.)
Approximately one pound of the wild chanterelles hit an oiled (olive oil) pan with a “bounce, sizzle and snap.”
The Oregon Department of Forestry allows you to harvest up to one gallon of wild mushrooms on state forestlands, but any more than that, you are considered a commercial picker and must buy the $100 permit at any state forestry office.
Storrs suggested that you look under the ferns, salal and oregon grape – down in the duff and soil where vine maple grows and added that the Fall season (nefore the first hard freeze) can be a magical time.
“Yes, I get it every time…it’s just – infectious. So few things in your adult life that give you that rush – that magical xmas morning like feeling and this is one of them.”
There was something magical about my final top getaway. Was it the time, the place – or the fact that something so special could be educational and inspirational and bring the Oregon outdoors indoors --- at the Portland Art Museum.
Inspiration’s easy to come by when you stand before the latest masterpiece to grace the gallery’s wall: a monumental work called “Shoshone Falls of the Snake River” – it is awesome in size and scale at 6 feet tall and 12-feet wide.
“The significance of these panoramic paintings,” noted Museum Director Brian Ferriso, “is that at 10- feet, 12-feet, 13-feet wide, they became theatrical in their approach. There weren’t movie theatres in those days so this became the theatrical spectacle of the age; ‘come see the great western painting by Thomas Moran.”
Thomas Moran’s “Shoshone Falls of the Snake River” is a grand painting that takes your breath away, especially when you consider it is the real untamed wild west of 1900 and it is about western ruggedness, outdoor boldness and grandeur.
The painting demands that you slow down and savor a moment in solitude to best explore its colors and its forms, much as you would any great outdoor experience.
“The mountains, the oceans, the rivers, the glaciers, the gorge – all of these were at such a dramatic and expressive level and were bigger and grander than they’d ever seen before,” noted Ferriso. “Even a century later, it leaves you feeling that we are part of something much bigger than us and the landscape embodies that.”
The beauty of Oregon’s varied adventures is that they continue to excite and draw me down the state’s back roads and byways to places less traveled – 2011 promises to launch us into even more new adventures that offer plenty of reason to say, “Get out here and explore the Great Oregon Outdoors!” I’ll see you each week right here on KGW News Channel Eight.