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ELKHORN WILDLIFE AREA
Winter rules the distant Elkhorn Mountains where the ice floes stack streamside and snow drifts line roadways and a sea of white spans the horizon.
It is bone-chilling cold that shows little sign of thawing!
But at Anthony Creek in Baker County, a Saturday morning warming fire chases the 20-degree chill away before you step aboard “T&T Wildlife Tours.”
Alice Trindle shares the reins of the operation with partner Susan Triplett while local horseman Mike Moore lends a hand.
“For 20 years,” noted Moore, “They’ve been taking people up and down this hill and get you up close to Rocky Mountain Elk as you will ever get in your life – a unique experience.”
It is the only horse drawn wildlife tour in Oregon…and Jed and Waylen, a pair of Percheron draft horses, are the heavy pullers.
“This is their third winter they’ve been here helping us out,” said Trindle.“Part of it is their temperament; they are probably the most petted horses in the county. They are our equal partners.”
Each weekend, all of the partners pitch in to feed the elk that make Anthony Creek a winter home from mid-December thru February; they will spread up to a dozen alfalfa bales to feed 150 elk.
“Scoop-loop is our biggest elk; a bull elk and he’s a seven by seven. That means he has seven points (the antler points) on one side and seven points on the other. Antlers are quite amazing – the fastest growing bone in the animal kingdom…They can grow as much as an inch in a day and weigh up to 35 pounds on these rocky mountain elk.”
T&T Wildlife Tours is an asset to Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Department that maintain nine other feeding stations across the 12,000 acres that make up the Elkhorn Wildlife Area.
For Ed Miguez and the other wildlife area staff it means traveling 145 miles each day.
The Elkhorn winter feeding program started in 1971 and today the feeding crew keeps 1200 hungry elk up in the forest rather than down on nearby ranchlands that are scattered across the valley floor.
Miguez is the Wildlife Area Manager and said that they will feed 850 tons of alfalfa hay each winter and the elk must be fed each day.
“We don’t miss a day! These elk know that there’s feed available on ranches for feeding the cattle in winter, so if we miss a day, there’s a good chance we’ll lose them. If that happens, it’s extremely hard for us to get them back, so we don’t miss a day.”
Most of the Elkhorn Wildlife Area is closed to the public in winter – except Anthony Creek, so it’s a rare and wonderful learning opportunity.
An open viewing area allows you a chance to see the herd anytime or bring the family and spend a few bucks to see Oregon’s largest game animal – up close.
“The younger bulls start some play fighting,” said Trindle. “Some sparring – but really isn’t too serious…pushing and pulling on each other really hard. They’ll also make that noise you just heard – that “mewing” sort of sound. That’s kind of his signal that ‘I’ll give up and you’ve won this round this time, but just wait until next time and another round.”
Triplet added that after twenty years, they continue to learn as much as the visitors. “I think it’s being able to do something you really enjoy! Alice and I joke that we’re going to call it quits when it’s not fun, but here it is 20 years later – we’re still having fun.”
“There’s always something to be observed with these elk,” added Trindle. “To be this close to these magnificent animals and to learn more about them is a real treat for everyone. That’s a real special thing that we can offer folks who visit.”
A BYWAY RESTORED
The Columbia River Gorge offers moments of magical beauty when the sun, and clouds dance their shadows across the cliffs to create lasting memories of the times each of us spend there.
“Enough memories to last a lifetime,” I like to say. Especially along the Columbia River Scenic Highway – stretching eighty miles from Troutdale to The Dalles as an unmatched scenic byway that came to life nearly one hundred years ago.
Back then, it was called “America’s Greatest Highway” and it was the vision of many people at the turn of the century, but the chief backer and promoter was Sam Hill, who hired engineer Sam Lancaster. Lancaster had traveled extensively throughout Europe and studied its roadways.
Oregon’s version of a scenic highway was built in 1916 and, by making the most of the Gorge’s size and splendor, it rivaled anything built in Europe.
The highway was designed for travel that followed the contours of the shifting landscape, with plenty of viewpoints and turnouts. It was enhanced with arched bridges, stone railings, and tunnels.
This magnificent achievement, the first paved road in Oregon, allowed Oregonians easier access between the eastern and western sides of their state. It also allowed them to visit many of the Gorge falls.
But over the decades much of it was bypassed for progress – and speed – called the Interstate Highway. It was a faster way to move people and commerce from this place to that and it left the historic highway in the dust.
Still, if you have the right guides who know where to look, you can touch history in the nooks crannies of the gorge where signs of the old highway still exist.
Recently, I joined Kritsen Stallman, who works for the Oregon Department of Transportation – and Ernie Drapela, a member of the Historic Highway Advisory Committee.
The duo loves to hike into the backwoods and explore any sections of the old highway that can still be traveled.
“You’re walking thru the woods and it’s all trees,” noted Stallman. “Suddenly you come up to a section like this and say, ‘Wow-it looks like the old highway.”
Stallman and Drapela agree that there is treasure in the gorge – the old asphalt highway that is hidden under carpets of thick lush moss.
Drapela said that there are many places where Hill’s dream road lies waiting to be re-discovered and Lancaster’s engineering marvels wait for a second life.
“We have seen what happens when we neglect old sections of the highway and you kind of feel remorse over that. So, we want to put our arms around it and save it if we can. If you can design a use that makes sense – such as a trail for safety, for beauty, for fitness – well, why not go for it?”
Nearly twenty years ago the state launched an ambitious program to do just that as sections of the old highway we’re restored just for hikers and bicyclists along a new Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
So far, eleven miles have been completed and include places like the Oneonta Tunnel.
Matt Davey is the Oregon State Parks Ranger charged with managing many of the trail sections and said that the tunnel restoration was a huge job, but it’s really paid off with visitors:
“It allows people to walk through the tunnel and it got them off the roadway into adjacent parking areas – so, it’s a much safer stretch for walking or biking now. It gives them a place to park and a safe way to access the Oneonta gorge too - a unique viewing opportunity and a slower way to experience the historic highway.”
Other completed stretches include six miles between Eagle Creek and Cascade Locks, the Mosier Twin Tunnels and just last summer, the newest section, Viento State Park to Starvation Creek, opened to the public.
Viento offers a mile long reach that people are now able to hike for the first time in nearly sixty years.
A gentle five percent grade makes the biking and hiking easy, plus there’s one particular feature that waits for your closer inspection: an original, four-foot tall mile marker with the number “58” carved into the concrete face.
Stallman added, “This is one of the last remaining original mile markers on the historic highway and this marked distance from Portland.”
There are more sections planned down the road too. In fact, the state has embarked on plans to convert Twelve Miles By 2016, so places like the spectacular Ruthton Point will be open for your enjoyment.
“I think Ruthton Point is one of the most incredible views of the gorge from this section of highway. It really shows the craftsmanship of the highway too; the rock walls and how they designed the roadway to capture the river and mountain views. It’s wonderful!”
Ernie added that it is all a legacy worth saving – places where visitors may hike and wear down their heels but build up their souls!
“You know, those original designers really understood the land – they didn’t want to disturb the land anymore than was necessary to build the scenic highway and yet still allow for people to pass through in their automobiles. We think that deserves another chance at life for a new generation of hikers and cyclists too. Those folks back then did such a great job!”
While Oregon is blessed with a mild climate most of the year, winter can turn from the sublime to downright dangerous.
Under the warm, brilliant sun, Oregon’s winter weather may fool you into thinking all is well in the great outdoors – it turn’s out, that’s not always true:
Jim Peters is a survival pro – a search and rescue volunteer for nearly 25 years – who said that the folk he’s found had one thing in common:They forgot to ask, “What if?”
“What if a twist my ankle? What if I have to stay out overnight?” noted the longtime S&R volunteer. “What if I should need a shelter or a way of making a warming fire – would I know how to do it in the cold?”
Peters added that the answers demand preparation for the worst that Mother Nature serves up, even if it’s just a day of family fun in the snow.
For example, would you know how to seek simple shelter?
Peters acted quickly when I put him to the that test – he scanned the trees – specifically, the tree wells that the deep snow had created.
“There – see that natural little cave in there, he said as he pointed to a nearby spruce tree with its branches bowed low from the weight of fresh snow.
“You can crawl right in there and could probably rest in there just the way it is.”
Peters said that a “tree well” with branches bent low keeps out overhead snow and protects you from energy-sapping winds.
“Plus - there’s a lot of needles down here on the ground - really thick and spongy – excellent to sleep on. I won’t be sleeping on the snow.”
He pulled a lightweight tarp from inside his daypack, unfolded it and laid it across the ground. “This will keep me from getting wet and if there’s a little bit of wind that does come thru here, this will help block it too.”
Peters said that the “right” clothing is critical for staying warm too. He insisted that you should never wear cotton, (it won’t wick moisture away) but you rely on a base layer of polypropylene or other synthetic wear.
“It has a wicking property about it that pulls moisture away from the skin into your insulating layer of clothing – and for that I use thick fleece.”
Peters wears a waterproof shell over the fleece because it also blocks the wind. He added that you not forget a hat too for if your head’s left uncovered, up to half your body heat can escape.
“Keeping your ears covered is as important as fingers and toes because when they get cold, it starts to affect your attitude. You want to have a positive mental attitude.”
Attitude means attention to preparation and that equals energy conservation.
“You don’t want to spend a lot of time building something that takes a lot of effort and energy,” said Peters. “You want to save your energy as much as possible - find something Mother Nature already started. That’s the way to go.”
Sharon Ward is another search and rescue volunteer who partners with her dog, “Seeker,” to find people who get lost in the outdoors.
She said that when people head for snow country, anything can happen: “Often we’ll get someone who has gone out for a fun day in the woods and a foot or two of snow comes down and they can’t drive out. They’re stuck!”
And when the sun goes down – getting stuck takes on a whole new dimension.
“If it’s dark,” said Ward, “there are many dangers – you could fall in a creek, fall off a ledge; we’ve had people who walked straight off ridges at night – so at night it’s very dangerous to travel in the woods.”
Ward is a big believer in carrying essentials to help you make it thru a night or two – items that are packed away in your rig - like water…in a shatter proof lightweight container of plastic or aluminum.
She added that you should carry food; even as simple as nuts and raisins or other high-energy food.
Don’t forget a whistle to signal for help, a lamp or flashlight with spare batteries, a knife and some source of heat.
”I always bring hand warmers in the winter, added Ward. “They are wonderful and inexpensive and you can put them in your boots or mittens to warm you up.”
She always carries a small first aid kit and keeps everything in a small daypack or fanny pack – stored away in the vehicle. If you leave the car on a hike, you can take your essentials with you.
“If you do these small things, you’ll be well on your way toward surviving your time should conditions change and you get stuck.
Search and rescue experts agree it’s “the little things” added together that could make a big difference in your ability to survive an unexpected turn of events.
You should also check the weather and be sure of the forecast, leave a note with someone – a friend or family member – that says where you’re going and when you expect to return – and pack some survival essentials and keep them in your vehicle – either in a daypack or fanny pack.
All of this may just help you through an emergency in the great Oregon outdoors.
ROMANCE OF WATERFALLS
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and you may wish to take someone special on this “Grant’s Getaway.”
The time is right to travel down treasured trails in Oregon State Parks to discover the romance of waterfalls.
While the Columbia River Gorge has long impressed us with its gigantic size, I cherish its nooks and crannies even more – especially where the water flows and famous falls whirl and shimmer and ripple and where you can leave all distractions behind.
“This really is a place where you can shut your cell phone off, turn the lap top off and re-connect with each other and with the past,” noted Diane McClay, Oregon State Park’s Ranger.
At 125 feet, Shepperd’s Dell is small in size as Gorge falls go. It rolls out of Young’s Creek to become a foamy moment that resembles a bowtie turned on its side.
The water boils and roils, then slips and slides down forty feet of smooth rock face before it twists and shoots up high to celebrate its freedom and falls into a rocky cradle.
George Shepperd opened Shepperd’s Dell to the public in 1915 as a tribute to his wife.
What a romantic!
One mile east of Shepperd’s Dell is Bridal Veil Falls State Park, a day-use site for a picnic or a stroll down a half-mile trail to a stairway and viewing platform.
The park’s namesake drops in two tiers and it is best enjoyed with someone special.
You’ll see why when you stand on the viewing platform and gaze up at the 160-foot waterfall plunging twice in a wide, steep slide.
Diane added, “It looks the veil of a bride’s gown coming down and across the back. In fact, a lot of people get their wedding invitations stamped at the Bridal Veil Post Office, so there is a lot of nostalgia and a connection to history.”
If time is of the essence and you’re ready to head back toward Portland, travel west on the scenic highway past Shepperd’s Dell Falls a mile and a half to Latourell Falls, where an incredible show speaks for itself.
Latourell Falls hisses and bellows and shouts for attention as it falls 249 feet. It’s the second-highest falls in the Gorge and seems to take on a life of its own you can’t help but appreciate.
The falls was named for Joseph Latourell, an early settler of the area, and donated to the state of Oregon in 1929 by Guy W. Talbot.
A paved trail allows you to hike to the base of this falls and continues across a bridge to a picnic area.
Diane cautioned to keep safety close to heart when you trek this way: “One can get lost in the beauty of this area and we strongly suggest that people have their feet grounded when they start looking around – you can get overwhelmed with both the height and the massive nature of the rocks in the area.”
Ninety miles to the west, photographer Don Best likes to say he hasn’t met a waterfall he doesn’t love: “to shoot with a camera.”
Best is a lifelong local in Tillamook County – his grandfather arrived by horse and wagon and his father told tales of old growth timber, giant elk and waterfalls galore.
So, Best looks up at Munson Falls, (the tallest waterfall in the Oregon Coast Range), with a nostalgic nod to a somewhat romanticized past and offered us a tip or two that might help you capture the best that falling water offers.
“The secret to shooting a waterfall is to get as slow a shutter speed as you can so that the water looks silky. To do that dial that shutter speed to 25th of a second or even 15th of a second. All of that water will have a real silky look to it.”
Best added that there are many waterfalls in the Tillamook State Forest that go unvisited and are under appreciated.
He called it a “treasure hunt for nature’s beauty” and he added: “The fun part of it all is discovering them but I always tell people that God is better at the posing part than I am at taking pictures. Waterfalls are spectacular.”
You’ve many spectacular waterfalls to choose from when you visit the 9,000-acre state parkland called Silver Falls State Park.
It offers a gorgeous Trail of Ten Falls plus the rustic South Falls Lodge that stands large from rock and timber construction.
Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser, a Park Ranger at Silver Falls said, “ The lodge is gorgeous and I think it’s one of the highlights in Oregon. Natural materials, timbers, big stonework and a huge, open room with big beams and a rustic feeling. There’s a fire going and it has that smell; just feels like a lodge, like you’re in a wilderness feeling surrounded by nature.”
Campers can let the romance last longer inside rental cabins that offer many of the comforts of home. (Reservations are advised.)
Remember – rain gear and hiking boots will make your hiking adventures more comfortable in winter.
“It’s a bit quieter this time of year,” noted Kwaiser. “You experience things differently – more on your own without the crowds and so the sounds in the park are different. There are so many reasons to be here – but really, the waterfalls are at the center of everything at Silver Falls State Park.”