BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE NEW Grant McOmie Getaway Contest.
Grant McOmie really “goes to the dogs” in this “Grant’s Getaway” as he travels to Central Oregon.
He’s found a snowy playground where you can learn to run a dog sled team in a one of a kind snow country adventure near Mt Bachelor.
Jerry Scdoris has twelve of the most faithful friends one mountain of a man could ever hope to have in a lifetime. Consider what they do for him:
Whenever Jerry hollers “Hey,” these dedicated buddies of his rise to their feet and go. Actually they run and run and run anywhere he tells them to go.
They will pull hundreds of pounds while enduring deep snow or slippery ice and a biting wind that would send most of us indoors for rest and relaxation beside the nearest toasty warm woodstove.
And get this: They never, ever complain. In fact, they live to be outdoors when winter is its roughest: downright mean and nasty.
Jerry’s best friends are huskies.
“These huskies been doing this for thousands of years. It’s like - why do birds fly, why do fish swim - my dogs just got to run.”
They’re not big or brawny either. Rather, they’re medium-sized pooches about twenty pounds each, but they are huge when it comes to desire and energy and enthusiasm to please people.
During a visit to Jerry’s Iditarod Training Camp near Mount Bachelor, I asked him how he trains dogs for the kind of pure commitment it takes to run and pull through the snow. He told me his dogs “are 110 percent go-power. They just have to run out of pure joy.”
“It all starts out fast and exhilarating,” noted Scdoris. “I think it surprises people how fast and how powerful these little dogs are A lot of folks have sled dog dreams – they’ve read Jack London novels as youngsters and have just had it in their brain to go for a sled dog ride – that’s how I started – decades ago.”
Jerry is in his 18th season at Mt Bachelor, but he has been a professional musher for over thirty years. He also takes passengers on a thrilling dog-sled ride across a three-mile course.
He’s covered 100,000 Alaska wilderness miles with his dog teams and he likes to say the dogs are “experts in motion.”
When you watch Jerry work with his dogs, you witness an incredible transformation when he attaches the huskies to their traces individually and they become a team.
The older, veteran lead dog is generally calm in comparison to the younger huskies. The excitement and energy build among these youngsters, who bark and yelp for joy until the musher releases the drag brake and steps onto the back runners.
No longer do you hear a dozen whining individuals, because the dogs’ eagerness settles into a determination to pull hard and fast no matter the weight in the attached sled basket.
Dave Sims, a longtime partner in Jerry’s business, designs and builds all of the equipment including the toboggan-style sleds that carry up to 600 pounds – plenty of room for Mom, Dad and a couple of kids.
“The sleds are safe, they’re sturdy and they’re comfortable for people to sit in. You can fill them up heaping to the top so you can haul a lot of gear in them.”
I was intrigued with so much energy about to be let loose, so my wife, Christine and I didn’t hesitate to accept Jerry’s invitation to sit in the comfy sled. Actually, Chris sat while I was invited to stand on the runners.
With that, we were off in a moment of madness, down a slope into a wooded stand, leaving a snowy wake flying up behind us.
The loop trail’s first part follows a narrow Forest Service trail flanked by Douglas fir and ponderosa pine.
As we slip-slid along, it was a bit like a combination sled and rollicking roller-coaster ride. Jerry reminded me the dogs are bred for only one reason: “to run, run, and keep on runnin’.” Then he surprised me and asked, “Would you like to try running the team, Grant?”
“You bet! What do I need to know--besides hanging on?”
“Keep your knees slightly bent, take your right foot off the brake, and put it on the runner,” he replied. “Then say ‘Okay.’”
“Okay,” I whispered, uncertain what I should expect from the eager dog team.
“Nooo--you gotta mean it,” Jerry gently scolded, then shouted to his team in a commanding tone, “Okay, okay!”
And we were off again! The feeling was exhilarating and surprisingly quiet. We cruised silently at nearly twenty miles an hour. Suddenly I found time to admire the surrounding mountains that peek through the forest.
The deep powder is a storybook landscape for speeding through narrow trails in a dense pine forest with boughs bent low from a fresh powdery blanket.
Jerry spoke: “I’d say half of the visitors come up with a ‘Sergeant Preston of the Yukon’ fantasy. They are not real sure what to expect--perhaps bigger dogs, and then they’re amazed with my guys’ speed and enthusiasm. You know, Grant, these animals just don’t want to stop.”
You’ll want to stop in, though, and make Jerry Scdoris and his best friends part of your Oregon snow-country adventures. The training camp and rides open with the first fall of snow in November and continue into spring.
There’s a certain peaceful feeling out on the trail – a feeling that –even for an hour or so – all is right with the world.
KLAMATH BASIN BALD EAGLES
You’ll want to take binoculars, camera and a thermos of hot coffee when you join Grant McOmie’s thrilling getaway this week.
He reports that it’s the ‘early birder who catches the most spectacular wildlife show’ on a dawn patrol to see the largest gathering of bald eagles in the country at the Klamath Wildlife Refuge in southern Oregon.
Stillness at daybreak accompanies the arctic air that plummets the early-morning to sub-freezing.
It’s a lonely time as the only headlamps for miles--ours--pierce the darkness on a back road in Oregon’s Klamath Basin.
Despite the bone-chilling cold, wildlife expert, Dave Hewitt says there is no better time to tally the dawn fly-out of the largest gathering of bald eagles in America.
We have come to Bear Valley Wildlife Refuge (part of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Complex), a large forest of old-growth timber that provides the eagles with protection from the wind and cold.
It is the staging area for the eagles’ daily fly-out as the birds take wing and search for food.
“There’s one,” said Hewitt. “Right over your head Grant! It’s coming right over the road.”
Hewitt said there is no better time to tally the dawn fly out of bald eagles.
“Yeah, it’s fantastic!” Hewitt enthusiastically answered. “As the sun is coming up, just starting to get light, you can see 40, 50, 60 eagles get up, swoop and soar and glide right over the top of you. It’s pretty impressive to watch when you have several hundred eagles and you just can’t count fast enough.”
I could not--twenty, thirty, forty--soon I was dazzled and dizzied by the birds appearing in front of us, then disappearing across a distant ridgeline. I simply could not keep track of them all.
Finally I gave up my count and enjoyed the show with the small group of birders who had joined us.
We gazed across to the eastern horizon, toward a soft shade of rose that marked the approaching sunrise.
Darryl Samuels noted, “It’s the thrill of the hunt without the gun – you have your binoculars and you might see 60 bald eagles and you might see 10 – it varies and one may just fly right over our heads.”
Diana Samuels eagerly agreed and added, “It’s just great to come out here early and watch them as they go out to feed at the refuge.”
Over a thousand eagles arrive at Klamath Basin each winter from Canada and Alaska, following their food supply of ducks, geese, and other birds.
Despite the frigid conditions during much of the winter, large bodies of water such as Upper Klamath Lake often remain unfrozen, and large flocks of ducks help prevent some of the smaller ponds from freezing over as they paddle about.
David Menke, staff member at the US Fish and Wildlife’s Klamath Refuge Headquarters, guided us across miles of intersecting roadways that checkerboard the Lower Klamath Refuge.
Menke suddenly stopped, brought his binoculars up and gazed across an otherwise flat, drab-brown grain field (wheat harvest had occurred months earlier) with scores of black dots with white heads on the distant horizon.
“Is this a buffet table for the eagles,” I asked with a chuckle.
“Absolutely! A real smorgasbord – or whatever – and this field – I guarantee you – will not be this way a week from now – the birds will be another field. You see, they are hunting field mice and other rodents. It’s really something to sit and watch the birds hunt here.”
Menke said there are many awesome sights to see across nearly 170,000 acres of both state and federal wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin.
Multiple auto tour routes make the travel easy, so be sure to stop in at the Klamath Refuge Headquarters where free maps and brochures will set you on the right trail to enjoy the show.
While each season offers some new species to see, Dave added that winter is the best time to see the most raptors, including the largest concentrations of eagles.
“We may get a period when it freezes in December and then we might get open water in January and February and the eagles – respond accordingly: They’ll stand on the ice and feed on waterfowl. Eagles on telephone poles, eagles on irrigation equipment, eagles on farm fields – mostly they just stand around a lot, so there’s endless opportunities to observe wildlife.”
You may vsit the Klamath Wildlife Refuge and explore the Klamath Birding Trail and enjoy a wonderful educational opportunity at the annual “Winter Wings Festival” on February 18-20, 2011.
Diana Samuels is the Director of the upcoming event. She said that it draws hundreds of people from across the country who have a real passion for birding – and especially for bald eagles.
The “Winter Wings Festival” celebrates the return of all the migratory birds to the Klamath Basin in the wintertime. Bird watching is a hobby and pastime that’s growing and our festival has really benefited from the increased interest. We are one of the premier destinations for bird watching on the west coast.”
Audubon member Dave Hewitt said that the Klamath Basin Audubon Society produces the three-day event with more than 100 volunteers from the local community who give thousands of hours to help people learn and understand more about Oregon’s wildlife heritage.
There are many activities designed for families and kids and you don’t really have to know anything about birds, just have a passing interest in nature and we’ll show you some pretty exciting things.”
OUTDOOR TIP OF THE WEEK – KELLY WARREN
There are thrilling moments in the great outdoors when thousands of Canada geese wing their way into Oregon each fall.
If you’d like to learn more about our northern neighbors try this outdoor tip of the week.
Each winter, a feathery invasion drops into Oregon’s fields and wetlands: a quarter million Canada geese and photographer Kelly Warren, of Wild Spirit Resources, likes to be where the flocks are:
“Shooting birds in flight with a camera can be really difficult,” said Warren. “A lot of people try to do it with a tripod but I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to do it off hand because I don’t get so many blurred wing shots.”
What began as a hobby born of a curiosity was refined by his grandfather’s guidance and eventually wildlife photography led Warren to a professional pursuit .
The result of his time and effort in the field was the “Field Guide to the Geese of the Willamette Valley.”
The book was first aimed at hunters who must identify each of the 7 sub-species of Canada geese that fly, land, sit or swim across Oregon each Fall.
Warren’s years-long efforts paid off with an amazing book.
“Finally, it turned into a 90-page, full of photos, lots of great details, combination photos with different sub species of geese and it’s not only helpful for hunters, it’s a really useful guide for anybody who enjoys wildlife.”
Warren’s pictures so impressed Oregon wildlife managers they made his book the state’s study guide for waterfowl hunters.
How many photos did Warren take? 26,000!
“There are some nights after I’d been in the field all day, shooting and listening to geese, I’d be hearing them when I went to bed at night – yet
I never got tired of it.”
Although only 90 were selected for the book, Warren added that there are amazing differences between each species.
“The sizes of the geese vary widely: Cacklers that are a little bigger than a Mallard , but Great Westerns can reach up to 14 pounds…some are very light in breast color and some are very dark in breast color. It takes awhile for people to catch on.”
Warren’s book has caught on with folks who don’t hunt but like to watch and learn about wildlife…and he shares photo tips with anyone who wants to capture the outdoors on their own.
“Anytime between November to late January to February are really great times for waterfowl and the good times to catch birds when they’re not so wary is early morning and evening. Birds tend to be concentrated on going to the roost or going to feed.”
It’s an impressive dedication to an amazing project that teaches us more about the geese that make Oregon a winter home.
HIGHWAY 30 TO THE COAST
Grant McOmie shares a favorite getaway that’s a whistle stop tour for wildlife, history and recreation along US Route 30 to the coast.
In our rush to get from this place to that, it’s good to know that less traveled roadways are easy to find and one in particular is right off the doorstep of a major city.
So it is with the Columbia River Highway from Portland to the coast; a route that is often overlooked and perhaps that is part of its charm.
Completed in 1937, US Route 30 is an unassuming route between Portland and Astoria. While it may not be the fastest byway, that’s all right with me!
The green-bordered asphalt roadway skirts the southern shore of the mighty Columbia River and for over 70 miles it forces you to slow down a savor the sights.
The first stop on this adventure is the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area!
ODFW Assistant Manager Dan Marvin said that birds arrive from as far away as Alaska each fall. In turn, the waterfowl and raptors that follow draw more people to the area.
“Sauvie Island is a very critical area and we get a large number of bird watchers and wildlife viewers who come out to look. It’s quite the resource for that.”
A compelling species are the sandhill cranes that get my vote for size and colorful markings; with striking red masks they are an impressive sight!
So is their behavior: males dance with wings sky high - tossing bits of grass to make a match with a mate.
Further along, stop in at Trojan Pond and Wetlands near Rainier to watch the flocks of Tundra swans.
Sometimes called the “B-52’s of the waterfowl world,” Tundra swans fill the air on six-foot-wingspans and then glide to ground for a well-deserved break.
The byway tour gives you a break at Bradley State Scenic Viewpoint, just west of Rainier – the park sits atop a massive bluff overlooking the smooth Columbia River. If you stop in on a sunny day before the leaves have called it quits, enjoy a quiet picnic lunch and a stunning view.
But don’t linger here too long – the best is yet to come at the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary where Neal Maine likes to set up his camera and wait for just the right moment to capture the country’s national symbol.
Neal Maine is a wildlife photographer and a teacher who loves his neck of the woods and he has the photos to prove it.
“It’s the contrast of that majestic white head, he noted. “Wouldn’t everyone like to be king? They reign over all the other birds too…we like being in charge and being powerful and here’s our symbol.”
Twilight Sanctuary is more than 100 acres of protection and consists of the Wolf Bay Wetlands and nearby forestland that supports an array of wildlife.
The convenient, wheelchair friendly platform with easy access just off Burnside Road makes the viewing a snap:
“This is one view site that works almost all the time, added Maine. “The vista is outstanding; maybe one of the best in the lower river. There is always something going on with lots of waterfowl, herons and egrets
cruising past and you can kind of count on owning it at least for a few minutes when you come here.”
Further, it’s end of the highway line in Astoria where a new “jaw-dropper” of a display has recently been put into place.
For nearly thirty years, the “Peacock” pilot boat shuttled bar pilots to water-based offshore offices aboard commercial cargo ships. The pilots are charged with safely guiding the huge ships across the most dangerous river bar in America.
Now, the Peacock has been retired to the Columbia River Maritime Museum and Dave Pearson said that it’s a wonderful addition to the museum’s collection.
“The Peacock truly is an icon and we thought what better place for it than to give it a position of honor to welcome everyone to the ‘Gateway of the Pacific.’ It’s one of those vessels you can’t miss when you’re driving down the road and we hope people will appreciate that.”
The crossing of the Peacock from river to shore side-parking area in front of the museum was no easy chore either.
It required two 300-ton cranes with massive booms that reached 95 feet to left and move the 100-ton pilot boat.
The new display is a fine compliment to the Columbia River Maritime Museum where visitors come face to face with compelling and uniquely Oregon stories ---indoors, where it’s safe and warm.
“We have over 18,000 photographs in our collection related to people related to maritime concerns,” noted museum curator Jeff Smith. “We have many boats in our collection – fishing and recreational - every piece has the potential to tell a story and so those are the pieces we’re actively trying to collect.”
The museum’s varied photos, exhibits and videos merge the past with the present and provide you a compelling place to see, touch and learn more about an important corner of Oregon.
It all adds up to a perfect cap to your day’s adventure along one of the least traveled routes to the Oregon coast.
DRIFT CREEK TRAIL
If you spend enough time in the Oregon outdoors, you realize that when it comes to winter weather, luck is a good partner to have by your side.
So it was on a recent streamside stroll into a watershed where the rain is often measured in feet – not inches but where huge surprises waited at the end of the trail.
Drift Creek will carry you away --- perhaps where imagination travels---on a wonderful trail alongside a classic “pool and drop” Oregon stream.
Flanked by ferns, alder trees and vine maple, Drift Creek Trail winds through the rain-drenched Siuslaw National Forest.
“You can come out and hike this trail pretty much all year as it’s a pretty gentle downhill with a lot of switchbacks,” noted USFS Manager, George Buckingham. “It’s only 3 miles round trip and a fairly easy grade so you can bring small children and they do just fine.”
Buckingham and USFS Recreation Specialist, JW Cleveland, were our trail guides for an amazing adventure into a unique area of the forest – one characterized by a marvelous payoff for our time and efforts.
But JW cautioned, “Rain gear is a necessity this time of year! Be sure to have it in your vehicle and then make the call about taking it when you get to the trailhead. It can get really wet in here so you could need the gear. You want to make sure you’ve got a camera too because you’re going to see some pretty amazing things.”
The Drift Creek Trail is amazing until you arrive at something even better and bigger that will take your breath away: a 240-foot long cable suspension bridge!
“The feeling that you have is really a bit like being suspended off the ground – a hundred feet off the ground, noted Buckingham. “There’s a stream down below you and a waterfall flooding in so it really triggers your auditory senses too. It’s quite a neat experience.”
Anchored by cables and ties that are cemented into opposing bluffs, the bridge holds over a hundred fifty thousand pounds, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
While the bridge does offer a bit of a bounce, the thirty-inch wide tread is perfectly safe and the bird’s-eye view will leave you spellbound.
As does Drift Creek Falls, a 75-foot freefall, whopper of a waterfall that’s located immediately below you.
Buckingham said something “really big happened here last summer.”
”The entire rock face of the falls tumbled into the stream below and the stream is actually under the rock now – it goes underground where as there used to be a pool.”
That’s right – after millions of years of standing tall, more than 150 feet of basalt rock wall fell into Drift Creek.
“There’s one boulder down there that would fill up most of the parking lot in front of my office, noted Buckingham with a chuckle. “As you can see columnar basalt has strongly vertical joints and the water worked in there over time – probably over thousands of years in this wet climate and eventually gravity took over and ‘boom’ – just slipped off.”
The sound of the crashing rock wall must have been deafening – perhaps even terrifying - but fortunately, no one was in the area when it happened in August of 2010.
Nevertheless, it is a thrill to see from ay up high and it’s the sort of hiking experience best enjoyed this time of year.
“Now is the time to get out and view the falls,” added Cleveland. “That’s especially true after a large rain event. If you come here in the summertime when the water flow is lighter, it just isn’t the same.”
“People do love to come here,” added Buckingham. “It is fantastic to provide unique places like this for people to recreate in, get close to a rugged outdoor setting and get some exercise at the same time. It’s well worth your time for a visit.”
DIRECTIONS TO DRIFT CREEK FALLS TRAIL
From Portland, travel U.S. 99W south, then Oregon 18 west. At Rose Lodge look for signs and turn left onto Bear Creek County Road. Travel approximately 3.5 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 17. Follow the sign and continue seven miles to the Drift Creek trailhead and parking area.
From Lincoln City, travel south approximately one mile on U.S. 101. Turn left onto Drift Creek Road, then right onto South Drift Creek Road for a quarter mile. Turn left on Forest Service Road 17 for approximately ten miles to the Drift Creek trailhead and parking area.