UP, UP AND AWAY
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.
As Catherine noted, “People come with high (pardon the pun) expectations and preconceived notions of a flight in a hot air balloon, but the fact is that first timers cannot really compare it to anything they’ve ever done because it’s so unique.”
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.
Our balloon was guided by Roger Anderson, a veteran pilot with more than two decades experience in lighter than air flight.
Roger noted, “The conditions for flying are perfect this morning. A light breeze and clear skies – so we’ll be traveling across the Willamette River first and then head south towards Dayton and the wine country.”
Within moments of our easy lift off, we are two, four, then six hundred feet up in the air and the other “giants” soon appear as tiny, thimble-sized floats on the ground below.
Roger said that he learned about the wind and the weather (critical for balloon pilots) as a sailor. He logged more than 50,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean as a boat-sailing skipper.
“One of the reasons I like to fly balloons is that they can get you into places you can’t get any other way. Plus, you don’t get in a balloon to go to a particular place, but instead you get in a balloon to be in a balloon. There’s no ‘have to get there quick’ feeling, you just get to look at the world.”
One of my fellow passengers, Brian Clapshaw, nodded in agreement and said, “It’s quite amazing! I’ve never, ever had any experience like this ever before. I feel like I’m floating above the sky – I feel like I’m in a glass bubble.”
As we soared across the valley, sometimes mere feet above the ground, Roger pointed out something that I might never have noticed if my feet were firmly planted on the soil below.
“This part of the Willamette Valley was once a lake – Allison Lake – an ancient body of water that dates to 10,000 years ago and the time of the Missoula Floods era.”
Allison Lake was five hundred feet deep – and then the lake became a river – and from the balloon basket I could see how the ground rose and fell, just like a river bottom.
That wasn’t all – it was easy to see how the valley near Newberg was ringed with hills – hills that grow grapes – in fact, wine grapes!
“There’s the Dundee hills, Chehalem Ridge, Eola Hill; you can see it all and all of it produces some of the best wine in the world,” said Roger.”
Roger added that there are hundreds of unique wines produced by scores of wineries and each is easily reached within fifteen minutes of Newberg.
With a wry smile he added, “It can be even quicker by air.”
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.FOR MORE ON THIS STORY.
CLIMBING AN OREGON GIANT
High above the Willamette Valley in the Willamette National Forest, follow the roadway that traces a trail along Fall River, near Lowell, Oregon and you could discover adventure that’s guaranteed to take you to new heights.
I met a group of climbers along this roadway near Fall Creek Reservoir.
As I discovered, they were a small corp of climbers that was a breed apart from typical rock or mountain climbers.
Just like rock climbers, these folks used gear that included harnesses, ropes, mechanical ascenders and even helmets.
A hearty collection of people had gathered to meet guides with the Eugene-based Pacific Tree Climbing Institute who don’t climb tall mountains; rather they ascend Oregon’s tallest trees.
PTCI operates under a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service and their climbing techniques and equipment do not damage the trees.
Seppa and Miron called it “eco-friendly” climbing as they teach both newcomers and experienced how to reach for the tallest heights of the trees without hurting the trees they climb.
They employ the same equipment and skills that each had learned on their jobs as full time arborists in Eugene, Oregon.
Jason explained: “People see all of these ropes (each climber has his own dedicated line that’s been secured in the top of the tree) going up into space and don’t really know where the ropes end – it’s quite mind blowing for the person to see as they walk up to the tree.” FOR MORE ON THIS STORY.
Summer mornings along the coast are often met by folks in hip boots with shovels or rakes – but they’re not there to work, rather they’ve come to play; especially on a minus low tide on Tillamook Bay at a place where clamming is king.
I joined Trey Carskadon, longtime fishermen and a member of the Oregon Marine Board at the Port of Garibaldi.
I went aboard Trey’s 22-foot boat to learn more about the bay. He explained to me that it’s quite a popular destination for so many reasons:
“The bay offers what many call it a great stay-cation where you can stay close to home, try something like clamming, fishing or crabbing for a day or even a longer weekend.”
My longtime fishing partner, Birt Hansen, joined us as did his grandson, eleven-year-old Cole Hansen - who had never tried his hand at bay clamming before.
Hansen is an old hand at the bay clamming game because he grew up on Oregon’s Coos Bay and spent childhood days exploring tidal flats, backwater sloughs, and freshwater ponds.
Among the strongest and most lasting memories for this sixty-something gentleman are youthful times in the sand and muck digging for clams.
He showed us how it’s done:
“Oh, it’s so easy – especially if you have ever weeded a garden. That’s because our clamming rake is actually a four-pronged weeding rake and all you do is get that rake our in front of you and slowly pull back through the sand. As you pull, feel the tines of the rake hitting the clams. The rake actually ‘pings’ a bit when you roll one up--especially the cockles. If you feel something then hook it with the prongs and lift it up. When that happens, we like to say “Clam On.”
There are six species of bay clams found in Oregon’s estuaries. Four are most popular for the rake and shovel crowd; they are called “Steamers,” “Butters,” “Gapers” and our clam of choice, “Cockles.”
It didn’t take young Cole Hansen long to figure out how it was done – he was soon raking up a storm in the soft sand. Some of the cockle clams were as big as baseballs and he sported a huge smile as he gained more confidence in the game.
“Man, that’s a beauty, Cole,” noted the older Hansen who smiled with an obvious pride that his grandson had so quickly learned the ropes of this recreation.
“We never met a clam that we didn’t like – they’re all good to eat. There’s six different kinds of them in Oregon and they’re all delicious when prepared correctly.” FOR MORE ON THIS STORY.
The Oregon Cascade Mountains can satisfy your needs for exploration and adventure in so many ways: perhaps aboard a whitewater raft where thrills, chills and spills wait at each turn…or maybe with a rod and reel and the chance to land a trophy with each cast.
Or perhaps it’s something far simpler that can be found down a quiet forest service road in the Willamette National Forest where a bounty of berries waits for you right now.
USFS Spokesperson Jennifer O’Leary said that time is right: “A wonderful activity to enjoy with family or friends. It’s really great to see visitors out there enjoying themselves and tasting a little bit of mother nature.”
It is what I call “Huckleberry Hound” time for my family and friends and we couldn’t be more pleased with this time of seasonal change in the forest.
It’s a favored time of year because no permit is required and there are no personal harvest limits either.
We take what we can use near the Twin Meadows area inside the Detroit Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest.
O’Leary’s best advice for the newcomer?
“Really get out on to the forest and explore because there are so many roads where the are huckleberry patches are nearby… if you see a huckleberry bush by the side of the road, chances are good there’s more right there, so get out there and look.”
There are nine species of berries on the forest, but two dominate this area: one is large and sweet, the other more red and tart.
We had no trouble finding plenty of bushes full of berries that are a bit like “candy drops” as I often eat more than I pick.
The berries are plentiful in areas of the forest that provide a sun–shade mix.
Lift up a branch and expose the underside and you’ll find an easier chore of picking the berries; especially if you have both hands free.
Soon, we are kitchen-bound with our bounty so to try a favorite recipe called “Huckleberry Crisp.”
It’s a simple recipe (see ingredients list below) that works well with the tart berries and best of all; it can be assembled and cooked in less than one hour. FOR MORE ON THIS STORY.