KAYAK THROUGH HISTORY
The mighty Columbia River is rich with natural and cultural histories and Grant McOmie explores it this week by sea kayak via the little known Lewis and Clark Wildlife Refuge.
Steve Gibons, the lead guide and co-owner of Scappoose Bay Kayaking takes no chances when the broad Columbia beckons water-based visitors:
“We’re about 5 miles above Tongue Point (near Astoria) and just off the backwaters of Prarie Channel, noted Gibons. “We are going to take advantage of today’s incoming tide and paddle up in the slough hen we’ll work our way on down with the tide out into the wetlands of the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Refuge.”
It was a dreamy day as tide, wind and sun merged to perfection so that we might paddle a stretch seldom seen so close.
Steve and his wife, Bonnie Gibons, often steer newcomers and experienced alike from inside the cockpits of the smooth-sided, 16-foot sea kayaks.
The boats easily moved in just four inches of water; so a simple effort to explore 8,000 acres of islands, mud flats and tidal marshes that make up the refuge.
Randy Wiltgen, a longtime accomplished paddler, noted: “The boats are stable and I think they’re even more stable than a canoe. You’re so low to the water. It really is amazing and you do feel like Lewis and Clark when you’re out here. It’s as though you’re discovering it for the first time.”
The Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1972 and consists of more than 20 islands stretching over 27 miles of river.
The stretch is also a part of the Lower Columbia River Water Trail: a 146-mile, bi-state reach from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean.
Bonnie said that it is rare to cross paths with other paddlers on these trips – it feels a distant world away despite just 80 miles from Portland.
“You are out here with the wildlife and there’s usually no other people so it’s very calm and peaceful.”
In short order we crossed paths with an aerial show that was astounding: two mature bald eagles locked talons in a moment of rare romance as they intertwined, spun through the air – helicopter fashion - until just the right moment to break loose. It was an incredible view and we felt lucky to have watched it.
It was one more reward for our paddling efforts across the refuge – plus, finding a comfort zone on the glassy water where confidence seemed to grow with each paddle stroke.
It was a day filled with summer’s glory, punctuated by intimate moments where nature’s touch restored the soul.
Randy Wiltgen offered, “The peace and quiet and tranquility to float along and let the current carry you. It is so quiet, relaxing and just a wonderful spot. Everyone deserves a break away to a place like this. I’ll be back soon.”
A STEADY STREAM OF COLOR
You’ll want to bring your camera to capture the steady stream of color along the Salmon River that flows through the Wildwood Recreation Area near Welches, Oregon.
Many parts of the Cascade Mountains demand a slower pace. You simply see more when you leave busy campgrounds behind and let quieter, wilder moments surround you.
Those moments are easy to come by down the many trails inside the Wildwood Recreation Site near Welches, Oregon.
Adam Milnor, a BLM Recreation Specialist, said that most people who are in a big hurry to reach Mt Hood or Central Oregon and overlook Wildwood.
“Mt Hood beckons to everyone who lives in the Portland area and that’s understandable; it’s a hugely popular draw. But – it’s also a mistake not to pull in and see what this site has to offer. We have such a great place for families to introduce their children to the outdoors with a rushing river, salmon and fantastic trees in a beautiful forest.”
The trails that wind through Wildwood are marvelous opportunities to explore the parkland.
The Wildwood Wetlands Trail is a one-mile loop of gravel and paved foot- paths plus more than a thousand feet of elevated boardwalk that gives you access to the heart of a vast wetland area where many different wildlife species live.
Observation decks extend into the wetland at a number of locations and allow closer inspection.
Don’t be surprised while hiking the boardwalk to see blue herons, mallards, teals, turtles, or any number of small songbirds.
Beginning in mid-October, the boardwalk area explodes to life with a colorful show of brilliant reds, oranges and yellows from vine maple, big leaf maple trees and alder trees.
The Cascade Streamwatch Trail is a barrier-free and paved, three-quarter-mile trail adjacent to the Wild and Scenic Salmon River. Interpretive displays describe points of interest.
The most remarkable highlight of this trail is a stream-profile viewing chamber where you gain an underwater “fish-eye” view of a small stream and salmon habitat.
The chamber--ten years in the making--drops twelve feet below the water surface and allows you to see through two large windows more than twelve feet across and seven feet high where ‘baby’ salmon live.
I enjoy just watching the behavior of the three- to four-inch salmon fry and how they use logs, branches, and even rocks to hide. As a bug floats on the current, a fish jets out and picks it off, then retreats back to its shelter.
The park is open from 8:00 A.M. to sunset from mid-May to early November. However, during the off-season, you may park at the gate and access Wildwood and Cascade Streamwatch by foot, walking the entrance road to the trailhead or other facilities.
OFF ROAD RIDERS
It’s a cool and cloudy winter morning at Roger’s Camp in the Tillamook State Forest; key staging area for folks who like to travel “off-road.”
I’ve traveled into the heart of the forest at the invitation of a familiar face and avid off-roader: my brother, Mark McOmie.
My brother’s off-road recreation is more than a hobby – it’s a passion that has shaped much his outdoor travel and recreation plans. It’s also been something that he’s shared with his entire family for nearly twenty years.
“Atv-ing is a great family sport,” explained Mark. “A super opportunity to get together and explore the outdoors. I think most of the fellows in our party probably have multiple uses for their machines – part workhorse, part recreation vehicle. In fact, I started riding in the early ‘90’s while on hunting trips and it’s taken off from there.”
Several of his friends joined him for a ride across designated trails in the state forest.
They certainly have plenty of trails to choose from for our day’s adventure.
Jahmaal Rebb, ATV Specialist with Oregon Department of Forestry, said that there are more than 130 miles of trails across the Tillamook State Forest.
Rebb manages the trails and the riders who travel in the forest and he noted that there’s a “dedicated following” of riders who come to play on the state forestland.
“This is a community that’s been very active since the 1930’s – really, since the first Tillamook Burn. Motorized recreation is a big deal here and the folks still come here, put in time on varied projects to improve trails and improve access – they really have a passion for play.”
There are three primary OHV riding areas available on the forest including Browns Camp, Jordan Creek and Diamond Mill.
A wide variety of trails provide access into some of the more remote and scenic parts of the forest and provide challenge and excitement for both beginners and experts.
“We offer a very extensive network of trails, said Rebb. “Scores of off-road trails are a part of a multi-use recreation system. So, you must expect to encounter quads, motor bikes and full-sized four-wheel drives out here.”
So, what it’s like to climb aboard and grab on to the steering of a powerful ATV four wheel-drive quad?
In a word – amazing! They are quick to respond, easy to steer and surprisingly comfortable too.
It is also recreation where risk and danger wait at every turn, so safety and common sense and controlling your speed are critical.
That’s where recently adopted rules come in. For example, young riders must carry an “ATV Safety Education” card – that shows the rider has passed a mandatory on-line test.
The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation manages the “ATV On-Line Safety Education Course” and John Lane, OPRD ATV Safety Program Manager, said that by 2014, every ATV rider in Oregon most pass the test and carry the card.
“It’s free…takes just a couple of hours to complete, and when you’re all done we’ll send you a safety education card that’s required to be with you when you go out and ride.”
There are more changes coming to enhance the safety aspects of Oregon’s off-road riding: a new “Hands On ATV Training Class” will be required for all riders aged 15 and under in 2012.
SANTIAM HORSEBACK RIDE
On a dreamy autumn day, could there be a better find on a simmering afternoon than filtered sunbeams shooting through the overhanging maple leaves and cool, refreshing creek by your side.
Oh, I doubt it!
I just knew it is was the right place to start an adventure when I arrived at the Monument Traihead near Gates, Oregon to meet a small, dedicated group of horseback riders who were to guide me into the wilds of the Santiam State Forest.
Sheila Hoover, co-owner of “Into the Wild Equine Adventures,” told me that “There are a lot of people who are interested in horseback riding who just haven’t had the opportunity. And this is such a gorgeous place we thought, let’s try that.”
Her husband, Jahn Hoover, quickly added, “For most people it’s about ‘I’ve always wanted to ride a horse before’…always wanted to go horseback riding and try something new.’ Well, that’s our goal – to make their dreams come true.”
Into the Wild Equine Adventures began in 2009 when Jahn and Sheila Hoover decided to teach city folks to ride tall in the saddle aboard their fine stable of Arabian, Percheron and Tennessee Walker horses so to see the outdoors from a different point of view
First, comes the training - not for the horses – (that’s happened daily through many years), - but for the people – folks like me who haven’t done anything like horseback riding in years.
Jahn noted that the reason people need to know how to ride is to feel empowered to work the horse.
If you choose not to be in charge,” he said. “The horse will happily be in charge! That means you’ve put an animal that weighs 1200 pounds and with the mind of a three year old in charge of your destiny. That is not a good plan!”
We were on the “Magic Trail” and it is one of several that are set-aside in the Santiam State Forest for non-motorized use.
On a warn autumn day, with the temperature flirting with the 80’s, it was much cooler under the sprawling canopy of fir, alder and big leaf maple.
“It is a beautiful section of a temperate rain forest with lots of colorful vine maple and other beautiful trees,” noted Sheila. “The trail is well maintained by state forestry crews who do a fabulous job of keeping it in top condition.”
The trail was gentle with a bit of rise and fall that shifted the scenery and made the ride interesting. It was the sort of riding experience that put my mind at ease and allowed me to really soak up the countryside.
After a couple of hours, we arrived at the Santiam Horse Camp – complete with corrals and fresh water for folks who may wish to make their trip a longer stay.
The horse riding community helped the state develop the trails and the campground.
Arden Corey, a member of “Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon” told me that his group and another called “Oregon Equestrian Trails” are dedicated to their recreation for many reasons:
“I have seen a lot more country on horseback than I would have if I just relied on walking,” he noted with a smile.” On horseback, I can see over the sword fern and the salmonberry and it’s just a real pleasant experience.”
Cristina Stinson, another longtime rider who had joined our trail ride, quickly added, “I have done a lot of off road riding with motorized vehicles which I enjoy – but this is just a slower paced activity that lets you look around and take it in a bit more. I don’t think you could ask for a more beautiful place to ride.”
That much is certain! The Santiam State Forest is a fine forest to explore and horseback is a wonderful way to get there.