Grant's Getaways for April 14, 2012


by Grant McOmie

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Posted on April 14, 2012 at 4:42 PM



Some getaways offer peace of mind with each stroke of a paddle and all you needs is a paddle, a life vest and a spirit of adventure at the new Beaver Creek State Park Natural Area near Newport.

It is unlike any state park you’ve ever visited before!

Beaver Creek is a relatively small 30-mile long coastal stream that is born in the Oregon coat range mountains and enters the ocean at another parkland called Ona Beach State Park, just south of Newport, Oregon.

We paddled stable, flat-bottomed kayaks through a stretch of the creek where the freshwater mixes with the salt.

Rivers told me that the creek is never more than six feet deep throughout its length, but it does rise and fall a bit with the tidal change

The new State Park Natural Area is nearly 400 acres of freshwater marsh and uplands and a place where the creek’s namesake animal – also the Oregon state animal - has made a remarkable comeback over the past forty years.

Their signs were everywhere, from chewed up alder sticks scattered on shore to large semi-submerged logs where beaver teeth appeared like double chisel-type marks on the wood to several large lodges.
“This time of year, the lodges are overgrown with brush and other vegetation,” noted Rivers. “They’re pretty impossible to see from a distance, but in a kayak you can sneak up and check them out pretty close. It’s pretty neat!”

In fact, our paddling was highlighted with close up views to varied birds rarely seen so close and included hawks, eagles and egrets.

Rivers added that the parkland includes seven miles of boat-accessible hiking trails leading through meadows and forests.

At the top of a nearby knoll, the new Beaver Creek Visitor Center - accessible by land or water - will offer maps, photos and information about the wildlife in the area when the park officially opens to the public on October 1.

Mike Rivers added, “This is really a first for Oregon State parks and yet there’s a demand for this kind of recreation that doesn’t really involve any kind of development at all; just a minimum impact, a minimum footprint on the landscape.”

For folks who wish to make their visit a longer stay, South Beach State Park Campground is just six miles away:

“At South Beach,” noted Rivers, “we often find ourselves as a hub for recreation and overnight stays. We have over 250 campsites – all full service campsites with electricity and water at each site. We’ve 27 yurts with electricity, water and indoor sleeping facilities: a futon couch and bunk bed.”

But it’s out on the water where you’ll likely find me – where nature’s touch soothes the soul at an Oregon State Park unlike any I’ve been before.

“It’s basically wilderness in the state park system and we’re thrilled with it, said Rivers. “We’re thinking of our children and their children who will come here too. This is a fabulous area.”

”Visitors can sign up for Beaver Creek guided tours at South Beach State and these tours are led by a state park guide. The tours are offered daily between the 4th of July and Labor Day but special arrangements for group tours can be made at other times of the year.

You can also learn more about Beaver Creek guided tours through the private tour operator, Northwest EcoExcursions in Depoe Bay, Ossies Surf Shop in Newport and Central Coast Rental Watersports in Florence.


Some say it’s the speed, others say it’s the jumps, while few argue that there are risks, all agree that mountain biking can offer a true adrenalin rush.

And why wouldn’t it? Speeding down a narrow forested trail – weaving left and right so to stay on the right track, but with jarring bumps and jumps that shake, rattle and roll you along. Suddenly, a five-foot tall dirt berm appears out of nowhere and tests your agility as you fly airborne high above the ground.

It’s the rush of speed and the test of stamina that mountain bike riders find when they travel to one of the hottest locales in Oregon.

It’s called “Free Riding” and it’s on a little piece of cycling heaven where the riders catch “big air” across 500 acres of Oregon State Forest at Black Rock Mountain in Polk County.

The volunteer organization that makes it all work is called the Black Rock Mountain Bike Association or “BRMBA” for short.

Rich Bontrager, the association president, told me that the group is now seven years old and fifteen hundred members strong.

He noted that it all started with a simple dream: “I think we all need to help get people off the couch and out in the forest … to see that there’s other stuff out here than the city pavement or a computer game – it’s that sort of thing that draws folks – something new and different and exciting.”

It all begins with designing the features that riders seek at Black Rock; features that include ramps, jumps and berms – that are approved by the Oregon Department of Forestry and then built by the club members.

The trail designers can also name the varied projects and include such imaginative names like “Sunday Stroll,” “Grannie’s Kitchen” and “Bonzai Downhill.”

The runs and the stunts have been designed and built with the approval of Oregon Department of Forestry under the “Adopt A Trail” program.

BRMBA members are at Black Rock each day to care for the site and make certain that it’s not abused.
Bontrager noted that the concept of a mountain bike destination play area is a first on the Oregon State Forest: “Forest managers take a look at our proposals and make sure the ideas won’t create an environmental hazard or be too close to a watershed.”

BRMBA member, Todd Glascow, a longtime rider, said that “feature” ideas are really born of the experiences that riders have as they take on trails across the United States.

“Oh yes – we ride other areas, see other things and incorporate them into our own ideas and then take a spin on it. While some material is bought and some donated, a good majority of the wood that we use is fallen timber found in the forest.”

Bontrager agreed and added, “If we do move some dirt we try to cover it back up a little bit so that it can re-naturalize or re-forest itself and look natural again. Once we’re done with these structures, we’ll actually lay them back out so they decompose in the forest.”

Some of the runs are so steep that riders can reach speeds of 40 mile per hour, so each rider covers up from head to toe with plastic and neoprene rubber protection that they call “armor.”

The bikes that they ride are specially designed to take punishing workouts across the forest – aluminum framed bikes with heavy-duty front and rear air shocks and disc brakes are common and the bikes can reach $5,000 or more.

Wade Youngblood said that beginners can get started for far less: “The used market is good way to break into the sport – a good used bike goes for about a thousand dollars. If you buy new, you’re looking at four to six thousand for a top of the line bike.”

Wade’s father, Owen Youngblood, said that the affordability of the sport drew him to share the outdoor experience with his son – plus, there’s been a bonus: he’s lost twenty pounds since he started riding at Black Rock two years ago.

“It’s always fun to ride with someone who’s better than you are because that will push you to the next step…and that’s why I enjoy riding with my son – he’s typically in the lead and I do my best to catch him.”

Whether catching big air or enjoying the freedom that comes from speeding down a forest trail on two wheels, the riders agree that there’s something for every level of experience at Black Rock Mountain.

“You’re out here in the trees and you’re away from everything else,” noted Glascow. “You’re far away from the daily grind. You can have a stressful day or stressful week and you come out here and ride a bike – it’s all gone!”

Other Trails to Explore:

Adventure of a different sort waits for bike riders who visit Stub Stewart State Park in Washington County.

In fact, new construction on “free ride” trails with features similar to those you will find at Black Rock are currently under construction at Stewart – in addition to the 17 miles of hiking and biking trails that already exist.

Don’t forget to check out Ride Oregon either! It’s a wonderful resource – a bike riding clearing house of sorts - that can put you on the right track to other mountain bike trails across the state.


The Valley of the Giants makes you feel small in a secret place that lets your heart soar as tall as the giants that live there.

I recently joined a small troop of travelers led by retired BLM Forester, Walt Kastner.

We traveled for hours deep into the Oregon Coast Range to explore a unique 51-acre grove of old growth Doug fir trees.

Kastner pulled a the metal tape from its spring-loaded container to measure the circumference of a nearby giant – he stretched his arms and pulled the tape all the way around the huge tree and after a few minutes:

“Finally, “27 feet! Wow!” noted Kastner. “By my formula that’s a nine foot diameter – and perhaps 450 years old – at the least – probably older.”

The giant tree was but one of scores that you will see along the 1.5 mile long forest trail that meanders through the Valley of the Giants.

Kastner advised us to pause often and admire the valley’s diversity of trees – not just their size but also their placement in the valley.

“If you stop and look around, you can see you’ve got some very large trees that are deep and complex. Look at how variable the spacing is between the trees – some are clumped up, others far apart, plus there are standing dead trees and downed trees. There’s just so much diversity and complexity in here.”

The Valley of the Giants is a small snapshot of what much of Western Oregon’s fir forests may have looked like – perhaps 150 years ago.

It is so special a place the BLM has protected the public parcel since 1976 as an Outstanding Natural Area for study and research.

“Forest scientists can come here to study and learn how these types of stands developed and by knowing that, you can incorporate what they find into the management plan for some of our younger stands where you might want to manage for older forest characteristics…it’s kind of a living laboratory,” said Kastner

The North Fork of the Siletz River bisects the valley in classic “pool and drop fashion,” noted BLM staff member Trish Hogervorst.

A hiking bridge allows you to access the trail and gain entry into a lush forestland that receives nearly 200 inches of rain each year.

“The music of the water is such a wonderful secret in some ways,” added Trish. “Not many people make it out here and you’ll often be the only one out here. It’s just beautiful!”

The Valley of the Giants is remote and access is limited because private timberland surrounds this public island of old growth trees.

The BLM offers a free brochure with a map and mileage directions.

Still, BLM Recreation Planner, Traci Meredith, noted that it’s a challenging route – even under the best of conditions.

“You can make a wrong turn pretty easily if you’re looking the other way, so stay alert and follow directions on the map.”

There is no camping in the Valley of the Giants – no campfires are allowed and you must stay on the moderately graded trail. There is a picnic table along the route, so you are able to stop for a time and enjoy the experience with friends or family.

Still, given its remote location, you should plan on a full day to reach and hike through the valley.

Traci added, “I love it out here, it’s big, open, quiet. It’s not considered a wilderness but people sure feel like they’re in a wilderness out here.”

Dan Wood and Mari Kasamoto were enjoying the giants for the first time and agreed they’d never seen anything like the grove of ancient trees before. They didn’t know that  Doug fir trees lived so long.

“These big trees are amazing when they’re up in the air,” noted Wood. “But you can’t tell how tall they are until the fall – and in here you have soaring trees but also the fallen ones and you can actually see how big and wide and tall they are at the same time.”

“It’s very peaceful and relaxing,” added Kasamoto. “I would definitely come here again. It’s so special a place.”

Call the BLM (503-375-5646) to receive a copy of the recommended driving directions.

The map directions begin at Falls City, five miles southwest of Dallas. The driving route is 30 miles but it will take you 90 minutes to reach the valley. Follow the directions closely and carefully.

Caution: much of the route is in large rock or gravel and the logging roads are notorious for puncturing car tires. I discourage taking the family car or van – if you choose to do so, take along a second spare tire.


Six hundred feet off the ground, a hot air balloon provides a breath-taking view to Oregon wine country near Newberg.

Pilot Roger Anderson likes to say the Willamette Valley is ringed by hills – hills that grow grapes – wine grapes!

“The Dundee Hills, Chehalem Ridge, Eola Hills; some of the best wine in the world comes from there.”

It is the sort of travel that puts a smile on your face and brings joy to your heart, but there’s another exciting and unique way to see wine country that’s closer to the ground on board an extra large ATV with Alex Sokol Blosser, co-owner of Sokol Blosser Wines.

Alex proudly showed off his family’s vineyards from one end to the other:“We farm 85 acres of grapes and all of it is certified organic by Oregon Dept of Agriculture and we’ve been farming here since 1971.”

The “Kubota RTV” is an off road vehicle seats up to 6 passengers for off road riding. It gets folks out to where the action is: across the grape-lined hillsides quickly and easier than on foot.

“Not everyone wants to walk!” noted Alex Sokol Blosser. “85 acres is a lot of land so the ATV Tours give folks an up close chance to see and learn where the wine comes from and how it grows on the vine.”

Sokol Blosser’s tasting room has been serving visitors really nice wines every day since 1978. The room and the grounds are worth the time to explore and learn how the winery has been walking the talk of sustainability for more than three decades: from the massive solar panels that provide 25% of the winery’s electricity to the bio-diesel fueled ATV.

“Seeing is believing so go out and visit the vineyard and then enjoy a sense of the place. We’re really trying to share what we do here and give people to a deeper level of understanding of grape growing and wine making and it’s fun.”

Forty miles away at Left Coast Cellars, you’ll discover a deeper understanding of the great outdoors and enjoy awesome scenery too.

Taylor Pfaff’s family grows wine grapes across 300-acres of rolling hills, studded by stands of oak trees in Polk County.

“Wine is more than the product in the bottle,” noted Pfaff, a self proclaimed jack-of-all-trades “Cellar Rat” in the winery operation. “It’s the landscape, the vines, the grape – that’s all part of the experience.”

While the family has their hands full with tending the vines, making the wines and catering to guests who want to sample the product, they believed it’s important to open the land to visitors who like to hike and learn more about the grapes. So, they are developing miles of hiking trails through parts of their property.

“We want to open up all this great wilderness to the public! We have oak woodlands that won’t grow vines, but offer trails so why not provide that to folks who enjoy hiking and combine that with wine?”

Byron Williams calls it “Wiking” and the Oregon entrepreneur is building a new wine guiding business called Grand Cru Wine Tours that combines Left Coast Cellars lands with other area wineries and proved visitors with miles of trails for off the main road hiking.

“Much of this area is old oak savannah and there are still good chunks of it left in oak trees and so we’ve carved some nice, tight trails.”

And there’s more! One of the trails also reaches into the nearby Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge near Dallas, Oregon.

“You’ll see tons of migratory birds out there and even the occasional deer,” added Williams.” On any given day from large animals down to small ones and it’s amazing to get out and see how mother nature shows off what’s she’s got.”

Fall is fine time to visit Oregon wineries because you can see a range of activities in the wine making process that only happens once a year.


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.

A site that may have you wondering, “How is it I’ve never heard of this place or visited it before?”

After all, the Salmon River is born from glaciers atop Mt Hood and it is Oregon’s last undimmed river that flows unhindered from the mountains to the sea.

It cuts a beeline through more than five hundred acres of designated public recreation land at Wildwood.

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.

Pay special attention to the many interpretive signs that describe the wetland habitat and the critters that live there.

“A wetland eco-system is something you have to really see up close to get really fascinated with it,” noted Milnor. “Building this structure really allows you to get up close and personal to it in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise.”

There are more than 1,000 feet to the boardwalk on the Wildwood Wetlands Trail that was built four feet off the ground to keep hiker’s feet dry and limit access onto the sensitive wetlands.

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.

“We love the fish and we want to protect the fish,” noted Donna Hansen, Wildwood Park Ranger. “If visitors go to the river and they come at the right time of year, they actually get to see fish too. The salmon spawn throughout the Salmon River from October through November. People like to see that.”

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.