Grant's Getaways for December 10, 2011


by Grant McOmie

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Posted on December 11, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 14 at 7:21 AM



There’s a new way to “play a round” in the great Oregon outdoors but surprise: you don’t need clubs, carts or golf balls to play this round of golf.

On this week’s “Grant’s Getaway,” Grant shows us why you may need to yell “Fore” at the new and very first forest disc golf course set in an Oregon State Park.

Mike Phillips loves his “tee shot” so he carefully eyes the right line down the fairway --- before he lets the disc fly to hit speeds of 60 miles per hour.

Phillips is a disc golfer; one of the best around and he has a bag of discs to prove it.

He uses up to 14 different discs in a round of disc golf and each has a specific purpose:

It’s a bit like ball golf that way – if you need to hit that low shot, you use that 2-iron because you need the distance or maybe you need that high flop shot so you use a 9-iron or a wedge…it’s same thing with disc golf.”

Phillips is especially proud of the brand new “mountain-style” disc golf course in a forested setting inside Stub Stewart State Park.

That’s no surprise – after all, he designed it!

“It was like a dream come true! You always hope that you’ll get to a point where you can help design a course or make a change to a course – but when I was invited to walk this terrain I knew this was a really nice place to put in a course.”

The new 18-hole or “basket” course stretches across forty forested, hilly acres that presents a unique challenge to even the most experienced disc golfer.

Park Ranger, Steve Kruger noted that wasn’t the original intent but changed with Mike’s leadership and vision.

“Originally, we thought let’s put in 9 holes of an easy level,” said Kruger. “Something that’s basic but Mike insisted that if you want people to come and make the park a destination, we needed to do more. He was right!”

Stub Stewart State Park has been a fine camping destination since 2007 and offers miles of trails for biking or hiking or horseback riding.

The park includes a spacious campground plus rental cabins for folks who don’t own a trailer or tent.

The spectacular views are a fine compliment to a state park that’s an easy drive – less than thirty miles  - west of Portland.

Kruger said that new forest disc golf course is the latest addition to the park’s recreation scene:

“We did our best to plan this and design it in a way that would flow naturally with trails to walk so that it isn’t just a march through the woods.”

Phillips says much thanks is due to the all-volunteer effort from metro area golfers who belong to Stumptown Disc Golf – a club that helped build the course.

Now, the word is slowly getting out about something special at Stub Stewart that is a lot of fun with many challenges.

“This is a technical mountain style-trail based course,” said Kruger. “I tell folks to play the trail, not the basket and play conservative.”

“Disc golf is a sport for all generations,” added Phillips. “You don’t have to be in perfect physical health to do it, doesn’t require a lot of money and it’s anyone for the cost of buying a disc.”

There is no fee to play a round of disc golf at Stub Stewart or any of the other Oregon State Parks that offer courses but you will need to pay a daily parking permit.

Phillips added that for little more than $20 you purchase three discs, (he recommends Next Adventure) that include a driver, a mid range and putter discs.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

“Grant’s Getaways” offers a time machine tour of sort across a region of Eastern Oregon this week where you can see and touch a time when Oregon was a much different place.

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a landscape of enormous vistas and endless horizons along one of the longest undammed rivers in the Lower 48.

From its headwaters in the Blue Mountains to its salmon-rich confluence with the grand Columbia more than 225 miles away, the John Day River twists, turns, and carves a path through a 14,000-acre treasure trove of colorful volcanic history and some of the world’s most important fossil beds.

The national monument is a three-unit preserve that draws professionals and amateurs alike from many different fields--as well as the generally curious who want to learn more about Oregon’s geologic history and a fossil record dating back 45 million years.

The Sheep Rock Unit (thirty miles west of the town of John Day) is home to the monument’s main visitor center and fossil collection. Colorful Sheep Rock looms above the narrow valley and its green fields on either side of the snaking river.

That’s about all the green you’ll see at a place that turns time on its head. When you stare up at the brown and tan rock walls in the sweltering heat that cooks like an oven, it’s hard to imagine that a lush, near-tropical forest once existed here.

But according to the monument’s curator and paleontologist, Josh Samuels, “the records in the rocks don’t lie.”

Samuels added, “This is a wonderful area to study changes in plants and animals or biological evolution. We see animals coming into existence in these fossil beds and, millions of years later, disappearing. It’s also an area where we have abundant fossils, so we go out and collect fossils there It’s a very important place.”

Josh Samuels said that visitors are best served to begin their adventures at the Thomas Condon Visitor Center.

Condon started collecting fossils in the 1860’s (he was actually a minister, so fossil collecting was a second job of sorts.) He found fossils in the area and sent them off to a variety of scientists at institutions in the country and really helped highlight what’s been found in this area brought it to the forefront of paleontology.”

Samuels added that classes and lectures teach you more about the region, while the center’s murals and fossils give perspective on periods that reach back 50 million years.

“You really have a jungle in those times with things like crocodiles that truly contrast with today’s dry, arid environment of open sage brush and grass land environments with things like deer, mountain lions and elk running around.”

The center is administered by the National Park Service and also serves as an active research area, so you may chance upon the laboratory and see how specimens are prepared for analysis: the past is revealed in front of your eyes – one grain of rock and sand at a time.

Technicians use patience and critical care to remove the rock so to expose fossilized animals that lived so long ago.

The Sheep Rock Unit is a good starting point for your journey through time. It prepares you to understand the remarkably vivid colors of the ash deposits at the Painted Hills Unit about sixty-five miles south of Sheep Rock and near Mitchell, Oregon.

The Painted Hills Unit lies at the end of a three-mile paved access road.

It’s a popular site for photographers who wish to capture the brilliantly colored ash deposits that range from rose to pink, from gold to bronze, and seem splashed across the eroded contours of nearby hummocks and hills.

This is the kind of treasure Oregon legends are made of, and I never tire of an early morning or late evening visit when the light is just peeking up or winking down the hillsides.

Several short hiking trails allow closer inspection, and you will also find shaded picnic tables, water, and restrooms, as well as exhibits and trail guides.

At the “Painted Cove Trail” you’ll appreciate the fact that they have built a boardwalk above the environment in order to protect it – in this case, it’s ash fall dating back 33 million years.

Samuels noted, “It’s a breath-taking view – we can actually see very colorful layers of rock – alternating bands of brown and red and some black. They really make it a photogenic place. The way the clay erodes gives it that beautiful color but also it’s kind of a slow process, so any foot print will last for years – so, if someone walks up on one of those hills we can see that for years so it’s very important that people stay off the hills so we can preserve it for everyone.”

“Leave no footprints and take only memories,” is a standard and strict rule inside the parkland, but fifty miles to the northwest, the Clarno Unit sits on the banks of the John Day River.

Here you’ll witness a succession of ash-laden mudflows that repeatedly buried a forest landscape, leaving behind one of the finest fossilized collections of leaves, nuts, and seeds in North America--some 300 different species and counting.

You may have the most fun up the road a piece at Wheeler High School in Fossil, Oregon, where you can dig the fossils--for keeps. Kids especially love that activity.

Stroll through the back gate at the high school - where donations are kindly accepted - and pass under the goal posts to take up a hand full of fossils that you can actually keep.

School Superintendent, Brad Sperry, told me, “It has been kind of a local secret, and the community knew about it; would come up and kick around in the rocks and pick up a fossil. Got on a couple websites and before long, it looks like today: busy.”

All you need to dig your own fossils are simple tools, a strong arm, keen eyes, curiosity and a ton of patience.

For just a few minutes, I dug, pried, and separated the layers of muddy shale and found perfectly preserved imprints of ferns, cedar fronds, and an unusual leaf.

In less than an hour, I collected half a dozen very fine specimens to add to our family collection.

The specimens here date back 32 million years to when the local terrain was a rain forest and the larger area was home to huge pigs and enormous rhinos.

Successive and massive mud and lava flows washed away or covered everything that stood in their way.

Brad noted, “None of these plants survived the era, of course, but it is the record of this tremendous diversity of life and the record of a totally catastrophic end that, taken together, really make you think.”

Just down the street from the school, the new Paleo Lands Institute will teach you much about the fossils that you collect and perhaps provide a new way to look at the high desert.

Institute spokesperson, Anne Mitchell, said, “I think a lot of people come out and go –‘I want to dig up a fossil.’ But when they actually get here, they start learning how it all goes together. This center was designed to be sort of a hands-on, get dirty and get comfortable with science and learn about fossils and geology.”

It really helps to present what people have right in their own backyards – there are fossils really,” added Samuels. “These fossils are something that we can highlight and help others to appreciate the history of the area and the valuable natural resources that are here.”

Oregon's Redwood Nature Trail

Oregon has a “Banana Belt?”

Oh yes, it’s true! A near tropical land, but you won’t find any pineapples, mangoes or papayas growing from the ground.

Grant McOmie shows us that when you travel to the Brookings area you will find soaring giant redwood trees and a wonderful collection of Oregon state parks in this week’s “Grant’s Getaway.”

In summer – when the surf and sand glisten and glimmer - some Oregon beaches seem all yours to wander and then wonder: how could so much beauty be found in one state park?

It is certainly true along the 12-mile long Sam Boardman Scenic Corridor where day use sites will intrigue and invite you to stop in and take a gander.

OPRD Ranger Jean Phillips called it, “Oregon’s unique coastline: rocky, almost volcanic formations with sea stacks out in the ocean, many small islands and beautiful arched rocks that provide gorgeous views and photo opportunities of all sort.”

Sporting names like Arch Rock, Natural Bridges, House Rock and Whalehead,  it is easy to see why this forested parkland along the southern Oregon coast is a marvel.

But how best to start your explorations?

OPRD Ranger Jeff Gallemore said it is best to get your bearings near the border at Crissey Field State Recreation Site.

“It’s a recreation area, not a campground, and it has the unique job of welcoming people to the state of Oregon.”

The Crissey Field Welcome Center, built of doug fir and cedar, offers soaring glass windows with beachside views that steal the scene.

You gaze across sandy beachfront with more than 40 acres of public parkland.

You’ll also find plenty of Oregon travel information inside the center and helpful folks who will set you on your own Oregon journey.

Perhaps you’ll choose to begin explorations just a few miles up the road at another state park called Alfred Loeb; set in Oregon’s largest protected myrtle tree forest.

Phillips called it the “finest smelling campground in the state!”

“It’s like camphor or eucalyptus leaves and if you crush one of the leaves, it’ll clear out your sinus for sure…it has that sort of strong clean smell that’s unique to our campground.”

But the 200-year old myrtle trees aren’t the only giants living along the shores of the Chetco River.

Phillips led the way and guided us on a short hike from Loeb State Park to the nearby fifty-acre stand of ancient redwood trees.

It’s a mile long loop on the Redwood Nature Trail so you never see the same scenery twice.

”You’ll gain some elevation for sure, get a cardiac workout but halfway thru it’s all downhill. You begin on a fairly moderate ascent, but it isn’t long before you get into a steep climb. Once you get to the peak, it’s all downhill the rocky trail so you have to watch your step.”

Resistant to insects and disease, redwoods are the ultimate old growth trees and they can reach a thousand years old or more.

Managed by the US Forest Service, be sure to pick up a free brochure at the trailhead to help guide you to better understanding of the varied plant species you will see on the Redwood Nature Trail.

The giant’s endurance is remarkable and provides the sort of perspective that will bring a smile to your face.

“You will see redwoods, myrtlewood, rhodies and huckleberries,” noted Phillips. “It is all so diverse due to the mild climate and heavy rain (average is more than 100 inches each year) and moderate temperatures. That is really what makes it possible for all the species to grow together. So, take a hike through the Oregon Redwoods and see a side of Oregon that guarantees a lot of fun.”

Tip of the Week - Hazelnut Farm

Here’s a visit into the heart of Oregon’s hazelnut country where it’s harvest-time and a unique chapter of local history rolls along on this Outdoor Tip of the Week.

On the family-owned “Lewis Century Farm,” the hazelnut harvest takes place in a cloud of dust.

It’s a dirty job down a gravel lane in Washington County, where Mark Lewis carries on what his great grandfather started in 1905.

While the passing years have seen more and more “new” machines added to the his farming operations, some machines haven’t changed in decades.

For example, a stone’s throw away from the Lewis hazelnut orchards, that rise and fall across the gentle rolling hillsides, there’s one particular machine that cleans the nuts just like it did after World War II.

It’s a monster of a machine with wheels and gears that go round and round to carry pounds of freshly harvested nuts that go up and down on belts with conveyors that eventually roll into large perforated cleaning drums where the nuts are showered and sprayed and cleaned with water.

“You have to get all the dirt washed off,” noted the longtime nut man. “And sometimes it gets awfully muddy, so the more drums, the more nuts you can wash. This one works just great!”

In fact, all of the old machinery on the Lewis farm works great.

Mark makes sure of that – not just the nut cleaner, but a nearby “sorter ‘n sizer” that shakes the hazelnuts from side to side and picks out the “blanks,”(shells that don’t contain the prized nutty meat) to a massive walk-in forced hot air dryer that dates back to 1927.

Inside the dryer, warm, 90-degree air blows 80 miles per hour.Flats full of hazelnuts will slowly dry out in the large room so they can be packaged and shipped to varied worldwide markets.

Back in the 1920’s, there were scores of dryers just like this one on farms across Washington County. But today, his is the last!

In fact, Lewis noted that his is one of just two operating family owned dryers left in Oregon. (It is used to dry tasty plums into prunes as well as hazelnuts.)

But it’s the cleaning machine that usually gets the twice over by visitors to the family farm.

That’s easy to understand! It’s just so much fun to watch!

Cockles and Seafood Getaway Chowder

Summer days are the getaway days for families on the go – perhaps to set out on a camping trip or a streamside picnic lunch.

I recently discovered along the Oregon coast, it’s also a chance to try something entirely new.

On this Grant’s Getaway, all you need is a rake, a bucket and a spirit of adventure to try raking bay clams along the Oregon coast.

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.”

Our first order of business was to drop our crab rings or traps (each crabber is allowed three traps) in a corner of the bay known as Crab Harbor.

The rings were baited with bottom-fish carcasses that we had purchased at Garibaldi Marina prior to our start. The full service marina offers everything a mariner might need to launch an adventure on the bay.

While the traps soaked we continued our boat trip into the shallow waters of along the bay’s western edge. It was so shallow that we easily spied the bottom of the bay; just two or three feet deep.

Carskadon advised that all mariners use caution when they venture into the shallow areas::

“For starters, I always have – right at hand – a vhf radio – so if I have any trouble, I can immediately get emergency assistance out here. Also don’t forget to bring and wear a good PFD, (Personal Floatation Device.)  A hand held GPS (Global Positioning System) can be a huge help out here, but if you don’t have one of those having a map and knowing how to use it and knowing where you are is essential. Finally, don’t be in a big hurry – slow down. There’s no need to go racing around the bay. Take it easy!”

That wasn’t a problem on a day that offered more sun than clouds, a light breeze and a slow ebbing tide.

All of it hinted of warmer days to come as we landed our boat on the beach in Crab Harbor.

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.”

Each clam-raker is allowed twenty cockles and must carry his/her own container and an Oregon shellfish license that costs $6.50 is required of each clammer 14 years and older.

I think that the best part of this recreation is that even the littlest ones can do it and have some success – it offers a little bit of mud or sand, a whole lot of estuary water, but there are lots of clams.

All of it adds up to a lot of family fun.

Soon – it was time to head for our crab rings and see if our luck had continued. As it turned out, there were lots of crabs, but mostly females in our traps – Since you are only allowed to keep males that are five and three quarter inches across the back, we were out of crab luck.

On the other hand, Carskadon noted that there are so many other reasons to enjoy a visit to this corner of the coast: “Oh, just look at this – we’ve got it all to ourselves. Not just here, but more than three hundred miles of coastline and it’s all ours – Oregonians – it’s all public beach and a very special place.”

Our adventure didn’t end at the coast, but continued in the kitchen as we assembled what Birt Hansen likes to call his “Seafood Getaway Chowder.”

First, he sauted a cup each of onion and bacon in butter – to that he added 4 cups of potatoes and four cups of water – plus a cup of clam or oyster nectar that he purchased at a store. He boiled it all for 15 minutes.

While the mixture boiled he cleaned the clams and chopped up approximately two limits – or forty cockle clams – into small pieces.

After 15 minutes, he added a cup each of fresh fish like snapper, sole or salmon – and then all of the chopped clams.

He noted: “This is the part where it all starts smelling good.”

Finally, he added a generous amount of half and half (approximately two cups) and brought everything in the large pot to a roiling boil.

Then – it was time to eat!

Oh – and about that name: Getaway Chowder?

I asked Hansen about it’s origin.

Oh, that’s easy – it’s get away, so I can eat the leftovers – It’s that good!

And also good fun – and proved a delicious and satisfying feast to round out the day’s adventure.

Hansen note that the meal brought the entire experience full circle:

“Cooking is the reward, the culminating reward and it brings back so many great memories of the Oregon outdoor experience while you eat it. I just love it!”

Seafood Getaway Chowder

I asked the reason for this novel title. Birt’s answer: “It’s so good that when you take just a taste, people will be lining up. You want to say, “Get away, get away,” laughed Hansen, “Save some for me.”

1 cup minced onion
1 cup chopped bacon
In a deep pot, saute both in butter

Add 4 cups of diced potatoes
2 cups of water to cover
1 cup of clam or oyster nectar
Bring to boil and cook for 15 minutes0

Add: Try to add at least 2 of these:
1 cup each of chunked fish (sole or halibut or snapper or salmon)
2 cups chopped Cockle or other Bay Clams
2 cups of half and half or whole milk.

Bring to the start of a boil, (rolling boil) then pull from stove and serve with warm sour dough bread.