Grant's Getaways for February 25, 2012


by Grant McOmie

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Posted on February 26, 2012 at 2:17 PM


Jeff and Emmi Nishimura love to play in the snow: it keeps them feeling young and active in winter – plus it’s a fun adventure to explore someplace new like the Trillium Lake Trail in the Mt Hood National Forest.

The couple recently discovered that snowshoes don’t slow them down but have opened up the outdoors to new adventures in the winter months.

Emmi noted, “They’re so easy to walk in, they’re not heavy at all and it’s really beautiful out here in the winter. I never knew it could be so much fun to hike in the snow – or rather, on top of the snow.”

They’re not alone – thousands of folks have discovered that Oregon’s winter landscape is inviting and easy to travel through with a pair of snowshoes strapped to their boots.

Drew and Emiko Hall decided to get away from it all on a day long adventure to Trillium Trail because it’s easy to reach just past Government Camp along State Highway 26.

“We love to hike but we’re not really into skiing or snowboarding,” noted Drew. “We figured get out here during the winter months. It’s the fresh air, the scenery, and fewer people out on the trails.”

His wife, Emiko, added, “ If you’re a true Oregonian, a little rain or winter mix won’t throw you off – just go do it.”

If you’ve never done it before – you might stop in and chat with an expert before you go – someone like Erin Harri at REI in Hillsboro.

Erin really knows snowshoes – she’s been enjoying the sport the past decade and said that the shoes you choose have come a long way over the years:

“Lightweight aluminum has made all the difference. Plus, the latest flexible plastics have made the uppers and the bindings fairly malleable and yet they  withstand frigid temperatures.”

Harri advised that you look for a “one step” binding system that allows you simply step in and pull one strap to tighten your boot into the shoe.

A word about those boots – think waterproof! You will be in snow after all, so keep dry is critically important.

“If you are doing recreational light hiking, wear light hiking boots,” added Harri. “If you’re running and racing in your snow shoes, wear water proof running shoes. But above all, it’s critical to keep the water out.”

Clothing is critical too! Harri advised layering with synthetic-based clothing that wicks moisture away from your body – never wear cotton but wear a synthetic base layer, then an insulating layer of fleece or down and then top it off with a waterproof or windproof jacket.

“Layering is all the difference because you’re working up a sweat while you walk so as you get warmer, you can remove a layer, then add it back when you stop for a break.”

She added that many local outdoor stores – including REI offer snow shoe clinics that will teach you more about the shoe styles, proper fit, clothing options and places to go.

That brings us back to Trillium Lake – according to Harri it is one of the best beginner sites around:

“It’s a pretty good decline as you’re heading in (about two miles) so a bit of elevation on the way out but around the lake it is fairly flat and wide all the way around.”

If you are a beginner, allow a full day for your hike into Trillium Lake.Bring a lunch, energy food and lots of water – as aerobic as it is, you lose a lot of water – it is important to remain hydrated.

There are many places for newcomers to try beyond the Trillium Trail in the Mt Hood National Forest. Consider Frog Lake, White River Sno-Park and the Tilly Jane District at Cooper Spur on the north side of Mt Hood.

Something else to keep in mind – Harri noted that this winter has been called “weather fickle!” That is, the snow level has risen and fallen up thousands of feet each week, so check on the snow conditions and the weather forecast before you go.


Gordon and Terri Southwick never dreamed their “retirement” would lead to new careers marked by long days and cold nights in the great outdoors.

Grant McOmie shows us how the “golden years” mean hard but rewarding work for an Oregon couple who provide a salmon angling future for people too.

When water’s so cold it stings the hands and the air is just as frigid, “spawning day” at Trask Salmon Hatchery is speedy and efficient.

They are fall chinook salmon, mottled black and grey that marks a biological clock that is reaching the end.

Each female salmon is ripe with 5,000 crimson-colored eggs.

The fish promise a future.

Now, the Southwick’s hold it in their hands and they do it with a smile.

“I always have fun outdoors,” laughed Terri Southwick. “I love the outdoors and this is our payback; trying to help out and it’s something anybody can do too.”

They may be retired but they refuse to call it quits!

The 70-somethings are guardians who volunteer with Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.

“Where others might be sitting inside and complaining,” noted Ron Rehn, the state fish biologist. “Or like to be armchair quarterbacks, these folks are out there making a difference with hard work.”

Assistant hatchery manager, Jim Scar added. “They’re excited too! About everything! They always have a smile on their faces. In fact, I have never seen them without a smile on their faces. They are a breath of fresh air.”

Their “work” is more than just one sub-freezing morning at the hatchery. The spawning day is just the start for the Southwicks!

The days really get started at a tiny private hatchery that’s located alongside a small creek that’s a tributary of the Miami River that feeds into the expansive Tillamook Bay.

There, the Southwicks take care of the salmon eggs that become the fish that anglers like to catch.

Terri and Gordon Southwick have run the operation since ‘96 when they stepped forward – fresh from their respective workplaces - to help a local fishing club.

“A year later everybody quit but us,” laughed Gordon Southwick.

Or perhaps they knew what the Southwicks later learned: that trees blow down, ice builds up and crystal clear streams can turn chocolate brown anytime the rain falls in buckets.

All of that can put their 100,000 eggs or fish at risk.

“The silt is one of the most detrimental things,” noted Terri Southwick. “If it’s too thick it prevents oxygen from getting into the eggs”

“Once we got the eggs,” added Gordon. “There’s no turning back! We must come here at least every other da, but if we have heavy rain or storms, we’re here every day.”

But the partners have taken to the work so well they recently hit a milestone: they’ve raised their one-millionth baby salmon.

That fish represented over one-third of the total chinook salmon fry production for the region.

Gordon modestly noted, “We never set out to do a million fish, it just turned out to be that way.”

It landed them national recognition: a conservation award, a trip to Washington DC and even a cash prize – which they poured back into the program to help cover costs.

At a time of life when most retirees reflect back on their lives,  the Southwick’s look forward to more volunteer days in the great outdoors and perhaps a chance to raise two million salmon.

“We’re young enough and we’re healthy enough,” chuckled Gordon. “We can do things and we’re at the time of our lives that we can give back what we’ve been taking for so many years.”

“I’ll do it as long as I possibly can,” added Terri “For me, it’s a great enjoyment to be outdoors and working with the fish.”


There are lions, tigers and bears – plus another 1,000 animals that roam free while visitors are in the cages at Winston, Oregon’s “Wildlife Safari.”

It’s like a zoo except you are in the cage.

Wildlife Safari stretches across more than six hundred acres of rolling, oak-studded hills and savannah-like grasslands in southern Oregon’s Douglas County.

Wildlife curator, Sarah Roy, said, “It’s the opposite of a zoo because you drive through in your car, and a giraffe can walk right up to your car, rhinos can walk right up to your car, the zebra herd will run across the road. It’s amazing!”

Sarah’s Roy is right! Just like that – our interview came to a halt as “JT,” a towering 12-year old giraffe stopped, stooped and zoomed in for a closer look.

Actually, there were many similar incidents and that’s not surprising when you consider there are 300 different species…close to 1,000 animals “in charge” at a park that’s unlike any you’ve visited before.

Our visit offered something new that visitors can experience called “Wildlife Encounters.” It’s a new program that puts you in closer proximity to many species – a bit of what Roy called, “behind the scenes opportunities.”

We visited the Brown Bear area and found ourselves just feet away from a trio of 6-year old brown bears – separated by half a dozen electrically charged so-called “hot wires.”

Roy explained, “ The boys just woke up from hibernation a week ago and we come out here several times a day to do training. Bears are so smart and mentally active – even simple fruit juice that’s frozen like Popsicles – fruit trays and nuts – hide berries in boxes – get a chance to rip it apart and play with it a little bit We scatter treats around the area – throw frozen fruit in the pond, like a popsicle for them to enjoy – and they love it.”

There’s nearly four miles roadway that wind through the complex on a route that takes you through several distinct animal communities including Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Each area is home to scores of species you rarely get to see this close. Flamingos, cougars, emus, tigers – and each is fascinating.

Nearby, we stopped in for a rare encounter with a pair of animals that have grown up together. “Ellie” is an “Anatolian Shepherd” dog breed and her enclosure friend is a cheetah named “Sonora.” Each is four years old and they have grown up together.

“The dog breed is quite protective, loyal and dedicated,” explained Roy. “To whatever they are raised with, so basically Sonora is Ellie’s herd of sheep. “We wanted to bring this breed in as a companion animal to teach more about saving Cheetahs in the wild.”

In fact, that remains the number one conservation mission for Wildlife Safari – one that began in 1973 when the park opened to the public.

The cheetah captive breeding program has been a fixture at Wildlife Safari for nearly forty years.

In fact, we met two newcomers to that program: “Chimba” and “Mohawk” are two male cubs to “Liz,” a fourteen-year-old cheetah. The two boys were born in September of 2010 and they will stay with their mom for one year.

Roy noted that in the wild, cheetahs remain critically endangered; there are less than ten thousand cheetahs living in the wild worldwide.

But it’s the “King of the Animal Kingdom” that you may remember the most. I will certainly remember our “encounter” with “Tao,” a three-year-old African lion. You see, we played tug of war with “Tao.”

“It’s great exercise,” said Roy. “It’s also good enrichment that keeps him and the other three lions mentally stimulated, so we do this each day and we thought it would be fun and educational to pull our visitors into the game too.”

Two towering fences separate the lion from humans – each grabs hold of the 40-foot long rope – humans with their hands, Tao with claws and powerful jaws and sharp teeth.

We then pulled back and forth on the long rope – or rather we held our ground while Tao pulled on us - it was a remarkable experience as the 400-pound lion showed his amazing strength and easily pulled on the rope that six of us held onto.

“It is good exercise and the animals seem to have fun. So do the people,” noted Roy. “Each looks forward to this exercise – in fact, our lions come running over anytime it is rope time. It’s pretty impressive when you feel him pulling – you can really feel that power in the rope – it’s amazing!”

It is all of that – and more and contributes to a remarkable outdoor experience across fascinating parkland that will entertain and teach you much about wildlife across the planet.


Some call it the ‘rugged edge of the Oregon coast’ where the sun and surf meet to leave you spellbound and breathless.

Grant McOmie takes us to Cape Perpetua Scenic Area  where in winter – except for surf and wind, the coast slows down – that’s easy to understand – few distractions, few folks around…especially along Oregon’s rugged edge of life.

It’s more than forty miles of central Oregon coastline beginning at Waldport and continuing along a southerly stretch of Coastal Highway 101 marked by steep headlands, jagged volcanic outcrops and jaw-dropping scenic drama:

Oregon State Parks Ranger, David Weisenback, said that the sheer beauty of the place surprises many first timers:

“It is such a beautiful and unique area – you can hike to the overlooks, the viewpoints, across the rocky shorelines. No matter where you travel in the world, this is still one of the most scenic areas.”

In fact, it is so significant and prized a place that 2700 acres of massive Cape Perpetua is designated a National Scenic Area.

Two miles south of Yachats, Oregon you will find the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and it is open daily.

USFS Manager, David Thompson, noted that atop Cape Perpetua you can turn in any direction for views that surprise and amaze:

“Certainly the coast is the most dramatic the part that captures your attention first,” noted Thompson. “And yet if you turn and look the other way, you’ve got this unbelievably green sitka spruce forest with a wealth of moss and ferns and giant trees – it’s all special.”

The Visitor Center provides a wealth of hiking choices too: over 11 different trails for a total of 27 miles and the wonderful thing is that at one point or another many of the trails inter-connect with one another.

The Captain Cook Trail is wheelchair accessible, leads you from the Visitor Center to skirt the shoreline. At low tide, the trail puts on quite a show as waves crash into rocky crevices and cracks at a place called “Spouting Horn.”

If you wish to wander longer consider the astounding collection of Oregon State Park Waysides with names like Neptune, Ponsler or Strawberry Hill where tide pools invite closer inspection during the ebbing tide.

Nearby, Washburne State Park Campground invites you for an overnight stay where winter campers are welcome in a tent, trailer or r-v.

For those who love to camp, but lack the right gear, Park Ranger Deborah Edwards said to consider renting a yurt:

“Camping in winter can be just as exciting as the summertime, you just have to deal with a bit more rain and a yurt is perfect. You get a bunk bed which sleeps two on the bottom and one on the top, a futon, table and a couple of chairs, plus heat and light.”

Little more than five miles away, another site requires you to take a short stroll on a paved trail and then a quick ride down the face of a cliff for 208 feet in an elevator to reach Sea Lion Caves.

Sea Lion Caves has been an Oregon coastal icon as far back as most folks remember; more than 100 acres of the adjacent land has been in private ownership since 1887.

It’s been a drawing card for the curious,” said Manager Boomer Wright. He explained that the massive cave is largest along west coast and where 250 stellar sea lions are a raucous, rowdy crowd.

“They are very social animals with their barking, crawling over each other and even nipping one another. They are very social animals.”

Wright added that up to 1,000 stellar sea lions use the cave from November through late summer: They are often seen lounging, loafing or just plain sacked out on the rocky interior cliffs or boulders.

Of course, there is the large center rock that we call ‘King of the Hill,’ noted Wright and there is usually quite of a bit of fighting between sea lions to see who gets to rest atop it.”

The stellar sea lions are not the only wildlife species that are easy to spy at Sea Lion Caves. Back atop, keep eyes out for soaring raptors like hawks and eagles that are often seen on the hunt – or flocks of shore birds that dance and dazzle and skirt the surf.

David Thompson said that it is a remarkable scene and one that is often overlooked in winter:

“Without a doubt, it’s the most gorgeous stretch of the Oregon coast with the collection of rocky shores, so the geology, the geography and certainly the forest add up to a wonderful place to relax and wonder and wander if you want a place to decompress.”