MAKING TRACKS IN DEEP POWDER
“Bring your toes all the way forward, Grant, up to the clip of this binding, and then pull the strap across the top of your foot as tight as you can.”
So advised my guide, Jack Newkirk. But when it’s twenty degrees with a wind chill making it much colder, and the snowflakes are buzzing circles around your head like an angry hive of hornets, stepping into and strapping on a pair of two-foot-long snowshoes isn’t the easiest of winter activities.
Yet with Newkirk’s patient tone and simple instructions, it was but a matter of minutes before I and my companions were set and ready to follow his lead into the snow-covered hills of the Deschutes National Forest near Bend, Oregon.
Newkirk is a guide who works for Wanderlust Tours in Bend, and leads varied year-round recreational outings across the region, but in wintertime when the snow is waist deep, the specialty is snowshoe hiking.
It’s the powder that folks live to play in near central Oregon’s Mt Bachelor – high cascade powder that is lighter and fluffier than the snow that falls across most of western Oregon. It draws folks from all over who yearn to ski or board the mountain’s slopes.
“These are going to be your friends, chuckled Newkirk. “When we’re climbing uphill in the snow and the ice they will give you traction and you will learn to love them.”
Newkirk said that snow shoes had come a long ways from the old days of heavy wood, leather laces and beaver pelts.
“When you think back to the people who would have used them the most – what kind of peoples were they? Eskimos and fur trappers! They needed a shoe large enough to support their weight plus hundreds of pounds of equipment, traps and gear that they had to carry around.”
Today, the shoes are made of aluminum alloys and other high tech materials that are so lightweight, you hardly know that you’re wearing them.
“Okay, troops, let’s go up this way.” With that said, Jack herded his largely inexperienced charges into a semicircle around him to receive more helpful tips: “When you go uphill make sure you dig your toes into the hill, dig the balls of the feet in, and just start moving.”
Dan and Shelly Coe chased down Wanderlust Tours all the way from Ohio and they were surviving their very first snowshoe venture just fine.
Shelly laughed as she toppled into the powder after stepping onto the back of her left shoe with the front of the right. In between her giggles she told me, “The walking isn’t the hard part. It’s getting up after you fall down, and I discovered that if I you put your hand down on the snow for balance, you keep falling deeper and deeper into it.”
There is a blissful feeling of nearly floating across the snow on the broad, lightweight shoes. It isn’t anything like the desperate plodding you often see in movies, or read about in Jack London’s tales of the far north.
“The coolest part of snow shoeing is that what must go up – doesn’t have to come down but gets to come down – and going downhill in snow shoes is fantastic!”
With that, he invited each of us to run or jog downhill – he called it “snow surfing.”
“Big steps, gang! The trick is to not stop running – whatever you do, just keep moving.”
“It’s a blast,” shouted Dan Coe. “I love the really light, fluffy powder – I mean it’s amazing – like what they call “champagne snow” – just don’t find it on the east coast – or frankly very much on the west coast – it spoils you!”
Rather, despite the six-foot snow depth, there’s a certain rhythm to the walking, and it takes only minutes to get the hang of it. Then you begin to look up, take stock of your surroundings and the magnificence of the snow on the trees, burdened with the heavy overcoat of fresh snowfall.
And then there is the quiet of the forest. It seems to whisper to you, “This is Mother Nature at her finest.”
LEARNING BY THE SEA
The Oregon coast is a place where carefree moments are easy to come by and can make you feel young all over. One place in particular – Yaquina Bay at Newport – offers a perspective to the marine world that’s unique and educational.
Don and Fran Mathews own and operate Marine Discovery Tours, and the centerpiece of their eco-tourism business is “Discovery,” a 65-foot boat that’s as much a floating science laboratory as it is a retired fishing craft.
Marine Discovery Tours specializes in trips that teach visitors more about the ocean, the estuary and all of the marine life that can be found there.
“We have travelers come from all over the world,” noted Fran Mathews. “And they’re here to find the real Oregon coast. Well, we can offer that - we have our beautiful four thousand acre Yaquina Bay and 12 miles of Yaquina River too – plus – the big blue Pacific Ocean is just off Newport’s front step.”
Fran’s husband, Don Mathews, is a former commercial fisherman who ranged across the Pacific all the way to the Bering Sea before settling at Newport. He noted, “After all of my travels, it makes me feel quite grateful that I’m able to work and live and play on the Oregon coast.”
Who wouldn’t feel grateful on a sun-kissed day where a rising tide found skipper Mathews steering Discovery across the bay for a typical two-hour exploration of the estuary.
Fran observed that her “class,” thirty-three folks of all ages from all across the country – had one thing on their minds: “Oh, people just want to do stuff – and so we have them pulling crab pots, pulling plankton nets, visiting with our naturalist, chatting with Don in the wheelhouse and even driving the boat.”
The Mathews have been guiding visitors across the bay for fifteen years. They were the first to try their hands at eco-tourism in Newport and it has really taken off for them – and even for longtime local residents learn something new.
“We have Oregonians who live on the coast who’ve never been out on the ocean,” said Fran. “And it’s such an eye opener for them to see home from the opposite direction instead of always being on land and looking out.”
Steven Mulvey, the MDT’s official onboard Naturalist, added that it’s also an experience that puts people to work – but in a fun way!
“All hands on deck for hands on science,” said Mulvey. He retrieved a thirty-foot length of rope floating off the starboard side of the Discovery. The rope was tied to a submerged crab pot. As he handed the rope to one of the guests he said, “Pull, pull, pull!”
Soon the trap appeared at the surface and Mulvey hoisted it aboard. Inside the crap trap, a half-dozen Dungeness crabs scurried across the wire mesh bottom.
“Ok folks – we hit the jackpot – lots of crab here – who wants to hold a Dungeness crab?” he yelled to the crowd.
Several tentative hands went up and each person had a chance to hold and examine a crab up close as Mulvey explained, “A female Dungeness will release about a million eggs per crab per season. Now, that’s productivity!
“The ocean affects everything, he noted. “It affects the climate. It affects our food; where our food comes from and so it is really important to protect it and understand it.”
Fran watched the activity on the back deck and added, “Our best day everyday is to get people out on our boat and let them feel like they own a part of all of this. Because we really do! Look at this beautiful waterway. This belongs to all of us – don’t you think we should learn all we can about it?”
Nearby, there’s another destination that may help you to answer Fran’s question.
I am a big believer that learning more about the places that I visit is critically important to appreciating all that Oregon has to offer. So, in Newport I regularly stop in at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.
Located on the south side of Yaquina Bay, just off Coastal Highway 101, the center is one of the best bargains of the entire area.
Hatfield MSC is a professional science base that is the home for scores of scientists linked with Oregon State University.
The exhibit areas of the center are open to the public and admission is free, although donations are accepted and appreciated.
The center is like a window to the ocean with exhibits that display the varied marine species that are found just off Oregon’s coastal shore.
Bill Hanshumaker, HMSC’s Education Director, explained, “I think the animals are the big attractor, and my challenge is to enhance the learning that takes place with hands on activities, talks, lectures…we’re helping expand the knowledge of the people that walk through the door and I promise - you will not be bored!”
SECRETS IN THE SAND
There are days along the Oregon coast when it seems everyone loves to stroll along the sand with their eyes scanning immediately to the left and then to the right and then in front of them – back and forth they go - they’re beachcombers and they’re having a blast.
When you have a chance to find a shiny shell, an unusual rock or a unique piece of distorted driftwood, who doesn’t relish the idea of seeking treasures from the tides?
As wintertime surf floods and ebbs, beachcombers wander, seeking treasures from the tides – something to help them remember the moment.
In the Lincoln City area, folks may cross paths with local resident Wayne Johnson – a self-proclaimed “float wizard” who makes certain that beachcombers have something special to find.
“The fact is it’s kind of undercover work that I do. First, it’s hidden and I try not to be seen by anyone. And then I hide something colorful and prized too. I like that part of it a lot.”
Like a secret agent, Johnson stealthily moves among sea-strewn logs and lush beach grass to hide beautiful, colorful glass floats.
Johnson said that he a dozen other float wizards hide up to 70 glass floats along eight miles of Lincoln City beaches beginning each October and continuing through May.
“We want them visible and yet hidden enough so that it will difficult for anyone to see them at first glance – we want it to be challenge to find them,” noted Johnson.
Nearby at the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio in Lincoln City, you can see the challenge that it takes to create a glass float – in fact, you can even learn how to do it yourself – with the help of local artists like Kelly Howard.
Kelly noted, “People always say, ‘anyone can watch the glass blower but we never get to try it.’ Well, here is the chance to do just that. Try it, you may get hooked on it.”
Glass blowing is one of those activities that may leave a huge smile on your face just like it did for Kevin McOmie.
He joined me on our recent coastal adventure and he was anxious to try his hands at glass blowing.
Kevin, an accomplished art student who specializes in painting and drawing had never tried anything like glass art before.
But he soon got the knack of it and with Kelly’s patient demeanor and easy to follow instructions – he was deeply into the art of glass within fifteen minutes.
First, Kelly pulled a glob of molten glass from the 2100-degree furnace.
The material glowed yellow and red hot from the heat. She showed Kevin how to roll it and then apply color with other small pieces of glass.
“Ok – Kevin, just blow and we’ll expand the glass into a float – look! That’s amazing isn’t it, you’re doing great.”
Howard coached as Kevin blew into a long rubber hose attached to the end of a 5-foot long hollow rod. The glass globe at the other end magically grew into a fiery globe.
Kevin noted, “It really is fun! But you have to keep an eye on it – it’s using a lot of skills all at once. In the end, I think I’ve created something really awesome that I’m going to remember for a long time.”
The Jennifer Sears Studio is one of several glass art houses in the central Oregon coast area that’s participating in the glass float project.
Each float is like a moment of fiery magic that’s captured in a heartbeat and leaves you spellbound.
Howard added, “ To see something get made and then realize that you had a hand in creating it; especially something made out of glass – well, it really is mesmerizing and different.”
Back on the beach, Wayne Johnson insisted that the adventure of creating your own glass float or finding one that the float wizards hide on the sand is a difference that anyone will enjoy.
“When you see it lying on the beach, it’s kind of like finding beach treasure…something special on the Oregon coast.”
THREE CAPES SCENIC DRIVE
Tillamook County offers a quiet slice of life along the coast at this time of year.
It is a far cry from the hurried hubbub of city life that most of us experience when our lives seem to speed by at a shattering pace.
Grant McOmie says take a deep breath and savor this week’s “Grant’s Getaway” along the Three Capes Scenic Drive where you will enjoy three state parks for the price of one 40-mile drive.
The Three Capes Scenic Drive is a road once taken you’ll never want to leave.
For when winter takes over, quiet times descend as eagles fly, waterfowl dive and the tide gently rolls on its timeless way.
Once taken, you will return to this route many times because it’s reminiscent of those Sunday backcountry drives that Dad might take his youngsters on.
I recall those adventures with great fondness, when my brother, sister, and I would be packed aboard the family’s Ford wagon and we would all unwind as we meandered along a favorite two-lane byway, the kind that snaked along some yet unexplored section of Oregon.
Head west out of Tillamook proper along Bay Ocean Road as it skirts the southern end of Tillamook Bay.
Soon you’ll come face to face with the site of Bay Ocean Park, a now-extinct community, a developer’s dream turned homeowner’s nightmare.
Construction of the subdivision began in the early 1900s, and it was coined “the Atlantic City of the West.”
It boasted homes, cabins, restaurants, and stores, even a centerpiece hotel with an indoor swimming pool. The trouble was that this sprawling concept was built upon sand--and sand is vulnerable to wind and tides:
To put it simply, sand moves! Yes, Mother Nature had other plans for Bay Ocean Park, and between 1932 and 1950 the ocean cut a half-mile swath across the spit and across the townsite. Slowly at first, and then with greater momentum, homes began to slip and slide into the deep blue sea.
Many people lost their lots, their homes and their money and were able to save only their possessions.
Today, Bay Ocean Spit is managed by the county as a park, and it’s great fun to stroll its five-mile length, even though all signs of the former community are long gone.
The route continues south and soon you reach Cape Meares State Park, situated on a 700-foot rocky headland named for British sea adventurer John Meares.
Meares came this way in 1788 and a lighthouse built in the 1890s marks the spot.
A nearby kiosk contains interpretive panels containing other facts about Cape Meares.
You can enjoy more than three miles of hiking trails and a mile-long walking trail that winds through old-growth spruce trees (including the uniquely-shaped Octopus Tree, a giant Sitka spruce with massive branches that radiate out from near the base.)
In winter and spring, this park is another excellent location for viewing whale migrations.
Don Best makes his living capturing the best moments the seascape offers – with a camera.
“You look at it and it just does something to you,” he said with a smile. “You go ‘Oooo-Ahhhh!’ Look at that, that’s a great picture! Tillamook is made up of what – trees, cheese and ocean breezes. Well, here you have the ocean, the bay, the forest. It’s all so beautiful!”
Soon, it’s time to head south, skirting Netarts Bay, where clammers and crabbers like to play.
Carry a tide table and purchase an Oregon Shellfish License, (both are available at sporting good stores) and time your visit to the bay during an ebb tide.
Watch for clam diggers, armed with shovels and buckets, mucking about for bay clams across the tide flats. Join in and you’ll have a fair chance of catching your supper.
Nearby, Cape Lookout’s beauty may thrill you too. It’s a massive headland that juts out more than two miles into the sea.
Tucked into the north side of the cape is Cape Lookout State Park with 225 campsites, rental cabins and 13 Yurts.
Beachcombing is popular here, and I have heard it’s a fine place to find glass floats on the first high tide following a storm. More than eight miles of hiking and walking trails wind through a lush old-growth forest. Two walking trails--a nature trail and the Jackson Creek Trail--are perfect for a shorter jaunt.
Park manager Pete Marvin said that many people will be humming a ditty too: “Yurtin’ for Certain” as they make camp here for an overnight stay.
“This time of year you have a better chance to stay in a Yurt than the middle of the summer –you just need to bring your sleeping bag and that sort of thing and you’re ready to go.”
Yurts have been a featured part of Oregon State Parks for pretty close to twenty years and for less than thirty bucks they are pretty tough to beat.
Inside, you will find a futon that makes down, a bunk bed, plus a table and chairs.
There is indoor lighting and heating and you’re only a stone’s throw away from one of the most fabulous beaches along the northern Oregon coast.
“Cape Lookout is a wonderful place, added Marvin. “You can walk to your hearts content on the beach – once you get away from the campground, a mile or two and you’re not going to see a whole lot of people.”
The roadway between Cape Lookout State Park and Cape Kiwanda to the south is unusual for the northern Oregon coast because tall shrubs, beach grass and then sand-dune crests mark it, with many overlooks for ocean spying.
In fewer than ten miles from Cape Lookout you’ll arrive at Cape Kiwanda, a sculpted headland eroded by time and tides and weather.
This gleaming sandy shoreline has developed a faithful cadre of year-round sun worshippers and surfers.
It is also home to a small but dedicated angling lot, for this cape is one of the few places in the country where you can watch fishermen launch their boats off the beach into the foamy surfline.
Many people will also step inside a landmark destination, the Pelican Pub and Brewery – to satisfy both thirst and appetite.
“We are a brewery, we have a world class location and a beautiful view,” noted the Pelican’s Brewmaster, Darron Welch. “It’s always been our aim that the beer and the food and the service live up to the world class location that we’re blessed with here. We want folks to come back time and time again – not just for the view but for our food and service.”
To the south, the narrow, winding roadway at the south end of Pacific City, leads you to Bob Straub State Park where lonesome strollers search for secrets from the tides.
The park is a day-use site (no overnight camping allowed) with miles of open, unspoiled sand that invite you to explore, maybe for sand dollars, maybe glass floats, as you wander toward the mouth of the Nestucca River.
It’s three Oregon State Parks for the price of one drive and if you time your journey well, you can see it all on a brilliant winter’s day where sun beams and silence accompany your getaway across the western shores of Tillamook County.
WINTER FISHING ADVENTURES
The calendar may say winter but Grant McOmie says there’s no need to put the fishing rods and reels on the shelf because Oregon owns too many places to catch big fish year round.
It pays to be ready when winter steelhead fishing season is in full swing according to longtime “steelheader,” Jack Hargrave.
“It a super sport – it’s outdoors – it’s a good, clean healthy sport. You have to put in your time, but if you do, you’ll catch them.”
George Backlund also puts in his time on the North Fork Nehalem River Hatchery’s disabled angle platform.
It is an Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife fishing hot spot when the steelhead are on the bite.
State Fishery Biologist, Todd Alsbury, said this year the fishing season is off to an early start:
”They are sea going trout – rainbow trout, that go out to the sea for 2 or 3 years and return to spawn. So, that seaward migration allows them to put on a good number of pounds. The average size steelhead might be 7 or 8 pounds but they can get up in the 20’s and even 30 pound range.”
ODFW even shows you how to get started with a brochure titled “Oregon Steelhead Fishing” that nails down the basics – it’s free and available on-line.
“One of the best feelings you can have is to catch a winter steelhead in the middle of winter, added Alsbury. “It’s a beautiful fish and a beautiful time to be out in the woods and be on the river.”
State Fishery Biologist, Tom Murtagh, said that ocean going rainbows aren’t the only Oregon game fish available to catch in winter.
“We also have plenty of places to catch rainbow trout. Try “Highway Lakes” out on Interstate-84 or “Blue Lake,” “Hartman Pond” and “St Louis Ponds” are all good bets to catch a trout because they were all were recently stocked.”
A free fishing guide titled “50 Places to go Fishing Within 60 Minutes of Portland” is available at Oregon Fish and Wildlife offices or you can download it from the agency site.
If you’re lucky enough to catch a stringer of trout or a nickel-plated winter steelhead, you may be wondering what to do with the catch?
Longtime angler Birt Hansen said that he fishing adventure doesn’t end when rods are stored away at the end of the day, but continues indoors –in the kitchen.
He encourages his grandson, Cole Hansen, to prepare the catch, but he likes to keep things simple with quick, easy recipes that taste good and allow the kids to do the cooking.
We recently met the duo to learn about a unique recipe of mustard and lemon juice topped with brown sugar.
“I just liked the idea of the sour and the sweet coming together; it catches a lot of folks by surprise because they think: ‘Oh no – not mustard!” But it’s interesting because the two flavors offset and result in an exciting taste.”
Cole applied a thick coat of yellow mustard across a medium sized filet, followed by lemon juice and then topped with another thick coat of dark brown sugar.
The fish was placed in a 350-degree oven for 15-18 minutes and then served alongside salad and sour dough.
It was a delicious and unique recipe that didn’t interfere with the fine taste of the fish and Cole beamed at the results: “Yum – if I can do this anyone can,” he exclaimed.
Anyone can because the beauty of fishing in Oregon is that angling is right at hand --- anytime of year.
MUSTARD AND BROWN SUGAR STEELHEAD
2 lb – Salmon or Steelhead filet
One fresh lemon
Place the filet skin side down on a lightly oiled shallow baking dish.
Season the flesh side lightly with lemon pepper
Sprinkle the flesh side with lemon juice
Cover the flesh side with thick coat of mustard
“Cover” or “hide” the mustard with enough brown sugar to mask the yellow color.
Place the baking pan on the middle rack of a preheated 35—degree oven.
Cooking time will be 12-15 minutes. Test occasionally with a fork but do not overcook.