There’s something about treasure hunting that’s irresistible and compelling; especially when it touches Oregon history and offers unique outdoor adventures too. Grant explores what’s been lost and how even the oldest Oregon shipwrecks offer secrets that can be re-discovered.
Rich Mulcahy likes to say, “When the tide goes out, the treasure table is set.”
“I think it’s that I am going after something that’s been lost and I am digging in the sand to find it. I love to dig stuff.”
Rich walks long lonely stretches of the Oregon coast each day accompanied only by the excited sounds of his hand held detector; the device is his constant companion.
He sweeps the sand with the detector and marks each spot where something’s hidden just below the surface.
He stops and takes a quick scoop with his shovel to reveal an old car key – most likely an ignition key. Mulcahy quickly smiled and chuckled, “Probably turned into a long day at the beach for someone.”
Most days, Rich said he discovers common everyday objects on his adventures but he is intrigued by re-discovering history in the beach’s sandy layers.
His detector can find items in the top three or four inches that date back thirty to fifty years – but it goes back even further back in time to a century when he digs down a foot or more.
Many of his so called ‘targets’ are easy to recognize once he has them in hand – they range from silver coins to gold wedding rings and other metallic jewelry.
But every now and then he finds real “head scratchers;” exotic Chinese copper coins, even a Roman coin that dates back nearly two thousand years.
“Well, I shouldn’t be surprised given the number of shipwrecks that we’ve had off the Oregon coast,” said Mulcahy. ”I’m sure that there’s material from those old wrecks that have come in with the tide.”
Parts of the Oregon coast are called the “Graveyard of the Pacific” for good reason, according to Dave Pearson with the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria.
As long as mariners have traveled the ocean, ships have wandered too close to shore and been caught by powerful storms. They’ve also been guided by a captain’s poor judgment so the ship and crew often ended in disaster on the beach.
“It’s a dangerous environment,” said Pearson. “Oregon has what mariners call a ‘lee shore’ with all the forces of nature – wind and waves - working against the ship. Plus, it’s a remote region and there are few places to find refuge.”
Pearson said that some shipwrecks, like the always-visible “Peter Iredale” that wrecked in 1906, symbolize the worst that Mother Nature will do when things don’t go as planned.
The “New Carissa” may be Oregon’s most infamous modern-era shipwreck! It was more than two football fields long, filled with high technology and yet it wrecked off the mouth of Coos Bay, Oregon in 1999.
It has often been called “the ship that would never leave Oregon” because it remained a fixture stuck in the south coast sand for several years before it was finally dismantled.
Pearson said that bad weather and a poor knowledge of Oregon’s coastal dangers were big reasons for the wreck: “Not understanding what the weather can be like on the Oregon coast is a huge mistake. The New Carissa got into trouble and couldn’t turn fast enough to correct her problem.”
Jeff Smith is the Maritime Museum’s Curator and said that there have been over 2,000 shipwrecks at the mouth of the Columbia River alone and 200 of those have been major ships.
The museum is a fine place to see varied wreck relics like a life ring from the 1800’s or blocks of bees wax from the 1700’s.
Still – for all we know about Oregon shipwrecks – Pearson said that there is even more we don’t know: “We haven’t discovered all of the shipwrecks yet – they’re out there, just waiting to be revealed.”
Back on the beach, Rich Mulcahy said that singular thought keeps him warm while he hunts for secrets from the tides on cold, rainy days.
He said that it’s not what he finds but what he might find that keeps him coming back:
“It’s the anticipation. If that thing I find could only talk what would it tell me? What are the circumstances that placed it there? For me, that is something to ponder.”
Rich points out several things you should keep in mind if you decide to head for the coast and try your hand at detecting – first, never turn your back to the ocean because it’s simply not safe. Be sure to check the weather forecast because the weather can change in a heartbeat this time of year.
Finally and critically, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department manages the public beaches of the state and there are some beaches where detecting isn’t allowed. In fact, you’re not to do any searching around or digging at historic shipwreck or artifact areas or within designated state park properties. Still, most Oregon’s beaches are open to detecting and for a complete list be sure to check the OPRD Metal Detecting website.
The Golden Age of Aurora
Grant takes us a community that was built out of the wilderness 160 years ago and holds on to its pioneering past with pride.
The Oregon story is filled with distinct chapters about people seeking freedom and a fresh start in a new territory for economic, religious or political reasons and the chance to begin a new life. We are a state of immigrants and it has been that way since the state’s earliest days. Oregon has always drawn folks seeking a better life.
You can tell a lot about an Oregon town by the music they play in the parades they march in a story as old as the state. The Aurora Colony Brass Band connects the past with the present through timeless music.
“The Aurora Brass Band was at the first Oregon State Fair – from the earliest days of the state and it was the glue that kept the community together,” said Old Aurora Colony Museum Curator, Patrick Harris. “Each child – if they wanted to – could learn an instrument or be in the choir – they had a string orchestra and choirs so there was music at every function.”
Distinct music that made folks smile and put their town on the map.
“Oompa-pa-pa music is the best way to describe it,” added Harris. “They also wrote their own songs, like the ‘Aurora March.’ It was a parade march and very patriotic.”
When you step inside a former ox barn that became a house that became the Old Aurora Colony Historic Museum, you quickly discover that Oregon’s first “National Historic District” holds on to history through its music, artistry and craftsmanship.
For example, the nimble fingers of quilter Mary Doak keep Aurora’s story relevant today. “Women were not necessarily encouraged or allowed to be artists,” noted the longtime quilter. “Quilts were one way for women to share their artistic expressions. It was a way for them to let that art out, spend time with their friends and catch up on what was going on in town.”
Nearby, Elizabeth Howley’s spinning wheel goes round and round to make thread and yarn for fabric. It began as a hobby that she was drawn to, but she quickly found new respect for the lifestyle of old Aurora.
“I cannot imagine that every garment I wore would mean I had to spin the yarn and weave the fabric. Everything! It meant that someone in the family never stopped spinning if you were going to be clothed. My goodness!”
The Aurora Colony began in the 1860’s when 250 German and Dutch immigrants were led to Oregon by charismatic leader, Wilhelm Keil. He named the town for his daughter, Aurora, and within short order the village grew to more than 600 residents.
Folks put their shoulders to the wheel and built an economy and community out of the wilderness. They shared the wealth of their efforts with each other and according to Harris, Aurora became the first successful Christian commune to establish in Oregon.
“The faith that they held on to was the best way to lead a Christian life. Plus, Keil was a very progressive, outgoing and powerful leader. Most people liked him.”
Reg Keddie – a member of the Aurora Colony Historical Society, said that Aurora has more than 25 original homes and buildings that are listed on the National Historic Registry and the effort to preserve the past never ends.
“All of our historic buildings need constant attention or painting or parts that need to be replaced,” noted Keddie. “Plus, you can’t go down to Home Depot and buy something to fix a broken part. We must maintain buildings the way they were built.”
But the efforts to protect and preserve the town are worth it, for when you step inside them, it’s like taking a step back in time.
Harris insisted that the way to understand and appreciate Aurora’s pioneering past is to appreciate its musical history: “Almost everyone who traveled through Aurora back in the 1800’s – and there were quite a few people who came through - mentioned that music was the reason for their visits. It made a good impression upon visitors – and that’s pretty rare.”
A Friend to the Critters
One sure way to get to know the Oregon outdoors is to get to know its wildlife a bit better, so this week we catch up with a wildlife champion and friend to the critters at a place you can visit.
Dave Siddon has walked the talk of helping sick and injured wildlife for more than thirty years. He owns and manages “Wildlife Images” near Grants Pass in Southern Oregon.
Throughout his lifetime of study and hands-on practice, Dave Siddon has come to know hawks and eagles and vultures and scores of other sharp-eyed birds of prey very well.
For many years he was a fixture at the Oregon Zoo – even started their raptor program. Twelve years he decided to go home to Wildlife Images and follow his father’s life’s work rehabilitating sick or injured animals and educating folks.
His father, Dave Siddon Sr., was a well-known figure in the wildlife rehabilitation world. He opened the clinic in 1981 following his own passion for helping cougars and eagles and bears get well and get back to the wild.
Dave Sr. passed away in 1996 following a battle with cancer, and his son promised to dedicate his life to the center’s most important mission.
“When my father was dying of cancer he came to me and said – ‘would you consider leaving the zoo and making sure my place doesn’t die along with me?’ and how do you say no to that? So I came down here and dedicated my life to making sure this place continues to do the good work it does.”
Dave Siddon, Jr was well prepared for the challenge. He worked for Sea World where he trained sea lions and dolphins, he worked at the zoo for a dozen years and he has blazed his own trail into the world of wildlife rehabilitation.
Wildlife Images spreads across 24 acres offering wildlife viewing opportunities at every turn: perhaps a fox, a bobcat, a large brown bear and especially the wildlife that fly.
Siddon noted that some animals come to Wildlife Images from would-be pet owners who realize too late that some critters just don’t make good house pets.
The center receives and treats over 2,500 animals annually, and approximately 90 percent of those that survive their initial injuries are returned to the wild.
The organization’s clinic, nature center, and animal holding facilities are located on twenty-four acres of natural habitat adjacent to Oregon’s famous Wild and Scenic Rogue River, which serves as an excellent location for wildlife release.
Each year thousands of visitors tour the center to see animals ranging from grizzly bears to mountain lions to small arctic foxes and even tiny hummingbirds.
As we strolled past display cages containing coyotes, a badger, porcupines, red foxes, and others, Dave pointed out with pride the close up opportunities that visitors enjoy at an open-air exhibit for bald eagles, turkey vultures, and ravens.
As we walked into the small building, Dave reached over and lifted a large metal window. The opening looked out to a grassy area, dotted with many small native plants and towering trees jutting to the sky.
A fine mesh net draped over the entire scene and prevented the birds from leaving the grounds. “Perfect perches,” I noted as I admired the very natural setting.
Dave then shared more of his father’s vision and passion. “It was my father’s real dream to put together a facility for the bald eagles and other raptors where people can see them without wire and obstructions. They’re such beautiful and majestic birds, you’d like to see them in some sort of situation that mimics what you’d see in the wild.”
Wildlife Images offers unique educational opportunities to schools, organizations, and the general public and conducts tours six days a week year-round.
Reservations are required, and the facility is closed most national holidays.
You can visit - wander with a tour and learn more about the remarkable people that help Oregon wildlife – motivated by Siddon’s simple yet powerful belief: “If you don’t have wildlife it’s not a good place to be.”
Backyard Bird Resorts
When is a birdhouse a ‘home?” Oh, that’s easy! It’s when feathered residents move in and build a nest.
“Birding” is a popular outdoor recreational activity for many Oregonians– whether it’s watching for varied species, filling a feeder or even building the songbirds a home!
Grant shows us a man who makes sure native songbirds get more than a simple roof over their heads: they get a backyard resort for a home.
There’s quite an outdoor show for those in the know as Oregon’s wild places are prime at this time of year - rain or shine – places like Sauvie Island Wildlife Area are at their showy best.
”No better time of year,” I like to say as eagles soar or waterfowl dive and it gets even better at places like Smith–Bybee Wetlands when you’ve an expert who shows the way for a walk on the wild side: “It t may be wet, it may be cool but it’s not freezing and there’s lots of food for the birds,” noted James Davis, wildlife author and teacher.
Davis works for Metro and he is a an accomplished wildlife expert who wrote the comprehensive “Northwest Nature Guide.” He said folks don’t have to travel far to find wildlife at this time of year.
“There are hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and swans and hundreds of raptors coming to and thru the heart of the Willamette Valley.”
It’s hard to imagine a better place to watch the show, but Davis added that there are many easy to reach sites that could be considered “close to home,” like the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Sherwood.
It offers a wonderful visitor center and two miles of easy trail that combine to put you in touch with wildlife that’s practically as close as your own backyard.
“This is ‘the south’ for half a million birds. We have a warm, mild, wet climate that is great for them. But many people think, ‘Well it’s cold here, why would they come here?’ Well, just imagine what it’s like in northern Manitoba right now? Brrrrr!”
Don’t forget Ankeny Wildlife Refuge near Salem. It offers visitor friendly boardwalks and viewing platforms that give you a front row seat to wetlands and feeding waterfowl that also keeps you out of foul weather.
US Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist, Molly Monroe, keeps a sharp eye for the many wildlife species that use the refuge and said it’s a perfect place for newcomers to “stop in and visit and hike the varied trails.”
“It is a wonderful thing when you can sit somewhere, observe the finest little things, and enjoy an outdoor spectacle – a great way to come out and enjoy the refuges.”
Spectacular shows are easy to come by in winter; not just the huge flocks of waterfowl or solo raptors like hawks and eagles, but also the smaller songbird species.
In fact, consider attracting wildlife species like songbirds into your own backyard.
Hillsboro resident, Dennis Frame, loves the sights and sounds of the wild – so he builds feeders and houses for native songbirds. Frame’s structures aren’t really homes – but his elaborate wooden abodes are more akin to – well, bird resorts.
Washington County resident, Irene Dickson, has two of Frame’s beautiful yet functional – feeders and each is firmly planted in the ground on fence posts – 6 feet off the ground in her yard. She said that they “really work.”
“They add such pleasure and peace,” said the avid bird fan. “They’re real de-stressers too. Plus, the resort detail is fabulous and impressive with the little rock walls, benches and other details. It looks like a little cabin by a lake.”
Frame is a builder of human homes by trade, but in his cozy and well organized carpentry shop, he said his greatest pleasure comes from crafting the elaborate “bird resorts.”
“This is my little getaway and I can come in here and get away from it all and get creative too.”
He’s always been a fan of simple, rustic log cabin homes and will often scour the countryside for “models” that he can reproduce on a small scale for the birds.“I’ll drive and spot one and ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Maybe snap a photos or make a mental note and then recreate it in a bird house.”
Frame has been ‘chippin’ away’ at his hobby for 15 years and said it ‘s the tiny details that impress most people. The resorts sport stone and mortar chimneys, decks with handrails and small pieces of character that set them apart from ordinary store-bought models – including a wooden front door.
“The door actually opens. I do that because you must clean out the resort following each nesting year. In fact, the birds seldom return the following year unless you do that. I try to make it an easier job.”
Frame also trades, barters and salvages for everything – recycling for the birds!
On top of that - he rarely sells a house; instead, through the years he has given them away to non-profits like his local Rotary Club and the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Education Center. The groups then sell Frame’s bird resorts and raise hundreds of dollars to support their educational programs.
“This is my way of giving back to the community. I believe in community; they help me out so I help them out. And getting people out of their houses and learning more about the outdoors is a positive way to go in my book.”
You can reach Dennis Frame via email @ email@example.com
Whether in the comics or on TV, it’s always been a hoot to spend time with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and the rest of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” gang.
The popular and familiar characters have brought their brand of outdoor education to Portland’s World Forestry Center. Grant shows us how you can learn first-hand about the great outdoors through a new exhibit called “Peanuts ---- Naturally!”
Located in Portland’s West Hills adjacent to the Oregon Zoo, the World Forestry Center offers more than 100 exhibits that will open your eyes and perhaps capture your imagination.
You can go aboard a whitewater raft, climb into a tree lift that soars more than 50 high for a bird’s eye view into a tree canopy or you can buckle up in a four wheel drive vehicle to tour an African rain forest.
Rob Pierce said the newest exhibit - “Peanuts ----Naturally” is a blend of inter-active displays, multi –media presentations and scores of original comic strips that chronicle Charles Schulz’s commitment to protect our air, water and soil as far back as the 1960’s.
“For people who are in love with the Peanuts characters – you can see some of the original works and learn about Charles Schulz’s passion for the great outdoors. His messages stressed how the environment works or ways we can help the environment stay healthy,” noted Pierce.
Schulz had a keen understanding and appreciation for environmental protection that’s reflected in his comic strips; whether recycling, preventing pollution or protecting wildlife – Schulz’s characters taught us the values of keeping the outdoors healthy in whimsical and humorous fashion.
“My kids just love coming here,” said visitor Alexandra Lee. “There are so many great exhibits – and they love learning about forestry and conservation. For a parent this is fun too – I can go back to my childhood with Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang and learn more about the environment.”
The WFC can be just the start of an outdoor education experience when you head down a hiking trail of adventure at the Magness Memorial Tree Farm.
Magness Tree Farm is an 80-acre parcel tucked into the hills just a handful of miles between Wilsonville and Sherwood, Oregon. The site boasts more than two miles of trail; most of it is a fairly gentle grade and as you hike, you will often have Corral Creek by your side.
Pierce said that Howard and Pansy Magness donated the land to the WFC in 1977 and it is to be used for purposes of environmental education. “Our flagship property is Magness Memorial,” noted Pierce. “We have school groups out there year round and we even have cabins that hold up to 45 people.”
Pierce added that “Peanuts …Naturally” will be at the WFC until mid-May: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for school groups to work on math, science or social studies – you can do it all in this new exhibit!”