Rogue River Jet Boats
If travel is a state of mind, Oregon sure makes you wonder how one region can offer so much wide-ranging recreation and scenery--and how you will ever be able in one lifetime to experience it all. Even for the seasoned traveler, an endless supply of secret places is available for exploring.
So, slow down and savor a once-in-a-lifetime experience this summer on a river steeped in legend, lore, and interesting characters and enjoy one of the most breathtaking boat rides into the Rogue River Wilderness.
The Rogue River is world famous and has attracted adventure seekers for decades, some as well known as the river itself, like Zane Grey, the western novelist who came to the canyon to write and even set one of his novels there.
Once a lifeline of sorts for folks who lived along the river, boats have been used for over than a century to deliver food, supplies, and news from the outside world into the rugged canyon.
Now, they’re lifelines of laughter and smiles that help folks reconnect with Oregon’s outdoors.
Speedy jet boats launch family excursions and recreation into a distant world away from the routines, noise, and general hubbub of city life.
Early morning – when the air is still and nature is waking up Oregon rivers like the Rogue are a marvel. As daylight grows, people come out to play at Jerry’s Rogue Jets and Rogue Mailboats along the Rogue River waterfront at Gold Beach.
Jet boat pilot, Jeff Laird, keeps the century-old tradition alive as he launches our tour at 8am sharp – it’s 104-mile round trip journey into the Rogue River Canyon – longest trip that’s offered.
The journey was outrageous fun as Laird deftly steered and throttled his 32-foot long specially designed jet boat, powered by three 450-horsepower engines.
We plowed through white-water cauldrons, splashed and swung right, then left, over skinny shallows to avoid bulging boulders, and rocketed across two-foot standing waves.
“Hang on, guys--should we go faster? Little bumpy here--whoo hoo!!!” Jeff shouted to us.
Everyone onboard was wet and grinning with delight.
The jet boats can reach speeds of 60-mph – but we motored along at less than half that speed in half a foot of water – it was shin deep shallow and amazing.
Then he throttled back the powerful engines and we slowly cruised through the deep shadows of the Rogue’s calmer stretches.
Cliffs and canyons are the rule along the river’s course through the Oregon Coast Range, where eons of water and wind have eroded the exposed rock into smooth, unworldly sculptures.
Along shore, small waterfalls spout across rocky rims, slap a shelf here and there, and plummet into deep, swirling whirlpools.
Settlers arrived in the canyon of the Rogue River by the mid-nineteenth century, following the trails left by early trappers and miners.
As I gazed up the steep forested walls, it was hard to imagine anyone scratching out a living in such remote terrain but as Laird said to me:
“Really, Grant, this part of Oregon is defined by its remoteness and rugged geography. It has never been an easy place to live--many have tried and failed--but there is something about this canyon that speaks to an individual’s soul and says, ‘Without trying, what’s the point of living?’”
One of the pleasures of so much isolation is the abundant wildlife--a bald eagle may cruise by overhead; Canada geese may be seen shepherding their young from one shore to the other; an osprey might dive to catch its finny prey in the water. Even black bears are regularly seen strolling the shoreline. It’s fitting that so many critters are more at home in the canyon than any of us ever will be.
Laird told me that he had been leading the watery escape for Jerry’s Jet Boat Tours for nearly 25 years. He is a jet boat pilot with family roots that run as deep as the river canyon. You see, his uncle is Jerry Boice, one of the men who started jet boat touring nearly half a century ago.
“I get up every morning thinking ‘Golly sakes, I get to go drive tour boat for the day,’ Laird said with a chuckle. “This 104 miler is the best trip for the rapids, the thrills and the splish splash.”
It is an awesome collection of wilderness: From forest hilltops that touch the sky to remote, to steep canyon walls that touch the hard charging whitewater rapids – easy to see why Jeff laird comes to work each day.
“How many guys get to do this? Look at the people out here – they’re smiling and having fun – and a lot of people cannot say when they go to work – they give people a smile – and that means something to me. It’s really why I like my job so much and hope to keep at it for another 25 years.”
Hiking Delights at Dizzying Heights
On a clear day – even from a distance – Saddle Mountain steals the scene across the Oregon coast range: a distinct landmark that’s hard to deny!
It is even harder for hikers to resist on an Oregon State Park Trail that will steal your heart.
Shelley Parker, OPRD Ranger, said that Saddle Mountain is cherished for its wildflowers, hiking and spectacular views.
“It is something that must be experienced. It begins with a pretty steep climb but then it levels off as you experience a coastal rain forest with Sitka spruce and Doug fir trees. You see remarkable geological features with big rocky boulders and outcrops and you will see really amazing mosses and lichens that you won’t see anywhere else.”
Each step up Saddle Mountain’s two and a half mile long trail reveals a timeless place born of events that are 16 million years old.
The site dates to a time when a thick layer of Columbia River basalt flowed into the ocean from distant eastern Oregon.
Eventually, the ground rose and the mountain was born.
Today, the basalt breaks away in chunks – cracks, crevices and bands show off eons of geologic time.
The trail opens onto grassy meadows covered in a riot of wildflowers.
Although water is rare, cool springs seep and replenish a surprising number of plants with a distinct sound that also soothes the soul.
If time is on your side, you will be face to face with the namesake--the saddle and then the summit--bare double peaks that loom ahead
“The trail is a steep climb the last half mile,” noted Parker. It’s definitely not for anyone who’s afraid of heights! It’s quite rewarding when you get to the top because you made the climb but also you have a spectacular panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains.”
Each day’s view is different; in spring the ocean is often obscured.
As sixth highest point in the Oregon coast range, Saddle Mountain serves up drifting clouds so close you’ll feel as though you can reach out and touch them.”
That means it can be downright cool too! So dress warmly – in layers – and be sure you wear sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support for your climb and the descent back to the parking lot.
“It’s one of the gems of the Oregon coast for sure!” added Parker.
You may choose to make the park a longer stay at one of the ten primitive campsites. Each is perfect for a tent – no trailer space, although trailers are allowed in the parking area. But be aware that there are no hook ups for water or electricity.
Let Saddle Mountain State Park be but the start of your back road journey.
Next up - the nearby Lower Nehalem River Road is accessed at Elsie, Oregon.
A few short miles down the road you’ll meet Henry Rierson Spruce Run Park – a fine place to call it a day.
Assistant District Forester Ron Zilli said that the Oregon Dept of Forestry manages the campground: “Most times on the weekends you can still find a spot out here – you may not get a spot adjacent to the river, but there are 31 spots here and most times you can find a spot here.”
Spruce Run campsites (many are streamside) go for $10 a night and each is available on a first come-first serve basis; no reservations are accepted.
Four miles up the road you can get lost on purpose – with a rod and reel and a chance to catch fish at Lost lake
“Lost Lake is stocked by Oregon Fish and Wildlife and offers fishing for both bank anglers and canoe fishermen. It’s a shallow water lake but a good place close to highways and access and when you’re there, you feel miles away from anywhere.”
The Lower Nehalem River Road winds about as a dizzying affair with views of the Nehalem River and once back to straight-as an arrow State Highway 26.
Look for landmark “Camp 18,” popular rest spot known for it’s restaurant and these days - something new.
Mark Standley said that the Camp 18 Logger Memorial Museum is a place to remember those who gave their lives to Oregon logging.
A crowning museum centerpiece greets you at the entrance: a life-sized bronze of a hard working logger with actual logging equipment, even a full sized tree..
It’s a remarkably accurate work of art: the logger’s pants and sleeves cut short so not to hang up on limbs or brush – a firm grip on his working chainsaw with a falling axe within easy reach.
“It is just awesome,” noted Standley. “Most people walk in and find it so incredible as a way to keep those logging memories alive. It’s just a good thing.”
That’s what you’ll be saying about this backcountry byway – where the Nehalem River flows to the sea and the mountains soar to the sky – a stretch of Oregon that will keep you coming back for more.
High Desert Discoveries
My love affair with the high desert runs deep and that’s easy to understand since it’s where my fondest childhood memories are rooted in family times centered on camping or fishing adventures.
At the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon you can begin to build your own family memories by letting the “voice” on the radio guide you across new territory that will take your breath away.
Tom Hall is that voice; the man who recorded a unique audio tour guide to help you discover a wildlife wonderland in Southeast Oregon.
It’s a cd that you can check out anytime and enjoy a personalized tour of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“Everything on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge tends to be in movement this time of year,” noted Hall, a longtime refuge volunteer. “It is constant motion out here and the trick for the visitor is to catch up with the wildlife to see and learn more. The cd gives the visitor an extra edge to enjoy the place.”
Tom and his wife Sally Hall have helped visitors explore the refuge each summer for the past five seasons at the U.S Fish and Wildlife’s visitor station at Malheur Refuge.
“It’s the variety of birds, the landscape and the people who come to visit,” added Tom Hall. “It’s all interesting.”
Tom’s advice: bring binoculars and a bird identification book because the sheer number and variety of nesting birds is staggering.
“You will easily see forty or fifty different species on a spring-summer weekend,” noted Hall. “A bird book is a really good thing because you’re going to see a lot of unusual birds like avocets, stilts, white-faced ibis and then plentiful waterfowl like redheads, mallards, canvasbacks. We have an island of pelicans where there will be ten-twenty thousand white pelicans rafted up together. It’s incredible to see so many birds and so many species too.”
Spring’s coolness still washes over this remote rimrock country where history hangs around longer than most places.
Piute Indians lived off the land 11,000 years ago. They moved between Malhuer and Harney Lakes with the seasons.
The native peoples were followed by relative newcomers in the 19th century: miners, trappers and pioneers who settled, scratched out a living and built towns that rose above the desert.
Signs of those times are still visible too – at a place where western hospitality is served daily at the Frenchglen Hotel.
Built in early years of the 20th century, Frenchglen Hotel wasn’t designed for luxury but as a rest stop for travelers on the long journey across the high desert.
So the bedrooms are small but the hospitality is huge and warm in the family style dining area where three meals a day are prepared and served to visitors who choose to enjoy a more laid back vacation stay.
Manager John Ross said the hotel is now an Oregon State Park and you will not find phones, radios or tv at the Frenchglen Hotel.
“We are remote and the country is rugged, but we try to offer a bit of homey comfort that tends to attract a certain visitor who enjoys all of that.”
Nearby, the Peter French Round Barn Heritage Site is another state park and a must-stop for visitors who want to explore a one of a kind barn design.
Designed and built in 1880 by Peter French, a cattle baron who built a sprawling empire that dominated the region for more than 25 years, several giant juniper posts support a stable while an outer circular track lined in stonework provided a wintertime exercise area for horses.
Ross added, “There were three round barns at one time, but this one is all that’s left and it has been well preserved and maintained by the State Parks folks. We’re lucky to have them.”
Just down the road, you can stroll even further back in time at Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area, a BLM managed site that is spread across 17,000 acres.
Oregon’s roadside geology is worth a pause to consider at ‘Diamond Craters’ where you can easily imagine a time, many thousands of years ago, when lava exploded, churned and oozed out of the ground during a period that lasted for more than 15,000 years.
It is a geologic wonder that will connect you with an interesting chapter of Oregon’s volcanic past.
In fact, there’s so much to see in this timeless landscape where distances are great, people are few and Tom Hall insisted visitors must bring one thing with them when they come:
“Patience! You cannot come here in a day and take all this in – you cannot take it all in a weekend. Sally and I have been here five years and there’s still so much to see. Plenty to enjoy outdoors in the wide-open spaces.”
High Life Adventures
From 70 feet above the ground, it’s easy to see that the high life provides a bird’s eye view that takes your breath away.
Dale Larson, a zip-line guide with High Life Adventures said, “As soon as we clip you in, you are playing with gravity as you head downhill along an awesome fun ride. Folks just love it.”
You will too when you ride the new zip line course called ‘High Life Adventures,’ near Warrenton, Oregon.
The remarkable outdoor experience is the brainchild of H-L-A owner, Dave Larson, who created the new adventure playground on his 30-acre timbered homestead in rural Clatsop County.
The recreation mecca offers 8 distinct zip-line routes with a grand total of more than a mile of steel cables that are anchored in the hillsides by big timbers and steel beams.
Each of the eight zip lines is connected with easy to moderate graveled trails that provide a fun three hour hiking and zip-lining getaway that entices and challenges thrill seekers of all ages.
“The challenge is measured by the height of the starting point relative to the end,” noted Larson. “That drop helps build the speed and it goes faster as you proceed.”
Some zip lines are short – just a few hundred feet, while others range to more than a thousand feet long, and so many different zip lines are certainly exciting to ride.
“Some people who visit us have zip-lined before, but for most it is first time affair,” said Shane Dean, the manager for High Life Adventures. ”Most folks come here looking for a good time and they are here for three hours or more. As they fly through our forest, they find the thrill of their lifetimes.”
It’s that thrill that enticed Crystal and Joe Neher to spend the afternoon on the zip lines - neither had done anything like it before and she enthusiastically agreed it was special: “I’d be happy to ride one zip line, but here you get to ride eight. You fly along, listening to the sound of the zip line trolley on the cable and it’s so much fun – exhilarating!”
Feel like taking a cool dip on a warm day? You can. There’s a 7-acre lake below Zip-Line #7 called “Maple.”
“We can actually lengthen your lanyard out a little so you can do a hand-drag or a foot-drag in the lake,” said guide Dale Larson. He added with a chuckle, “For the more adventurous we can even bounce the cable a bit and let you do a bottom drag into the water.”
The cable rating is for more than 26,000 pounds, noted Dave Larson. Plus, the harness and lanyard and trolley specs all exceed 5,000 pounds.
So, you’re perfectly safe going downhill on the cable. “We want absolute safety and the way our harness is designed and worn, it’s virtually impossible to get out of it when you’re on a zip line.”
That’s good to know when you step up on the tall tower to hook up to the twin 1200 foot cables called “Spruce” and “Willow.” It’s a side by side chance to race to the course’s finish on a unique adventure that’ll bring you back for more.
Dale Larson noted with a mile wide grin, “It’s pretty tough not to smile on a zip line.”
He’s right! High Life Adventures is a fine memory maker for a special family activity day.
The unique recreation destination operates zip line tours by reservation only each Friday thru Tuesday @ 11am, 1pm and 3pm through the winter.
The BEAT Goes On!
At Horsin’ Around Stables in Washington County, the “BEAT” goes on. It isn’t a marching tune or musical rhythm but words of encouragement, care and love.
According to co-founder, Jackie Hopper, BEAT is a horseback therapy program that helps people overcome their fears when the odds of life have been stacked against them:
“It’s therapy that’s not in an office so kids enjoy it,” noted the longtime horse riding instructor. “They don’t even know they’re having therapy while they’re riding the horses, but really the best help comes from the horse; like a tool.”
BEAT is the brainchild of Hopper, a woman who has a kind word for anyone willing to sit in a saddle.
BEAT actually stands for “Bradley’s Equine Assisted Therapy.” Hopper began the program more than two decades ago when she was a Banks High School senior.
She wanted to help a disabled 4-year-old child named Bradley through therapeutic riding exercises. The program she designed for his health worked so well that Hopper thought why not expand the program to include disabled adults.
Hopper’s strategies for physical therapy are based upon a simple idea: horses know people better than people know themselves: “A horse has the ability to tell a person’s respiration, heart rate and even emotional state – they are like a fine tuned machine so if the kids are feeling upset or anxious I can always read the child’s feelings through the horse’s behavior. It’s a cool thing!”
One of Hopper’s newest riders is Doug Bohlmann, a tall and quiet man who does not reveal his pain in his actions or in his speech --- his physical and emotional wounds are the pains of war.
Bohlmann is a wounded warrior who life was forever changed during his time in Iraq.
Doug was a dog handler – his partner was “Six,” a 12-year old german shepherd that sniffed out explosives. The two were part of a special US Marine unit in Iraq and they responded to the threats of planted IED’s or other explosives.
They were often the first to arrive on scene to seek out the explosives before others walked into harm’s way.
“We were always out there first,” said Bohlmann. “We tried to find the danger so that the convoys or patrols could go through.”
Bohlmann and Six worked together for nearly 4 years – there’s was a deep bond connected by time together and a 6-foot leash – they were not only close to each other but their work forced them close to the “smell of danger” every day.
“Sometimes we were lucky and found the explosives and we walked away and sometimes we weren’t so lucky.”
According to Doug’s Mom, who often travels to the Horsin’ Around Stable to watch her son, Doug’s luck ran out one hot summer day.
“His humvee went over a bomb but the vehicle behind him hit the bomb and they were killed. Doug’s truck flipped over - he knocked out several teeth and had severe injuries from that. That’s why he has traumatic brain injury.”
Doug was prescribed over a dozen medications for pain and post-traumatic stress, but nothing cured the anxiety and even anger that he felt when he had to leave his team and his longtime canine partner behind.
“When I first got home I didn’t want to deal with anyone,” admitted the veteran. “If you weren’t a part of my unit and didn’t go through what I went through I really didn’t want to have anything to do with you.”
Hie mother, Ellen Bohlmann, tearfully recalled that medications didn’t help doug either: “Oh, lots and lots of medications all the time. But he would still get angry easily and he slept with the TV and radio on all the time – he didn’t like the silence – he needed to know there was something around all the time.”
But Doug’s erratic behavior and mood swings dramatically began to disappear little more than nine months ago when he was introduced to BEAT through an adjunct program called “Horses for Heroes.”
“I found this place and it changed me quite drastically,” said Bohlmann.
Doug added that his confidence and his self-reliance and even peace of mind have returned through his time with the horses – especially one particular horse named “Condo.”
Hopper said the healing power of horses is remarkable: “Many folks come back from Iraq and other war zones with a feeling of disconnection from life. They cannot get back to how they felt before they went to war. But the horses will take them right back and love them for who they are. As long as they’re kind to the horse, the horse responds in kind.”
Doug has improved so much through therapy riding – both physically and emotionally - that on most days he lends a hand and helps others or cares for the horses.
“He has slowly opened up and talked to us more and more,” said Hopper. “He’s told us a bit about what he’s been through but more importantly, he’s participating and contributing here. I think this is where he needs to be for now because it works.”
Doug said he is at the right place and at the right time and finally reconnecting with his humanity- without a lot of medication too.
Ellen Bohlmann said she has seen big changes in her son over the past year:“He is almost back to the Doug he used to be; he’s happy, he enjoys coming to work. He really likes working with the horses which is awesome because he’s always been a very loving and caring person. For us - to see our Doug come back - has been wonderful.”
Jackie Hopper agreed that the “miracle” of horse therapy is that anyone can benefit: “we have blind children autistic adults – even clients with cerebral palsy – plus veterans struggling with PTSD. Both people and animals seem to react well and make a big difference in their qualities of life. That means a lot to me – makes me feel like I did something good to touch their lives.”