Grant's Getaways for May 26, 2012


by Grant McOmie

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Posted on May 28, 2012 at 8:49 AM


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.”


When the weather warms, it seems far too many Oregon byways can be busy blurs that just don’t allow you enough time to slow down, get out of the race and set your own pace for travel across the state.

In the southern Willamette Valley, you will slow down and savor the spirit of cycling adventure along the new “Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway” near Cottage Grove.

There’s certain pride to your pedaling when your hometown offers the ‘best of the best, said Travis Palmer, Cottage Grove resident.

Palmer boasted that his community’s recent recognition by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department for the new scenic bikeway was a capstone for a rail to trail conversion project that offers so much: “It’s the scenery, it’s the quiet, it’s the wildlife and there’s no doubt in your mind you’re on one of the best pieces of trail in the state.”

You’ll love rolling through six bridges on a 36-mile stretch of flat, paved bikeway along the new “Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway” as you glide past scenery that takes your breath away.

Longtime resident, Greg Lee, said “It adds to everything that’s already here: we have the nearby mountains with rivers and Dorena Lake for boating, fishing, camping and hiking, so the bikeway adds to the flavor of the place.”

Palmer added that the “crown jewel” of the varied bridges is the recently restored Chambers Bridge, the only covered railroad bridge west of the Mississippi.

“These covered bridges were torn down by the thousands across the country and only a handful of communities really recognized how great and important they were – Cottage Grove is one of those places.”

Built in the 1920’s, Chambers Bridge had hit on hard times was on the brink of collapse a couple of years ago when the community decided they couldn’t let that happen.

They raised millions of dollars to fund the restoration in 2010 and soon began to take the old bridge apart piece-by-piece.

“If we’re the covered bridge capital of Oregon,” said Palmer. “How could we let the biggest, the best, the most historic fall into the river? It was important to save this bridge and glad we did.”

The rebuilding of Chambers Bridge went on the fast track!

They used 30 percent of the old bridge materials and re-built a connection with history that reopened to cyclists and hikers in December 2011.

“We saved a structure that defined us and sets us apart from every other town in America!” said Palmer.

It is also a reflection of the larger Cottage Grove dedication to hold on to history: “We are a classic small town in America downtown! If you walk downtown, see all these great old shops and yet we’ve got modern business tucked right next to it. We fancy ourselves as the melting pot of the Pacific Northwest.”

Blair Winter showed up a couple years ago and added a key ingredient to the Cottage Grove pot when he bought the Rainy Peak Bicycles, the town’s only bike shop.

He is an ambassador of sorts for the fast growing two-wheeled recreation and said the new Covered Bridge Bikeway is perfect fit for the southern end of the Willamette Valley.

“It’s family friendly and a really easy to ride with little traffic, and of course, the mountain bike community has discovered some of our great mountain trails as well.”

He is right! Oakridge, Oregon is little more than an hour away and boasts over 500 miles of Cascade Mountain trails that offer a challenge and fine compliment to the new scenic bikeway.

If you don’t normally travel with your bike – not to worry – Rainy Peak also rents bikes, so you can cruise in, rent a bike and get on the new bikeway in a matter of minutes.


It’s back to school for “Grant’s Getaways,” but you won’t find the students in a classroom.  Grant McOmie takes us to the coast on an adventure that may leave you feeling a little “crabby” but that’s a good thing because he takes us to “Crabbing Class 101.”

When you try something new, it pays to go with the pros!

Instructors, biologists and volunteers teach and assist students in the varied Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Outdoor Skills courses.

Crabbing is a popular recreation that requires some skill and knowledge, so the agency developed the daylong course to encourage participation.

ODFW spokesperson and instructor, Mark Newell, said that the students get all of the gear and assistance that they might need for a day of fun and excitement at Yaquina Bay in Newport.

“We want people to care about the environment and the only way to get them to do that is to get them out enjoying it. That’s what ‘Crab Class’ does for many students.”

The students kick off the affair at the South Beach State Park Activity Center, just south of Newport.

Instructor Brandon Ford presented the basics of crab biology and explained the trapping techniques, the rules and regulations of the sport.

The session was followed by a short drive to Yaquina Bay Marina where the hands on action began.

Once the students were comfortable with the gear, it was time to toss the traps from atop Yaquina Bay Pier that juts hundreds of yards into the bay.

The pier is open to fishing and crabbing anytime.

Students learned how to measure a crab to make certain it’s legal (only 12 male Dungeness crabs are allowed and they must be 5 ¾ inches across the back) and how to tell the difference between the two species of crab that are present in Yaquina Bay: Dungeness Crabs and Red Rock Crabs.

“We show them how to crab from the pier,” said Ford. “But we also take them out on the bay in boats to drop traps in several places that our biologists have scouted. We try to take folks to the best places in the whole bay.”

The traps are checked, the crabs were counted and then it was time to cook.
It was a fine way to round out the day’s adventure.

Each student in the class must purchase an ODFW Shellfish License.

The course costs $40 for adults, $10 for kids under 18. Students are provided with instruction, plus all of the gear including bait, traps and pfd’s.

“It’s a real good deal, added Ford. “Especially at lunchtime because no one goes away hungry from the class.”

So, what to do with the catch?

I didn’t have to travel far to discover one delicious idea!

Karla Steinhauser can clean and shake out the meat from a limit of crabs faster than most people can boil a pot of water. She’s that good!

“It’s like shooting a free shot through a basketball hoop,” she said with a smile. You have a certain technique and it’s the same with these – it’s a touch.”

Karla has that “touch” for sure; a half-century of experience will do that.

You see, back in the 1960’s “Karlas Krabs” was a fixture in the coastal village of Rockaway Beach.

“My dad always said that during the depression there were two businesses that never go broke – the beer joints and the banks – so I thought, I don’t drink, so food is the way to go because people have to eat. I wanted a business that I controlled and one where I wasn’t likely to lose my job.”

So, the college graduate (she attended Portland’s Washington High School and Lewis and Clark College) who double majored in Art and Biology, created a “beachy” life for herself  – one that offered independence and self-reliance.

Each week, starting in 1964, she cooked up boatloads of tasty Dungeness crabs.

Although she doesn’t cook and clean so many crabs anymore, she can still put on quite show.

She averages a cleaned and shelled crab every three minutes and it’s a marvel to watch her work.

Two years ago, she decided time had come for a change! She wanted to slow down a bit and thought it would be good to share her secrets in a new book:
“I Am Karla’s Smokehouse.”

In fact, folks will travel to Rockaway from all over to watch her when she puts on a crabbing clinic.

The photo-laden book shows and explains her varied processes of cleaning crab and smoking salmon, albacore and cod.

The photos of local, Don Best, highlight her many seafood prep techniques.

The book also offers Karla’s own colorful art that captures whimsical moments that will make you smile.

“I make myself look ridiculous with a long spiked nose and a great big belly and skinny legs. I am really a satirist and make fun of myself. It is expressing the real me to people and giving them the proper techniques. I want to be a teacher!”

Karla said that you can keep fresh crab in the refrigerator up to four days, but who in the world could ever keep it that long? Not me!

“People love to see an artist of any kind at work,” she explained. “In the food industry people also love to see how you do something and my goal is to pass on what I know to the public.”

“I always wanted to pass on what I knew to the public, which is ironic because when I was young, customers scared the dickens out of me. I was so scared of people that I asked the hired help to wait on the people. I was so shy and I had to overcome that. It took a lot of time, but eventually I did and writing a book was much the same for me; a big challenge!”

So stop in @ Karla’s Smokehouse and say “Hello!” Chances are good that Karla will be there with her friendly smile and easygoing manner as she tends the counter or the smoky fires. It’s a warm and welcome place where “class” is always in session. Karla’s is open each Tues-Sat 10-5 and the smoked fish is usually ready at 1.