OFF ROAD RIDERS
It’s a cool and cloudy winter morning at Roger’s Camp in the Tillamook State Forest; key staging area for folks who like to travel “off-road.”
I’ve traveled into the heart of the forest at the invitation of a familiar face and avid off-roader: my brother, Mark McOmie.
My brother’s off-road recreation is more than a hobby – it’s a passion that has shaped much his outdoor travel and recreation plans. It’s also been something that he’s shared with his entire family for nearly twenty years.
“Atv-ing is a great family sport,” explained Mark. “A super opportunity to get together and explore the outdoors. I think most of the fellows in our party probably have multiple uses for their machines – part workhorse, part recreation vehicle. In fact, I started riding in the early ‘90’s while on hunting trips and it’s taken off from there.”
Several of his friends joined him for a ride across designated trails in the state forest.
They certainly have plenty of trails to choose from for our day’s adventure.
Jahmaal Rebb, ATV Specialist with Oregon Department of Forestry, said that there are more than 130 miles of trails across the Tillamook State Forest.
Rebb manages the trails and the riders who travel in the forest and he noted that there’s a “dedicated following” of riders who come to play on the state forestland.
“This is a community that’s been very active since the 1930’s – really, since the first Tillamook Burn. Motorized recreation is a big deal here and the folks still come here, put in time on varied projects to improve trails and improve access – they really have a passion for play.”
There are three primary OHV riding areas available on the forest including Browns Camp, Jordan Creek and Diamond Mill.
A wide variety of trails provide access into some of the more remote and scenic parts of the forest and provide challenge and excitement for both beginners and experts.
“We offer a very extensive network of trails, said Rebb. “Scores of off-road trails are a part of a multi-use recreation system. So, you must expect to encounter quads, motor bikes and full-sized four-wheel drives out here.”
So, what it’s like to climb aboard and grab on to the steering of a powerful ATV four wheel-drive quad?
In a word – amazing! They are quick to respond, easy to steer and surprisingly comfortable too.
It is also recreation where risk and danger wait at every turn, so safety and common sense and controlling your speed are critical.
That’s where recently adopted rules come in. For example, young riders must carry an “ATV Safety Education” card – that shows the rider has passed a mandatory on-line test.
The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation manages the “ATV On-Line Safety Education Course” and John Lane, OPRD ATV Safety Program Manager, said that by 2014, every ATV rider in Oregon most pass the test and carry the card.
“It’s free…takes just a couple of hours to complete, and when you’re all done we’ll send you a safety education card that’s required to be with you when you go out and ride.”
There are more changes coming to enhance the safety aspects of Oregon’s off-road riding: a new “Hands On ATV Training Class” will be required for all riders aged 15 and under in 2012.
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.
In fact, Johnson's plan is to provide you with a game of "Finders Keepers."
“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.”
OREGON OLIVE MILL
In the waning days of another Oregon wine grape season, vineyards show off colorful leafy leftovers that light up the hills near Dundee in Yamhill County.
But just across the way, at Red Ridge Farms near Dayton – there’s another harvest that is just hitting its stride.
If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, Oregon’s latest olive crop is downright gorgeous to orchard owner Ken Durant and his son Paul Durant, who told me that there is special beauty in an olive tree:
“It’s not the most attractive tree in the world; a little gangly but it’s got its moments of sheer beauty.”
The bold entrepreneurs have planted 13,000 olive trees across 15 Oregon acres with varieties that sport exotic names like “Arbequina,” “Arbosana” and “Koroneiki.”
According to Paul Durant, the Oregon Olive Mill Manager, the family hopes to compliment the Oregon wine grape landscape with something new:
“It’s an oil yielding type of fruit, not like Mission variety olive that you might stick on your pinky finger or stuffed with garlic or placed on a stick in a martini – it’s just a different type of olive that is intended for oil.”
Paul added that the oil type olives require fewer chemicals than wine grapes, they are bird proof and the fruit is easily harvested.
However, there is one worry on everyone’s mind: Oregon’s cold, downright nasty winter weather – where the snow can pile high, last for weeks and take a toll on young fragile olive trees.
Still, Ken Durant ambitiously offers, “You cannot learn to swim in the shallow end.”
“Olives are being grown in Europe in climates that are very similar to what we have in western Oregon, including the hard winters. So, the secret for us is to have enough good fortune to build a significant root ball in each young tree (that takes about three years) so if we have a bad weather event we’ll recover.”
Paul Druant added, “The fact that my dad bought a state of the art olive mill and built a beautiful facility around it – you know, we’re in for the long haul.”
The milling process is impressive: totes are emptied of olives, stems and leaves are separated before the olives are tumbled into a mixer where blades blend the fruit into a paste.
Eventually, heat and centrifugal force separates solids and water and the result is gorgeous green oil that doesn’t get any fresher.
Last year, the Durant’s Oregon Olive Mill bottled 350 gallons of extra-virgin olive oil and they hope to grow even bigger this year.
The olive oil market is vast and offers plenty of room to grow. America's love affair with olive oil is pegged at 70 million gallons a year.
Penny Durant said that consumption level is for all of the right health reasons too.
“It’s a mono-saturate that is high in antioxidants and olive oil has wonderful flavor – a bit pungent, perhaps buttery and woody at the same time, but a fine compliment to food.”
The Oregon Olive Mill at Red Ridge Farms includes fine wines that are produced from the Durant Vineyards and offers olive oil tasting and more – you can spend the night in a fully furnished apartment that offers a stunning view to the surrounding hills.
Plus, the property is open to exploration so you can wander and watch and learn about a new enterprise that’s taking root in Oregon. There are several exciting Fall events including the Olio Nuova Festa (New Olive Oil Celebration) that are worth your time to visit.
OXBOW PARK ON THE SANDY RIVER
Sometimes the best travel secrets are not far from own backyards!
Oxbow Park offers one of the richest outdoor experiences in the entire metro region where you can walk thru stands of 800 year old trees, watch big, brawny chinook salmon return every year and gaze at petrified trees that are seemingly frozen in place.
“It is a place where there’s life on every scale and it’s such a wonderful park to spend time,” noted Karen Mathieson, a Volunteer Naturalist and longtime park visitor.
It’s hard to believe that a wilderness-like setting can be found only a stone’s throw from Portland, but it’s true.
In fact, you could say Metro’s Oxbow Regional Park is right in Portland’s back yard – and it is so special.
Becky Lerner, another Volunteer Naturalist, said that Oxbow offers “an ancient forest trail where the trees are hundreds of years - long before the city of Portland was imagined. I think that’s really special.”
Dan Daly is the Oxbow Regional Park Naturalist who said that the park’s 1200-forested acres offer plenty of elbowroom plus key features with something for everyone
“Oh, a beautiful 3-mile hiking trail that will take you thru an ancient forest and also along the banks of the Sandy River. We have camping year round, fishing year round and then recreational opportunities with classes in photography and skills like wildlife tracking. There are a lot of diverse activities in this park.”
Gary Slone is a park volunteer and expert who teaches Wild Mushrooming classes. He said that the “hands on” educational opportunities really put folks in touch with the parkland.
“A Park like Oxbow, so close to Portland, is a real gift; it’s a wild place and a natural place.”
Oxbow Park is a natural for hikers who would like to explore the Sandy River Gorge for surprises that are slowly revealing themselves – one winter storm at a time.
You see, a stand of really old doug fir and cedar trees – covered by an a mud flow that hit the Sandy River in the late 1700’s - is slowly revealing itself according to Daly.
“The stumps and snags have been excavated by recent high water events as the Sandy River bounces between the valley walls. The river is undercutting the banks, digs out the sand and leaves these ghostly looking trees standing straight up and down – they are at least 230 years old.”
Then there are the spawning salmon – often easy to see in the river’s shallows - their spawning activity is constant against a backdrop of dazzling big leaf maples and vine maples that show off brilliant yellow and crimson-red. It can be a stunning show for the visitor.
“It’s nature’s drama at it’s finest,” noted Daly.
And all of it is waiting for you – anytime.
Mathieson noted with a smile, “ This park is in our backyard and part of that whole idea of being ‘wild in the city.’ People think that if you live in a city like Portland that you leave nature behind, but Oxbow shows you can actually have both. It great to have a place that’s all wild like this.”
If you like to play outdoors, consider working there a little bit too through Metro’s Nature University; a 12-week class for folks who want to become volunteer park naturalists. The course runs from late January thru early April.
The class is perfectly suited to people who love nature and want to share their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm with others.