Jerry Scdoris has twelve of the most faithful friends one mountain of a man could ever hope to have in a lifetime. Consider what they do for him:
Whenever Jerry hollers “Hey,” these dedicated buddies of his rise to their feet and go.
Actually, they run and run and run anywhere he tells them to go.
They will pull hundreds of pounds while enduring deep snow or slippery ice and a biting wind that would send most of us indoors for rest and relaxation beside the nearest toasty warm woodstove.
And get this: they never, ever complain. In fact, they live to be outdoors when winter is its roughest: downright mean and nasty.
Jerry’s best friends are huskies.
“These huskies been doing this for thousands of years. It’s like - why do birds fly, why do fish swim - my dogs just got to run.”
They’re not big or brawny either. Rather, they’re medium-sized pooches about twenty pounds each, but they are huge when it comes to desire and energy and enthusiasm to please people.
During a visit to Jerry’s Iditarod Training Camp near Mount Bachelor, I asked him how he trains dogs for the kind of pure commitment it takes to run and pull through the snow. He told me his dogs “are 110 percent go-power. They just have to run out of pure joy.”
“It all starts out fast and exhilarating,” noted Scdoris. “I think it surprises people how fast and how powerful these little dogs are A lot of folks have sled dog dreams – they’ve read Jack London novels as youngsters and have just had it in their brain to go for a sled dog ride – that’s how I started – decades ago.”
Jerry is in his 20th season at Mt Bachelor, but he has been a professional musher for over thirty years. He also takes passengers on a thrilling dog-sled ride across a three-mile course.
He’s covered 100,000 Alaska wilderness miles with his dog teams and he likes to say the dogs are “experts in motion.”
When you watch Jerry work with his dogs, you witness an incredible transformation when he attaches the huskies to their traces individually and they become a team.
The older, veteran lead dog is generally calm in comparison to the younger huskies. The excitement and energy build among these youngsters, who bark and yelp for joy until the musher releases the drag brake and steps onto the back runners.
No longer do you hear a dozen whining individuals, because the dogs’ eagerness settles into a determination to pull hard and fast no matter the weight in the attached sled basket.
Dave Sims, a longtime partner in Jerry’s business, designs and builds all of the equipment including the toboggan-style sleds that carry up to 600 pounds – plenty of room for Mom, Dad and a couple of kids.
“The sleds are safe, they’re sturdy and they’re comfortable for people to sit in. You can fill them up heaping to the top so you can haul a lot of gear in them.”
I was intrigued with so much energy about to be let loose, so my wife, Christine and I didn’t hesitate to accept Jerry’s invitation to sit in the comfy sled. Actually, Chris sat while I was invited to stand on the runners.
With that, we were off in a moment of madness, down a slope into a wooded stand, leaving a snowy wake flying up behind us.
The loop trail’s first part follows a narrow Forest Service trail flanked by Douglas fir and ponderosa pine.
As we slip-slid along, it was a bit like a combination sled and rollicking roller-coaster ride.
Jerry reminded me the dogs are bred for only one reason: “to run, run, and keep on runnin’.” Then he surprised me and asked, “Would you like to try running the team, Grant?”
“You bet! What do I need to know--besides hanging on?”
“Keep your knees slightly bent, take your right foot off the brake, and put it on the runner,” he replied. “Then say ‘Okay.’”
“Okay,” I whispered, uncertain what I should expect from the eager dog team.
“Nooo--you gotta mean it,” Jerry gently scolded, then shouted to his team in a commanding tone, “Okay, okay!”
And we were off again! The feeling was exhilarating and surprisingly quiet. We cruised silently at nearly twenty miles an hour. Suddenly I found time to admire the surrounding mountains that peek through the forest.
The deep powder is a storybook landscape for speeding through narrow trails in a dense pine forest with boughs bent low from a fresh powdery blanket.
Jerry spoke: “I’d say half of the visitors come up with a ‘Sergeant Preston of the Yukon’ fantasy. They are not real sure what to expect--perhaps bigger dogs, and then they’re amazed with my guys’ speed and enthusiasm. You know, Grant, these animals just don’t want to stop.”
You’ll want to stop in, though, and make Jerry Scdoris and his best friends part of your Oregon snow-country adventures. The training camp and rides open with the first fall of snow in November and continue into spring.
There’s a certain peaceful feeling out on the trail – a feeling that –even for an hour or so – all is right with the world.
SOUTH SLOUGH ESTUARY
Once you travel the Cape Arago Highway that skirts a lonesome and lovely section of the Southern Oregon coast, it may become a road once taken that you’ll never want to leave!
It leads you past so many intriguing sights that you may well wonder, “Why have I never come this way before.””
Fourteen miles southwest of Coos Bay, drop in at Sunset Bay State Park and meet Oregon State Park’s Manager, Preson Phillips, who told me: “It’s one of those trails that just keeps beckoning you on – it’s just a matter of how much you want to hike or do at the time.”
Make time to wander Sunset Bay State Park, a jewel of a campground that offers 139 sites for tent, trailer or R.V. – plus eight yurts.
People who come to camp enjoy a spectacular beachfront that seems framed for the movies – it has been a special destination park since 1942.
If you own a spirit of adventure, you’ll no doubt relish the hiking trail that leads little more than a mile to nearby Cape Arago State Park.
Many visitors are surprised to find a front row seat of sorts – a wooden balcony that overlooks Shell Island.
Marty Giles, who owns an eco-tourism business called, “Wavecrest Discoveries” is often on hand to explain the behavior of hundreds of seals and seal lions that just plain loaf across the rocky island and Simpson Reef.
“Shell Island is a fine place for them to haul out and rest for awhile. There are four different seals and sea lions that haul out here and rest. You really need to come on up and see this show.”
You will want to make time to travel five miles further up the Seven Devils Road to visit a piece of Oregon coastal paradise that’s been preserved since 1974.
The South Slough Estuarine Research Preserve offers a visitor center that introduces you to the area with varied multi-media and hands on exhibits.
Together, the displays put you in touch with a rare piece of Oregon coastal environment according to the center’s Deborah Rudd:
“It is undisturbed, it is not developed and you do have more interaction with wildlife here. It’s quiet! It’s peaceful! And you can picture what life was like many years ago across this southern branch of greater Coos Bay.”
There’s more than 5,000 acres in South Slough Preserve – approximately 1,000 of that is the slough itself, then the rest is protected upland forest or marshland.
There is plenty of elbowroom to explore at South Slough Preserve and there are plenty of trails that take you out and about.
One of my favorites is called the Hidden Creek Trail - a little over a mile in length that offers a wonderful wooden boardwalk that takes you out over a wetland area where the freshwater creek meets the sea.
In addition, there are many stunning views along the trail, including those from atop a two level deck that looks across a marsh area to the Winchester Arm of the slough.
The preserve is open throughout the calendar year, but South Slough Preserve Education Director, Tom Gaskill, says some seasons offer unique surprises for the hearty traveler.
“I’m a birder, so for me this time of year in fall is the beginning of the most exciting part of the season. We have flocks of waterfowl that pass through here and a lot of the over wintering forest birds too – there are many species that we never see here during the summer, so it’s exciting in the winter months to see some of these migratory species that spend summers in Alaska and Canada but they’re here for the winter.”
“It is a beautiful place whatever season you come to visit,” added Rudd. “You will be amazed and it will be worth your effort to come find us.”
WILD GEESE PHOTOGRAPHER
Each winter, a feathery invasion drops into Oregon’s fields and wetlands: a quarter million Canada geese and photographer Kelly Warren of Wild Spirit Resources, likes to be where the flocks are:
“Shooting birds in flight with a camera can be really difficult,” said Warren. “A lot of people try to do it with a tripod but I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to do it off hand because I don’t get so many blurred wing shots.”
What began as a hobby born of a curiosity was refined by his grandfather’s guidance and eventually wildlife photography led Warren to a professional pursuit .
The result of his time and effort in the field was the “Field Guide to the Geese of the Willamette Valley.”
The book was first aimed at hunters who must identify each of the 7 sub-species of Canada geese that fly, land, sit or swim across Oregon each Fall.
Warren’s years-long efforts paid off with an amazing book.
“Finally, it turned into a 90-page, full of photos, lots of great details, combination photos with different sub species of geese and it’s not only helpful for hunters, it’s a really useful guide for anybody who enjoys wildlife.”
Warren’s pictures so impressed Oregon wildlife managers they made his book the state’s study guide for waterfowl hunters.
How many photos did Warren take? 26,000!
“There are some nights after I’d been in the field all day, shooting and listening to geese, I’d be hearing them when I went to bed at night – yet I never got tired of it.”
Although only 90 were selected for the book, Warren added that there are amazing differences between each species.
“The sizes of the geese vary widely: Cacklers that are a little bigger than a Mallard , but Great Westerns can reach up to 14 pounds…some are very light in breast color and some are very dark in breast color. It takes awhile for people to catch on.”
Warren’s book has caught on with folks who don’t hunt but like to watch and learn about wildlife…and he shares photo tips with anyone who wants to capture the outdoors on their own.
“Anytime between November to late January to February are really great times for waterfowl and the good times to catch birds when they’re not so wary is early morning and evening. Birds tend to be concentrated on going to the roost or going to feed.”
It’s an impressive dedication to an amazing project that teaches us more about the geese that make Oregon a winter home.
Most of us never give our travels or adventures into the great Oregon outdoors a second thought.
Why should we?
After all, for most of us there are countless exciting opportunities for varied adventures and destinations with few barriers to get in the way.
But what if the challenge of simply “getting there” was huge, even monumental – so much so that it was far easier to just throw in the towel and stay home never to experience Oregon’s many sights and sounds at all?
John Williams would like the change that perspective.
Williams is a familiar voice to many – he plays the soft rock sounds on Portland’s K103fm radio dial.
You’ve likely heard Williams if you’ve spent much time in the Rose City. After all, he has been on the rock radio scene since 1977.
But interestingly, when the radio studio goes quiet, there’s another sound that Williams would rather hear – the sounds of the wild!
John Williams likes to be where the flocks are; it’s a passion that he’s owned since he was a kid.
“I was always full steam ahead,” noted the radio broadcaster on a recent trip to William Finley Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis, Oregon. “A normal childhood and I tried everything and even some things I shouldn’t have,” he said with a hearty chuckle.
John had polio as a child – he didn’t walk until he was four – but his family and their northwest adventures always made Williams feel right at home – whether in leg braces or in a chair – the polio never slowed him down.
“I wanted to be able to compete so I started playing wheelchair sports like wheelchair basketball when I was 14. I played that until I was 50 – but two shoulder surgeries told me it was time to get off the basketball floor.”
But outdoor adventures like fishing, hunting and boating came easy to someone eager to explore a love for the northwest outdoors.
Recently, Williams figured he could do more to help others too fearful to head outdoors.
He produces a new TV program called “Wheelchair Destinations.”
“I wanted to actually show people how accessible a destination is! There are
plenty of web sites, plenty of books that talk about it, but no one has actually shown people how accessible a place really is when you get to it.”
So far, he has compiled 26 3-minute segments that center on places and activities for folks who roll on wheels rather than walk on two legs.
His travels and specialty reports have taken Williams from the Oregon coast to the Cascade Mountains and include a visit to famous Timberline Lodge to find how just how accessible the old lodge is for folks in wheelchairs.
“Even I didn’t realize how accessible a place it is,” said Williams. “They’ve done some exceptional retro-work up there: parking lots are very accessible and you can go in on the bottom floor thru wide automatic doors. They’ve retrofitted with elevators, but they’ve not changed the integrity of the original building and I think that is very important.”
He’s visited many prized local sites and critiques them too, offering a visual story of the good, the bad and the not so friendly wheelchair access.
For example, Williams takes viewers to the popular Portland destination at Washington Park Rose Garden:
“You actually see me huffing and puffing up a hill and if you see that on video, see what I’m going through, then you will have a good idea of what to expect and help you decide whether you want to go there yourself.”
Williams gave high marks to the recent retrofit of the famous Oregon State Park Vista House – for many it is considered the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge:
“They have installed an elevator to take you from the bottom floor to the top floor but you don’t see the machinery at all when you enter - it comes out of the floor! It was truly engineered properly and hasn’t destroyed the integrity of the original building. I think they did a terrific job!”
Williams noted that there are other notable travel destinations across Oregon that are wheelchair friendly too.
For example, explore the North Fork Nehalem River’s Disabled Angler Platform where salmon and steelhead are always on the bite.
Or the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument where you will find a raised wooden boardwalk that allows folks a close up view to 60 million years of geologic history.
Finally, check out the Wildwood Recreation Site’s Cascade Streamwatch Trail. The paved path takes you along the Salmon River for more than a mile and even puts you nose to nose with baby salmon in a tributary stream near Mt Hood.
Back at Finley Wildlife Refuge, John and I enjoyed the Homer Campbell Memorial Trail: a 1700’ elevated boardwalk that courses through an oak and wetlands area and eventually ends at a view blind. Here, you can duck in out of bad weather and the blind overlooks a pond that is favored by waterfowl and eagles.
“They’ve done a real good job out here with a cement apron in the parking area that makes the wheelchair rolling easier and connects to the boardwalk that takes you clear out to the marshland. It’s very impressive. You’ll have no problem in a wheelchair – it’s good stuff!”
Williams adds that Oregon and especially Portland lead the nation in accessibility…that’s something more people in chairs should embrace:
“I really want to show folks what a beautiful part of the country we live in so they will get out of the living room and head out for travel across Oregon.”
DRIFT CREEK TRAIL
Drift Creek will carry you away --- perhaps where imagination travels---on a wonderful trail alongside a classic “pool and drop” Oregon stream.
Flanked by ferns, alder trees and vine maple, Drift Creek Trail winds through the rain-drenched Siuslaw National Forest.
“You can come out and hike this trail pretty much all year as it’s a pretty gentle downhill with a lot of switchbacks,” noted USFS Manager, George Buckingham. “It’s only 3 miles round trip and a fairly easy grade so you can bring small children and they do just fine.”
Buckingham and USFS Recreation Specialist, JW Cleveland, were our trail guides for an amazing adventure into a unique area of the forest – one characterized by a marvelous payoff for our time and efforts.
But JW cautioned, “Rain gear is a necessity this time of year! Be sure to have it in your vehicle and then make the call about taking it when you get to the trailhead. It can get really wet in here so you could need the gear. You want to make sure you’ve got a camera too because you’re going to see some pretty amazing things.”
The Drift Creek Trail is amazing until you arrive at something even better and bigger that will take your breath away: a 240-foot long cable suspension bridge!
“The feeling that you have is really a bit like being suspended off the ground – a hundred feet off the ground, noted Buckingham. “There’s a stream down below you and a waterfall flooding in so it really triggers your auditory senses too. It’s quite a neat experience.”
Anchored by cables and ties that are cemented into opposing bluffs, the bridge holds over a hundred fifty thousand pounds, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
While the bridge does offer a bit of a bounce, the thirty-inch wide tread is perfectly safe and the bird’s-eye view will leave you spellbound.
As does Drift Creek Falls, a 75-foot freefall, whopper of a waterfall that’s located immediately below you.
Buckingham said something “really big happened here last summer.”
”The entire rock face of the falls tumbled into the stream below and the stream is actually under the rock now – it goes underground where as there used to be a pool.”
That’s right – after millions of years of standing tall, more than 150 feet of basalt rock wall fell into Drift Creek.
“There’s one boulder down there that would fill up most of the parking lot in front of my office, noted Buckingham with a chuckle. “As you can see columnar basalt has strongly vertical joints and the water worked in there over time – probably over thousands of years in this wet climate and eventually gravity took over and ‘boom’ – just slipped off.”
The sound of the crashing rock wall must have been deafening – perhaps even terrifying - but fortunately, no one was in the area when it happened in August of 2010.
Nevertheless, it is a thrill to see from ay up high and it’s the sort of hiking experience best enjoyed this time of year.
“Now is the time to get out and view the falls,” added Cleveland. “That’s especially true after a large rain event. If you come here in the summertime when the water flow is lighter, it just isn’t the same.”
“People do love to come here,” added Buckingham. “It is fantastic to provide unique places like this for people to recreate in, get close to a rugged outdoor setting and get some exercise at the same time. It’s well worth your time for a visit.”
Drift Creek Falls:
From Portland, travel U.S. 99W south, then Oregon 18 west. At Rose Lodge look for signs and turn left onto Bear Creek County Road. Travel approximately 3.5 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 17. Follow the sign and continue seven miles to the Drift Creek trailhead and parking area.
From Lincoln City, travel south approximately one mile on U.S. 101. Turn left onto Drift Creek Road, then right onto South Drift Creek Road for a quarter mile. Turn left on Forest Service Road 17 for approximately ten miles to the Drift Creek trailhead and parking area.
‘Fall Wanderings’ are close to home getaways that you can enjoy on one tank of gas but they are a distant world away from the city.
These are the fall days when you'd like to shout: "This is why I live here;" especially when you are on a journey high on the spine of a ridgeline atop Bald Peak State Park, according to OPRD Manager, Bryan Nielsen.
“This park the park was bald – really! It got it’s name from the large meadow here - there were no trees – but that’s sure changed. Trees everywhere now, except the meadow.”
Bald Peak has been a parkland since the 1931 and offers competing views that may steal your heart:
Willamette Valley to the east where Cascade Mountain peaks dominates the horizon on a clear day.
Plus, Tualatin Valley to the west - with farms nestled on rising flanks of the Oregon Coast Range Hills.
Both views may inspire you at a state park day-use site that soothes the soul during Fall’s quiet times.
Bald Peak facilities include a small picnic area, small restroom but not much more - No bike trails, no overnight camping - it’s a restful wayside, a stop on a mountain top to give you a pause on your journey from here to there.
The sweeping views to the Willamette valley are just part of the reason to make Bald Peak State Park a getaway.
Towering doug fir trees provide a sheltering canopy to all kinds of picnic tables that stretch out across this seven acre parkland.
A perfect place for a picnic lunch; even a family reunion but it may also serves as a launching point for a daylong adventure.
From atop Bald Peak, a wavy ribbon of asphalt carries your four-wheeled land schooner south to Dayton, Oregon. From Dayton, stay on Oregon State Highway 221 for approximately eight miles and pull into Maud Williamson State Park.
“Another great place to pull off with absolutely wonderful scenery,” noted Nielsen. A place to get out and stretch your legs, let the dog out and maybe have some lunch. One of those Sunday drive stops that we all enjoy and we don’t do often enough.”
Enormous Doug firs shelter the picnic sites and a rough-hewn post-and-beam timber shelter can be reserved for larger groups.
This is a park that’s entertained families since 1934, when the Williamson family donated the land to Oregon.
“There is an old residence on site that’s no longer occupied and it is the original family farmhouse. Of course, the park is very close to the Wheatland Ferry.
In fact, a quick dash down an intersecting lane to the Wheatland Ferry dock where the Daniel Matheny drops her steel gate - unloads passengers and quickly takes on more for the short ride across the broad Willamette River.
There was a time when ferry travel was a common and necessary experience across and along the length of the Willamette River, but not anymore.
While auto drivers and cyclists will have to pay a small fee for the short journey from shore to shore, pedestrians still ride for free. So consider parking in the adjacent lot and simply walk aboard for a ride across and back.
Once you’ve landed on the Willamette River’s eastern shore, it’s little more than 25 miles to reach a place where bird song replaces the auto sounds.
If you like to hike, you’ve many trails to choose at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge – just south of Salem and off the busy Interstate Highway.
Try on my favorite route called the “Rail Trail” where a wooden lane keeps your feet out of the mud and stretches several hundred yards to reach a wooden view blind. The blind provides shelter but also has a large windows so you can watch the wildlife show in the adjacent ponds and wetlands:
ducks, geese, shorebirds – perhaps even a rare peregrine falcon.
“We try to keep any structures low key, low stature and camouflaged,” noted wildlife biologist Molly Monroe. “We even paint them up so they’re not a huge eyesore, but it offers a nice place to get out of the elements for a break.”
That’s the nature of Ankeny Wildlife Refuge - one of three Willamette Valley refuges established in the 60's to protect habitat. Each consists of wetlands and ponds and open grassy fields, framed by crew cut stubble fields and towering oaks.
From wild lands to parklands, fall wanderings put you in touch with a different pace of Oregon travel.
“Land is becoming scarce in this part of the valley,” added Nielsen. “I really think it’s important for us to treasure these and take care of them and protect them.”
Wildlife viewing opportunities at Ankeny continue into spring and don’t forget Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Areas too – places like Sauvie Island near Portland and Fern Ridge Wildlife Area near Eugene; each provides plenty of wildlife viewing.