Grant's Getaways for October 20, 2012


by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on October 21, 2012 at 11:04 AM


Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake, in the southern Oregon Cascades, is a paradise for those who savor scenic driving, camping, hiking, and wildlife watching. The lake’s translucent surface and dark, cold depths make for a scene of striking beauty.

It is a place of moody moments, and like countless visitors I am overwhelmed by its size and awed by its sublime beauty. Its brilliant blue is magical, even enchanting, and yet its history speaks of ancient and fiery times.

Our recent visit explored the lake from water level point of view on the Crater Lake Boat Tour – an up close look at Oregon’s striking azure beauty.

Many people begin their visit at Crater Lake Lodge – the stone and timber destination for nearly a century – where folks will grab a bite, relax and unwind – even spend the night and soak up the gorgeous scenery that lies some two thousand feet below.

It is distant scenery for sure so grab your day pack, lace up hiking boots, don’t forget water and a camera for if you want a closer view to Crater Lake, you must hike the trail to Cleetwood Cove.

The 700-foot elevation drop on the Cleetwood Trail is done in a series of switchbacks but it doesn’t take long to reach the boat dock where Capt Rick and Ranger Dave will welcome you aboard:

Hikers reserve a spot in advance to step aboard one of the eight daily Crater Lake boat tours. The boats seat up to 48 passengers and sport names like Rogue, Klamath and Umpqua.

“Mount Mazama’s eruption was 100-times as powerful as the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980,” according to park ranger Dave Harrison, who hosted our two-hour voyage across the six-mile-wide lake. He added, “Today its ash lies scattered across eight states and three Canadian provinces.”

As we slowly trolled the azure water, all eyes of our two-score party were stunned by the size of the lake and the 6-mile distance from shore to shore--a gigantic scene you cannot grasp from the high rim.

Harrison noted that Crater Lake - when it was Mount Mazama - was taller than Mt Hood. “It is so calm and serene and peaceful out here today but that peace belies the violent nature of the birth of this place,” said Harrison.

The two hour tour motored near the rugged lake shoreline and offered unique points of view.

Harrison noted our wonder and added, “When you look up the sides of the crater wall, you’re actually looking at the insides of the mountain that started forming about four hundred thousand years ago. The different colored layers, the milky white, tan, and dark gray that you see, those are the ages of the lava as the mountain grew taller.”

He called the lake a “window on time” at places like the “Devil’s Backbone,” a rocky spine created as surface cracks allowed lava to ooze up and then freeze. It is now resistant to erosion from sun, wind, and water.

It took five hundred years for the Mount Mazama caldera to become a lake – fed by 44 feet of snow fall that produce 30 billion gallons of water – each year.

He added that the azure blue color is in part, a reflection of the sky but the 2,000 foot depth and clarity of the lake contribute to the rich color too.

As we wrapped up our journey, Dave left us with this lingering thought: “It’s good to protect places like this and watch the natural processes of life continue without human interruption. Many people drive to the lake, but never take time to explore it from the water--in fact, it’s surprising how few people know that boat tours on Crater Lake are also part of this special recreation scene.”   

It’s the immensity of the lake, the surrounding land and what happened here thousands of years ago that prompts a respectful and contemplative silence that lasts long after the boat has returned to the dock.

I was surprised to learn that less than one percent of Crater Lake visitors actually make the trek to Cleetwood Cove to experience the boat tour. That really is a shame because the trip offers an unmatched educational experience and stunning lesson on the geologic history of the northwest.

There are other overnight options beyond Crater Lake Lodge that include two National Park Campgrounds. You could also consider the nearby Joseph Stewart State Park Recreation Area and Campground.

Bonney Butte Raptors

On a clear day, the view from Bonney Butte onto southern flanks of Mt Hood is brilliant and awesome. Raptor specialist Dan Sherman said that his camouflaged blind is the “best seat of the house:”

“Well, there aren’t many offices that have a view out a window like this one.

I look straight in front toward Mt Hood and then off to the west as well and as I look, I pick out all the little black dots.”

Sherman is part of Hawkwatch International’s ‘Raptor Banding Team’ and those “little black dots” will take your breath away when they become big raptor birds that soar right overhead.

Sometimes they do more than soar – they also attack.

That’s what happened when a large red tail hawk swooped in to Sherman’s site and with its razor sharp talons became entangled in a fine mesh fabric called a “mist net.”

The net panels surrounded a feathered prey called a ‘lure.”

Sherman wasted little time removing the big broad-winged raptor.

He carefully bundled up the bird’s legs, talons and wings and held it close to his chest.

“Most red tails are not biters,” he noted. “But occasionally you’ll get one that will lunge at you. I am sure that if I stuck my finger in its face it would bite it. Well, that was the hard part, now let’s process her.”

Sherman and fellow team member Jade Ajani quickly and quietly weighed, measured and banded the captured bird.

“It can be pretty exciting when you're working with hawks,” whispered Sherman – a 12-season veteran at the stunning locale called Bonney Butte.

He added with a smile, “These birds can really make the adrenalin flow!”

Bonney Butte is on a ridgeline that runs north and east of Mt Hood toward the Columbia River. It is a place where the raptors would rather soar than flap their wings.

“The birds are migrating south and looking out for other birds,” noted Ajani. “They look to see if other birds have good lift from thermal updrafts that are created off the ridges. Plus, you often have westerly winds that hit the ridges and create the lift – that is what the birds are after – saves them energy to soar or glide rather than fly.”

Birds are drawn to the capture site by feathered non-native prey called a “lure.” Sherman jerked a cord that lifted the lure and another sharp-eyed raptor was decoyed into the mist net panels.

Speed is everything in the capture and banding process. Not only to free the trapped raptor and catch more, but if stranded too long, the predator can easily become prey of another soaring raptor.

The team will capture scores of raptors on any given fall day and usually half a dozen species are represented. Some, like a sharp-shinned hawk that Ajani held tight prior to release, sported a razor sharp beak.  They are fascinating birds that are rarely seen so close.

A half-mile away, several volunteer “observers” were perched on a rocky outcropping of the Bonney Butte ridge.

Hawkwatch International’s Adam Baz said that the ever-watchful volunteers count every raptor species they can from one of the most remarkable view sites in Oregon

“We can see 7 and sometimes 8 different mountains from up here – that view coupled with the amount of hawks that come through here make it a really incredible place to work.

Hawkwatch International has been monitoring, trapping and banding hundreds of raptors since they began operation atop Bonney Butte in 1994.

Their record of raptors has helped to contribute new understanding of birds that travel from the Arctic to Central America.

Bonney Butte's geography makes it a first rate laboratory! “The diversity of species we get here is astounding,” noted Baz. “On any given day we will see every species of hawk in the area, plus eagles and falcons too. It is amazing!”

It is also open to visitors every day. If you come – bring water,” added Baz with a chuckle. “The weather changes quickly up here too, so a rain jacket is a good idea. A camera, binoculars and hiking boots are ‘must haves’ as well.”

I hope you make time to visit Bonney Butte for there’s simply no other place like it in Oregon. If you go, know that the drive is long, the road is extremely rocky and the site is remote. Be prepared and allow for a two-hour trip from Portland.

Hawkwatch International continues the capture and banding and observation work at Bonney Butte through October.

Ready, Set, Fore!

There’s a new way to “play a round” in the great Oregon outdoors but surprise: you don’t need clubs, carts or golf balls to play this round of golf. On this week’s “Grant’s Getaway,” Grant shows us why you may need to yell “Fore” at the new and very first forest disc golf course set in an Oregon State Park.

Mike Phillips loves his “tee shot” so he carefully eyes the right line down the fairway --- before he lets the disc fly to hit speeds of 60 miles per hour. Phillips is a disc golfer; one of the best around and he has a bag of discs to prove it.

He uses up to 14 different discs in a round of disc golf and each has a specific purpose: It’s a bit like ball golf that way – if you need to hit that low shot, you use that 2-iron because you need the distance or maybe you need that high flop shot so you use a 9-iron or a wedge…it’s same thing with disc golf.”

Phillips is especially proud of the brand new “mountain-style” disc golf course in a forested setting inside Stub Stewart State Park.

That’s no surprise – after all, he designed it!

“It was like a dream come true! You always hope that you’ll get to a point where you can help design a course or make a change to a course – but when I was invited to walk this terrain I knew this was a really nice place to put in a course.”

The new 18-hole or “basket” course stretches across forty forested, hilly acres that presents a unique challenge to even the most experienced disc golfer.

Park Ranger, Steve Kruger noted that wasn’t the original intent but changed with Mike’s leadership and vision.

“Originally, we thought let’s put in 9 holes of an easy level,” said Kruger. “Something that’s basic but Mike insisted that if you want people to come and make the park a destination, we needed to do more. He was right!”

Stub Stewart State Park has been a fine camping destination since 2007 and offers miles of trails for biking or hiking or horseback riding.

The park includes a spacious campground plus rental cabins for folks who don’t own a trailer or tent.

The spectacular views are a fine compliment to a state park that’s an easy drive – less than thirty miles  - west of Portland.

Kruger said that new forest disc golf course is the latest addition to the park’s recreation scene: “We did our best to plan this and design it in a way that would flow naturally with trails to walk so that it isn’t just a march through the woods.”

Phillips says much thanks is due to the all-volunteer effort from metro area golfers who belong to Stumptown Disc Golf – a club that helped build the course.

Now, the word is slowly getting out about something special at Stub Stewart that is a lot of fun with many challenges.

“This is a technical mountain style-trail based course,” said Kruger. “I tell folks to play the trail, not the basket and play conservative.”

“Disc golf is a sport for all generations,” added Phillips. “You don’t have to be in perfect physical health to do it, doesn’t require a lot of money and it’s anyone for the cost of buying a disc.”

There is no fee to play a round of disc golf at Stub Stewart or any of the other Oregon State Parks that offer courses but you will need to pay a daily parking permit.

Phillips added that for little more than $20 you purchase three discs, (he recommends Next Adventure) that include a driver, a mid range and putter discs.

Downtown Salmon

If you spend much time traveling across Oregon this month, you will begin to see and feel the early signs of the changing seasons. For me, one of the surest signs of transition from summer to fall is the many places you might cast a lure or drift bait for salmon along coastal Oregon.

There’s a unique fishery on the Southern Oregon coastline at Coos Bay where a community’s determined effort and strong commitment has made a difference in restoring a nearly extinct salmon run.

Coos Bay’s waterfront streetlights sparkle when you join longtime guide, Rick Howard, on a first light fishing trip in September.

It takes only a few minutes of travel across the smooth estuary in Howard’s comfortable 25-foot boat to reach the salmon rich water that is marked by fog-shrouded silhouettes.

They are fishermen and with their fishing rods bent over double and their nets flying high and they are a sure sign that eager salmon are on the bite.

If you want to catch one, noted the longtime fishing guide, you must prepare a “plug cut” herring for bait, thread it onto hooks that are tied to a five foot leader that’s secured to a brass swivel with a four ounce lead sinker. The tackle and terminal gear must be trolled just off the estuary bottom with the falling tide.

Or – if you lack the skill and experience - sign up to join Howard for a day on the bay. Then you can watch in awe and admiration as he scans the waterway for safe passage, deftly handles his boat through watercraft traffic and prepare the baited rods for you and your fishing partners. 

“Fishing at the right speed and at the right depth are key points,” noted Howard with a knowing smile. “You must also make sure the baits are clean and don’t have human scent on them.”

This is September fishing on Coos Bay, where the downtown salmon run has begun and Rick Howard is quick, efficient at catching them relying on skills born of a lifetime of guiding fishermen across these waters.

“Basically, this is where Coos River starts,” said Howard. “These fall Chinook salmon are fresh from the sea and they are coming right here – across the 10,000 acre estuary in front of town. They linger here a bit to make sure this is their home water and it is probably the most productive spot to be fishing at this time of year.”

Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife Biologist – Tom Rumreich – agreed that the downtown Coos Bay salmon fishery is one of the most productive in the state.

But then, for the past thirty years, he has helped to build it that way.

Rumreich helps guide the local ODFW “STEP” or “Salmon, Trout Enhancement Program” that has uniquely brought together thousands of local volunteers, businesses and even school children to raise money, build hatcheries and do the heavy lifting to bring back a basin-wide fall Chinook salmon run.

“Our STEP project for fall salmon is unique from the standpoint of how many people work for the common goal of putting more fish here for everyone,” noted the fishery biologist. “There’s great pride in that fact.”

There’s good reason to be proud when you consider the Coos River watershed’s legacy of poor salmon habitat – habitat that was stripped from the streams by old logging practices called “splash damming.”

In a splash dam operation, temporary wooden dams collected the logs and then in a heartbeat, the dams were broken open to quickly move the big wood downstream to reach Coos Bay’s lumber mills.

The splash dam era began in the late 1800’s and didn’t end until 1958. Nearly a century later, Rumreich said the damage to salmon runs was devastating.

“Biologists prior to me said you could walk up these rivers and not find a five gallon bucket of gravel in any of them. In fact, some biologists back then reported that the Coos River Fall Chinook went from 100,000 fish strong to extinction.”

But today it’s a different story – More than 3,000 STEP volunteers raise and more than 2 million baby salmon each year. The adult volunteers work with school children to help capture the adult fish, spawn them and then each spring, volunteers remove the adipose fin that marks each fish’s hatchery origin.

The Coos Bay STEP project is not only a hatchery program, but funds and provides manpower for river habitat restoration projects too. The varied projects help restore the rivers so that wild salmon get a boost to increase natural salmon spawning production too.

Eric Farm, former Director of the Coos Bay Chamber of Commerce, added that the projects help further environmental education for local students:

“Our kids hold the big chinook in their hands, they spawn the fish, clip the adipose fins off the smolt and send them down the raceway. Those experiences will stick with them the rest of their lives. Our community put their hands into this project and now – after thirty years – we are reaping the rewards of that effort.”

Rick Howard said the rewards are shared with thousands of sports anglers each Fall.  He said the last year more than 11,000 fall Chinook were caught by anglers who spent nearly $3.5 million in the local community.

Rumreich added it’s no surprise that the project’s community support has been wide-spread and remarkable.

“People in our community benefit - not only by catching the fish but the economic boost that comes from fishing gear sales, motel rooms, restaurant meals and so much more. “It’s so amazing to see all of these people out here enjoying themselves in a great place, a great community – it’s a uniquely Oregon experience.”