BLACK ROCK MTN BIKES
Some say it’s the speed, others say it’s the jumps, while few argue that there are risks, all agree that mountain biking can offer a true adrenalin rush.
And why wouldn’t it? Speeding down a narrow forested trail – weaving left and right so to stay on the right track, but with jarring bumps and jumps that shake, rattle and roll you along.
Suddenly, a five-foot tall dirt berm appears out of nowhere and tests your agility as you fly airborne high above the ground.
It’s the rush of speed and the test of stamina that mountain bike riders find when they travel to one of the hottest locales in Oregon.
It’s called “Free Riding” and it’s on a little piece of cycling heaven where the riders catch “big air” across 500 acres of Oregon State Forest at Black Rock Mountain in Polk County.
The volunteer organization that makes it all work is called the Black Rock Mountain Bike Association or “BRMBA” for short.
Rich Bontrager, the association president, told me that the group is now seven years old and 1,500 members strong.
He noted that it all started with a simple dream.
“I think we all need to help get people off the couch and out in the forest … to see that there’s other stuff out here than the city pavement or a computer game – it’s that sort of thing that draws folks – something new and different and exciting.”
It all begins with designing the features that riders seek at Black Rock; features that include ramps, jumps and berms – that are approved by the Oregon Department of Forestry and then built by the club members.
The trail designers can also name the varied projects and include such imaginative names like “Sunday Stroll,” “Grannie’s Kitchen” and “Bonzai Downhill.”
The runs and the stunts have been designed and built with the approval of Oregon Department of Forestry under the “Adopt A Trail” program.
BRMBA members are at Black Rock each day to care for the site and make certain that it’s not abused.
Bontrager noted that the concept of a mountain bike destination play area is a first on the Oregon State Forest: “Forest managers take a look at our proposals and make sure the ideas won’t create an environmental hazard or be too close to a watershed.”
BRMBA member, Todd Glascow, a longtime rider, said that “feature” ideas are really born of the experiences that riders have as they take on trails across the United States.
“Oh yes – we ride other areas, see other things and incorporate them into our own ideas and then take a spin on it. While some material is bought and some donated, a good majority of the wood that we use is fallen timber found in the forest.”
Bontrager agreed and added, “If we do move some dirt we try to cover it back up a little bit so that it can re-naturalize or re-forest itself and look natural again. Once we’re done with these structures, we’ll actually lay them back out so they decompose in the forest.”
Some of the runs are so steep that riders can reach speeds of 40 mile per hour, so each rider covers up from head to toe with plastic and neoprene rubber protection that they call “armor.”
The bikes that they ride are specially designed to take punishing workouts across the forest – aluminum framed bikes with heavy-duty front and rear air shocks and disc brakes are common and the bikes can reach $5,000 or more.
Wade Youngblood said that beginners can get started for far less: “The used market is good way to break into the sport – a good used bike goes for about a thousand dollars. If you buy new, you’re looking at four to six thousand for a top of the line bike.”
Wade’s father, Owen Youngblood, said that the affordability of the sport drew him to share the outdoor experience with his son – plus, there’s been a bonus: he’s lost twenty pounds since he started riding at Black Rock two years ago.
“It’s always fun to ride with someone who’s better than you are because that will push you to the next step…and that’s why I enjoy riding with my son – he’s typically in the lead and I do my best to catch him.”
Whether catching big air or enjoying the freedom that comes from speeding down a forest trail on two wheels, the riders agree that there’s something for every level of experience at Black Rock Mountain.
“You’re out here in the trees and you’re away from everything else,” noted Glascow. “You’re far away from the daily grind. You can have a stressful day or stressful week and you come out here and ride a bike – it’s all gone!”
Other Trails to Explore:
Adventure of a different sort waits for bike riders who visit Stub Stewart State Park in Washington County.
In fact, new construction on “free ride” trails with features similar to those you will find at Black Rock are currently under construction at Stewart – in addition to the 17 miles of hiking and biking trails that already exist. Look for completion of the new “mountain bike only” trails later this Fall.
Don’t forget to check out Ride Oregon either! It’s a wonderful resource – a bike riding clearing house of sorts - that can put you on the right track to other mountain bike trails across the state.
OREGON ROCK HOUNDS
You could call Brad Newport’s backhoe a “time machine” - as it crawls across his “Holleywood Ranch” (541-405-5990) near Sweet Home, Oregon.
“Everyone has his or her hobby,” noted the ranch owner. “For some people it’s fishing or hunting – crafts – and for me, it’s right here – under the ground. I love it so much because I know that everyone who comes out here is going to have a great time. You just can’t help it if you’re a rock hound.”
Each chunk of earth that Newport’s “time machine” lifts out a piece of Oregon pre-history.
This time, the Rock Hounds who gathered to sort through the dirt and debris were members of the Tualatin Valley Gem Club.
Each has come to Newport’s ranch for a different reason: some say it for the “discovery” of something new, others say it’s for the value of a new found treasure – all seem to agree, it’s the beauty of what they find – Petrified Wood.
“Each piece is pretty – glassy, they take a polish, they shine - especially petrified wood – it has so much character,” noted geologist Taylor Hunt.
The “Holleywood Ranch” doesn’t have cows, sheep or horses – but it does have something more wonderful.
Cedar, maple, alder, oak, plus 54 other known wood species - all of it petrified wood dating back 30 million years – have been found on the site.
It’s the site of an ancient collection of wood that washed up on these Cascade Mountain foothills millions of year ago - a time when Sweet Home, Oregon was oceanfront.
All of it is down deep in the ground – and requires shoveling – scraping – wiping – 30 million years of mud to bring the 21st century to light.
Taylor Hunt described what it all might have looked like so long ago:
“We would have looked out to open ocean or an inlet or bay – there could have been driftwood here, but looking behind us there wouldn’t have been any cascades – just going in a straight shot into Eastern Oregon.”
30 million years ago volcanic activity was common across the Oregon landscape – Hunt says, think of Mt St Helens times 100.
“Roughly 30 million years ago that velocity with huge volcano eruptions like Mt St Helens – ripped the trees up – branches, logs, everything and brought it this way and then it gets deposited as outwash that’s followed by ash that buried it and fossilized it.”
Most of the petrified wood are small fragments from the past, noted club member Carl Weaver who had his hands full with scores of rocks that he found:
”This is my first trip here and it is looking like it’s going to be a good trip with lots of rock for only 30 minutes of digging. I don’t think that’s too bad because I’ve been some places where you dig 6-8 hours and only had 2-3 pieces to show for it - so this is pretty good.”
Every now and then someone gets lucky – like John VanLoo who found an intact petrified branch from off a larger tree.
“That’s a trophy right there,” noted the excited VanLoo. “It’s actually the first log I’ve ever found and I was shaking as I dug it out. I was pretty excited.”
All the Rockhounds agree that the mystery of their unique adventure keeps them coming back for more.
“Ah, it’s the camaraderie, noted Weaver. “Getting with other people and visiting and everybody gets a chance to share their finds that way. Plus, you always know you’re going to be the one to come home with a super big piece. Everyone has fun with it that way too.”
Newport noted that Rockhounding is a “blood sport!” Once it’s in your blood, it never, ever leaves:
“I do like it when other people find something cool, especially when it’s my son or daughter, but I still want to find it – to be the first human that’s seen something that old - it’s just the rock hound in me.”
HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE HIGH DESERT
It’s funny how some of the best surprises are often found right in your own backyard.
So it is from the eastern Cascades point of view where elbowroom is measured by the wide-open vistas of snow-shrouded landscapes; the kinds of scenes that capture your heart and may lead you to wonder aloud: “Why have I never traveled this way before?”
It is a question on many visitors’ minds at a place where the answer is easy to find and higher education is center stage at the High Desert Museum near Bend.
You’ll agree with the staff’s adage that this remarkable complex of displays, demonstrations, and hands-on events make the museum “more like an expedition than an exhibition.”
According to museum spokesperson Dana Whitelaw, the museum examines and explains the natural history and the special qualities of high desert life:
“They may have seen the sign on the highway for years and finally stopped in and people on a regular basis are blown away by how much is here. They experience so much of the west through art, cultural and natural history and the wildlife. We are proud that we can be that relevant.”
From birds of prey, such as hawks and eagles, to river otters and porcupines, this is a place where you can see and learn about the arid Intermountain West, which includes portions of eight western states and the Canadian province of British Columbia.
The museum spreads across 150 acres filled with exhibits and demonstrations. A mile-long trail goes through twenty-five acres of trailside exhibits, including a trout stream, otter ponds, porcupine dens, and historic interpretive displays of frontier life and industry.
A favorite part for me is the Earl A. Chiles Center and a walking tour through vignettes of life called “Spirit of the West.”
This timeline stroll covers thousands of years in the span of a few hundred feet. Along the way, you are invited into a Native American campsite to learn how hardy vegetation, abundant wildlife, and a mineral-rich terrain sustained generations of natives.
Then come the explorers and the fur trappers, the miners and sheepherders and sodbusters, and finally the immigrants, fresh off the Oregon Trail.
All of this is explained through sights and sounds that put you in the scenes from Stone Age to rustic dirt roads in a western frontier town.
Few places convey the story of humans on the desert as well as this experience, including how the mines, then the ranches, and then the railroads brought more and more people to the desert, so that by the 1880s, small cottage industries began to sprout and, in many ways, forever change the face of the desert.
A new large-scale exhibit called “Sin in the Sagebrush” serves up sights and sounds and role players in costumes to put you into a scene from Oregon’s most recent past.
Museum curator Bob Boyd told me that cowhands, buckaroos, trappers and miners enjoyed a brief escape from the drudgery of daily routines inside the Frontier Saloon:
“For many thousands of people, going west in itself was taking a chance – and if the weather killed your sheep or if your mining claim wasn’t paying off – you were a risk taker just showing up. So, perhaps one more turn of the card or spin of that roulette wheel and things might turn around for you.”
Other “risk takers” of the same era included countless “homesteaders” like Mrs. Blair, (portrayed in full costume by local volunteer Linda Evans) who help you to see and understand how tough life was in the high desert as you stroll through her replica farmstead from the 1880’s.
She admitted that t hardest part of all was, “Loneliness, because we’re forty miles from Prineville and it takes two days to get there. I go maybe four or five times a year. So, we do get lonely and the children keep us busy, but I dearly love to have visitors.”
You’ll love seeing the many wildlife species on display at the museum too.
Hawks, eagles, and turkey vultures are frequently seen soaring over the wide expanse of the desert, but at the museum you can see them all close at hand and learn about their special adaptations for survival.
“When it’s behind a screen or behind glass, you’re so removed,” noted wildlife curator Nolan Harvey. “But when you’re up close you can see the feathers move, you see the bird move and pay attention to you – that captures your heart and hopefully makes you want to know more about the animal and gives you that bond.”
The close connection with wildlife is a lasting legacy message from the museum’s found, Donald Kerr. Kerr owned a passion for wildlife and he was a big believer that animals can connect with newcomers and perhaps change attitudes about the high desert.
“We’re very proud that all the animals you see here were either captive born or they have been through rehabilitation and cannot be released, added Harvey. “Our wildlife get a second chance at life to educate the rest of us.”
Whether education or recreation, the High Desert Museum will capture your heart and bring you back time and again.
“It’s a real jewel,” noted Whitelaw. “A true treasure of Central Oregon!”
DIGGING INTO OREGON'S PAST
Oregon offers a treasure trove of interesting places and fun activities that can reveal much about our region’s past.
In fact, one Eastern Oregon town offers fascinating lessons in “pre-history,” that – with a bit of imagination and some handiwork – can transport you to a quite different Oregon.
In Fossil, Oregon all you need are some simple tools, keen eyes and curiosity to learn more about the state – as you dig into Oregon’s past.
Eastern Oregon’s gigantic landscape holds on to memories – old homestead sites – where families once worked the land and carved out their livelihoods across the high desert.
Time has passed most of them by and what often remains today are small reminders in a big country that are worth a pause to consider.
Fossil, Oregon is worth more than a pause! Especially if you enjoy history, like to get your hands dirty and really dig buried treasures!
“You take a rock, crack it open – and there’s a fossil or two,” noted Wheeler School District Superintendent, Brad Sperry. “It’s that simple! Our entire area contains fossils. So, it’s really a matter of how much work and time you wish to spend digging then slicing open shale rocks that determines the quality of the fossil that you collect.”
It’s a much different slice of outdoor life for the visitors who stroll through the back gates at Fossil’s Wheeler High School – pass under the goal posts of the school’s football field and then take a step back in Oregon history.
It’s the only public fossil dig area in Oregon that offers surprises with each handful of dirt and rock that you turn over.
Sperry added that the area has been known to the locals for years: “Oh yes, it’s been kind of a local secret, the community has known of it and they come up and kick around in the rocks to pick up a fossil or two. About eight years ago, we were discovered and today, there are even websites dedicated to the Fossil Field – lots of folks come to visit.”
Today, the fossils that you dig reveal a much different scene in this part of Eastern Oregon.
In fact, 30 million years ago the region was more akin to today’s Oregon Coast Range Forest – a temperate rain forest with ancient firs and cedars and ferns and even prehistoric insects. All were covered and trapped by ancient mudflows born of volcanic eruptions that were a common geologic feature in this part of Oregon.
All of it adds up to a stark contrast to the high desert sage and juniper country that surrounds Fossil in the 21st century.
Just down the street, the new Paleo Lands Institute will teach you much about the fossils that you collect.
The Institute enjoyed it’s grand opening this past summer and Anne Mitchell, the Institute’s Director said the PLI provides a new way to look at the high desert.
“Many people come out to Fossil and say, ‘I want to dig up a fossil.’ Now, when they actually get here, they start learning about the fossil’s context in history. Our center was designed to be sort of a hands-on, get a little dirty and comfortable with ancient history location and I think it helps people see that history is real and not just something to read about in books.”
Sperry noted that fossil digging isn’t free – the district appreciates a small donation – and he emphasizes that there’s little need to take more than a handful of the fossils. He’d rather see more people coming back again and again instead of loading up by the bucketful.
He also said that simple tools, like a hammer and chisel – plus, a bucket – are all you need to get started.
“It’s all about kids and families and the excitement of finding fossils and realizing they’re 30 million years old. It is like Christmas morning and seeing what Santa brought you. Well, take the rocks, crack them open and it’s Christmas time. You never know what you’re going to find.”
CRABBING CLASS 101
When you try something new, it pays to go with the pros!
That’s what more than thirty newcomers recently discovered when they signed up for the ODFW’S “Crab Class,” a course from the agency’s menu of adventures called Outdoor Skills.
Instructors, biologists and volunteers teach and assist students in the varied 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.”
Mike Hoge and his son, Jerrad Hoge, came all the way from Silverton to pick up pointers on the crabbing recreation.
“I did it a little bit as a kid,” noted Mike. “But I didn’t really have any instruction, so I thought some good lessons would help and I’m glad we came today.”
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.
The first order of business was how to place the bait inside the crab trap or rings. The bait of choice for the day’s adventure: chicken!
Jennifer Erickson said that she didn’t mind the tradeoff of chicken for crab.
In fact, she her husband, Steve Erickson, traveled from Portland for the chance to learn something new about a seafood they really enjoy eating for dinner.
“It’s really fun to go out with experts,” shed noted. “To be coached and helped along the way before doing it on our own just seemed to make a lot of sense to us. Plus, crab is so tasty – that’s a bonus.”
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.”