Metolius River, OR in October

28 01 2020
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Picture perfect from my campsite.

In late October 2019, two things converged: A couple of midweek days off, and a forecast of 70-degree sunny days for the Metolius River area. The Metolius River campgrounds stay open until mid December. With such a terrific forecast and time off, I scrambled to pack up one last time and get some more camping and river watching in!

The Metolius River valley and its Camp Sherman zip code are one of Oregon’s jewels. The river is super clean as it emerges as a fully grown river from a lava tube at the head of the valley. The valley is populated by orange-red barked Ponderosa Pine. And the Forest Service conducts regular “controlled burns” so that the underbrush never grows too high. The valley road winds along the river but also climbs to vistas of nearby Cascade peaks such as the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson. This means that a drive to the campground immerses you in a lush, peaceful forest with a blue ribbon trout stream populated by hopeful fly fishers, punctuated by blue skies and snowy peaks.

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10,450 ft Mount Jefferson

70 degree days in late October in the Metolius area are not the norm, but they do occur often enough that it’s worth keeping an eye on the weather in case they pop up. The area sits in a rain shadow just east of the Cascade crest. It’s guaranteed the campgrounds will be 50% empty. No reason for a reservation.

I found one of those picture perfect, lots-of-real-estate campsites with a magnificent view of the river. And not far from the rest room either!

Just behind my site, on the other side of the road, was somebody camping with some kind of tiny Airstream trailer. I set up my tent, put the pad, sleeping pad and pillows inside.

Then, I proceeded to set up the camp kitchen and the fire pit that is always a “reason to come camping.”

The valley sits in a north-south position. With a low ridge to the west and a higher, 800ft ridge on the east side.

 

I sat by the river and read my New York Times as the warmth set in. But as it was late October, I started to realize that the lower level of the sun meant an early sunset here.

 

The forecast for this area said nighttime low temperatures would be in the low 40’s. That was no problem for me. So, I brought my 32-degree down bag. This Mountain Hardwear 800-fill down bag has been terrific. It’s been warm even down to the mid 30’s.

With the sun setting and chill creeping in, I lit a campfire and hastily set about making dinner. By 7:30 p.m. it was mighty chilly and time to crawl into the sleeping bag.

With my sleeping bag zipped up, ski hat on my head and gloves, plus my two pillows, I was actually just fine sleeping through the night. In fact, I was quite surprised how comfy I felt. I looked forward to the 70-degree day following.

The next part isn’t so rosy. I went to bed at 7:30, so my 6:30 a.m. I was DONE with sleeping and very much wanted to get up and start the day. What I wasn’t expecting was while although it was light outside, the sun had not come up over the eastern side of the valley. And much of what was liquid last night was now frozen. The pump on the camp stove barely moved. It groaned and squeaked, as did I. The temperature was clearly below freezing and not the mid 40’s predicted. While I was fine tucked into my sleeping bag, outside I was in the discomfort zone, and the sun wasn’t anywhere near rising above the valley wall anytime soon! Worse, I could hear the radio coming from the tiny Airstream trailer just accoss the way. This is when I knew that for late season camping a trailer does have it merits!

I managed to pump up my stove and get a nice few cups of coffee going. Then, the fire. Still, I was a bit put off by the weather forecast. As the morning progressed, it wasn’t until 9:30 by the time the sun came up over the hill, warming everything up. So, I realized the actual maximum temperature was only a few fleeting hours today. Whilst beautiful, I decided to just head back home rather than endure another long morning! It wasn’t the night, it was the long cold morning that got to me. Nevertheless, the Metolius area is beautiful even in late fall. Perhaps a hotel night would do the trick!

 

 

 





I Love Camping and Hiking in the Metolius River Region

7 01 2015
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The Metolius River from our campsite!

Bubbling up from the ground fully-formed, the Metolius River, at Camp Sherman, Oregon, is one of the state’s most magical outdoor gems. The Metolius River Valley stretches 13 miles from the mouth. Because it lies just to the east of Santiam Pass, it is solidly in the Central Oregon ecosystem. Blessed in a rain shadow, the valley is dry most of the year – and dry-climate-friendly Ponderosa Pines dominate the forest.

There is a lot going on in the Metolius River Valley – but it’s subtle. It’s not widely advertised. First and foremost, it’s all about the river. At the head of the valley the Metolius emerges from the ground as a fully formed river. It’s not a little spring. It is urgently rushing out at its headwaters. The water is glacier snow melt coming directly from glaciers in the Three Sisters, where it disappears underground and flows for many miles in underground lava tubes, only to emerge in the Metolius River Valley. That means it’s extremely cold and pure.

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Fly fisherman on the Metolius

This river, wending its way through snags and bends, is perfect habitat for trout and salmon. The Metolius River is a national blue ribbon trout fishing stream. When visiting the area you always glimpse fly fishermen trying their luck along its banks.

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Nothing like a multistory fire!

There are several campgrounds sprinkled along the Metolius River, plus there are lodging opportunities in Camp Sherman. My personal favorite is Allen Springs Campground because it sits along a U-shaped bend in the river. There are three walk-in campsites on the U-shaped peninsula. If you score the campsite at the end of the peninsula, you have guaranteed privacy and simulated back country camping. You just need to walk your gear to it. This guarantees no RVs parked next door. No generators grumbling during the night. All you hear is the glorious burbling of the Metolius!

Forget to bring everything? Fear not. You can get what you need at the Camp Sherman General Store. Even better, the store has delectable made to order sandwiches! It’s worth not bothering to pack your lunch because you can get a scrumptious fresh hand made sandwich at the store! If you order a club sandwich they’ll be cooking the bacon right in front of you.

There’s much more. There is a hiking trail running for at least 10 miles – down one side of the river and back up the other. A visit to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery is well worth the stopover. For swimming and boating, Suttle Lake is just a few miles west of the exit for Camp Sherman off the highway. And in July, if you are up for an alpine hike through spectacular wildflowers, Three Finger Jack beckons.

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Rod pauses in front of Three Fingered Jack

On this trip my old college buddy Tully accompanied. For dinner, we used the tried-and-true Wok cooking method. Wokking is a great alternative to traditional camping meals. First and foremost it’s delicious! And fresh. It’s great for group cooking because the ingredients are all laid out and then each camper cooks their own. Some may be intimidated at first, but it’s virtually impossible to screw up a Wok meal!

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But prior to dinner there is the obligatory post-hike and pre-dinner happy hour. That requires a campfire. We violated all dietary guidelines by having a bag of Fritos. A camping secret is that Fritos and Doritos are excellent fire starters!

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Fritos are super fire starters!

No kindling??? No problem, IF you have a bag of Frito-Lay products on hand. The next thing is music. Tully provided plenty of songs from The Grateful Dead, The Eagles, and Eric Clapton. All good blended with the burbling of the Metolius River.

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Tully pickin’ on the guitar

Next day we glimpsed an unusual sight walking along the river. Turkeys!

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Turkeys!

There were 8 – 10 of them. Who knew! During a lunchtime visit to Camp Sherman we learned there are a lot of turkeys in the valley and they are a nuisance to some homeowners! The ones we saw looked innocent enough.

If you are in Central Oregon you should consider a visit to the Metolius Region!





Metolius River Never Disappoints!

22 06 2011

Right now, I’m working at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe, and that means weekends working. Sooo, to get away during Oregon’s dry season, I gotta just take off midweek. Sometimes it’s alone.

At home at the walk-in sites at Allen Springs Campground

A reliable choice is the Metolius River area – and this time it turned out perfect.

Weatherwise, that is. However, my favorite spot, Allen Springs Campground, had been taken over by the RV crowd. Nevertheless, thankfully it’s got walk-in campsites away from that scene. I found peace and was invisible from the other sites.

I had a sunny, warm spot to hang out and read!

My Keen Targhee II shoes, ready for anything!Ahh, nice, warm crackling campfire!And a windy paddle on Suttle Lake to round things out!

It was so pretty and comfy.

And simple. I just read some overdue reading material, and had a nice time with the campfire and then was lulled to sleep by the sounds of the river.

 

Recommended! Get a hand-crafted sandwich at Camp Sherman Store! I had a turkey sandwich piled HIGH with 2″ of turkey! WOW! And they cooked the bacon for it right then and there!

After a perfect night under the stars, I enjoyed a morning campfire.

Took a walk along the river in my Keen Targhee II shoes!

Following that, packed up and headed to Suttle Lake, off Oregon’s Hwy 20 with its Cascade views.

The highlight was the 30 mph winds, which were a lot of fun to play in!

The burbling Metolius is a perfect place for quality time with the kiddos!





John Day River Area, Oregon, Day 1

18 05 2011

In early May I had a couple of days off and the weather forecast called for a couple of really nice days! Having extreme cabin fever brought on by months in the Portland, Oregon gray skies, I pulled the camping gear out and headed for north central Oregon!

In spring, even in May, most Cascade camping is snow bound. So if you want to car camp, you have to look elsewhere. North Central Oregon has the Deschutes and John Day Rivers. The John Day begins way east and it’s a snow melt-fed flow. It courses through sleepy valleys and ranches before wending its way into the canyons and fossil beds of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. There are sections where the road passes right by the river – truly beautiful, especially in spring, when the valleys are still green, and the mountains are so brown you’d swear you were in the southwest.

I started in Arlington, where Oregon 19 winds south through wind swept agricultural areas and is home to thousands of wind turbines…

All along highway 19 you view wind turbines.

The turbines stretch out in every direction. It’s an area prone to constant wind, so this comes as no surprise.

It is comforting to me to know that sizable efforts are underway to tap clean sources for electricity!

There aren’t many people out there. It’s wide spaces of farms with not much in between. Instead of flat farmland like Kansas, it’s as if that same land has been upheaved everywhere. In the distance you can glimpse snowy cascade volcanoes Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams.

The first town you pass through is Condon. I’d never heard of Condon, but its lonely place in this part of Oregon is palpable. Its downtown has a cowboy feel, but also a feeling as its best years are behind, and that it is falling further into decay. Somehow I found this appealing.

There were architecturally significant buildings – crafted in the days when a human hand’s touch added character. But many were in disrepair. Still, I found this refreshing.
I’ve spend some time in Sisters and Joseph, and once in Condon, those places seem so fake – very gentrified. There, outsiders moved in and upgraded everything. Where as Condon is nakedly left alone, as it was, the bare bones of its old West Heritage laid bare. In some ways it is sad, in others, attractive.

The town still sports a Hotel, plus some other trappings of a frontier town…

The next town I came across was Fossil.

Fossil, Oregon, is another sleepy town quietly nestled in the hills of the John Day region. There, I witnessed cowboys passing the time with downturned hats on the porch of one of the general stores.

In Fossil, I realized I was nearing the John Day River. I saw postings advertising services for river running like shuttle services!

You are now in river running country!





Waldo Lake 2010 Saturday

12 09 2010

We awoke to a glorious day at Waldo Lake. I didn’t use my tent fly so I had a sky view all night – except for the fact that I wore a sleeping mask and used ear plugs. So, when I awoke it seemed dark, until I pulled off the mask to reveal a bright, gorgeous morning! The light shone some of the gorgeous early fall leaves and the colors of the moss on the rocks.

The day’s breakfast called for granola, yogurt and fruit. So we laid out blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, banana and the granola on the kitchen counter…and went at it. Now that was a satisfying meal!

Joe had a good area map and an idea about where to paddle. The plan, which I never heard about, turned out to be that we’d paddle north to a rust-colored beach where a trail comes down to the lake. Then, lunch, and hike up the trail to check out a higher lake and harvest some huckleberries! I never packed any hiking shoes, so my fate was sealed. Nevertheless, the others were to embark on a hike and get it all in.

We packed up the boats and took off from our little beach behind the campsite.

Nearing the destination, we checked out the beautiful water and the unusual rust colored rocks that seemed to be in this cove, but nowhere else on Waldo Lake.

They provided a real show of how clear Waldo Lake is!

Lunch was not an entirely primitive affair. Oh, no…Michael had a wheel of brie cheese with artisan bread…

And Joe added some wine to the lunch! Now that was some lunch.

Soon after the group headed up and out to the hiking trail and then the lake. They’d gather many berries for Sunday’s pancakes!

Not to quit early, after the hike they embarked an another kayak trip up to the far reaches of the lake where it empties to start the middle fork of the Willamette River!

Back at camp, Tim, Francis and I started preparing the burrito bar, which was our main course for dinner! The bar consisted of bell peppers, onion, chicken, refried beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, olives, and salsa…

We ate HEARTILY, and enjoyed hanging around the fire!

Then just when we thought we were stuffed, Joe brought out the dessert. Which was warmed peaches with cream topped with Cointreau. YUM!

The dreaded dishwashing ensued…guess it couldn’t be avoided…! Anyway the stars twinkled above – it was a glorious evening. We looked forward to another eventful day Sunday.





Waldo Lake Friday! Paddling in a Sea of Stars

10 09 2010


What better place to hold an end of summer Labor Day weekend kayak camping trip than Waldo Lake! It is one place guaranteed to provide a crowd-free experience! I scheduled three days for my PaddleNW Meetup group and 10 guests participated.

We weren’t disappointed. Friday Laura, myself, and Tim banged out an early departure from Portland to secure the group’s spot. I knew of a pretty peninsula with an easy landing beach that had another campsite one-minute walk away. If we could score that spot, all 10 of us could easily camp and share a single kitchen.

The drive went 100% smoothly for once! No traffic jams nor accidents. The three of us arrived about 2:00. That left plenty of time to pack the kayaks and enjoy a nice day on Waldo Lake.

The forecast was for Friday to be the warmest day followed by a sunny chillier day Saturday and then cloudy/even more cold Sunday. We were motivated to enjoy all we could Friday.

The waters at Waldo are a blue, sometimes purple blue I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s one of the four most pure lakes in the world. Those lakes are Baikal (Russia), Crater Lake (Oregon), Tahoe (California) and Waldo. Waldo doesn’t have any incoming streams. The water comes from snowmelt and underground springs.

We packed up the boats at the Shadow Bay boat launch, and then headed out onto the lake. This was to become the best Waldo Lake weekend ever!

The campsite I had in mind is on a peninsula just south of Rhododendron Island, with a beach landing. Plus it’s got a 2nd site steps away. As the leader of this trip I was a bit concerned that one of my sites would already be taken – and then we’d need to occupy separate sites where paddling between them would be required for shared meals.

As Tim, Laura and I grew closer to my preferred site, I witnessed paddlers approaching on the other side of the peninsula so I sprinted to go ashore before they did! My concerns were unfounded – these were merely day paddlers! That meant we were to get both sites – perfect!

The peninsula site is spread out with a “kitchen” consisting of a flat log suspended above

two “couch” logs – so cooking equipment can be spread out all along its length.

With the spot secured we set about making it our weekend base camp and then waited for the rest of our party. Jessie, April, and Joel made it without incident. Francis and Michael went off to the further south end of the lake and took quite a while to find us…

Joe Yuska arrived much later at night. It was so clear and still he told us we really should paddle by starlight…we did, and it was so dark and still, the lake reflected the sky – and you’d think you were paddling in a sea of stars!