John Day River Oregon: A Day Running the River!

9 07 2013

IMG_0587Fraternity brother Tully Alford and I spend some “bro time” every summer camping. This year, for our first camp-out we returned to the John Day River. It’s in dry central north Oregon, an area way below the radar of many outdoor enthusiasts, yet if offers tremendous opportunities for those venturing there! Imagine floating down a canyon-walled river. With every turn, a new world unfolds. Not a house or road to be seen. Eagles and hawks float above, bass swim below. Yet only two and a half hours from Portland!

This year we decided to float the river – camping and the using a river shuttle service to pick us up and deliver us to our car at the end of the run. The John Day River is famous for long, flat stretches of running river with rapids connecting them. And for beautiful canyons with layered rocks overhead.

IMG_0579We packed up my new 2013 Ford Escape with Jackson Kayaks Rogue 9 and Rogue 10 kayaks. These kayaks are perfect for this trip, because they are good for the whitewater stretches, but also have a rear hatch – good for storing gear and food – and a skeg for the flat sections so they can be paddled straight.

IMG_0582

Tully getting ready at the put in!

As Tully had no experience in whitewater I gave him a tutorial on entering and exiting the main current into eddies. And, I explained that in rapids there are these things called “holes,” though I couldn’t really explain what they do. So you know, a hole is a backwash behind a boulder. If your boat gets stuck in one, it can be difficult to get out. Your boat gets “sucked in” by the hole.

Running the John Day River is characterized by long stretches of flat water separated by rapids. The plan was for me to run the rapid ahead and Tully follow me through. This worked great until the very end of the day.

I was very impressed! Tully made it through everything and found it fun!

IMG_0586

Tully chills out after a rapid…

Tully began the day in a wetsuit but as the temperature rose, he felt heat-distressed and at lunch took it off. The Jackson Rogue 9’s hatch took the wetsuit with lots of spare room. Lunch was sumptuous. We found a shaded peninsula and made sandwiches of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, turkey, lettuce, cheddar cheese and tomato. Plus fresh oranges for dessert.IMG_0588

Back on the water. The river and canyons unfolded one after the other. We heard, but could not see, Bighorn Sheep in the hills above. We saw bald eagles. The occasional Smallmouth bass swam below.

The run was from Spray to Service Creek, about 17 river miles. We were told it would take all day. I never believed it, but it was true. We set off at 10:00 a.m. and took out at 4:00 and we were pretty tired. It was a great day. The John Day River took its prize in the last rapid, the hardest of the day. As we approached, I could only see the horizon line and nothing of the features below. We had agreed we did not want to bother scouting, because none of the other rapids were all that hard. As first paddler I went in. Immediately I noticed three holes and lined up my kayak to pass by each one. However, on the second hole, there turned out to be another right behind it, invisible from above. After scooting by the 2nd hole, I darted across and paddled hard past the surprise hole. Tully was not able to do that, and got stuck in that hole. I did not know this until I had made it completely past the rapid and into the pool beyond. Then I looked back and saw carnage! Tully holding on to his boat, but the paddle, spray skirt, his glasses, etc. were floating by and sinking. He looked pretty shaken up and I towed his boat to the shore and he grabbed on.

We kayaked the last stretch and hauled out. No matter, we had a GREAT day on the John Day River!

The evening meal was grilled salmon, salad and mashed potatoes. IMG_0581

IMG_0580IMG_0589

 

And lots and lots of beer! Tully caps it off with a rendition of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.” There’ll be some more campouts coming this summer!

 





Memorial Day Camping along Oregon’s John Day River – Escaping the Rain!

30 05 2011

Lazy days in Mitchell, Oregon

2011 has been one of the rainiest/coldest on record in Oregon. With only a few sunny days in the 70’s, May has felt a lot like February! The summer season typically kicks off in Oregon’s Cascades around Memorial Day but in 2011, all the mountain campgrounds are still under snow!

Solution? Head east! Oregon’s reputation for rain belies the fact that most of the state is high desert.

When most Oregonians think “high desert” they think the Three Sisters / Bend region. While that area has great weather and is beautiful, it’s become full of tourists.

Truly beautiful and overlooked is the region between Condon / Service Creek / Spray and Mitchell. Head there and you’d think you were in northern Arizona. Plus, locals are really friendly, it hasn’t been wrapped in tourist trap coffee shops, wildlife art galleries and microbreweries. It’s as it was.

I got three days off from Alder Creek so I could spend some time out there, to help celebrate my upcoming 50th birthday. My longtime friend from college Tully Alford came along. We loaded up the bikes and overburdened my VW Jetta Wagon with campfire wood and headed east! We had great weather that first day.

I’d scouted the area in early May and found this BLM Campground called Muleshoe right along the river. That was our target. Once past Service Creek, along Oregon Hwy 19, we came to the campground. True to form, the road was empty, as was the campground. We had it to ourselves!

Some campgrounds offer both sites with drive-in parking and other sites called “primitive” or “walk in.”

I have always found the walk in sites superior to the others.

These sites are more separated, with more trees and shrubs offering a more privacy and outdoorsy experience. True to form, at Muleshoe’s primitive sites were far and away the best. In this region, shade is paramount, and we picked a site with a lovely juniper tree above the picnic table.

So we set up camp, including the QuickUp shelter borrowed from my neighbors Janis and Brent Campbell! That shelter is KEY. Not only does it provide much needed shade on hot desert days, but we wound up spending a couple hours underneath it our second night, during a rainy spell!

Yes, although these photos show the sun, we had all kinds of weather in three days. We began with sun in the high 70’s, with a warm star filled evening, but day two broke cloudy. No rain until after 5:00 though. Then a cold front swept through with some wind. We weighed down the canopy so it wouldn’t blow away. I had to don a winter parka. The following morning was 100% clear, warm and bright. I ditched the fleece for shorts. But on our return through Prineville, that same day, we had some snow flurries! That’s 2011 spring in Oregon…back and forth all day.

The area is geologically significant, and its geology made fossilization of millions of years of plants and animals possible. We were driving the Journey Through Time Highway.

Going back some 60 million years, repeated ash falls from volcanoes and basaltic flows covered the area.

The region is a pancake of layers of ash, basalt and other evidence of such activity.

Those layers have been uplifted by tectonic forces lying deep beneath Oregon, the North American and Pacific Plates, which intersect there.

All these layers are younger than the dinosaur era. So there are myriad early mammals that sprang up, evolved and became extinct.

We took a hike up one of the fossil bearing canyons. It was completely otherworldly in there. There were examples along the trail of turtle, saber toothed cat and bird fossils.

Later, we visited the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Information Center. It’s worth visiting and we took in an 18-minute film detailing the rich fossil record found in the area. The ash falls fell on creatures and the chemical nature of the ash preserved them.

Our last day dawned clear and warm. After excellent breakfast of oatmeal, blueberries, banana, yogurt and a few strips of campfire bacon we headed back to Portland through Prineville. It snowed on the way to Prineville! Maybe we’ll have summer in Oregon…but when?