Friday, April 27, 2012

On the Oregon trail - exploring the NE
April 14 - 20(ish)

Smith Rock from Monkey Rock
A couple more days in Bend enabled us to do a few chores as well as take in a hike of the nearby Smith Rock, a spectacular craggy peak that rises over the surrounding flat agricultural landscape, shaped in part by the Crooked River which cuts through the middle of the rock. On approaching from a distance, it looks a bit underwhelming - just some rocks sticking out of another-wise fairly uninteresting landscape, but once in amongst the towering cliff faces, and climbing over the peaks, it’s scale and grandeur is truly striking. Didn’t take the camera (what were we thinking?) so only have a crappy phone photo for this one.
Benham Falls - the top of our kayak run

Our departure from Bend got off to a very slow start. After 20 minutes of driving we decided it was time to stop and play on the Deschutes River, ideal for trying out the kayak on some flowing waters - we figured out that a grade IV-V river was the perfect place for a couple of novices to develop their skills. For those not in the know, IV-V entails massive rapids bordering on waterfalls, so we cheated by putting in just below the grade V Benham Falls and drifted along in the bouncy current (grade I-II) for an hour or so before pulling out just above the grade IV Dillon Falls on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. Our strategy for shuttling back to the car was to first drop of a (my) bike at the bottom of the run, drive to the top, float down, and then I get to cycle back to the car whilst Christine lazes around in the sun. Perfect really, although I think we  may need to re-negotiate the last bit about who gets to sit in the sun.
Dillon falls - time to get out!
Crooked River - starting to get a bit bumpy
From there, we headed on to camp on the Crooked River, just below the Prineville Reservoir which was releasing enough water to offer us the next challenge, this time a river with some rapids which require you to think a bit about which route you are going to take and actually work reasonably hard to actually enact the plan - and you get wet! We decided that this was not suited to the tandem kayak which is not so easy to maneuver, so broke it into three, took out the middle bit, put the two ends together and, lo-and-behold, a kayak for one, which I then took down river, dodging the rocks and the trout fishermen while Christine drove along the road that followed the river - great fun and I was delighted with how maneuverable and stable the cut-down kayak was. 
Our next destination was the Painted Hills, and whilst the day was a little overcast, the rain of the night before seemed to bring out the colors in a more subtle way than probably would have been the case on a sunny day. 
Painted Hills - colorful as the name would suggest

Our camp that night was on the John Day River, where the Spring that we had left behind in California appeared to be catching up with us again as the first leaves of the deciduous trees and the blossoms of the fruit trees emerged. The slightly more turbulent rapids of the John Day tempted me again and Christine again played shuttle driver while I got to play along a couple of kilometers of river.

Had a cool video to insert here but keep getting an error - will try to fix later
Campsite view on the John Day RIver
Having thought that Spring was upon us, we then found ourselves climbing into the ranges once again where we attempted to take some winding backroads across the Blue Mountains, but eventually the snow beat us, and after busting one of our snow chains and digging our way out of a snow bog, we retreated back to the low lands. On our way back down we came across a large caravan parked in a glade and decided to ask the occupants if they knew about any alternative open routes. As we pulled up, a very large guy dressed in big black boots and military camouflage with a flat top haircut and massive walrus mustache and a pistol on his hip came out to meet us. We figured that turning and running would be a bit rude so said Hi and asked if he new about the road conditions around here. Turned out that he was a very friendly hunter who was just getting out for a few days. He normally came out here with the wife and grand-kids, and proceeded to talk about how beautiful the emerging spring flowers were and told us about all of the wonderful places we should visit in NW Oregon - just goes to show, shouldn’t judge a person by their really scary looks! 
Courtesy of him, we also got an insight into the hunting system here, with very limited numbers of permits being issued through a lottery for the less common species like bear, mountain goats and mountain lion, while more easily obtained permits were required for deer and turkey. Seems also that there are additional regulations about not taking female bears with cubs during the spring season. When I asked if hunters generally complied with these rules, he said most do but there are always some that pretty much shoot anything anywhere. With so much testosterone invested in hunting and so little funding for the Parks, it’s hard to imagine that there is adequate enforcement. 

Main street of Mitchell, Oregon

Our next river encounter was with the Grande Ronde, a fairly wide, fast flowing river with lots of riffles but nothing too scary, so we decided we would tackle this in the tandem kayak. Dropped the bike off just out of La Grande then drove upstream for a great little 4-5 mile paddle back down the valley, followed by a bike ride up again - might have to think about triathlon training!

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