RAFTING THE ROGUE

RAFTING THE ROGUE
Published in Northwest Travel Magazine

Blossom Bar is a mean run of water. Before tackling these rapids on the Rogue River, rafters pull ashore, clamber high on the rocky right bank, and survey the situation. Guides point out tricks and treacheries of the route, warning novices of unseen peril.
With a good mix of strategy and luck, our raft slides down the twisted left channel.  We careen over a four foot fall, blast into the cauldron with a splash, swing left across the Submarine Killer, zip around Volkswagen Rock, and bounce out into a long run of three foot waves. Everyone’s wet, and grinning with triumphant joy.  Our group’s three rafts stayed upright through the wildest whitewater on the wild and scenic section of Oregon’s famous river.
A few days before Blossom Bar—still dry behind the ears, so to speak—rafting groups assemble at a resort called Galice (ga LEASE) in the canyon country about fifteen miles west of Grants Pass, in the southern Oregon Coast Range. Dozens of professional rafting outfitters begin trips at Galice, and the resort also rents rafts to individuals. After cramming personal gear into the allotted waterproof bags, people gather on the bank for a safety and wilderness-ethics lecture from a professional guide.
On a typical trip, the first innocent morning is spent floating down riffles where turtles snooze on the rocks. A bald eagle may coast overhead. Around a bend, a great blue heron flaps away, croaking a raucous alarm, followed by a belted kingfisher squawking its own warning. Canada geese preen on a beach, studiously ignoring intruders in their private domain.
At noon, the ponderous rafts pull up on shore. Guides open ice chests of food and drink to create a tasty buffet beside the water. Everyone gathers on the sand to savor the meal. The talk brims with laughter.  In the blue sky, a pair of ospreys soars past, keening cries echoing in the quiet. A little gray dipper, the water ouzel, works the waterline, its comical curtsy giving away the plain bird’s identity.
At the bridge at Graves Creek, seven miles below Galice, the road veers away from the river and we enter the Wild and Scenic Area—36 miles of uncivilized country that ends at Watson Creek. This preserve is a rare example of low-altitude wilderness, accessible only by water or by the hiking trail that parallels the river on the north bank.
Not far below Graves Creek, Rainie Falls calls from half a mile upstream. Thundering bass notes hint at what’s ahead. This first class-four rapid sucks the boats ever closer.  Tension mounts.  Rafters exchange worried glances.
On a scale of one to six, class-two rapids are marked by waves two to three feet high with a few risky rocks. They are pure fun. A class six is too rough to risk. The categories in between are rather vague and seem to vary with who’s talking and about which river.
Rainie Falls is a twelve-foot cascade rarely run by the sane. Beside it, part of the flow takes a class four triple stairway then tumbles down the channel. These steps are the most popular route. Fish, fishermen, and the unashamed choose to run the easy class two route to the far right of the river.
Committed wimps can watch from shore while their friends’ rafts tilt over the brink of the first of the stairsteps. Rafts most often dump on the second step. The lucky paddlers fight the pouring current, right themselves, and slip down this semi-easy route. As each raft spins safely beyond the thundering whitewater, the onshore cheering section yips and hollers approval.
Come evening, a camp on a wide beach on the left bank proves the perfect spot for laying out sleeping bags and talking over the day’s excitement.  Once camp is set up and the gourmet hors d’oeuvres have been sampled, a climb up into the woods and rocks is a great way to pass the hour until dinner.
Most rafting companies feature excellent food at every meal. Baked salmon is a favorite for the first night out, while grilled steaks or lasagna might be served the next night, with perhaps a homemade cake for desert.  Afterwards, a few burps of contentment echo through the canyon.  As the sun slips down behind a ridge, people gather close to the crackling fire.
A black bear pops out of a stand of red-barked madrones on the opposite slope.  Conversation stops. The bear looks at the humans. The guide says,”If it wanted to come over here, it could swim that river in ten seconds flat.” Happy campers shudder momentarily at the thought and wonder if the bear will appear in camp after dark.
Perhaps the bears are nearly as well fed as the people on the Rogue. They seldom pay visitors much attention, preferring to saunter down toward shore where willows and alders shimmer in the breeze or to frighten deer out of a thicket.
Abundant wildlife is a predictable highlight of days on the river. In early summer, ospreys dive and come up with fish to carry to nestlings bickering in nests atop tall snags. Some evenings, river otter families entertain their guests with humorous antics.
Life along the water seems peaceful and wonderfully simple. The river is friendly, spiced with a few very exciting spots. During the summer, the Rogue typically flows at a modest 2500 cubic feet per minute. But it can go berserk.
In December of 1964, a flood took it to 750,000 cubic feet per minute. A guide describes how a saddle ridge about fifty feet above the water vanished for days during the rampage. The river rose high enough to flow over it. Squeezed between narrow canyon walls, it has indeed earned its reputation as a rogue.
The Rogue River is world famous and has attracted adventure seekers for decades, some as well known as the river itself. Zane Grey, the Wild West novelist, owned a log cabin visitors can see above Winkle Bar. Grey came to the canyon to write, and set one of his novels at the nearby Cliffs of Solitude.
Cliffs and canyons are the norm along the river’s course through the Coast Range. In many places the bank is compressed mudstone from the Jurassic period. Water erodes it into smooth sculptured fantasies, windowed caves, and deep overhangs that shelter deer in rare summer rainstorms.
Through Mule Creek Canyon the river flows dark green between vertical walls, squeezed into a convoluted channel twelve to fifteen feet wide. Small waterfalls leap off the high brink to plummet into the swirling depths, where small boats that get caught will spin in powerful whirlpools.
A good place for a break after the canyon is the Bureau of Land Management outpost called Rogue River Ranch. The farmhouse and outbuildings dating from 1903, along with their memorabilia, tools, and old equipment, are maintained as a museum and fire watch post. At an archaeological site nearby, researchers sift dirt seeking Native American artifacts. Recent digging yielded stone projectile points ten thousand years old, on view in the house.
The next day rafts glide past Paradise Lodge, a lunch stop for jet boats that come up the Rogue from Gold Beach on the coast, forty miles away. Sitting in neat rows, the tightly packed customers look a bit like grinning sardines, all in identical life jackets.
Not far downriver stands National Geographic Rock, made famous by a cover photo of its twisted tree roots. A couple of hours later happy adventurers arrive at Foster Bar, the end of the line for most tours. A shuttle van and supply truck take guests through the mountains back to Galice. It’s strange to ride in a rumbling van after four days in quietly rocking boats.  Leaving the river behind, a sunburned middle-aged woman declares, “This was such a great trip, I hope I can keep coming back until I’m too feeble to climb into a raft.”

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