River Ready

It’s been a cool, foggy summer on the central California coast, and we are ready for a few sunny, hot days to warm up and dry out.  So we loaded up the raft and gear in the truck and headed north to the high desert of central Oregon.

The Deschutes River threads through Oregon all the way to the Columbia River.  There are several stretches known for fun whitewater rapids and great fly fishing.  We are looking to do both, so we put in at Trout Creek, outside of Madras, and ended at the Maupin City Park.  Although you can float several miles past Maupin, we opted out at the city park to avoid the crush of daytrippers.

To read from start to finish, click here to start at the first entry, and then read forward.

Bird List: Lower Deschutes

DSC01376August 14-17, 2013

Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Canada goose
Common merganser
Turkey vulture
Red-tailed hawk
Golden eagle
American kestrel
California quail
Spotted sandpiper
Mourning dove
Common nighthawk
Belted kingfisher
Gray flycatcher
Western kingbird
Western scrub-jay
Common raven
American crow
Canyon wren
Cedar waxwing
Red-winged blackbird

Driving Home

Up and out of Maupin by 7:30 am, we’ve got ten hours of road ahead, with no air conditioning. Clear skies most of the way, except the smoke and haze from the fires to the west of Mt. Shasta. Happy to be done with the drive, but wish we could still be on the river.

Float to Maupin

It’s our final day on the river.  Day trip rafting is popular out of Maupin, so we are trying to avoid the largest crush of crowds.  Our plan is to leave late enough to miss most of the morning float trips, and arrive at the city park ramp after the afternoon bookings have pushed off the shore.  We had a leisurely breakfast of French toast, juice and coffee.  We didn’t linger long on the clean up: the next time I open the kitchen box will be to load everything into the dishwasher at home.

We expect that we will be behind most of the groups that paddled past us yesterday afternoon. Indeed, we don’t run into much “traffic” for several miles.  The river flow is good, and the miles go by quickly. We have now reached an area more accessible by vehicles, so we see more houses and fishermen along the banks.  BLM has several camps/boat ramps accessible by vehicle, including one used as a launch site for day trips.  Generally, we’ve timed it right – there are not many groups, and we let several “in a hurry” to pass us.  We breeze through the named rapids.

But, as we round the corner near the bridge at Maupin, we were not quite prepared for the spectacle of rafts lining the city park shores. Adjacent is an RV parking lot full of campers – surely there are five times more people in this park than actually live in Maupin.  We found an open spot to land, and Steve started unloading the boat while I went off in search of our shuttled truck.  Back with the truck, the mob of day-tripping rafts pushed off, and we largely had the shoreline to ourselves.  Unpacked, dried out and deflated, we stowed the raft and gear in the back of the truck.

Stopping off at the local fly shop and market for information and ice cream, we decided we would just stay in Madras to make the big run home all in one day. Circling Madras’s main roads through town, we stopped at the local Best Western for the night.  We walked two blocks over to the Rio restaurant – some of the best Mexican food we have had. Ever.

Rio Restaurant, Madras, Oregon

Hole in the Wall

Greeted by the chatter of the kingfishers and the cry of the ospreys, we rose early to cloudy skies.  Our unwelcomed neighboring campers did not stir; they were up late, menfolk swilling beers and exchanging insults.

I made a pot of coffee and got breakfast together before Steve was up, enjoying the quiet murmur of the morning sounds.  Steve got coffee served while still in his bag, but eventually joined me in the lounge chairs.  Three cedar waxwings flew in – we solemnly watched each other.  My experience with waxwings are the chattering, fussing flock that would breeze through my yard every spring, feasting on the Cotoneaster berries along the fence.  But, these birds are silent and still, making it easy to examine their fierce black eye markings and the flashy red “wax” of their wingtips.

We decide to move on, getting well ahead of our discourteous neighbors.  A few of the group had started moving as we enjoyed our morning coffee, but it would be hours before they got themselves and their dozen coolers packed up and back on the river.

A baggage boat from another trip floats by our camp – they passed our camp yesterday, too, but they had landed well before we planned to stop.  This is borderline river etiquette – sending baggage boats racing ahead of the main group to snag campsites ahead of other groups.  While this assures that a large group gets a large enough site, this also violates the social mores of keeping all the trip together.  It spells out the difference between commercial trips, controlling the uncertainty for their guests, and the private parties, like us, who are there to experience what the river brings, and not to maintain an itinerary and schedule.

The oarsman on the baggage boat tells us that they are headed for Buckskin Mary, one of the last, large camps before the BLM drive-in camps above Maupin.  We had vaguely considered boating down to Buckskin Mary ourselves – it’s one of the last shady places to stage before the last run to the take-out.  We contemplated other options, not wanting to leave too many miles to cover tomorrow to Maupin.

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Soon after we pushed off from shore, we saw a family of kestrels.  Like the osprey, the fledglings were nearly full grown, but still certain that their parents were responsible for their meals. It made me wonder about the success rate of the transition to self-feeding, and if there are those who never make the transition.  I find myself wishing the success rate is high.

DSC01435As the morning unfolds, the clouds break up. This stretch of the river is more open: fewer ospreys and kingfishers, and many more crows and signs of human habitation. Another family of kestrels and a family of Canada geese, and plenty of mergansers, ducks, and turkey vultures; one single red-tailed hawk.

We checked  out a couple of camps once we cleared the private property, and pulled over at Hole in the Wall for a “comfort break.”  Steve pulled out his rod and started casting. A flotilla of noisy Boy Scouts came around the bend – the group attached to the baggage boats. They only had paddles and minimal gear in their rafts; to be on this stretch of the river meant you had to have camped at least one or two days on the river. That sealed it for us: if there 18 noisy Boy Scouts headed to Buckskin Mary, then we were not.  We unloaded the boat right then and there, set up our chairs in the shade and pulled out lunch and the cribbage board.

The clouds began to darken in the west, and suddenly there was a flash of lightning and crack of thunder in the distance.  We waited to see if this would build to anything of substance.  It did.  The wind began to gust, and we jumped up to set up the tent as the clouds began to spatter rain. A gust picked up the tent, complete with our sleeping bags and clothing inside, before we could get the corners staked down.  By the time we got everything gathered and secured, climbing into the tent was like climbing into a small, ripstop nylon sauna.  The incoming front had not dropped the temperatures, and when our tent is buttoned down, there is no real circulation of outside air.

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Caddis hatchIt rained hard, but briefly.  We were soon back out in our (damp) chairs, with a flock of bushtits picking off all the little insects accumulated in the branches of the hackberry tree above us.  They were unconcerned by us, and came back several times to glean bugs from the tree.  We watched chukar among the rocks on both sides of the river, and were treated to the song of a canyon wren as the sun slid closer to the horizon.  Frenzied hatches of caddisflies circled the tops of bushes and the tops of our heads – we wondered if they would disappear before the bats came out for the evening.  The moon rose, a dazzling display on the water for such a not-nearly full orb.

Moonrise on the Deschutes

Moonrise on the Deschutes

Camp, Rapids, Camp

Sunrise at Camp

The night was chilly, so we rose as the sun cleared the ridge behind us. We got warm quickly. Steve pulled out his fishing rod while I heated water for coffee.  As the family fly-tier, I decided to try tying a few flies in the field, to better match what we saw hatching along the river.  I was surprised how easy it was to do this, having previously only tied flies at a little Ikea desk at home.  I had prepped a lot of materials ahead of time, which made it easier to pull out an already prepared feather or bit of fur for dubbing.

Breakfast was the usual: coffee, juice, yogurt, granola, an orange.  Before completely loading the boat and pushing off, Steve tied my newest fly onto his line – but, alas, still no nibbles.

Fishing in the hummocks

Not far below camp, we ran Whitehorse Rapids: 1/2 mile long chaotic jumble of rocks.  We threaded our way through, ending at a series of rock gardens with grassy hummocks. Steve landed us on river right to fish.  I didn’t rig my rod right away – I waited to see if there were fish to be caught.  The skies have been unpredictable so far, and so have the fish. Steve has tried various caddis, and prince nymphs and hare’s ear nymphs.  Still nothing.  But, Steve did find several piles of crayfish shells, both on the river bank and out on the hummocks.  We have seen a fair number of great blue herons this morning – perhaps they are the shellfish diners.

We had a decision to make: just go four or five miles a day until the last day, or we could stop at the last nice camp before the BLM fee area, and layover for a day.  We checked a few campsites as we went, and checked in with other boating groups we had met in the past two days.  Around the bend, we came on Davidson Flats camp – long, riverfront property, with 3 large sites below: plenty of room further down the river if others wanted to land and camp.  We tucked up under some hackberry trees with our lounge chairs and lunch, and pulled out the cribbage board.

Late in the day, a large group (about 15 people) landed at the top end of our camp.  River etiquette says that when you run across another group in a camp, you move on.  Or, you make polite contact and discuss the options. Granted, just two of us had a rather large piece of real estate, but there were plenty more camps just below us, separated by distance and shrubbery.  But, this group’s attitude was river etiquette be damned.  One of the group walked right into our camp and blurted, “You don’t have any problem with us camping here, do you?”  No hello.  No pleasantries.  Steve expressed what would be the polite thing to do is to move down to the next camp.  But, this person rebutted with, “We stayed here last year,” and, “We paid our money, too.”  It was clear that they were determined to stay in the same spot they stayed last year, and started unloading their boats, including more than a dozen coolers.

Wispy Half MoonWe kept playing cribbage until we were ready for dinner, when we essentially reoriented our camp to place our backs to the interlopers.  As we feared, they were loud and they were up late, and there was no vegetation to provide a visual or audio screen.  But the sky had cleared, the moon was wrapped in the wispy clouds remaining, and somewhere in the night I woke up to see a shooting star streak across the sky amid the tree branches above our sleeping bags.

Whiskey Dick

Up and out of Chemult early, we aimed for breakfast in Madras.  A quick breakfast at the bear cafe in town, we then headed to put-in.  Or we tried to, anyways.  The directions were not very specific about where to turn off of US 97.  Fortunately, we were still in range of a cell phone tower so that I could conjure some better instructions from the aether.

We rattled down plenty of gravel roadway to reach the riverbanks and the spare, but adequate, boat ramp.  We have a lot of gear for four days – when you are in a raft, it is tempting to bring plenty of luxuries: there is plenty of space in a ten-foot raft for two people.  Even using a battery-powered pump to inflate the raft, it seems to always take about an hour and a half to load up and get ready to shove off.

DSC01346Pushing off the shore is probably one of the sweetest ways to start a trip.  Unlike hiking or biking, where you must propel yourself, the raft moves into the current and you are carried along through the scenery.  Depending on the river flow, the pace is generally about the same as a brisk walk.  But, stopping midstream, or even backing up, are not possible.  So, you have to capture moments in motion, as the angle of the scenery is ever-changing from the raft.

In this part of the river, it’s all about the ospreys. It’s late enough in the season that the fledglings are nearly adults, even though they still have a “feed me” attitude when the adults are around. We also see mergansers, kingfishers, cormorants, kingbirds, Canada geese, great blue herons, ravens, jays, and even a golden eagle.  The river is a corridor of green through the dun-colored high desert, and it draws all sorts of creatures at varying times of the day.

After floating seven or eight miles, we land at Whiskey Dick camp on river right.  There are four sites; we land and I go scouting to look at the other locations.  The next one down is appealing, but it’s hard to get around to the other two.  For me, the appeal of the first camp where we landed is the active osprey nest built on the telephone pole on the railroad grade just above our camp.  So, we opt for the dustier, more exposed camp to appease my ornithological interests.  While Steve worked his way upstream in search of gullible trout, I spent the afternoon with my camp chair placed in the river’s edge: feet in the cool water, with my  binoculars affixed to my face.

The linemen who maintain these poles and cables must really dislike the ospreys. Despite the boxes constructed to offer alternate nest sites, we’ve seen a fair number of osprey nests engulf parts of telephone poles.

As the sun sinks closer to the horizon, the noisy osprey family continues their antics: fighting over fish deliveries by the adults, flight and landing attempts, and even an attempt at catching their own dinner.  It’s clear that everyone does not fit into the nest anymore, nor do they really much get along (if they ever did).  A freight train rumbled under the nest at sunset: none of the birds twitched a feather in concern.

The Big Drive

The air conditioning is not working, and no one had time to take the truck to the shop to get it fixed.  That didn’t seem like it would be too bad, until the reality of ten hours in the truck hit.  Until today.  Originally, we had planned to leave at 9am, after the bay area traffic cleared.  But, work commitments delayed our departure until noon, putting us in the hottest part of the drive at the hottest part of the day.  We’re stocked with snacks and beverages, and we’re not sure we’ll make it to Madras this evening.

It’s a straightforward drive: US 101 to I-680 to I-505, connecting to I-5, then veering northeast onto US 97 at Weed. Crossing the state line into Oregon, we need a break and a real meal. We cruised the main streets of Klamath Falls, settling on a Mexican restaurant that had mostly good reviews on TripAdvisor.  The wait staff was attentive, the food was good, and the margaritas refreshing.  After a fuel stop, we got back on the road at dusk.

Truck 1US 97 follows the eastern shore of Upper Klamath Lake for six or seven miles just north of Klamath Falls.  I was sorry that it had gotten dark – I was hoping for a nice view of the sunset over the lake.  Instead, almost had to spend the night in Klamath Falls – an epic hatch of insects soon covered the front of the truck.  The windshield wipers could not keep up.  In fact, the squashed bug “juice” seemed to mix with the washer fluid to coat the windshield with an opaque schmeer.  With the road cut tucked along the cliff above the lake, there was no place to pull over to clear the windshield, or wait for the onslaught of bugs to subside.

We forged ahead, peering through some clear spots that opened up as we kept running the wipers after passing the lake’s edge.  We made it to Chemult, where we pulled into a non-chain motel and collapsed into bed.  We still have two hours to Madras – we’ll just get up early and go.