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.
Pushing 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.