Rafting the Rogue

Wildlife and History
By Barbara Shaw
  |  Gorp.com
Page 2 of 3   |  

While a few burps of contentment echo through the canyon and 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 the tops of 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. 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 fantastic sculptures, 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 mudstone channel twelve to fifteen feet wide. Small waterfalls leap off the brink above to plummet into the swirling depths, where small boats can be spun 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 firewatch 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 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 arrive to take guests through the mountains back to Galice. It can be a strange feeling 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."


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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