August 25-27, 2014
I spent the night in one of the cabins at the Oasis and had breakfast in the café. We were packed up and ready to go by nine. Before long we were at the river. We put in at Warm Springs. I stood around watching as Mark did all the work. This was to be a recurring theme for the trip.
Mark has been a fishing guide and outfitter on the Deschutes for eighteen years. Everybody on the river knows him and he knows everybody. Although this was a “simple camping trip” where I could relax and enjoy the ride, I think I got a good glimpse into what Mark does for a living. He has all the gear required to provide his clients a fair amount of luxury while they flog the water. For this trip, he brought only a small amount – stove with fuel, three days food and water, chairs, cots, sleeping bags, dry bags with personal items, and a cooler full of beer.
I’m not sure what time we put into the river. I powered off my phone before stepping into the boat and didn’t turn it back on for three days. I slathered on the sunscreen, sat back and relaxed as we started our trip. There seemed to me to be quite a few folks fishing. Mark greeted them all: “We’re not fishing. Just floating, having fun.”
This was not a white water adventure. We would have only one rapids I’d call whitewater; only that one spot where we had to don our life jackets and put the camera into the dry bag. There were some ripples on the water every so often where we might get splashed a bit, but nothing big.
My attention was drawn first to the geology. The canyon walls are basalt, formed from myriad hexagonal cylinders that stand nearly vertical. The basalt was deposited in several layers. Different layers have different diameters of these “cylinders”. As the walls erode, the cylinders break into rocks that pile up and soil goes on top of the piles. They’re not quite vertical; lean somewhat to the west such that the eastern walls tended to be steeper while the western walls were more sloped. Sometimes the canyon was pretty narrow, other times quite wide.
The geology, once noted, generally didn’t focus much of my attention. The wildlife, however, did. Over the three days, we saw ducks and geese, kingfishers, ravens, and crows. Wild horses on the reservation side, deer on our side (and in camp in the morning). Lizards and snakes. The ubiquitous ground squirrels. And one morning I awoke to find what I thought were raccoon tracks. Mark had neglected to secure the cooler and the trash, but our visitor molested neither.
But it was the ospreys that I spent the most time watching. We didn’t float too long – we probably could have floated the entire distance in a single day – and by early afternoon had pulled into Hobo to make camp. While Mark took a nap, I found a spot in the somewhat limited shade of a dead tree. An osprey would station herself above the river, flying in place, hunting trout below. Then she’d fly to a high branch in an evergreen. I wondered if she was resting or still hunting. Before long I had my answer – she took flight and dove to the water. She aborted this dive, flew low above the river and returned to her perch.
I must have watched this three hours or so. She did dive into the water once while I watched but came up empty handed (taloned?). It was about this time I regretted not bringing my longer lens. Throughout the trip I saw other ospreys hunt the same way. I saw them dive into the water several times and at least twice I saw birds carrying trout to their nests but never saw the kill itself.
Early on, there was a fair amount of company on the river. We passed several guys fishing and saw their gear being taken ahead of them to their campsite. A number of privateer groups floated by on rafts as well. There were more folks on the river the first day than the second. I enjoyed the solitude.
We slept in sleeping bags on cots outside under the stars. Mark had tarps with us should it rain, but with the exception of a couple hours that first afternoon we had beautiful blue cloudless skies. Being a city boy, I rarely get to see the Milky Way. We sat drinking beer watching the stars come out. Saw a few satellites and identified the flight path the airliners took, probably from Seattle to SF or LA.
I started the second day a bit earlier than I anticipated. I awoke perhaps an hour before dawn and watched the reverse process of the night before – the stars fading one after another as the skies lightened and dawn broke. Once it was light enough to walk, I found my way to the railroad tracks and followed them upstream a bit. In camp, I found a pile of railroad spikes. Here at the tracks, I couldn’t help but notice how many spikes were missing from the ties. I was reassured the next day to find a section of track where the old wooden ties had been replace with new concrete ones.
After Mark cooked a hearty breakfast (and cleaned up and packed up and loaded the boat while I watched), we resumed our float. There’s no shade on the boat and the sun was quite warm. I was just about to ask if we could pull over for some lunch and some shade when we approached a railroad bridge over the river. Above here, the trains ran on the east bank; below us they would run on the west. Just after passing under the bridge, Mark pulled us onto a nice beach. We had arrived at Northern Junction.
Mark’s original idea was just to grab lunch and shade. We took only a few things out of the boat. If any outfitters arrived, we’d pack up and head to a camp a bit downstream. Today, though, there was very little traffic on the river. One group of privateers asked “Any room at the inn?” but by then inertia had set in and we weren’t about to move. Mark said the other two sites here were available but they continued downstream.
Only three or four trains a day run on these tracks. This afternoon, maintenance teams were out. Two trucks passed north to south, a pickup truck and a larger truck. A short time later they headed back the way they came. I really have no idea what these guys do, but it was interesting seeing them pass by.
With no clouds, I had nearly resigned myself to not shooting a time lapse on this trip. Mark made the suggestion I try to get the shadows moving on the canyon walls. The rocks directly above us were quite rugged and had lots of shadows. I set the SLR up somewhat before sunset and let it run. I let it go until the shadows from the other side of the canyon walked up the east wall.
At dusk, we were visited by some bats. They flew up and down the shoreline, sometimes passing just a foot or three from our heads. When I went river rafting in high school, we would throw pebbles in the air when bats were close. They’d chase the pebble for a couple of instants before deciding they weren’t food. But, as I said, inertia had set in and I wasn’t that interested in messing with the bats.
Our campsite had quite a bit more shade than the previous night. This was great for daylight but the extra shade limited the star-gazing somewhat. Mark set up his cot near the water while I picked a fairly open place above. I stayed awake as long as I could, watching the sky. A train awoke me sometime in the middle of the night. Mark had “warned” me that the trains put on quite a light show when they come through, but even so I wasn’t fully prepared. I think of locomotives having one headlight. This train had about a dozen, all very bright. As it came around a corner it lit the entire canyon wall before the next bend had it cast a cone of light on our campsite. Very cool.
The next morning I managed to sleep until nearly dawn. I rolled over onto my right side and saw a deer. She looked at me then bounded into the brush. I got dressed and headed upstream on the access road to a ridge with a trail that leads to the rocks high above our camp. I had no intention of going all the way; just far enough to get a nice view.
From our campsite, we could see a flag flying on these high rocks. Mark tells me the guy who put it there also has a logbook there. Every year he sends Christmas cards to whoever signs the log. Given a couple extra hours of time in camp (and a pair of hiking boots), I’d have considered going up that far.
The highlight of our third morning on the river was White Horse rapids. This was the only time we had to don our life jackets and the only time I had the camera in a dry bag. Mark has been through this on the order of 150 times but he’s not complacent about it. He knows other seasoned outfitters who’ve flipped their boats here. Although he doesn’t need to get out of the boat and scout the rapids from the shore, we did get out so I could see what we were going through. He casually pointed out a couple of rocks: “That one’s ‘Can Opener’ and over there is ‘Oh Shit’.”
Yesterday we saw a number of maintenance trucks running up and down the tracks. This morning we saw a maintenance train. I’ve lived within a mile of railroad tracks for the last eighteen years or so and never saw one of these.
We were off the river by noon or so and quickly back to the Oasis for lunch. After eating, I reloaded the car and hit the road for points north – Shelton, WA and The Ridge Motorsports Park.
I had a fantastic time. Can’t wait for the chance to do it again. Next time I’ll be sure to take the telephoto lens.
I’m still putting together the time lapse video and will post it soon. In the mean time, here are a few more pictures.