Summer 2018 Wanderlust Tours Staff Outing: John Day River!

We're pretty lucky to be able to explore all the amazing wonders of Oregon. That's why we try to explore something new each season for our staff outing. Sometimes we even turn our staff outings into custom tours for corporate groups, family reunions, bachelor/bachelorette events, or other group outings! This one was pretty amazing, and we were lucky to witness some stunning scenery. 

  All photos by Danny Walden

All photos by Danny Walden

Last week we had an amazing three days canoeing the John Day River! We're lucky to love what we do, but it's also nice to set aside time away from work to hang out together. We set aside a couple of days each season for an outing, and for our Summer 2018 Staff Outing, we set out for three days of canoeing out on the water. 

John-Day-Canoe-Trip-Wanderlust-Tours

The John Day River is a tributary to the Columbia River. It's about 284 miles long, and is the third longest free-flowing river in the continental United States. It's one of the few undammed rivers in Oregon, and flows through some pretty amazing desert landscapes. 

Did we mention we love to hang out together? 

  Naturalist Guides Danny & Nick paddling

Naturalist Guides Danny & Nick paddling

  Naturalist Guides Erika & Jason enjoying some delicious  Crux  on the hilltop!

Naturalist Guides Erika & Jason enjoying some delicious Crux on the hilltop!

  Naturalist Guide Courtney plays ball

Naturalist Guide Courtney plays ball

  Naturalist Guides Julie and Jared make a great paddling team!

Naturalist Guides Julie and Jared make a great paddling team!

The River

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Canoeing-John-Day

We took our trusty canoes out on the water and experienced the perfect blend of weather. We enjoyed beautiful sunshine on the first and second days and dramatic clouds on the horizon for the third day. 

  Office Assistant/Naturalist Guide Phenix leads the way

Office Assistant/Naturalist Guide Phenix leads the way

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Sometimes the river got the best of us, but luckily we had some personal flotation devices handy (thanks, Sharky!). 

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  We had a visitor at our campsite on the last morning!

We had a visitor at our campsite on the last morning!

Our two campsites were amazing. We set up our tents among the fields of sage dotting the landscape, taking in the stunning hillsides all around us. On the first night, we saw a dramatic moonrise over the mountain across the river. 

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We also stopped at the John Day Fossil Beds. These are the amazing Painted Hills of Eastern Oregon, with their signature stripes of red, black, and grey in the golden sand dunes. We had a great time! If you think you might be interested in bringing a group to the John Day River or the Fossil Beds, reach out to our Group Coordinator to get started! 

Let's talk about BIRD WATCHING!

We're taking a break from the Central Oregon A-to-Zs to discuss a topic near and dear to our hearts: BIRD WATCHING. Our Naturalist Guides are all pretty nerdy about our local birds, and many of them enjoy venturing out into the wilderness to observe them in their natural habitat. 

  A Yellow-Headed Blackbird. Photo by  Chaney Swiney . 

A Yellow-Headed Blackbird. Photo by Chaney Swiney

BIRD TALES

Wanderlust Tours founder, Dave Nissen recalls his favorite bird sighting, on the Deschutes River right in the heart of Bend. Right in the middle of the town, he witnessed a Bald Eagle careening down from the sky to strike at a mallard (and, unfortunately for the mallard, it was eaten!). 

He recounts another Bald Eagle sighting: 

"The eagle was prowling the waters up on one of the Cascade Lakes, where there were about 10,000 coots on the water. After seven overhead passes, the eagle had picked its prey, swooped down, and nabbed one coot while the other 10,000 took off in flight. The sound of flapping wings and feet running on the water surface was incredible."

 

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  Wanderlust Tours Founder Dave Nissen

Wanderlust Tours Founder Dave Nissen

"One of my favorite summer Cascade Lakes activities is watching the Bald Eagles and Osprey fight over fish.  The Osprey does the work of poaching a trout out of the lake, then the Bald Eagle comes swooping in to spar with the Osprey. The Osprey, in order to protect itself in-flight, releases the fish, then goes talons-up to battle with the Eagle. Then, the Eagle dives away from the bird in order to catch the fish mid-air and retreats with its prize!"

BIRD SOUNDS

Naturalist Guide Danny Walden has been birding for years, has some tips for beginners: 

"It's a common misconception that, to identify a bird, you have to see its colors. That's not true! Bird watching (or "birding") is only partially done by sight, and even then there are a myriad of ways - size, shape, behavior, habitat, range - that positive IDs are made.

I don't even see all of the birds I identify, using their unique songs and calls instead. At the very least, sound tells me where a bird is so I can find it and identify it by sight.

 

  Naturalist Guide Danny Walden

Naturalist Guide Danny Walden

"My favorite sounds are mechanical, that is, not produced with the bird's vocal cords: male snipes, for example, woo females with an eerie winnowing brought to life by their outer flight feathers. Nighthawks occasionally enter a dive and create a boom like a truck roaring by, a sound that at first seems to be the work of an elk or a moose, not of this diminutive flier. Hearing this bird, especially over busy urban areas, always brings a smile to my face."

TIPS ON BIRDING

Danny suggests that you don't try to "get" anywhere. He suggests moving slowly and quietly with alertness, keeping eyes up and ears open.

"If you quietly stand in any natural habitat and take it all in: you'll be surprised at how much is out there! If you want to get a little more advanced: wake up early. Go with someone more knowledgeable than yourself or join a local birding group like The Audubon Society. Learn the sounds; websites like xeno-canto are a great resource. Get good at using your binoculars. Enjoy migrations in spring and fall."

  A Clark's Nutracker. Photo by  Chaney Swiney .

A Clark's Nutracker. Photo by Chaney Swiney.

Birding is an easy way to engage with your natural surroundings, and anyone can do it. Just bring along your passion for birds, and (ideally) some binoculars! If you're looking for a new pair and need some advice, When Outdoors has an excellent reference guide on their blog here-- and be sure to check out their other blog posts for more advice on adventure gear!

The most importantly advice? Stick with it! The payoff is real. 

"Learning about birds has enriched my life immensely. Hearing and seeing what few others do makes me feel like I have superpowers. Knowing the bird life of an area helps me connect with that place deeply!" -- Danny
 

BIRDING RESOURCES

Naturalist Guide Chaney Swiney has some pretty specific favorites when it comes to birds. Chaney's favorites, according to habitat are:

And the unlikeliest bird he's seen in Central Oregon? The Emperor goose, which is native to coastal Alaska and Siberia, but occasionally strays down the Pacific Coast.


 

ebird-application
  Naturalist Guide Chaney Swiney

Naturalist Guide Chaney Swiney

To keep track of their birding notes, both Danny and Chaney use eBird.org to log their daily sightings, and to see what others have written. 

Chaney, on eBird: eBird is an app (and website) that allows people to create checklists of birds they've seen and thus participate in "the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project." I use eBird on almost every paddling trip I lead, whether on the Deschutes River, or up at one of the Cascade Lakes, contributing to this massive and growing database of bird populations and distribution. Plus, it helps me keep track of species I've seen, automatically generating a life list along with records for each state, county, and hotspot where I've made a list. However, eBird doesn't serve as a field guide, so if you need help on bird identification, download eBird's sibling app, Merlin. Learn the species around you, and once you recognize them by sight or sound, get out there and make your own checklists!

The A-to-Zs of Central Oregon: L is for LOGGING

Logging in Bend Oregon

The history of logging in Central Oregon might as well be a history of Bend! Heard of the Old Mill District? As the name implies, it was originally a sawmill, one of the biggest in the world at the time. How about Drake Park? Today it’s one of our favorite green spaces along the Deschutes River. It’s named after Alexander Drake, the entrepreneur behind the first lumber mill in Bend. 

  Image courtesy of TrainWeb.org. 

Image courtesy of TrainWeb.org. 

The Early Days

Okay, we weren’t completely truthful above; a history of Bend’s really early days would be mostly about ranching. But after the ranchers were established, there were a few forward-thinkers who secretly realized that the vast virgin forests of central Oregon held riches within. With the supply of jack pines and Douglas-firs from the Great Lakes and the western Cascades regions almost completely depleted, there was a need for new reservoirs of lumber. The eastern Cascades would be one of them.

These pioneers also realized that, without railroads extending into central Oregon, they wouldn’t be able to do anything with the lumber after they cut it! So, instead of developing mills and hiring workers, they waited patiently and acquired hundreds of thousands of acres of timberland. Much of that land, acquired through a legal loophole, would later be returned to the federal government and incorporated into our beloved backyard: the Deschutes National Forest.

  Alexander Drake. Image courtesy of the Deschutes Historical Museum

Alexander Drake. Image courtesy of the Deschutes Historical Museum

The turn of the century saw Alexander Drake, a middle-aged businessman, pick up and move his family from Minnesota to Oregon – in a covered wagon, no less. Must have been a pretty severe midlife crisis! Upon arrival, he immediately formed the Pilot Butte Development Company, which built irrigation canals (some of which are still in use), buildings, and – you guessed it – Bend’s first commercial sawmill. The Columbia Southern railroad ended over 80 miles away, so the Pilot Butte Company still dealt with the challenge of exporting the logs they cut. With all this development, the city of Bend was incorporated in 1904.

  Image courtesy of OSU Special Collections

Image courtesy of OSU Special Collections

The Boom Years

In 1916, just a few years after the railroad finally reached the tiny town of Bend, two corporations from Minnesota followed in Drake’s footsteps and opened up two of the largest mills in the world – one just months after the other – on the banks of the Deschutes River just south of downtown. Bend’s population ballooned from 500 to 5,000 in just a few years, a growth attributable almost entirely to lumber.

  Image courtesy of OSU Special Collections

Image courtesy of OSU Special Collections

Logging eventually came to Prineville, Chemult, Sisters, and other towns in central Oregon, but the largest production by far came from the areas around Bend. That’s where the mills were! Smaller mills supplemented the two behemoths because the forests around Bend were perfect for logging. Our native ponderosa pines were straight, tall, and so open that you could drive a Model T through the forest without a road. Still, you can’t carry lumber on a Model T. Rail was the way to go. By 1930, logging railroads ribboned in every direction from Bend. Lumberjacks, leaving clear-cuts in their wake, moved to where the trees were, and their houses, built to be portable by rail with lightweight materials and foldable porches, went with them. The Deschutes River, which the mills used as a retaining pond, became choked with logs.

Such rabid production could not last. By the late 1940s, the environmental realities of so much clearcutting began to catch up with the mills. At peak production, the 500 million board feet sawed per year by the big mills in Bend had been over six times what the forests in the area could sustainably support. The Shevlin-Hixon mill sawed its last log in 1950.

  The old Brooks-Scanlon saw mill. Image courtesy of OSU Special Collections. 

The old Brooks-Scanlon saw mill. Image courtesy of OSU Special Collections. 

Transition

Brooks-Scanlon, Bend’s other mill, absorbed Shevlin-Hixon’s operations and continued cutting away until the early 1990s. By then, timber harvests had declined significantly, and almost all the other mills had closed as well. Only one mill currently remains in central Oregon, about 50 miles south of Bend in the former company town of Gilchrist. And, though there are no mills here anymore to process the timber, there is still logging in the Bend area as well. The legacy of our industrious beginnings lives on.

  The Old Mill today. 

The Old Mill today. 

It is because of logging that…

  • Many Forest Service roads, having been built on the old logging railroad grades, exist where they are.

  • Scandinavian millworkers first came to the Cascades, bringing sports like alpine skiing with them.
  • The iconic smokestacks of Bend’s Old Mill District exist; they are the original smokestacks from the powerhouse of Brooks-Scanlon’s Mill B. Today they adorn and give historical context to REI.

So in the Central Oregon A-to-Zs, how could L not be for logging! We could go on and on about the operations of the mills in Bend, or the groundbreaking legislation that opened the American West, or how logging and fire interrelate on our National Forest land.

Come on a tour with us and learn more!


Guest post by Naturalist Guide Danny! Check out his adventure blog here

Sources:

http://www.trainweb.org/highdesertrails/bslco.html

https://oregonhistoryproject.org/

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