From the Wild and Scenic Rogue through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to the Trinity Alps, the stretch of mountains that straddle the Oregon-California border is home to some of the most rugged rivers and isolated ridges and canyons in the country.
And we don’t know about you, but this spring sunshine has the “Oregon Field Guide” team itching to load up the rig with river gear and hiking boots and head south.
It can take years to fully explore the area, so consider this collection of some of our favorite stories from the region to be an introductory road trip to spark your post-pandemic itineraries.
California Or Mars? Rafting In The Red Canyons Of North Fork
North Fork Smith River
The North Fork Smith is a blade of jade-green water cutting through the remote heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Home to a virtual desert of reddish-orange canyons — not to mention insect-eating plants (aka “Pitcher Plant” or “Cobra Lily”) — the North Fork is a pocket of red planet oddness here on Earth.
Thinking of running the river someday? Make your first stop a visit with the legendary “Bearfoot Brad.” — Zach Urness, producer
A Couple’s Labor Of Love Keeps Wilderness Trails Open
Before the Biscuit Fire of 2002, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness was already considered remote and desolate. After the wildfire scorched nearly half a million acres, leaving a barren landscape of dead trees and destroying the hiking trails, it seemed everyone had written off a now-inaccessible expanse of roadless public lands.
Everyone except an ambitious, idealistic, and even recalcitrant young couple, Gabe and Jill Stokes. Tens of thousands of deadfall trees blocked the trails, and because the area was federally-designated wilderness, they couldn’t drive in — or even use a chainsaw. They had to find two things: century-old hand-tools of loggers and a handful of friends to help. — Ian McCluskey, producer
A Father-Daughter Journey To The Center Of The Earth
No Name Cave, Siskiyou Mountains
I always took for granted that caving in Oregon meant walking through lava tubes and crawling around in sharp and mostly monochromatic volcanic rock. And then I got to explore No Name Cave. Along with the Oregon Caves National Monument, it’s one of several pockets of marble in the Siskiyou Mountains that are the metamorphosed remains of ancient Pacific reefs that were lifted up by the collision of tectonic plates millions of years ago. Then as water trickled through the ground and into the cave, it slowly, oh-so-slowly, carved all the features that make famous caves like Carlsbad Caverns so stunning: drippy stalactites and stalagmites, colorful waterfall-like stone formations, and cave bacon. (It’s looks just like it sounds: look it up!)
No Name Cave isn’t open to the public, even when we’re allowed to travel — we needed a key from the Bureau of Land Management to access it with veteran caver Neil Marchington — so we’re delighted to get to take you there now. — Aaron Scott, producer
Running Oregon’s Wild And Scenic Rogue River In A Classic Way
Rogue National Wild and Scenic River
Why would someone spend hundreds of hours and dollars meticulously crafting a wooden dory by hand, just to run it through the rocky rapids of the Rogue River? Good question. Call it a passion. Or obsession. Or homage to river running’s heritage.
I joined my two river friends Greg Hatten and Randy Dersham as they set off down the Wild and Scenic Rogue River on a crisp fall day. — Ian McCluskey, producer
Circling Crater Lake In Winter Is No Summer Picnic
Crater Lake National Park
California has Yosemite, Wyoming has Yellowstone, and Oregon has Crater Lake — one of the crown jewels of the National Parks. Thousands of visitors come each summer in a parade of cars and RVs. But from winter into spring, deep snow covers the road, leaving the park accessible only to adventurers on skis or snowshoes (it is currently closed due to the stay-at-home orders).
We joined three intrepid women as they cross-country skied the entire 40-mile loop around Crater Lake. The isolation was both the beauty and the danger. — Ian McCluskey, producer
Southern Oregon’s Fermented Food Pioneers
So often when we think about a sense of place, we think mostly in terms of: what does a place look and sound like? Maybe in the case of orchards or wildflower meadows: what does it smell like? But we rarely think: what does it taste like?
But that’s exactly what spending a couple of days with Kirsten and Christopher Shockey in the Applegate Valley had me wondering. They’re all about teaching people to bottle the flavor of their place by fermenting the foods they grow or buy at the farmers market. And just like the flavor of wine is influenced by the terroir of the land, so too is the taste of a vegetable and the microbes living on it that are responsible for fermenting it. So when we feasted on their fermented vegetables and sipped their ciders, sour, tangy, funky and floral flavors exploded in our mouths — flavors that literally embody the surrounding golden fields that run along the Applegate River.
So the next time you’re looking at a beautiful valley, listening to the sounds of songbirds, maybe smelling the hay or alfalfa, wonder also: what is the taste of this place? — Aaron Scott, producer
Snorkeling With The Salmon
Forks of Salmon
Kayaking or rafting white water is one thing. But snorkeling?! This was one of those shoots where it hurt to have to sit on the sideline filming, when all we wanted to do was put on wet suits and jump in with the volunteers.
This rugged area of winding canyons and glittering rivers running between the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area and the Trinity Alps feels about as isolated as you can get in the Northwest. There’s no cell service, and most of the roads are little one-lane ribbons clinging to the side of canyons, so if the road washes out, you better have a map, because you’re looking at an 8-hour detour down the next canyon. In other words, a land of old-fashioned adventure. — Aaron Scott, producer