Kayaking While Surrounded by an Ocean of Sand

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 7 | Type: kayaking

Kayaking Oregon’s Siltcoos River during the springtime is a treat, provided you can time it right. A day earlier dark clouds, lighting, and sheets of rain pelted the area. But, today, the temperature was warm and the sky was clear, allowing us to witness the Siltcoos in all its splendor. We were fortunate and very thankful. The Siltcoos is an interesting interplay of a riparian area within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes are one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world. When geologic forces created the dunes, the sand-choked off several coastal rivers and created about 30 lakes. Some of the rivers have found a way back to sea, the Siltcoos River is one of these rivers. Today, it is a slow-moving three-mile long waterway that holds the distinction of being a canoe trail. We were unable to visit the lower water dam because of a large fallen tree. A special thank you to the River House Outdoor Center of Eugene for the use of their kayaks and local guides. From the water, our group saw at least 18 animal species: bald eagle, osprey, a grey fox, swallows, killdeer, newt, bumble bee, heron, fish, stellar’s jay, crow, seals, egrets, mergansers, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, and egrets. We also saw a dog at the bow of a kayak, and (not paying attention to posted signs) a human and dog in a protected area.

An 80-foot wall of sand along a bend in the river.
Upriver there were a number of fallen and downed trees we gave them a wide berth.
The dunes gave way to open spaces and a green marsh. Several ducks were flying overhead.
A large bird turned in our direction. As it approached we saw a white head and white tail feathers – it was a bald eagle! A magnificent sight, and seeing it was worth all the money in the world at that moment.
The river widened as we approached the mouth of the Siltcoos River.
At the mouth of the Siltcoos River. The Pacific Ocean had 4-6 foot swells that day. A bald eagle was observed looking for a mid-afternoon snack in the surf. Note the white tail feathers. The area before us (all the shoreline in the area) was closed to protect habitat for the Snowy Plover, a threatened species. Photo credit: Anna Hougardy.
A happy trip participant

Hiking and Kayaking on Oregon’s Scenic and Wild Central Coast

The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area on Oregon’s coast is stunning.

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: August 2018 | Duration: 2 days | Participants: 8 | Type: car camping, hiking, and kayaking

Our group was fortunate as the weather was surprisingly mild and there was little wind. We spent much of the morning exploring tide pools and beachcombing during low tide. The Cape’s forest offered us the chance to stand at the base of the 200-foot tall and 500-year old Sitka Spruce. These amazing trees grow in a four-mile-wide zone along the coast from northern California to Kodiak Island in Alaska. Around lunchtime, we pitched our tents at a nearby campground and had a quick bite to eat. Our two tiny campsites proved challenging with our collection of tents. In the late afternoon, during high tide, we appreciated the coast’s craggy beauty. A favorite is Spouting Horn, where wave action forces water into a small sea cave and through a hole at the top creating a sizeable plume. Thor’s Well, a large sinkhole on the shoreline, water cascades into what appears to be an unearthly entrance to the underworld. In the evening, some of us climbed the 700-foot cape and enjoyed awe-inspiring views of the rocky shoreline below. Standing inside the historic Civilian Conservation Corps shelter, we witnessed a brief sunset. That day we saw a whale, gulls, cormorants, sea lions, a myriad of tide pool creatures, turkey vultures, and ravens.

We woke with the sun and drove to Brian Booth State Park where we participated in a kayaking trip along Beaver Creek. This interpretive tour is offered as a service by Oregon State Parks. Beaver Creek is a freshwater estuary and is prime habitat for Coho salmon, cutthroat trout, winter steelhead, and waterfowl. We finished our three-mile paddle about noon and had a great time. We had seen ducks, nutria (invasive), a family of river otters, kingfishers, a young bald eagle, swallow, cranes, blue herons, a green heron, Canada geese, merganser, and a red-tailed hawk. As we pulled our kayaks from the water there was a nearby splash, a river otter had been playfully observing at us. Across the creek, a bald eagle surveyed our group. That afternoon we drove south to Yachats and enjoyed a tasty lunch before heading home.

I snapped this picture half a second too late! A chain of bubbles was rapidly passing my kayak on Beaver Creek. They were followed by a furry head popping out of the water. The river otter, upon seeing me, immediately dove. Here is the splash it made as it disappeared.

The Perseid Meteor Shower – Fire over the Cascades

A high point of summer is witnessing the Perseid meteor shower. Every year in mid-August these cosmic bits of dust and ice streak into the Earth’s atmosphere giving a heavenly spectacle to those on the ground. These ‘shooting stars’ can be seen once every minute and are best seen away from city lights. This year provided an extra challenge because of smoke from forest fires in southern Oregon.

My family grabbed the camping gear and we made our way to the crest of the Cascades in hopes of clear views. Our first stop was at 7,400 feet; unfortunately smoke shrouded the sky and nearby mountains, viewing that evening was very limited.

The next day the winds shifted and skies were clearer. For the second night, we selected a lakeside view at about 5,500 feet. We found a quiet peninsula on the water – the sky theater was open before us and we had front row seats!

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As the sun lowered on the horizon it passed behind a thick grey-brown wall of smoke from the forest fires. The pre-show sunset was visually stunning.

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For 20 minutes everything around us had a red hue (shown), then the sun completely disappeared behind the wall of smoke. The sky darkened.

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Along the shore were gatherings of families, hikers, and campers. On the lake, kayakers began to raft up (shown). Everyone was eager for that evening’s performance. A voice from the water curiously asked if the smudge in the eastern sky was the Milky Way? We turned, behind us the great cross-section of our galaxy began to reveal itself. Someone shouted from the shore, “I saw one!” A wave of audible oohs and aahs was heard from the various groups of people who had seen a meteor streak across the sky.

We laid back on the smooth glacially-carved boulders that would be our theater seats for the evening, and for the next 3 hours were amazed by the variety of meteors that zipped across the heavenly stage; some meteors were micro-sized blips, others were graceful streaks, some dramatically required the length of the entire sky. At about midnight sleep was getting the better of us and we returned to our tents.

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I tried to capture some of the Perseids with my camera, out of 80 photos that night this is the best I could accomplish.

Later that night I woke up and walked outside my tent where I could see the sky clearly. The Milky Way was overhead and amazingly bright. I shivered in the night’s cool temperature while looking up. A streak appeared across the star field of the Milky Way; it was bright, then not, then bright again, it rotated about 8 times before disappearing. What an amazing night!

Rafting the Upper Willamette River with the McKenzie River Trust

Living near the Willamette River in Eugene, Oregon, offers some fun opportunities to be outside, yet after living in the area for two years I am surprised that I don’t know my local section of the river better. When the opportunity arose to experience 12+ miles of the upper Willamette (from Eugene downstream to Marshall Island) by raft and learn about important conservation work taking place, I could not refuse.

The morning of our departure, my family and I, along with about fifteen others were greeted by staff members of the McKenzie River Trust who had organized the event, and the Eugene Recreation Center who supplied the rafts, equipment and river guides. An interpretive river ranger from Oregon State Parks also joined our trio of rafts.

We were treated to hearing stories about river-lore, discovering the natural history, and learning about the McKenzie River Trust’s restoration work of 1,100-acres on Green Island. A highlight of the afternoon was a visit to the island where everyone enjoyed a fabulous lunch provided by the guides.

On the river that day we saw beaver signs of gnawed tree limbs, cranes stealthily stalking along the shore, and ospreys calling from overhead, though we ourselves were often under the watchful eyes of eagles.

There were many “take-aways” from the trip, lessons that stay with you after the trip is over. The big takeaway for me was that once we left Eugene how quickly the river became more of what I needed it to be: open and wild. I want to experience more.

Here are some pictures of the river-

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Learn more about Green Island and the work of the McKenzie River Trust visit:

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Kayaking Over Clear Lake’s Submerged Forest

My kayak breezes over the surface of the aptly named “Clear Lake” in central Oregon. The lake bottom descends below me ten, twenty, thirty feet, yet I can still see features as though looking into an aquarium.

blog-20121025-img2Each stroke of my paddle dips into the crystalline fluid and scoops out rounded orbs of glass-like liquid, I dip my hand into the water, the temperature is cold, somewhere around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The lake is fed by mountain springs that course from deep within old lava flows; the water temperature stays a near constant throughout the year.

The sun had been hiding behind a cloud, but now bursts forth illuminating the lake. The clear water that surrounds me now becomes a turquoise pool. The green and the tan forested shoreline is reflected onto this gem-colored liquid. I cannot help but to stop paddling and just watch – immersed at the moment.

blog-20121025-img3A number of Mallard ducks float next to my kayak, some are just a few feet away. One comes abreast to me and looks at me in the eye; he cocks his head as though wondering what kind of strange beast I might be. I can see his little legs moving underneath the water, churning like a miniature paddle wheel.

My kayak hugs a rocky shoreline; it is a jumbled and erratic wall that descends sharply into the water. This is the edge of an ancient lava flow that three millennia earlier was the outlet of a stream. As the water rose, a new lake was created, and the surrounding forest was submerged. The water temperature was so cold that decomposers could not survive and the original forest was preserved. Today, three-thousand years later, several dozen of the ancient trees from that forest remain upright and can be seen from the surface.

blog-20121025-img4A large dark form starts to become visible in the water before my kayak. I stop paddling and the surface becomes undisturbed allowing the shape to come into focus, it is the column-like shape of one of the ancient trees. The trunk appears to be as big around as a dinner platter, and only just a couple of feet below my kayak. I try to gently tap the top of the trunk with my paddle, but I am unable to reach it. The water has played a trick on my eyes by making things appear closer than they really are. I peer down the trunk looking, fifty, sixty, possibly a hundred feet down to the bottom.

The only sounds are people laughing in the distance, and a gentle wind blowing through the trees.
There are no motorboats on Clear Lake, just human powered crafts.

Learn more:
http://www.linnparks.com/pages/parks/clearlake.html

Kayaking and Nature Viewing in Elkhorn Slough

Join us on Saturday, June 6 as we discover the abundance of Elkhorn Slough. We’ll view migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, harbor seals and possibly rafts of sea otters. Elkhorn Slough is unique because it is one of the few relatively undisturbed coastal wetlands remaining in California. The slough extends about six miles inland and consists of some 2,500 acres. The trip lasts 5 hours. Reservations required.

Organization: GlyphGuy Adventure Travel
Date: Saturday, 6 June 1999
Trip leader: Mark Hougardy
Participants: 8