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Running Oregon's Rogue of a River

April 20, 1986|LYNN STOKES | Stokes is a Santa Monica free-lance writer.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — You board your Rogue River float trip at a landing called Grave Creek, and it's all downstream after that.

This mighty river in southwest Oregon rolls and thunders through rapids and riffles with ominous names such as Washboard and Plowshare, Horseshoe Bend, Devil's Stairs, White Snake and Coffee Pot.

Your boatman provides the know-how and skill at running the rapids; you just have to hang on, scream, and bail the boat. A run down the Rogue is not for people who don't like to get their feet wet.

Several options are available for a white-water experience on the Rogue. Those who want just a sample can take a half-day or full-day trip, priced from $35 to $50. The more adventurous will want to sign up for the four-day float trip, on large rafts that seat 6 to 12 people. Participants camp out at night and enjoy delicious meals cooked and served by the boat crew. Prices for these trips are about $350.

There are also three-day float trips, some with the option of staying in rustic lodges along the river instead of camping out.

Not for Fainthearted

Seasoned river rats will enjoy an "orange torpedo" trip: down the river in a one-man orange kayak. An exhilarating way to go, but definitely not for the beginner or fainthearted. These jaunts last three days and stop in lodges overnight, with a cost of about $350.

Grants Pass is the starting place for most Rogue River trips and you can obtain information about all river adventures by writing to Grants Pass Chamber of Commerce, 1439 N.E. 6th St., Grants Pass, Ore. 97526, or call (503) 476-7717.

In between navigating the rapids and eating hearty meals, you can swim, fish, photograph and explore the shore, soaking in the beauty of this magnificent river. The 84-miles of the Rogue are protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which ensures that the river will remain just that: wild and scenic.

Floating down the river you enter the homeland of a wide variety of animals. The careful observer will be able to see raccoons, mink, osprey, herons and bald eagles. Gentle blacktailed deer venture to the river at dusk and dawn, ever watchful as they nibble on plants and grasses.

Black bears, though often more tan or cinnamon brown, are other frequent visitors to the water's edge. As adults, these solitary creatures weigh more than 300 pounds, and have the luxury of having to gain weight every fall to produce enough body fat to last them through the fierce cold of winter. You often see these mammoth creatures munching berries or ambling through the river in search of fish.

And of course there are the fish, salmon and steelhead especially, heroic swimmers who travel more than a hundred miles up the river to spawning grounds. The fabled fishing of the Rogue has lured many anglers. You see them from dawn to dusk, standing on the banks or up to their hips in midstream, patiently waiting for that big one. Lucky anglers proudly hold up their catch in a triumphant display for passing boats.

As you glide down the river, all is quiet and peaceful, a perfect place for feeling nature's majesty.

Your boat might stop at Zane Grey's cabin at Winkle Bar. Grey spent a lot of time on the Rogue and came to love what he called the "errant and boisterous river." He immortalized it in "Rogue River Feud," a novel about the deadly enmity between commercial and sport fishermen.

A Spartan Life

In the 1850s gold was discovered along the river and miners came to seek their fortune. Near Whiskey Creek you can visit an old miner's cabin, now on the National Register of Historic Places. This humble home gives you a glimpse into the Spartan life of those rugged individualists. Mining equipment is still strewn around the place, for then, as now, getting gear up the river was a herculean effort. As a result, most things only made a one-way trip.

The gold rush put white civilization in direct conflict with the native resident of the area, the Takilma Indians. The bloody Rogue River Indian Wars virtually annihilated the Indian tribe of 9,500 people.

The Takilma were hunters and fishermen who lived near the Rogue. In their native dress they must have been a most impressive sight. Their clothes were made from animal skins and the hats often had the ears of the animal, deer or bear, still attached. They sewed intricate patterns of white dentalium shells into their buckskin clothing and wore long tasseled headbands of red woodpecker crests and feathers.

The Indians lived on a simple diet of salmon scooped from the Rogue and a gruel made from acorns, gathered beneath the towering trees that border the river.

Many place names along the Rogue bear witness to the demise of the Takilma: Massacre Rock, Battle Bar and Bloody Spring. Today, all is quiet except for the splash of fish and the call of the birds.

Boat trips often stop so trekkers can make short hikes along the river. The 40-mile Rogue River Trail winds along the shore. Sturdy hikers can make the complete trail in four to five days, camping out or sleeping in lodges along the way. But even if you only walk half a mile, you will be able to appreciate the rich and varied vegetation of the Rogue.

The stands of red cedar were a favorite of the Takilma, who used it for houses and dugout canoes. Close by the river edge are ferns galore, including the sword fern, a standard item in flower shops. And in the late summer, the bushes are heavy with juicy berries, ripe for picking.

Back on board, you are relaxed and ready for the next set of rapids. Wet and wild, a journey along the Rogue is not the usual vacation: no telephones, no TVs, no gaudy souvenir stands. You are traveling backward, away from civilization, to the time when the earth was like the Rogue: wild and scenic.

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