A Flurry of Fun - Ashland is Base Camp - Winter '24 Issue

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summertime Thrills in Southern Oregon

Bears, Birds and Wafting

Summertime thrills in Southern Oregon

Story and poem by Paula Bandy

Do you have plans this summer? Whatcha doin' this summer? These seem to be the questions on everyone's lips these days! Hmmm...no summertime blues in Southern Oregon. How could there be; everyday there are numerous adventures to groove on. From the legends of Shakespeare, to the bevel of stars at Britt, to the nectarous wine sipping throughout this verdant valley, you can rediscover old favorites, and new, along the way. The profusion of day trips and weekend treks are reminiscent of the old Patsy Cline tune, “You Belong To Me.” Just turn on the music and sing along.

See the bears along the Grants Pass streets

Raft the Rogue and soon escape the heat

Just remember all this in

Southern Oregon.

Shop the boutiques of old Jacksonville

Look for scat and tracks along wild hills

Still remember this will make you smile

Southern Oregon.

Wiking, wafting and wishing here.

You might be lonesome so bring your doggie dear.

Paraglide across the wide terrain

Walk the marsh and watch the sand hill cranes.

Take a twilight float down the stream

Southern Oregon.

                        -Paula Bandy

Whether you're looking for something to do today, searching for the perfect thing when your guests arrive, planning a family adventure, dreaming of a romantic evening or just simply wanting to be out and about under the summer sky, you're in the right place.


Throughout the region are designated wilderness areas...where there is no path to follow other than scat and tracks. From the Rogue River, which Brad Niva of Rogue Wilderness Adventures says is "one of the top ten family rivers in the country," to the Klamath Basin, which falls in the top ten for birding, there is something for everyone in Southern Oregon.

An abundance of talent in the area also provides wonderful outdoor music venues—check out wineries and breweries, restaurant and bar patios and special concerts along the rivers and in community parks. Such a diversity of sights and sounds abound!

Postcard photo ops line the downtown streets of Grants Pass. When visiting recently I saw several folks stop, laugh, and pose—with the bears. Jitterbug bears, lumberjack bear, Samurai bear, huckleberry bear, Captain Rogue (pirate bear and his cubby), chrome bears, Cleobeartra, music and "arteest" bears, bears, bears, bears! Melissa Vierra of Evergreen Federal Bank says, "As people drive in they're surprised by the bears. Some are more tucked away and kids get excited about tracking down the bears."

The bears are a community project of Evergreen Bank. Started in 2003 as a fundraiser for local non-profits, the bears have taken on a life of their own and created a distinctive mascot for the town. All the bears are theme-painted by local artists. Vierra laughingly says, "Sometimes the bears have a lot of the artist's personality." There are now 80 bears in celebration of Evergreen Bank's banking service to the area. The last 20 were painted with Southern Oregon themes, and, not to anthropomorphize, seem alive in their element: Boss Henry, lumberjack bear, is casually picking his teeth with an evergreen branch.

Since the beginning, proceeds from the auctioned bears totaling approximately half a million dollars have been funneled to local non-profits. Although not currently being auctioned off, the bears became so popular they now host their own 23,000-square-foot building—The Bear Hotel. The space is used as a venue for non-profits and banking customers and also has artist studios where new bears are being painted and their progress can be followed. Tours are available but by appointment only. See Evergreen Bank's website for photos, and additional information. The venue also holds the Rogue Winterfest (www.roguewinterfest.org), a hugely popular Christmas party with the peculiar theme of Christmas on Mars; 15,000 people attended the bear's party last year.

Also in Grants Pass is Evergreen Park with its wildlife sculptures, hidden creatures and 30-foot waterfall. Situated along the Rogue River, the park is a tour of beauty and public art by local artists.

To get there pick up old Highway 238 in Jacksonville and take the beautiful pre-interstate road to Grants Pass. You'll wind through charming villages, woodlands, forested hills and a dozen-plus Applegate Valley wineries along the way. After your bear adventure take time to visit the art museum and enjoy some savory sidewalk cuisines in old downtown.

But let's imagine that you're looking for a real bear adventure...the black bear kind. But not necessarily up close and personal. "Summertime on the Rogue is based on rafting," says Brad Niva, owner of Rogue Wilderness Adventures. Along the shores of the Rogue, and high in the skies above, the canyon is alive with wildlife. Chances of viewing otters, eagles, beaver and bear are everywhere while you hike, fish, raft or enjoy a jet boat tour. Zane Grey, patron of nature and the west, wrote several of his western novels in this wilderness habitat where his cabin still stands today.

Rogue Wilderness Adventures offers a wide variety of rafting trips with family-friendly to Class IV thrills, from camping to historic lodging. Rafting is available mid-June to mid-September and offers "great warm water, fun white water," says Niva. The Rogue River features open access— however, the 34-mile 'wild' section has been protected since 1968, offering the best of both worlds, and is "one of the easiest accessible white water rivers in the country," emphasizes Niva.

Rogue Wilderness also offers a Twilight Float, which is on my list for summer. With a more adult focus, this three-hour downriver float leaves at 5 p.m. every evening—“a magical time when the wildlife comes alive," says Niva. Wine and a picnic are a part of this journey as the setting sun filters through the canyon and dances off the sparkling water.

And speaking of wine....wafting, wishing and wiking...what? Niva laughs and explains: "We joke it is like Elmer Fudd going wafting on the Wogue Wiver." But better. Wafting, wishing and wiking are the perfect sojourns for this burgeoning wine region of Southern Oregon. You simply can't get this anywhere else. Naturally connected, wiking is wine and hiking, wishing is wine and fishing, and yes, you've got it, wafting is wine and rafting. Elmer Fudd may have been ahead of his time! Rogue Wilderness in conjunction with their partner, Wine Hopper Tours, has conjured up these savory journeys over hills, through valleys and down the river with the epicurean heart in mind. Focus is on the beauty of the landscape as well as local foods and wines produced in this area. These lodge-to-lodge excursions are seasonal with wafting as summer's delight, wiking in spring and fall and wishing in October's crisp air.

But the excursions don't end there. Dogs need adventures too! Paddles and Paws is a three-day human/canine float that is a featured story in the newly published Ruff Guide. But the paddle options only begin with the pooches. The list goes on. Coming up Labor Day Weekend is Paddles and Pints, a four-day camp/lodge trip featuring Oregon beer. There is also Paddles and Pinots and the soon-to-be launched Paddles and Pride for the LGBT community. Oh, and Hopaliscious, a beer and hiking adventure sure to leave you thirsty for more.

So, during those lazy, dreaming moments in the dog days of summer, or as you're thrilled with the water spray from the Rogue's rapids, you can also plan for wiking and wishing away the days of autumn. Just 'bear' in mind sweet memories are made of days in Southern Oregon.


A little to the east, over the Cascades, is a relatively unknown area that is a delight to the nature lover and naturalist. The Klamath Basin, part of the western edge of the Great Basin, lands in the U.S. top ten for birding. This area is on the Pacific Migratory Bird Flyway and because of the numerous lakes, streams and marshes, provides a layover area for 80 percent of the birds that pass overhead during these migrations. The number of species is mind-boggling, especially the number that can be, and often are, observed in just one day.

Klamath Falls is home to the Upper Klamath Lake, the largest natural, freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. The surrounds offer opportunities for quiet drifts, jet boats, sailing, trophy fishing, bird watching or simply relaxing under huge pines at one of the local resorts. If you're looking for that possible once-in-a-lifetime excursion, check out the enchanting 'canoe drift under the moonlight' that Klamath Falls-based Roe Outfitters offers. They also provide birding trips, boating, rafting, kayaking, canoeing and fishing tours throughout the Klamath Basin. Lower Klamath Refuge, designated in 1908 by then-President Theodore Roosevelt, is the country's first waterfowl refuge. All of the basin's refuges provide photo blinds for wildlife watching; maps are available in Klamath Falls, online, and at the lower refuge visitor's center.

The landscape is dotted with offbeat museums, also. My favorite is the Baldwin Hotel Museum because of its uniquely preserved history of the real folks who worked, stayed and lived there. This old hotel turned museum brings life—not just history—to the area. Also worth seeing are the Klamath County and Fort Douglas Museums as well as the Favell Museum, which offers a wide array of tribal artifacts, crafts and western and wildlife art on display. The museum's architecture and design is unique in itself, as it is laid out like a wagon wheel.

Oregon's longest zipline is in the developing stages for an area about 30 miles west of Klamath Falls. Construction and opening are being planned for possibly late 2014 or 2015 for this joint venture between Roe Outfitters and the U.S. Forest Service. Check back for further developments.

If soaring like a bird is something you've always dreamed of, Southern Oregon offers numerous opportunities for that as well. Paragliding is trending and there are a number of local businesses offering beginning to more advanced instruction. There is also tandem paragliding, which means your flight is with a certified and experienced pilot. Most of these launch from Woodrat Mountain, which is outside of Jacksonville up the Applegate Valley. This is also the wine trail, which could come in handy after soaring over the mountains! Morning and evening flights are the preferred for beginners.

So, as you can see, Southern Oregon is a good place to be. Boutique shopping, delicious local fresh foods, distinctive handcrafted wines showcasing the diverse terroir of the region, white water, calm water, beautiful landscapes and a variety of ways to view them, wildlife—both sculpted and real—all collaborate to create memories that last a lifetime.

Bathe your nights under the stars of dreams. Pick up postcards and souvenirs. Southern Oregon sets you free.

Have a memorable summer...just like you used to. Get out. Get outside. Get all about it. Living, it's right here.


Klamath Basin







Grants Pass area



www.evergreenbanking.com (click on Community Events)










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