All summer, the rookie rafters who find their way to Brad Niva's outfitting and raft-rental shop in Merlin have a litany of questions about where to go and what they'll find on a float down the Rogue River.
Where's a good stretch for first-timers? Where do we launch? What will we see? Where do we get out? How will we even find that place?
But none put the neo in neophyte better than rafters he meets at the downstream take-out after a day of rafting to shuttle them back upstream to their cars.
"It always kills me when they say, 'Oh, look. We're back where we started," laughs Niva, owner of Rogue Wilderness Adventures. "When have you been on a river that flows in a circle?"
Niva can't do much about the rafters who think they defy gravity. But soon he will be able to supply answers to these and myriad questions about the Rogue in a simple format never before available for the lion's share of the Rogue Valley's signature stream.
Niva is one of several Rogue experts now helping state parks officials put together a "water trail guide" to an 89-mile stretch of the Rogue whose users will have a comprehensive map so they know where they are, where they're going and what they'll pass along the way.
The guide will cover the stretch from Cole Rivers Hatchery near the base of Lost Creek dam downstream to Grave Creek, near the top of the Rogue's well-documented Wild and Scenic Section.
It will include everything from public-access points to the names and difficulty ratings of rapids, float lengths, bathroom locations and even denote heavy use sections.
Also included will be where to find a pay phone to call for a shuttle and ramp-side stores to get refreshments — even where cell phone reception tends to disappear.
The route will be drawn out and sprinkled with explanations and graphics — all on waterproof paper and for about $5.
"It'll be the most comprehensive river guide on the Rogue that's ever been done," Niva says. "I think it's going to be huge."
The guide is being compiled by Alex Phillips, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department's bicycle and water recreation coordinator.
Representatives from various local, state and federal agencies with land along the Rogue, as well as the Niva and the Southern Oregon Visitors Association, are pitching in.
Phillips says she hopes to see a first draft of the map around February. Then she plans to hold an open house for river-users to point out any omissions or changes before the final guide is sent for printing, she says.
The map's genesis is 2005, when various agencies joined state parks and recreation officials to begin an effort to write a trails plan for Oregon. Part of that included a water-trail plan.
Since then, water-trail guides have been completed for the Sandy and Willamette rivers.
The Rogue stretch is next, and the various groups have been meeting since February to collect the information they want to see in the Rogue map.
The need, Phillips says, is obvious, especially with the stretch's high use, conflicting use, potential conflicts with landowners and a slew of safety issues concerning casual boaters on potentially dangerous waters.
What it won't do, though, is give away favorite fishing spots or give navigational directions through rapids such as those included in guidebooks for the Wild and Scenic Section.
"We won't say, 'Run river right' here or anything like that because things change," Phillips says. "And, no, we won't be showing fishing holes."
Niva says the guide will save more than just the breath he takes to tell renters of his 60 rafts and inflatable kayaks the ins and outs of the trip they've chosen.
If nothing else, it will give rafters some safety tips and a clue on what to avoid and where to stop.
"There are so many people who get lost on the river," Niva says. I can't tell you how many nights we spend looking for people who miss their take-out (ramps)."