Inside Our Valley
When the great anthropologist Franz Boas came to the Northwest, he found American Indian place names that signaled the adoption of identity from nature. Places like "Tree Standing on Flat Beach," "Having Coho Salmon" or "Sound of Dripping Water."
Writer Kim Stafford, in "Having Things Right" (Penguin, 1987), observed that such names were about what happens somewhere. Like the two islands where a land bridge sometimes forms at low tide called "Two Round Things Meeting Now and Then."
If we practiced such nomenclature, we'd have places like "Crazy People Drop From Sky," "Riffle Turns Kayakers Upside Down," or "Sunset Knocks Socks Off."
As author John Kemper wrote in his book "Exploring Southern Oregon's Beautiful Places" (Outdoor Press, 2003), "Without sounding too much like a Chamber of Commerce representative, I'm going to say right at the outset that Southern Oregonians live in an earthly paradise."
Who's to argue? As a grandfather was overheard telling the youngster at Crater Lake, "To live in Oregon and not come here is like living in Arizona and not going to the Grand Canyon."
The marquee attractions — Crater Lake, Oregon Caves, Table Rocks, Mount McLoughlin, the Rogue River, the Oregon Coast — are tips of the iceberg. The riches are sometimes tucked away.
"Don't expect to find it unless you know where it is," guidebook author William Sullivan says of Toketee Hot Springs, a swimsuits-optional kind of pool near Toketee Falls. That advice could apply to any number of places that have to be sought out.
We're still adopting identity from nature. Just talk to a fishing bum on the trail of winter steelhead, a birder stalking a gray-crowned rosy finch, a paraglider waxing poetic about drifting the sky.
We live among eight wilderness areas comprising half a million acres. Do you know where to try your hand at backpacking? Where to find the perfect camping spot? Where to go paragliding, rafting, kayaking, mushrooming, trail running?
What can you do at Crater Lake once you've seen the lake? Did you know you can fish for rainbow trout and kokanee on the lake's Wizard Island? Or take an easy .6-mile walk to the Pinnacles, needle-like rock formations known to scientists as fumaroles?
How do you get started backpacking? What if you want to go kayaking on the Rogue River?
Some hardy souls around here fight the wintertime blahs by cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, winter camping, ice fishing or snowshoeing.
When the Oregon Coast calls, your choices include whale watching, crabbing, clamming, hiking, scuba or fishing for species ranging from chinook salmon to tuna.
With all of this going on around us, it seems that almost everyone has an interest in outdoor photography, and the region is certainly jam-packed with professionals who are keen to share tips with the rest of us.
The same goes for all sorts of outdoor learning. Local residents and visitors have a constant stream of classes and outings at their disposal — many of them free — ranging from guided hikes, ski outings and bird walks to the classes organized by the Siskiyou Field Institute, Coyote Trails School of Nature and others.
This issue of Our Valley was inspired by the outdoor possibilities that abound in our backyard, from wilderness excursions to more civilized pursuits.
For instance, have you visited the wine-tasting rooms around the Bear Creek Valley? It's a lovely outing, and one that cycling devotees claim is even better on your bicycle.
Want wildflowers? You can see them in Southern Oregon fully half the year if you know where to look, thanks to elevation differences and the vagaries of geology.
Grizzly Peak is just one prime spot for wildflowers, including delphiniums that tower over your head as they bloom from late July into August. And don't forget to check out the vernal pools at the top of the Table Rocks, with their signature botanical oddity: dwarf woolly meadowfoam, which grows nowhere else in the world.
Speaking of wildfowers, did you know there are more than 100 species inside Oregon Caves National Monument? Along with 86 bird species, 75 kinds of butterflies and eight different bats.
To make the caves even more accessible, the National Park Service will begin offering a new Oregon Caves tour this year aimed at families, giving kids the opportunity to explore at their own level. For adults interested in the science, there will now be a "speleo-science tour" of greater depth.
If you've watched expert kayakers running whitewater and thought about trying your hand, but you were unsure where on the Rogue to get started — and what to do when you capsize — we've got you covered.
The same goes for rafting. Fly fishing. And paragliding.
In fact, Woodrat Mountain near Ruch is one of the top sites in the country for paragliding. Local fliers say it's extremely mellow, almost meditative — until a bald eagle soars up and gives you the flinty eye.
In some of Southern Oregon's wild places, you will inevitably see instances of humankind's continuing abuse of the natural world. The litter at popular fishing holes, clearcuts that never grew back, miners' tailings and rusty junk left in the forests.
But you will also see good news. Trail maintenance work done by volunteers. Restoration projects in riparian zones. That landing strip built atop Lower Table Rock that instead became part of a trail (developers once wanted to build housing there).
It's been said we are loving the outdoors to death. An estimated 50,000 people visit the Table Rocks each year. Of course, they do. In addition to the interesting geology, there are more than 70 species of animals and 300 different kinds of wildflowers up there.
When you visit a sensitive spot, follow the backpackers' credo: Take only photos, leave only footprints. And remember that the outdoors comes with its perils. People die every year from drowning, falls and lightning.
But there's another kind of peril. The danger you'll get hooked on fishing, hiking, rafting, paragliding, etc., and become one of those helpless outdoors junkies, your life ruined by sport, careening around the sober working folk with a dusty car, a sunburned face, fish guts on your clothes and a blissed-out grin.
This can strike at any age. Mick Nash, a recent North Medford High School graduate, became so addicted to wilderness through his work in the Kalmiopsis that he shifted to the outdoors (which he calls "more valuable experiences") from video games.
After a while you may take to naming your favorite places in our amazing region. And future anthropologists can puzzle over places like "Place Where Many Morels Grow," "Kayaks Float With Rafts" and "Fish Gets Bigger With Every Telling."