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A trip down the river of time with Zane Grey as our guide

I was not looking forward to a long weekend of guard duty at Camp Pendleton while stationed with the 4th Marine Division back in 1970.

After all, I would be stuck in the silent squad bay when I wasn't on duty. My buddies would be out on liberty in sunny Southern California.

Yep, fate certainly has a mean streak.

Then I spotted an old paperback in the recreation room during my rounds. It was "The Rogue River Feud" by Zane Grey.

Life was suddenly good.

When I wasn't on duty that weekend, I was floating the lower Rogue with the book's hero, a wounded World War I veteran named Kevin Hill battling the bad guys in one of the baddest river canyons in the West.

Memories of that weekend 41 years ago resurfaced last week when I and MT photographer Jamie Lusch spent a night in the caretaker's house at Winkle Bar on the lower Rogue with a U.S. Bureau of Land Management river crew.

Just a few hundred feet away is Grey's historic fishing cabin where, in 1929, he reputedly jotted down much of the book. For showers, he had a mansion just outside of Los Angeles.

Although he died in 1939, well before I was born in Grants Pass, vintage 1951, Grey was an old acquaintance.

As a youngster back in Kerby, I read many of his westerns. I had ridden with the "Riders of the Purple Sage." I suffered with Arizona Ames as he pined for the girl of his dreams.

Granted, even as a kid, I found his formulaic romantic westerns a bit syrupy. But he was a skilled novelist writing to meet the demands of the day when the fellow in the white hat was required to gallop in on a white horse to save the fair damsel.

Beside, just as Grey got me out of that squad bay back in Pendleton, he took me away from Kerby, a place I longed not to be as a youngster.

Funny, as an adult, in terms of the number of times around the sun at least, I now find it a pretty little place with a fascinating history. Go figure.

Say what you will about Grey as a writer, he was better at literature than building cabins. The fishing cabin he and others built in 1926 seems to rely heavily on the architecture-askew style.

Yet the cabin reflects an intriguing part of our southwest Oregon history. Grey's 100-mile, 1925 float trip down the Rogue from the mouth of Grave Creek to the ocean was among the first.

It was during that trip that the deft flyfisher first saw Winkle Bar and fell in love with it.

Check out his classic, non-fiction, 1928 book, "Tales of Fresh Water Fishing," for his perspective on Winkle Bar:

"The rushing river at this point makes a deep bend round a long oval bar, with rocky banks and high level terraces above, and both wooded and open land," he wrote.

"Here it flows through a lonely valley set down amid the lofty green mountain slopes," he continued. "A government forest trail winds out some 20 miles to the nearest settlement. Far indeed it is across the dark Oregon peaks to railroad or automobile road!"

A dentist by training who had practiced in the Big Apple before coming west, Grey was definitely at his best when plying non-fiction waters.

He was not at his best around humanoids.

One of my favorite people in the Galice area, the late Norman "Bud" Lewis, told me during a 1997 interview that Grey was not a people person.

"He was rather an arrogant person, a little above the common herd," he recalled.

He knew of what he spoke. As a youngster born in the late 1920s, Lewis earned a dollar each time he carried one of Grey's fall steelhead up from the river to the fish camp.

"They gave me a dollar to pack 'em up here where my dad would smoke 'em," he said of a site near Galice.

That was before the lower Rogue became a recreational mecca for people across the nation.

"Zane Grey would have a complete hissy fit if he saw the river today, " Lewis concluded. "He'd just turn around and leave. He liked the solitude."

But even Grey, whose writings have lured people to the Rogue for nearly a century, would still find plenty of wonderful solitude at his beloved Winkle Bar.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.