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Wild Side: A memorable trip down the wild Rogue

This past week I floated down the Wild Rogue River with several KS Wild stalwarts to commune once again with this wild place. We put in three rafts at Grave Creek Boat Ramp downstream from Grants Pass and set off for the world-class multi-day river trip that ends near the Oregon Coast. Along our way, we passed through some of the most iconic wilderness in the West.

Sitting by the banks of the Rogue River at Half Moon Bar, I contemplated the past few days. On our first day we passed by a bald eagle nesting in a large Douglas fir tree. It was as if the bird was heralding downriver for the adventure that awaited us. Someone mentioned it there to let us know that the Wild Rogue River is a special place — it is a place where wildlife are happy and where people visit to renew their careworn souls.

The lower Rogue River was one of the original National Wild and Scenic Rivers, designated in 1968 with the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the act this year. In 1978 a small area of the Rogue canyon was designated wilderness, but much of the land managed by the Bureau of Land Management was left unprotected. There have been efforts by the Oregon Congressional delegation for nearly a decade to protect this river canyon and safeguard this special wild canyon, but they continue to languish in Congress.

I have been down the Wild Rogue River several times. My first trip was as a young employee of the Medford District Bureau of Land Management more than 20 years ago. Since then I have been lucky enough to take several trips. One magnificent trip was with my wife just after we were married. Our great friend Pete gifted us a lodge-to-lodge trip as a wedding present.

On that trip we first stopped at Black Bar Lodge and then we made it down to the aptly named Paradise Lodge. These wilderness lodges each have their own unique character, and are steeped in history, having had movie stars and presidents as guests. They are at once a throwback to a bygone era, and a place that feels so modern and luxurious, out of place to have beds and full service dining in the wild, wild backcountry.

Sitting by the fire enjoying a post-river cocktail, I was taken back to a time without cell phones and the internet, where families gathered before the fireplace and played after-dinner charades. Along with Zane Grey’s cabin, these lodges are the only human-built structures still in existence along the Wild & Scenic stretch of the Rogue.

This past week, the fall colors are beaming down, reflecting off the river with bright yellow, orange, red and evergreen. Small half pounders (late season summer steelhead) were leaping out of the river, looking for a meal on the river’s surface. The gentle rain whispered on the trees and river. The parched earth soaked it up.

The duck-like Mergansers with orange heads, bright white egrets, and the Great Blue Herons were all active. We even saw a healthy black bear on the banks of the river that gazed at us. She seemed more concerned with us then we were of her, which is always reassuring.

This part of the Rogue is wilderness. You can feel it. Even though you see other boaters and hikers, there is a sense of wild that you can only find far away from screens and Wi-Fi. You find it only away from roads and all that they bring. Away from the noise and commotion of cars, motors, and the buzzing of electronic gadgetry. Sitting on the banks of the wild Rogue, I was enveloped by wild nature and not the crushing despair of our modern times.

I was, at once, rejuvenated.

Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.

KS Wild staff rafting down the Rogue River. Photo by Darren Campbell.