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About Appeal tribune. (Silverton, Or.) 1999-current | View Entire Issue (July 7, 2021)
WEDNESDAY, JULY 7, 2021
Continued from Page 2B
for Rollie this year. But it turns out that managing two
small children’s access to sharp ﬁshing hooks is as
easy as teaching cats to play poker.
First, I tried having them take turns ﬁshing. This did
not go well.
“Why does Lucy get to ﬁsh? I WANT TO FISH!”
Then I tried to have both ﬁsh with Hannah’s help.
This immediately resulted in a lure getting stuck in the
raft’s bowline just as I had to jump back on the oars to
navigate a set of rapids.
Just after noon, we looked downstream and saw a
gigantic chunk basalt rock, roughly the size of a house,
sitting in the river on the left — indicating the start of
Basalt Rapids. Happily, it was pretty easy to navigate
down the right side.
Below, we entered the deep canyon.
Cliﬀs rose thousands of feet overhead as the river
squeezed into narrow gorges with rocks layered with
stripes of reds, blacks and browns overhead.
In the afternoon heat, I jumped oﬀ the boat and into
“Bye-bye girls,” I said, lying in the water with my
lifejacket. “You guys can row the next set of rapids,
As the afternoon wore on, we turned our attention
to ﬁnding a campsite, one of the most important deci-
sions of any raft trip. The map showed plenty of op-
tions, but we spotlighted one at a bend in the river.
The decision paid oﬀ.
As we came around the bend, we saw a big sand
beach sticking out below Red Wall — a cliﬀ that rises
2,300 feet overhead with columnar basalt. It was one
of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever seen.
We slowly unloaded the boat, carrying the gear into
the shade of a cluster of juniper trees. Both girls spent
their time splashing in the water and lying in the sand.
Later, I set up our table and art supplies and the girls
colored pictures of our raft, campsite and adventure
while we grilled cheeseburgers with apples and Caesar
In the evening, we made a campﬁre and s’mores.
We brought a special ﬁre pan and used our own ﬁre-
wood, packing out the ashes afterward. Leave No
Trace is not a suggestion here — it’s a way of life. Ev-
erything comes with you. Nothing is left behind.
The stars eventually came out, sparkling in the des-
The John Day River features desert scenery, great campgrounds and plenty of adventure in the 30 mile
rafting trip between Clarno and Thirtymile boat launches in the Oregon desert northeast of Madras.
HANNAH HOFFMAN/SPECIAL TO THE STATESMAN JOURNAL
A beach and campsite below Red Wall on the John Day River. ZACH URNESS / STATESMAN JOURNAL
Day 3: Windstorm and homeward
The ﬁnal day of our trip got oﬀ to an inauspicious
The dreaded winds arrived — a phenomenon that
often bedevils boats on the John Day.
Since it was our last day, Hannah made blueberry
pancakes for breakfast while I packed up the boat to
try and get an early start. We pushed oﬀ and immedi-
ately rode the high highs and low lows of a windy day.
In some canyons, the wind pushed us forward with
ease. I lay back as the river’s current and wind pushed
us downstream, through towering rock formations.
But then we’d come around a bend to ﬁnd the wind
pushing against us with gusts I’d estimate at 20 mph.
The girls curled up in their jackets in the fetal position
as I pulled as hard as I could to make any sort of pro-
At about noon, we looked up the canyon and saw
signs of civilization — a road that marked Thirtymile
Boat Launch, a remote outpost that represented the
end of our journey.
We reached the takeout to ﬁnd a motley crew of
boaters waiting to start their John Day adventure on
the river’s lower 40 miles. We shared beer and stories
and they helped pull our raft onto my trailer. We dis-
covered we had mutual friends and by the time it was
over, I was half thinking about following this band of
happy seafarers downstream for another 40 miles.
Hannah and the kids did not seem jazzed about this
idea. Our trip through wind, rain, sunshine and near-
calamity was enough to satisfy the adventure tank for
now. And almost as soon as we started driving out of
the canyon, Rollie was asleep, dreaming sweetly, I
hope, about our next trip down the John Day River.
John Day River
In a nutshell: An overnight wilderness rafting trip
through the Oregon canyonlands.
Required: Limited entry permit needed to ﬂoat May
1-July 15, bought via Recreation.gov.
Segments: There are multiple segments of the John
Day that all require diﬀerent distances and skills. Find
maps and info at: https://www.blm.gov/programs/
Info: Prineville District BLM, (541) 416-6700,
Fishing on the John Day River. ZACH URNESS / STATESMAN JOURNAL
Most famous ﬂoat: Clarno to Cottonwood Canyon
(70 miles or one week); Clarno to Thirtymile Boat
Launch (30 miles and three days); Thirtymile to Cot-
tonwood (40 miles and three to four days).
Equipment need: Everything for a fully self-sup-
ported trip including: wilderness toilet you bring down
in the boat, all the water you’ll need, an elevated ﬁre
pan for campﬁres (when allowed) and the ability to
pack out all garbage, including ashes.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter, photog-
rapher and videographer in Oregon for 13 years. Urness
is the author of “Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon” and
“Hiking Southern Oregon.” He can be reached at zur-
ness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801.
The John Day River features desert scenery, great
campgrounds and plenty of adventure in the 30 mile
rafting trip between Clarno and Thirtymile boat
launches in the Oregon desert northeast of Madras.
ZACH URNESS / STATESMAN JOURNAL
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A beach and campsite below Red Wall on the John Day River. ZACH URNESS/STATESMAN JOURNAL
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