Where Is The Far Beyond?

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Where is the far beyond? This  is a question with an answer just as far away, quite out of reach by human understanding. But there is a river where one can go and might find a far easier answer to that question.   At least that is what the Nez Perce called the Grande Ronde River in Northeastern Oregon: “River that flows into the Far Beyond.” All their answers to many great mysteries were found there.

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We do five-day float trips on the lower 100 miles of this beautiful river, and at the bottom end it has enough goose-neck bends to seem like  never-ending turns with a new view around each one.  Never ending beauty also adds to this same feeling of having entered an arena of inexhaustible wonder.  Various landscapes are encountered along the way, from a thick forest of pine and fir in parkland like stands at the top, to subtle changes along the route, finally entering the more arid environs of open rimrock canyonland territory.

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Rapids are never too demanding, except for a place or two at very high water. Most is just good solid fun without worry of changing your underwear after the run. In between the whitewater sections are placid pools and quieter water where more time can be used to study the hillsides for wild animals that frequent the canyon. Many elk and deer can be found on mid elevation benches taking advantage of spring green-up for those who float the river early enough.

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This river is a product of the Wallowa and Elkhorn watersheds, both draining from the massive shoulders of sawtooth mountains that kiss the sky. Snow melt gives rise to peak run-off sometime in late May and early June, depending on weather and annual precip conditions. But even when the river runs at the average peak flows, it is fast and furious, but not terribly difficult, and definitely not terrifying.  There are not many eddies, and the current is fast, so one need pay attention, all the same. Specially when camp is ready to be made, it sometimes means an adventurous landing.

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Not only is the corridor of  escarpents and lava layers overlying steep benchgrass slopes, but so too is the area steeped in a colorful history of the two cultures who discovered the hidden trearues at staggered timelines of progression. It is easy to see why the Nez Perce made a part of this terrain their esteemed homeland, as well as why early exlporers and homesteaders found similar reasons to seek security in the same places. Later modern day explorers, like Buzz Holmstrom, who then began floating these waters early on, established yet another course in riverine history and is an additional  subject we like to explore during our  float trips of current times.

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Side hikes to ridgeline and hillsides with a kaleidoscopic fill of colorful wildflowers can seem like jumping through the Looking Glass wth Alice in wonderland. It is like a different world, only it doesn’t take a Looking Glass to appreciate, just a boat to reach those places and hiking boots.

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When waters calm down and flows are on the backside of the peak, fishing becomes good again, for rainbow trout and smallmouth bass. The additional advantage of this river for fishermen is the pool to riffle ratio that creates ideal situations for the fish to occupy.  So for fishermen who can read water, there is a story behind every appropriate rock.

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This family oriented river also has great campsites where one can sit back and absorb scent of the pines waft with the coffee and bacon smells off a morning campfire, too. It is a great way to start a fun-filled day, and 5 days is too short, but better than none. And the only way to get close to the far beyond is to take the first step forward. All these rest will soon fall into place.

Let your fingers begin the walking to start the floating:     208:628-3523

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A Touch Stone To Salmon

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Often people on river trips do a lot of hiking and invariable get attracted by colorful stones they encounter along the way.  Many can not resist picking up some unusual  stone that speaks to them in a special way.   Later on with the passage of time and distance,  something happens when once again that same stone finds the palm of their hand.  Rubbing it is too powerful to resist, and not only does it feel good polishing the skin, but it also makes the mind take flight back to the canyonlands and river beds that sourced the stone.

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It then becomes a touch stone, whereas, every time it is touched, it brings back memories and serves to keep lessons of the past moving forward.  It reminds us of the importance certain places and events have during our own life times and  contributes to personal journeys as being a part of history in the making.  One such powerful event we hold each year in a special place on the Salmon River,  is our annual Sacred Salmon Ceremony at Spring Bar.  It is a gathering of people from  two major cultures to join forces in appreciating the return of salmon to the Salmon River.   Not for political, economic, or religious reasons, but for a chance to collectively let the salmon know that all people recognize their importance as a gift to the people.   Rather, at some spiritually cosmic level, it is where an appreciation can be gained for at least the transference of various forms of energy as time expands. It gives us human life forces a chance to co-mingle with fish-nation life forces to help  strengthen a reciprocal preditor-prey bond that is the law of nature everywhere.

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Chinook Salmon is an icon not only of the Salmon River, which is its namesake, but also to the Nez Perce people (First Nation) who have depended on them for countless centuries as an important element of human subsistence.  Their worldview about nature is that everything is connected and all life forms have equal relationship with each other.  All forms in nature are a gift to each other, and balanced reciprocity is required for maintaining a perpetual level of harmony  between all economies.

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Unfortunately the wild fish are in jeopardy of potential extinction and thus protected by the endangered species act.  This is a policy developed by the other human culture (Second Nation) that arrived on the scene later, but had a more dominating world view about nature that led more to undermining it and thus required new means for potential restoration.

Consequently, with more means to harness nature’s bounty, dams were put into all major river’s  to help turn water into energy for a more industrial oriented economy and culture.  It was known that fish runs would suffer when dams would be put into place,  but a necessary sacrifice for the price of progress. Thus, hatcheries were spawned as mitigation for what damage dams were anticipated to create.

Hatchery fish are now the backbone of our current fishery, but long-range success is highly questionable.   Representative of a once significant natural resource that brought nutrients to the land and people before dams, their annual return is far shy of historic runs in number and contribution to the natural economy.

The long-range future is questionable, because wild fish are the vital gene pool keeping ecosystem function healthy.  Continuous dilution of what it took eons to create, is a big unknown. Speculatively, many of our scientists are not hugely optimistic for the long haul, as the more disruptive ways of the industrial economy continues squeezing everything possible out of all natural resources in the name of progress.

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But part of progress is recognizing when to stop, or change horses mid stream, to avoid total destruction brought about by riding a run-away horse with no bridle.  But a bridal has its place in the grand scheme of things, when wisdom is practiced to let the wild horse run free at times. Likewise with the river, some portions need to run wild with no cement  bridle to prevent that pure natural flow.

So too, in a country composed of two sovereign nations tied to each other with treaty obligations and similar interests to maintain the integrity of all our natural resources, fostering mutual cooperation between them is very important. When two cultures have different world views towards nature, it becomes crucial to find as much common ground for the better good of all people, fish, and wildlife.

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This is why we started a sacred salmon ceremony 11 years ago.  A big part of it is to recognize our differences, honor our treaty obligations, and develop better trust levels between all people’s who share the same planet. Face to face contact is the most powerful way to appreciate learning more about each other’s culture and is our “touchstone event”  to help remember the importance of our relationship to all of nature.

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The 12th Annual Sacred Salmon Ceremony is about appreciation for our human dance with the  gifting economy of nature. It is free and open to all people. To learn more about the specifics: http://www.doryfun.com/uniquetrips.html.  Please join us on the Salmon River May 18, 2013 at Spring Bar – 10 miles upriver of Riggins, Idaho.  High Noon, Mountain Time.

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Who Needs A Guide?

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No one, and everyone, is the finely distilled answer.  If you could ask Lewis and Clark what value a guide has, you would soon discover how important their guides were to the success of their mission.  For example, on the 1806 return trip in June, Lewis and Clark had great apprehension about crossing the snow-covered mountains in ID/MT without guides. They felt they could not cross without them and luckily were  able to persuade  Speaking Eagle, Black Eagle, and Ahs-kahp, who were three of the very best Nez Perce guides to lead their way. Of course, these were not their only guides, as Sacagawea also played a huge role in leading them a good part of their distance in uncharted territories.

These  Indian guides were as excited about leading the expedition then, as guides of today often get when taking modern people into some of the same  rugged and beautiful landscapes that continue to drop jaws.  The Nez Perce were paid with guns which made their hunting easier, while guides today get paid in money which  make their livelihoods possible. Though the more esteemed value to both types  of guides was deeply felt in the heart and spirit where no material things can be taken.  What is life really about, if not to get out and see what there is to see and to share with others the utter magic that it represents to all ?

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But, in the process of getting out and seeing things we have never seen before, it is only reasonable to find a good guide. It can be a writing guide, or human guide, but in either case it is the information and knowledge they contain that we seek. Sure, anyone can go out on their own without consulting any form of guide for true unadulterated exploration. But, aside from that goal, guides help us save time and offer more opportunities to see cooler things we might otherwise miss.  It takes a large chunk of time to make your own trial and error path trying to negotiate any new jungle.  The learning curve is greatly reduced by piggy-backing off someone elses  consumption of time to figure things out.

Even guides consult other guides, maps, guidebooks, and any source that might provide additional insights into becoming more intimate to an area. Whether it is new country, or a different perspective in familiar country, one can never learn too much.  So while some say adventure is not the map, it is still true that a  map  has an advantage to make the adventure less risky and time effective endeavor.  Dead end trails eat away time and back-tracking efforts can sometimes even be cause for missing a final planned destination when time runs out.

Hidden dangers, and dangers not even suspected to be dangers that are known to guides, but not the uninitiated, can mean the difference between failure or success, or in extreme cases life and death.  All through time humans have sought the advice of guides. From soothsayers to Youtube, people continue to seek some kind of source to guide their way forward through the world.

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As a river guide, I often find myself in places such as where  the Nez Perce guides of yester-year once stood, in awe of their surroundings. Like a special place in the mountains where Speaking Eagle, Black Eagle, and Ahs-kahp stopped before a rock Caryn built by their ancestors to remind other travelers to pause and wonder at the meaning of their world.  It is said that the voice of Itsi-yai-ayi, or spiritual Coyote, would sometimes speak to those who listen:

“Frail Human, standing tall with head near the stars above,

Proud-standing, with feet on the birthing-place of rivers,

Safely have you come thus far through these mountains.

How could you tell which way to go?

Looking up, what do you see? Nothing but sky.

Looking down, deep canyons.

Behind – mountains. To right and to left – mountains.

Looking ahead – mountains. Mountains as far as eyes can see.

You, who are a mere Human! How can you find your way?

Something Greater than you has been your Guide.”

 

Who floats your boat?

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See www.doryfun.com for guided adventure.

Swallowed Whole By Salmon River Ilt-swi-tsichs

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Ilt-swi-tsichs?  Yes, this is the name given to a great monster that roamed the very heartland of Nez Perce Indian country, before they became Nez Perce Indians.  According to their creation legend, before people, there was a great monster with a mega appetite, that roamed the landscape of west – central Idaho and eastern Oregon. It had a voracious appetite and devoured every animal it could find.  Desperately,  the few remaining animals  called upon their hero “Coyote – the Trickster,” to work some kind of magic trick on the monster to save them.  So coyote hatched a plan and worked it cunningly.

He tied himself down with wild grape vines, then taunted the giant Ilt-swi-tsichs to suck him into his cavernous body. The monster huffed and puffed, and finally sucked coyote into his giant stomach. All the other animals were there to greet coyote after his ride down the slippery esophagus and passage into the big digestive room. But coyote was smart, he had a knife tied to his shin, so he took it out and stabbed the monster with it, from the inside. Then he cut a passage way out and freed all the animals. What to do next? Fox suggested: “why not make people out of all the monster’s body part?” So coyote did. He cut off the head and made the Flathead Tribe. The feet became the Blackfoot Tribe, and all the various body parts became separate Indian tribes. Lastly, when coyote held up the heart, trying to figure out what tribe to make next, a drop of blood dripped to the ground. Up sprang another people. People of the Heart, now called Nimiipuu or Nez Perce.

To this day, in the Kamiah Valley you can see a stone that is said to be the result of the Great Mystery, who turned the heart into a lasting form to remind the people of where they came from. Though this geologic wonder is along the Clearwater River, I found another place in Blue Canyon that has a similar rock form that may have served the same purpose for the clans and bands of historic Nez Perce. For it was Chief Whitebird and Toolhoolhoolzote occupied that occupied the  heartland of the Salmon River Country. At least, it does for me, as I engage my thoughts when passing by this unique riverine landscape.

When I float over waters of the Salmon River, I feel like I too have been swallowed up by the Ilt-swi-tsichs.   Descending the river is like sliding into the giant monster’s stomach filled full of a vast wilderness. It exposes me to a timeless emptiness, yet full of the essence of everything. That  fullness carries all the powers of an infinite origin and expansion –  a bigness that highlights smallness. It is incomprehensible, yet utterly humbling in all its mystery. And I am thankful for that.

Go Where Lewis and Clark Didn’t

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In 1805, when Lewis and Clark ventured west, they worked their way through and around many barriers  during their search for an inland Northwest Passage. One such obstacle was the Salmon River near North Fork, Idaho. When they got to that point, the local Indians told them that if they continued downriver, they would “no return”.  Thus, to this day, the Salmon river in Idaho is known as the “River of No Return.”

While Lewis and Clark by passed by the Salmon River to find passage over the Lolo Trail and old Nez Perce Indian Trial along the Lochsa and Clearwater River’s, they missed out on floating through the second deepest gorge in North America. Actually, the early explorers, fur trappers, and miners, built wooden scows with long sweeps fore and aft to propel them downriver, floating the section of river, Lewis and Clark didn’t.

They spent 5-6 months at a time, floating from North Fork to Lewiston, living off the land, hunting, fishing, trapping, and looking for gold. Once in the city of Lewiston (Idaho’s first capital) they cached in all their treasures and dis-assembled their boats to sell the wood. Then they bought a pack string of horses or mules and packed all the way back to North Fork to do the same journey again the next year. Thus, “The River of No Return” resumed its notoriety for being a one way river.  That is, until jet boats arrived on the scene and changed man’s ability to ascend the river, too.

We, here at Wapiti River Guides live along that famed “River of No Return” in Riggins, Idaho – on the bottom hundred miles of river. The Salmon is the longest (425 miles) free flowing river contained within one state (aside from AK) in North America.  It originates in the Sawtooth Mountains and Redfish Lake, near the small town of Stanley, and makes confluence with the Snake River in the bottom end of Hells Canyon. which borders Oregon on the west side.

Our 5 day trips take route on the remote section of canyon comprising the bottom 60 miles of river, where it eventually merges with “grandmother” Snake River.  The Seven Devil Mountain Range (nearly 10000′ elevation) form the divide between the Salmon and Snake Rivers between Riggins (1800′ elevation) and the confluence of these two rivers. With only 500′ difference in elevation between the two-mile deep canyons, similar geology make these canyons more or less twin sisters in geomorphology.  Both are deeper than the Grand Canyon, much to the surprise of many of our guests.

But, dazzling views, between daunting rapids, make this journey one of the most beautiful and exciting adventures on the planet. Oh, did I mention we might be a bit biased in our assessment of our favorite river run? Well, based on miles of smiles from previous river guests, surely we must not be too far off in our inflated assessment of the canyon splendor.

Also, for those who like more solitude and the sound of nature, rather than engine roar, the lower gorge has less jet boat traffic than the main salmon which flows through the Frank Church Wilderness Area.  Ironically, designated wilderness gets more man made noise in the canyon than non-designate (though very remote) wilderness. But that is fine with us. While people herd voraciously  to see sanctioned wilderness, we escort fewer folks into country just as spectacular, yet less popular. After all, people are like sheep and seem to want to go where everyone else does.

Not a sheep? Then travel with us, we will take you where Lewis & Clark dared not go, to uncrowded country where your elbows touch only the wide expanses.

River That Flows Into The Far Beyond

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Welleweah is an old Nez Perce word used to refer to the Grande Ronde River, in Northeastern Oregon. Like many Indian words, that often have more than one meaning, this word had two: “river that flows into the far beyond” and canyon where horses winter well.” Similar to place names that meant different things at different times or to various individuals, many of the words used by the Nez Perce are also onomatopoeic. This long, rolling greek derived word,  describes  rhetoric formed to copy sounds that are associated with an object or action. For example, coyote is called itsiyiyi or iceyeye, and comes from the yiyi or yeye yiping that is often heard when these wild canines howl at the moon, or whatever it is that they howl at.

It is also a word that describes what we sometimes yell as we plunge through exhilarating rapids of the wild rivers we float.  Why this primal urge hits when bouncing through lively whitewater may be related to the electricity in the water that comes from the spirit of the river.  Like a static charge, it jump starts the heart and promotes a surge of energy through one’s soul.

Before maps, google earth, and cars, when travel was confined to foot of man or horse, places and distances were larger than they are today. Or at least, relatively, that is, when the earth was still thought of as flat, rather than round.  Though circular thinking was large in primal times, by direct observation of nature’s way, it took more human inventions (telescopes, etc) and  thought evolution to determine the earth was a sphere and not something to fall off from.

From an early Nez Perce perspective, looking at a canyon like the Grande Ronde, more than a hundred miles long from where we launch boats and rafts today, near Minam Town, to our take-out at Heller Bar on Snake River, was like staring into oblivion. It probably seemed like the river, indeed, flowed into some far beyond place that took days to get to or could  never be  arrived at. But, they did winter their horses in the canyon parts they were familiar with, as the forested canyon of pines and fir also had lush grassy slopes for their animals.

Not only horses did well in the mix of grass and tree montane habitat, but so did deer and elk, and even the wooly mammoth, of times even farther back. This canyon provided wonderful forage for stock animals of the Nez Perce both in summer at the upper end, and winter on the lower elevation parts.

Unlike horse travel used to traverse the ridges and old Indian trails, our boats make sight-seeing in this canyon much easier and less impactful than grazing animals. While there are no Appaloosa horses, for which the Nez Perce are a famous for developing, or mammoths ambulating around, we do often see deer and elk getting their fill of the green of spring.

For river travelers of today, enjoying a watershed is much more than getting “rapidly” entertained.  Watching natures show, with all her cast members fading into and out of various scenes along the way, add a stimulating dimension to a river that will transport you into a time and place of the far beyond.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.

For more river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.com

or (more pics)  Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

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Rome, Rome, Rome Everywhere.

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Rome, Italy. Rome, Oregon. What commonality do they have? Well, basically both contain remnant ruins of the famed “Coliseum.” One, a building by the hand of man, in Italy, and  the other, an elemental structure  by the hand of nature, in Oregon.  it is the Rome in Oregon, where we launch our float trips from for the Lower Owyhee River.

Not fare from the put-in is a little cafe/cabin complex.  Along with a host of scattered ranches amid the high desert sagebrush,  are pretty much the only things that give enough status to make  Rome, its qualifications as a town.   That is,  if you call a few hick-ups  and an eye-blink at the side of the main highway (itself a thin thread through the lonely desert) as being a community name.

In the old days (1800’s) this area was accessed  by an  old stagecoach road.  Where it traversed the river,  soon became known as the  “Owyhee Crossing.” Not far from there,  were white rock formations that looked like the Coliseum in Rome. Thus,  the name “Rome” stuck, and has been so used ever since.   This “Romeness” seems to be everywhere hinted at when floating the river. Several places take on that same character, due to the fact that most of these coliseum likenesses  occur in the same type of rock formation. Most all are formed from  a mud-clay like conglomerate of ancient lake and river sediments that have been sculpted by wind and weather. They offer mute testimony to the whims of nature, and have been converted into marvelously shaped  hoodoos, pinnacles, and variously twisted human-like figurines.

The real magic for such natural beauty is that it creates a fantasy like world for humans to jump right into the middle of. It is like being able to go beyond fantasies of the mind, and actually live one,  in the real world.  The power of it all, is that like an addiction, more is always wanted. So we oblige that natural pull of the deserts magic and make an annual pilgrimage there each spring. And often more than once, beecause  in this unique landscape,  once is never enough.  The fantasy of living a fantasy never ends.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.

Don’t Forget. Now is the time for Owyhee Trips – see previous post: How Alone Do You Want to Be?

For more river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.com

or (more pics)  Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

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