Where the Wild Things Are
Rogue River Rafting Wildlife Encounters…
Seeing a bald eagle or moose is a highlight of a whitewater rafting trip. But when night falls and the billions of stars blanket the night sky with a trail of twinkling lines, encounters with the local wildlife becomes a little less…magical.
I know intellectually that the skunk I ran into at the privy had less desire to see me than I had to see it. But it seems the consequences are far worse for me. And I know bears are generally nothing more than “big ‘fraidy cat raccoons,” as our guide put it. But a startled bear is not a happy bear. Again, I believe, we humans are disadvantaged on this point.
Not all wild encounters are perilous. Most are awe-inspiring. An osprey diving for a trout is truly a sight to behold. And some encounters are just plain fun.
My first day on a Rogue River rafting trip I watched countless salmon jump up Rainey Falls.
“Salmon are delicious, but silly,” I pronounced to no one in particular.
I mean, imagine a man jumping about 10 times his height against thousands of CFS of rushing water just to well…you know. Mate. I’ve heard some pretty crazy pick-up lines and endured some very interesting male mating behaviors, but none of that has ended in death for the suitor. (That I know of.)
That night as I attempted to sleep, I heard the sound of hundreds—maybe thousands or even millions—of salmon jump and splat themselves on the boulders next to my sleeping bag. I felt completely connected to nature. And just a little bit hungry.
The next morning we had our first bear sighting. Then our second. And third.
As they come down from the Siskiyou Mountains to catch salmon, these are magical mammals to watch. From the safety of the raft and in broad daylight, they really do seem like harmless beasts.
When night falls, however, even the beasts I’d normally consider harmless can seem terrifying.
At 3:31 a.m. some very large animal barreled through the center of camp and jumped into Dulog Creek just feet from my head. I screamed a little…maybe a lot. Actually, I think I said, “Uh-oh.”
Tents unzipped, flashlight beams darted around.
“Tricia, are you OK?” inquired my fellow campers.
I was. But I was also wide awake and wondering if dawn would ever come.
At first light I investigated the species of our invasion. Relieved, there were nothing but deer prints down by the water. (Really big deer prints, for the record.)
Many of the pristine and idyllic campsites along the Rogue are equipped with electric fences for food storage. Given my previous nocturnal experiences, I felt compelled to set up my camp inside one of these areas.
I must have been the first OARS guest to think of this brilliant idea, because the river guides kept shaking their heads in disbelief. Later, as I received endless ribbing and teasing, it became clear that although I found my idea brilliant, I was not earning cool-river-girl points. I didn’t care. I had a great night’s sleep inside my skunk-, bear-, deer- and salmon-free fence.
In the morning a fellow rafter asked why I didn’t just sleep in a tent.
“And miss all the action? No way!”
Photos: James Kaiser