“No other country in the world has anything like it,” Moryc said. “Yet few Americans even know the system exists.”
FROM THE PUT-IN at Grave Creek, our fleet stretched out like beads on a string. Paddlers were two to three in a raft, with the dory full of supplies bobbing between the boats. This first 34- mile section was the Rogue’s most pristine, the reason it was declared a National Wild and Scenic River in the first place.
A green slick of water wound through a tight canyon. Rocks toupeed with thick moss crowded the banks, and wildflowers—lupines and irises and mariposa lilies—snugged up to the shore. The entire scene was hemmed by old-growth forest, a staggering blend of broad-leaved hardwoods and needled conifers that, other than a few pockets in the southern Appalachians, constitute one of the most diverse ecosystems in all of North America.
Just as in the forest above, the river below teemed with life. In addition to receiving two separate runs of steelhead (the saltwater version of a rainbow trout that can grow up to 12 pounds), the Rogue is tied with the Columbia as the richest salmon river in Oregon, hosting more than 100,000 chinook that weigh as much as 50 pounds each. Back in the early 1900s, the Rogue was a favorite fly-fishing haunt of A-list celebrities, including Babe Ruth, Jack London, Zane Grey, Winston Churchill, Ginger Rogers, Clark Gable, and Herbert Hoover. Those clients helped broadcast the Rogue’s reputation to the outside world, but the river was really opened up—literally—by a local guide named Glen Wooldridge, who blasted passages through a handful of unrunnable rapids by blowing obstacles apart with bundles of dynamite.
Today, thanks to Wooldridge’s fondness for munitions, the river is studded with more than 40 Class II and Class III rapids, along with two Class IVs, including Blossom Bar. And we merrily splashed through them as we progressed from the first day to the second.
The weather was hot, the sky cloudless—the Rogue certainly had its “scenic” bases covered. It didn’t disappoint on the “wild” designation either: In a single afternoon at Tacoma Camp, we watched a pair of ospreys strafing the river in search of fish; on the opposite shore a mother deer with a fawn that couldn’t have been more than a few days old wandered by; and minutes later a black bear showed up, busily grazing berries. It felt as if the river was ours and ours alone.