The Razorback Fire spread rapidly through the Lower Deschutes River Canyon after a series of late-August lighting strikes on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. It was one of multiple simultaneous fires that were all part of the High Cascades Complex. For people who love the Deschutes between Trout Creek and Dant, the initial fire maps painted a dire picture. In total, 65,800 acres burned on both sides of the river. Segment 1 of the Deschutes was closed to boaters for several days during the peak of the fire. It was reopened just before Labor Day weekend with BLM and local outfitters reporting that most river camps, bathrooms, and riparian vegetation did not burn.

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In June, the the Lower Sandy River Gorge is the place to be and the best way to travel is by raft. We launched my 14-ft boat at Portland Water Bureau’s Dodge Park. Dodge Park lies at the confluence of the Sandy River and the Bull Run River. The Bull Run watershed provides most of Portland’s drinking water.

The days are long, and this day was the warmest yet of the year. We extended the normal trip to Oxbow Park and drifted down to Dabney State Park. The river was running just above 4,000 cubic feet per second, which is an ideal water level for rafting, photography, and covering some miles.

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The Crooked River winds its way through a tortured canyon as it descends from the Ochoco Mountains, through Prineville, and on to the Deschutes River. The river is swift and cold, but provides respite from the hardscrabble rimrock and juniper plateaus. Views from the rimrock extend to the snowy peaks of the high Cascades. The Lower Crooked River area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is designated a federal Wild and Scenic River. The paved Crooked River Backcountry Byway parallels the river from Prineville up to Prineville Reservoir, providing access to campgrounds, fishing, and the Chimney Rock trailhead.

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Oregon’s Sandy River emerges from the western slopes of Mt. Hood and carves its way through the Cascade foothills toward the mighty Columbia River. Connected to the volatile weather and snowpack conditions of Mt. Hood, the Sandy is a dynamic and ever-changing river. With the recent removal of the Marmot Dam, the Sandy flows freely, with complex and beautiful gravel bars, beaches, and riparian forest.

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The Deschutes River slices through the massive and dramatic land forms of the Columbia Plateau on its final push to meet the Columbia River. The canyon walls are big, the sky is bigger. The landscape is blanketed in sagebrush and bunchgrass, with a narrow band of red alder trees along the river bank.  The Lower Deschutes feels deeply Western with its sage, canyon, and railway.

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The John Day river is the longest undammed river west of the Continental Divide.  For years, the rugged Lower John Day Canyon has been accessible only by boat. That all changed when Western Rivers Conservancy purchased the Murtha Ranch from the Murtha family. Oregon State Parks is buying the ranch in pieces from Western Rivers Conservancy as state money becomes available.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park will eventually span 8,015 acres and connect to adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. This will open many riverfront miles to fisherman, hikers, bird watchers, photographers, and equestrians. The park is expected to open to the public in 2013.

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