Via Oregon - May/June 2021 - 28

Rolling
River
on the

A float down the John Day offers the
adventure of a lifetime-and most of the
comforts of a leisurely camping trip.

T

28

V I A | M AY+ J U N E 2 0 2 1

CREDIT HERE

BY T I M N E V I L L E

TIM NEVILLE

he John Day River begins as snowmelt in the piney alpine
country of northeastern Oregon's Strawberry Mountains,
where the rivulets race over rock and earth to form one of
North America's longest free-flowing rivers. There are no
dams along its 281-mile push to the Columbia. And there
is little road access for several long stretches. To explore the John Day,
it's best to pile into a raft and surrender to the current.
It's late May, the sky a cadmium gray, and the river is hurtling by. In
the summer and fall, the John Day is a shallow, hull-grinding trickle
that tumbles lazily past stands of canary grass and cuts deep into basalt
canyons dotted with sheep. But for a few short weeks each year, when
the sunlight falls warm and strong on the Strawberries, the John Day
bulges to its banks and fills an otherwise sun-seared country with
churning riffles of cooling relief. With only a few strokes of the oars,
you can cover 20 miles before dinner.
My family, some friends, and I are sorting through piles of gear at
a dusty riverside campground called Service Creek, about 200 miles
east of Portland. Our plan is to spend the next three days drifting from



Via Oregon - May/June 2021

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Via Oregon - May/June 2021 - Cover1
Via Oregon - May/June 2021 - Cover2
Via Oregon - May/June 2021 - 1
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Via Oregon - May/June 2021 - Contents
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