Trip of a Lifetime

Greg Burke   Website

ONDA member Robin Kaai recently took part in a stewardship trip in the John Day River Basin. Here she offers you her recap.

Dear fellow ONDA members,

When registration for ONDA’s John Day River fence pull trip opened in February, I responded immediately … but this popular trip fills quickly. Waitlisted!

Luckily for me, within a few weeks, a spot opened up! I carpooled to the launch site with people I had never met, but, by the time we arrived, we were well acquainted and all filled with anticipation.

Crew leaders from Ouzel Outfitters met us at the launch site and handed us dry bags to hold the belongings that would see us through five days of unknown weather. Ali and Anthony from Ouzel loaded the boats while the other ‘strangers’ who had signed up for the work party introduced themselves and quickly became my friends. After a thorough safety talk, we pushed off for a trip that will remain one of the highlights of my life.

ONDA volunteers photo-documented land newly acquired by the Bureau of Land Management.

Our assignment was photo-monitoring a 4,000-acre property recently acquired by the Bureau of Land Management. In small groups, we established a baseline picture of the landscape. We hiked to the top of mountains to take photos that would document as many aspects and views of the property that we possibly could. We shot from the perspective of a boater coming down the river, as well as that of a land-based user. We hiked to the top of mountains to take photos documenting as many aspects and views of the property that we possibly could. This baseline data will help land managers asses how allowing access for vehicles and trailers and other types of development might impact the river experience. Being part of this initial assessment was truly inspiring.

Robin Kaai paddles the John Day River.

As we rafted down the river, we encountered bighorn sheep, eagles, rattlesnakes, geese and their goslings, petroglyphs and fellow boaters. The magnificently tall basalt cliffs lining the river inspired awe. The current kept our attention on the ever-flowing, changing river, while calm spots lulled us to relax and absorb the powerful forces of nature. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful, we’d round a corner and come face to face with steep, red-brown rock walls graced with lime green lichen, all changing hues in the evening light.

Each day, we stopped for generous lunches of fresh fruit, chips, tasty sandwiches – with avocado! – followed by cookies. Ali and Anthony prepared appetizers to tide us over until dinners that were better than you could think possible on a ‘camping trip,’ as we enjoyed burgers, roast pork tenderloin, Asian chicken salad and more. The daily question soon became: “what will we have for dinner tonight?” Dessert that I couldn’t make in my own kitchen followed: warm fresh fruit cobbler with whipping cream, cheesecake with fresh fruit; I could go on. Breakfast may have been best of all with French toast, bacon, yogurt, fruit, bagels and lox, granola … oh my!

I found the river corridor and campsites to be surprisingly clean, thanks to rules regarding waste and disposal and people following those rules. As a trail maintainer, I’ve come across toilet paper and garbage in the wilderness more often than I’d like, but this was not the case on the John Day.

As you can see, between the views, the camaraderie and the scrumptious food, this trip was super special. Thank you, ONDA! Thank you, Ouzel, the rowers who donated their time, and Ali and Anthony for being so knowledgeable and patient.

I’ve wanted to join an ONDA stewardship trip since I learned about ONDA’s work to protect the Oregon desert, and this trip did not disappoint. I can’t wait to join another work party led by this highly professional organization dedicated to a great cause. Thank you for the trip of a lifetime!


Robin Kaai


Cottonwood Canyon Riparian Soundscape

Cottonwood Canyon Riparian Soundscape


Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

“If I have to pick a favorite place in Oregon’s high desert, it would be Sutton Mountain, but I’m excited about all of the Wilderness Study Areas,” says Terry, adding, “Each is a gem to explore, and I hope they all get protection someday… I love the scale of the physical beauty of the desert.”


Spring Basin Wilderness

Spring Basin Wilderness

Spring Basin Wilderness

With 10,000 acres of undulating terrain, secluded canyons and spectacular vantages of the John Day Country, Spring Basin is magnificent to explore This public treasure, forever protected as Wilderness, offers a profusion of desert wildflowers in the spring and year-round recreational opportunities for hikers, horseback

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