As Zimo: Oregon's Malheur River gets mixed reviews from floaters

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJune 27, 2013 

Zimo note: Floating the Malheur River in Eastern Oregon can be good, bad or pretty darn ugly, according to the reports I got from readers.

I asked for information on the river in last week's Idaho Outdoors after a reader inquired about the stretch from Warm Springs Reservoir to Juntura.

After hearing stories about the river, let's just say, if you're going to do it, do a lot of scouting and research.

To me, it still sounds like an intriguing float, but a lot of hard work.

Just ask Alan Hamilton of AIRE (rafts). He was the first caller last Thursday morning and said floaters should watch out for barbed-wire fences at the railroad bridges on the river.

The wires can entangle a raft or flip a canoe if floaters aren't on their toes and prepared to deal with them.

Hamilton remembers the fences because he was the tallest person on the float trip and had to stand in the river and lift up the wire so the rafts could pass under.

Marie Jetley of Mountain Home remembers a canoe trip that her husband and son took in the '60s.

She said the river gets narrow and the flow speeds up on the curves just before the railroad bridges that are laced with barbed wire.

Her husband and son flipped their canoe on one fence and lost a lot of gear.

After talking with readers, here are some tips I can share about the river:

• Put in at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Riverside Wildlife Management Area, a little over 18 miles south of Juntura off the Juntura-Riverside Road.

• It's an 18- to 20-mile float and can take seven or more hours.

• The take-out is off a gravel road about 2 to 3 miles upstream of Juntura. Check it out on Google Earth.

• Most floaters camp at the WMA and then one night in the canyon, avoiding the long day trip. It sounds like campsites are mostly in pasture or range land.

• Readers agree it's a remote float with a chance to see a lot of wildlife.

"It's a beautiful float that you will have to yourselves. We did see a bighorn (big ram) along with deer and other critters," said Richard Rieber.

• Flows depend on the irrigation season.

• If you need some information on the river, check with the Oasis Cafe & Motel in Juntura at (541) 277-3605. It's also worth a stop for their famous ice cream cones and homemade fries.

Anyway, cafe owner Tammy Lyons sums it up best, "It's a beautiful river."

One thing about it, it's worth scouting the area, and even if you don't float it, you can still stop in Juntura for an ice cream cone.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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