Going Back To The Stair Steps Rapid.

Just a short distance below scenic Laurelhurst State Park, off of old Highway 62, there was a clearing in the woods, which let you see down to the Rogue River.  As a child, my father sometimes took me and Grandpa Johnny there armed with a pair of binoculars to gaze down at the canyon.  I remember looking at an intimidating rapid, which Dad called “the rapid above Tucker’s”, but was known to the natives as the Stair Steps, because the river flowed over a series of ledges before it dropped into a large hole.  Just below it was The Whirlpool, a rocky bar that went into the bank, creating a large eddy of swirling water.  People used to park their cars off of ’62, and walk down a narrow path to fish there.  The beginning of The Whirlpool could be seen from the clearing.

I never knew that some years later I would be floating those same rapids, often carrying some curious passengers.  The years I spent floating from Laurelhurst State Park to the Obstinate J Ranch(rafting or inner tubing)were probably the happiest years of my life.  In 1979, the Lost Creek Dam was built, which buried those rapids forever, creating Lost Creek Lake in its stead.

The brief video below shows our view of the Stair Steps in 1961.  The rapid was considerably more difficult then, because the left channel was narrower and less forgiving.  The 1964 flood made the river wider and the rapid easier to navigate.  Nevertheless, this was the only rapid that I pulled to shore on the right to scout.  You had to locate a series of boulders to know where to drop over the main ledge into the left channel, or you could have difficulties.  Sliding over the ledge required some technical skill.  However, I’m not sure I could have inner tubed the 1961 version of the Stair Steps.  The 1964 flood took away rapids such as Tucker’s Plunge, Jackson Falls(which were not possible for inner tubing), and made rapids like Casey, Trail, Upper and Lower Obstinate J, Robber’s Roost much easier.  Some people believe that the flood was nature’s way of showing that the Rogue River was becoming an old river, with the widening of its banks.  Be that as it may, there is no denying the impact of the 1964 flood, and the changes it wrought.

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

2 Responses to Going Back To The Stair Steps Rapid.

  1. Sun says:

    sorry but the video is out for me, my poor internet service…but luckily you experienced this river early and get to see the changes in time. inner tubing sounds exciting. 🙂

    • Inner tubing is exciting. I started on Big Butte Creek just below the falls near Crowfoot Road, and kept hitting a rock in the main drop, which was unavoidable. Then, I tried floating Little Butte Creek from the mill to the park. Dad told me that if I wanted to inner tube, I should try the river, because Little Butte Creek was dirty and polluted. I took his advice, starting at lower Obstinate J Ranch, and have been floating ever since.

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