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Bringing on the BIG HORN

October 22, 2015

863With the racket of basalt falling down cliffs, heads turned upward to the stark contrast of the skyline met with the stout outline of a big horn sheep. We had some special visitors on Wednesday. They were a bit reticent at first and then decided to take over just downriver of our group site. Campers got a nice view, to say the least.



Happy Anniversary Drew and Chelsie

October 12, 2015


Drew and Chelsie Messenger celebrated their first anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 11. The two were the first couple to be married at Cottonwood Canyon State Park. They had a gifted photographer as you can see above. We wish them another great year!

Cottonwood is a fantastic venue for weddings with access to two picnic shelters, camping and an historic ranch back drop. It is wild and unpredictable here like any true love should be. If you are interested, please call the park for more information and date availability. 1-541-394-0002

What’s the best work… Team Work: Oregon Natural Desert Association gets unwired at Cottonwood

October 5, 2015


Our many thanks go out to the Oregon Natural Desert Association which spent three days removing barbed wire at Hay Creek here at Cottonwood Canyon State Park. Volunteers took a few pokes as they wound the fencing up after removing it from T-posts so that wildlife can more easily move about in the area. What a huge help! Thank You!

To see more photos go to:

2015 Cottonwood S.P. fence mapping trip

Look out Oregon Field Guide!

September 20, 2015

Extra, Extra, see all about it!

This just in: We have a video of the invasive weed study that was done  at Cottonwood Crossings Summer Institute in June. The video was produced by students Anakin Welp and Andrea Galvin with the help of instructors Jeremy Lurgio and Art Rzasa.

Students look at Scotch Thistle, native grasses and relate a scientific method which shows if specific plants are either increasing or not on the landscape.

Cottonwood Crossings Summer Institute will hold an in-service for teachers on Oct. 9 to discuss the program and find out how high school teachers could use the outdoor school within their own curriculum. Please call Tom Peterson at 541-705-7129 if interested in the program offering free college credits to students and free masters or continuing education credits to high school teachers via Eastern Oregon University.

To learn more about the program see the related blog below, “Cottonwood Crossings Summer Institute – In the beginning’

Taste of Oregon’s Old West — EE YI YI YI YI YOW!

September 17, 2015

Zack J and Kennedy KLL

Zack Justesen greets a customer at “Taste of Oregon’s Old West.”

Horses were ridin’; beer was quafin’; bass were catchin’; bands were playin; the honey was sellin’ and the wine was flowin’.

Man what a day at Cottonwood Canyon State Park. One of our proudest. Saturday, Sept. 12, marked the parks first “Taste of Oregon’s Old West” event with some 40 vendors in attendance offering food and wares from all over the John Day River Territory,

Mac Stinchfield, editor of the Times Journal, listed the splendor as: “fruits and vegetables, honey and wine, jewelry, and crafts, wheat berries and lavender, hunting and biking packages, camping, horseback and John Day River experiences, rope baskets and leatherwork, wood carved model size planes, truck and equipment, craft beers and ‘hometown’ coffee, soil and water conservation information, pioneer living information, historical society information and local history information.

Tractor ride

Tom Lapinski and the City of Wasco took folks for a ride.

Bud band

Bob Clarke of Fossil and the Wheeler County Ramblers – Dan Robinson, Eugene Lehman and Seth Brewster – provided some boot-tapping entertainment throughout the day.


Temperatures were warm, no doubt, but many sought refuge from Sol’s rays in the misters strewn about.

good scenic 2

Booths abounded throughout the day-use area with that incredible basalt canyon backdrop.TOOW sept 12 2015 JD

Lean too

The Lean-To Cafe of Wasco and the Sage Mountain Diner of Grass Valley provided pork sliders and tacos during the event.


Chow Time – come and get it!

Kara and Jessica TOOW JD

The John Day River Territory tourism cooperative and the Eastern Oregon Visitor Association did a terrific job organizing and marketing the event. We could not have asked for a finer TASTE! Our hats are off to them with special thanks to Janet Dodson and the tremendous team she put together to guide this event.!

A huge thank you to all the participating vendors:

1188 Brewing; Ordnance Brewing; Apricot Apiaries; Art Day Group; Bergin’s Organic Custom Seeds LLC; Carol MacKenzie;
Chic By Squeak; China Hollow Mine; Chinook Run Salmon; Condon Chamber of Commerce; Country Natural Beef;
David Hamilton Winery; Diamond Hitch/Stellar Cabin; Gilliam Co. Historical Society; Glenna Lange Photos;
Gorge WildCraft; Happy Day Ranch; Hometown Coffee Roasters; Jennifer the Painter; Justesen Ranches
Recreation; Kath’s Kreations & Kards; Lasso-Up Rope Baskets; Lean To Cafe & Goose Pit Tavern; Lilla Rose;
Michele Bishop; Moody Tollbridge Winery; Olex Preserve; Ordnance Brewing; Oregon Paleo Lands Institute; Oregon
State Parks Foundation; Party Masters; Red House Ranch; Ron Wilson Custom Leather; Sherman County Historical
Society; Townsend Guest House; Triad Woodshop; Wasco House B & B; Wheat Springs Bakery; Wilson Ranches Retreat; Treo Bike Tours
A huge shout out to K’lynn Kennedy-Lane and Carol MacKenzie for shooting great photos.

The staff at Cottonwood Canyon understands the great effort – travel, time and money – that was taken by so many to make this event possible. We sincerely thank you all and hope to continue the partnership in the future.


Host Jim Deaton shows how to hook some bass.

Cute leader

Does it get any better than this?  See you at the TASTE next year, partners.

For more photos goto:

Don’t Forgot to Join Us This Saturday

September 10, 2015

The Taste of Oregon’s Old West is the don’t-miss event of the year for Eastern Oregon! Explore the scenic wonders, art and music of the John Day River Territory. Discover the flavors of our local chefs and farms. Learn about our unique tourist destinations. Experience our way of life with guided hikes, bass fishing, horseback rides, horseshoe competitions, live music and more!

For more information please click on the event poster.

Taste of Oregon's Old West poster

Cottonwood Crossings Summer Institute – in the beginning

July 13, 2015

Arlington High School students Ryan Hahn and Andrew Frail work on a plant inventory with Oregon Parks Natural Resource Specialist Noel Baheller at Esau Canyon. The two earned free college credits at Eastern Oregon University in Biology while doing the project at Cottonwood Canyon State Park.

It takes a special-kind-of kid to endure cheat grass in their socks and dust in their pancakes.

But by the great dust devils of Cottonwood, we had eight of them this year. And they rocked this 8,000-acre canyon land of sage and basalt with some extraordinary park projects.


Arlington High School Student Anakin Welp and Instructor Jeremy Lurgio set up a shot in a video journalism story on invasive species.

High school students from Arlington, Condon, La Grande and Boise camped out for five days here in late June and undertook projects in archeology, botany, writing and photography.

“The camp was a really great experience to have because a lot of people don’t have these opportunities; it opens doors for people,” said 17-year-old Andrea Galvin of Arlington “And it is a great intellectual and emotional experience to be away from phones and technology.”


CCSI teachers and students rafted 11 miles of the John Day River to take in flora, fauna and amazing geological formations in the basalt river canyon. Splash fights, swimming and feats of paddling strength were also part of the program.

This was the inaugural year for a five-day outdoor school at Cottonwood which featured high school students and teachers earning free college credits via Eastern Oregon University and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Professionals.


Gilliam County Judge Steve Shafer lit a fire under CCSI Students on opening day, letting them know that he was depending on them to bring their best work to the table. Students did abide.

“Both Shannon (Duerdon-Thompson), and I were so pleased with the students involvement and finished projects,” said Arlington High School Teacher Lori McGuire “It was so neat to see it finally come off in such a great way. The river day was perfect and the kids couldn’t stop talking about the entire experience…”


Shawn Steinmetz with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indians delved into the meaning of Water Salmon, Deer Roots, Huckleberries and Water and how that vision steers restoration projects.

Lori McGuire was instrumental to the institute’s success, able to muster 6 students from the local area to complete the college coursework. She was on the ground floor in designing the program and cannot be thanked enough for her dedication.


Teacher Shannon Duerdon-Thompson doles out the sausage one morning while Andrew Frail and Ryan Haun anticipate the breakfast.

Parks Archeologist Nancy Nelson led groups on discovery and interpretation of stacked-rock features within the park. In addition, Nelson took special care to point out best ethics when coming into contact with historic or prehistoric artifacts.


Condon’s David Re was always the first to be up and at ’em at camp, bringing his best in both studies of archeology and plants. Re was also strong on paddles when it came to his trip down the river.

“I really enjoyed being at this institute it was a great way to get outdoors and learn; sitting in the classroom can get really old and boring and this did not. I am definitely interested in coming back next year,” said 9th -grader Rachael Keniry.

Mustache girls

Leah Harbaugh and Rachel Keniry had some interesting hair growth after the Chili Cook off. Mustaches might have been a prize won during the contest. The two students focused on a brochure that helps explain what CCSI is all about. They also worked on public service messages on stacked-rock features.

Oregon Parks Natural Resource Specialist Noel Bacheller spearheaded a plant inventory in Esau Canyon via beltline transects. Students were able to track native and invasive species through this process and then make comparisons to previous inventories to see if there were any trends. Unfortunately, it appeared that non-native grasses were increasing. But the number of native forbs had also bumped up.


Volunteer Hosts Jim and Dana Harnish tally scores at the chili cook off held on Thursday night. Word has it that there will be a dutch oven cook off at camp in 2016.

Cottonwood Crossings also brought in a couple of ringers. I mean, inside the shoe, metal-to-metal ringers.

Art Rzasa, an English teacher from Montana who has completed outdoor education programs for more than two decades, brought his magic to the table in writing skills. In addition he sought and got the talented Jeremy Lurgio, whose skills in photography and video journalism were bar none.


Jeremy Lurgio and Art Rzasa shoot the breeze after the sun went behind the canyon walls. These two powerhouses were task driven and helped students create professional videos, posters and writing that knocked the socks off viewers at final presentation held on Friday.

The two focused in on both botany and archeology, creating “Not Wanted” posters for invasive species, an “Oregon Field Guide” feeling journalism piece on doing plant inventories, and then two features with students Anakin Welp and Andrea Galvin. Welp narrated a piece on the native American Pictographs and its nearby  recent graffiti. And Galvin looked to the stacked rock and its message from the past to deliver a riveting poem.


Students and teachers were split into teams to do the cooking and the dishes.

“I’ve never seen kids that are more interested in what they are doing or adults who are more willing to help them,” Rzasa said. “I hope the institute will continue to grow and serve more teachers and students in North Central Oregon.”


Sherman County Teacher Carrie Danchok chats with Jeremy Lurgio and Anakin Welp behind the windbreak in group camp. Wind kept the first few days lively. We only crippled one sun shade though:)

While the program had a strong year, it is definitely still in the development process and much work is yet to be done in developing a sustainable program.


Rafting on Wednesday was truly a highlight of the week. Students even located something a little too big and splashing in a back channel. Unsure of what they saw, they simply named it “Jonny” the great river monster of the John Day.

But the effort to give students from rural communities in the John Day River Basin will remain strong. “Students in parks doing projects is a natural,” said Park Manager Tom Peterson. “Who better than the next generation to come and study these beautiful resources and create the layers of interpretation or understanding of them?  We need stewards. And they will be the ones to pass this on to their kids.”


Andrew Frail felt the heat as he worked on his plant inventory in Esau Canyon. Students went through a lot of bottled water and sports drinks during the week.

The Oregon Parks Foundation is currently working to raise funds for an experience center that would serve as a classroom as well as interpretive center. If the money can be put together, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to build 5 cabins and a shower facility to complete a small campus for continuing outdoor education. Those facilities would also be open the public when not in use by school programs.  This year, Cottonwood Canyon has held outdoor programs for schools in  Condon, Moro, Grass Valley and Arlington, and we hope to improve upon that in years to come. Those who are interested in donating to the experience center should email Oreg John Hoffnagle  at


Arlington Teacher Lori McGuire takes a short break atop Division of State Lands property to peruse the ridgeline for Medusa Head and Goat Grass.


Huge support for CCSI has come from Parks via Director Lisa Sumption and Deputy Director MG Devereux, Department of Environmental Quality’s Randy Jones who undertook the Memorandum of Understanding with Eastern Oregon University, OPRD District Manager Chris Parkins, Nancy Nelson, Noel Bacheller, John Hoffnaggle and Tim Wood with the Oregon Parks Foundation, Park Rangers David Spangler and Ryan Bell, Volunteer Hosts David and Heather Cross and Jim and Dana Harnish.


Archeologist Nancy Nelson had her first chance to spy the canyon walls from the river at Cottonwood in hopes of finding locations that might make sense for later surveys.

Art Rzasa and Department of Environmental Quality’s Randy Jones, who undertook and completed the memorandum of understanding with EOU,  went above and beyond to see this program through, never wavering in their dedication. And a huge shout out to my wife, Peggy! She brought the organizational skills to purchase groceries for a week for 24 people and designed the menus and even found prizes, such as Tums and Red Hots for the chili cook-off!


Parks Natural Resource Specialist Noel Bacheller points out an invasive species to nearby students Liam Duerden and David Re during a field trip to a wind swept ridge above the John Day River.

“I loved this institute, it was super fun and I enjoyed all of the great company. I also really liked how we didn’t have cell service because it definitely changed the experience in a good way,” said Leah Harbaugh.

For more information about the school, contact Tom Peterson at



And that’s a wrap. Our first school in the books, and we can’t wait ’til next year. See you then! Here is our group photo -good folk one and all. Participants are from right to left back row, Jeremy Lurgio, Art Rzasa, Liam Duerden, David Re, Randy Jones, Andrew Frail, Lori McGuire, Anakin Welp, Nancy Nelson. Front row, right to left, Chris Parkins, Shannon Duerden-Thompson, Julie Keniry, Andrea Galvin, Rachael Keniry, Leah Harbaugh, Tom Peterson, Ryan Hahn.

pink night

Teacher Carrie Danchok caught this quintessential photo of an evening at Cottonwood, warm with the sun’s sweet pink fingers stretching out in a last chance to touch the land before night’s veil captures the canyon.