It was the Spring of 2009 when I co-led a Wilderness Volunteers trip for the first time as an employee. Seeking a special experience, I chose a previously unexplored part of the country for me, and with a co-leader I trusted — Gayle Marechal, whom I’d met as a participant ten years earlier in the backcountry of southern Utah.

The North Fork John Day Wilderness is centered around the Wild & Scenic North Fork John Day River in northeastern Oregon. While it’s huge larch and pine trees were the initial attraction, I was equally impressed by the beauty of the river and the evidence of the area’s mining history. Old miner’s cabins adjacent to the river were rotting away and being taken back by the wilderness while the big, crystal clear river carved its way through the steep vegetation covered canyon.

While Gayle took lead on all things food related and worked with volunteers closer to camp, myself and others in the ahead work crew cut back very overgrown vegetation and removed downed logs from the main NFJD trail downstream. Unexpectedly, my most memorable moment of the trip came on the last work morning when I spooked not one but two black bears well ahead of me and on the other side of the river. Although very excited, I managed to get a picture of the cinnamon-colored bear standing on the opposite hillside. I’d never seen such a beautiful and strong creature and it made my week!

This year’s project to the North Fork John Day Wilderness, July 8-14, has a few spaces remaining. Our leaders Dean & Laurie Twehues are eagerly awaiting their chance to get back into this wonderful place, meet new folks and show off one of their favorite wild places too. Hope you can join them!