With hot temperatures on the rise in Baker City, Oregon, I see local residents jumping into the Powder River with rubber inner tubes, dogs, friends or relatives to find some cool relief.
Although I can't blame them, I personally wouldn't jump into the river unless my pants caught on fire (which might happen if our summer temperatures continue to rise). The Powder River is not very deep, and all kinds of nasty things float in the brown murky water, like snakes, fish, dog feces, garbage, etc.
You also couldn't pay me one million dollars to float down the river on an inner tube. The water has several natural hazards that can flip a person over and force them underwater, like small rapids or large rocks that can puncture an inner tube.
There are also many low hanging tree branches that touch the surface of the water. These branches can cause a person on an inner tube to suddenly veer away and crash into dangerous submerged objects or collide into a friend who is floating near by.
Fortunately, many of the people I see floating down the Powder River on an inner tube wear a life jacket (but nobody appears to wear a helmet). Although some parts of the river are only 4-5 feet deep in downtown Baker City, the water flows anywhere from 3 to 10 mph in some areas. Therefore, I think wearing a life jacket is a very safe precaution.
Because Baker City is located in a semi-desert region in Eastern Oregon, there are not very many large bodies of water nearby, unless you consider a settling pond on a cattle ranch as a large body of water.
However, the largest body of water in Baker County is Anthony Lake, which is approximately 30 miles North of Baker City. Unfortunately, with summer gasoline prices topping almost $4.00 a gallon in my community, many local residents would rather jump into the Powder River instead of drive to Anthony Lake.
The closest major river is the Snake River, which is approximately 90 to 100 miles from Baker City and separates Oregon from the state of Idaho. The Snake River is located in the Hells Canyon recreation area and is very popular for camping, fishing, white water rafting, swimming, boating, etc. Although the Snake River is further away then Anthony Lake, it offers more fun things to do on the water.
With limited access to large rivers or lakes in Baker County, the Powder River is a very cheap and alluring alternative that can provide temporary relief from the scorching summer heat. Amazingly, I have not heard of anyone drowning or being injured while swimming or floating on the Powder River. That is a remarkable record and a testimony to people wanting to stay safe.
Maybe someday I’ll dip my naked toes into the Powder River so I can officially claim I’ve been in the water, but would that be “cheating”? Do I have to jump completely into the river before I can say I have been in it? I am not sure, but I do know one thing. You definitely won't catch me swimming in the Powder River, unless my pants spontaneously burst into flames. Even then, I might hesitate in fear because of what I might encounter.
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