If I were an otter this is where I would want to live. This secluded spot on the river is the equivalent of a country estate or a riverside vacation home for otters. Giant sandstone cliffs create seclusion. Giant rocks poke above languid deep green pools of slow moving water. The rocks are perfect places to eat a catch or rest from the safety of a lofty perch. Otters can see what is coming. If there is danger they can slide quickly into the water and make a get-a-way. Water carved sandstone creates pools perfect for cray fish, an otter food source. The deep water hides sandstone caves and mazes of rocks to swim in between. Yes, if I was an otter I'd want to call this my home.
Two weeks ago, Michelle, the scientist studying these lucky otters, and I had bushwacked up to this remote section of the river in search of otter scat. We found lots of it. We set up remote trail cameras (aka: critter cams) and then hiked back out. Now we were returning to see if our cameras had caught any otter action while we were away. This time we brought Michelle's assistant, Amelia, too. We were hoping to find an easier way into the site so we could come back later if it yielded good results and take samples of fresh otter scat for the study.
Today I spent time taking more photos of the area and exploring the sandstone shelves up and down the area. I put on my wet suit for a spin around the deep green pools and the shoreline across the water. In the depths of the pool shards of sunlight pierced the dark green and created prisms of lighter green light. Stones, layered in different colors, littered the floor of the river. Orange sandstone rolled like stone waves along the edges of the shoreline forming layers, like steps, for me to step on to. A spiraling cliff raised up beneath a crumbling sandstone base. The erosion from the cliff formed an overhang with vine maple, wild huckleberry and salal hanging from the top. Below shade spiraled inward like the beginning of a new cave or future canyon.
Further up the river below a small rocky drop a dark brown sandstone cliff split the pool from the whitewater. Maiden hair ferns clung to the narrow edges undulating in the wind coming off the moving whitewater. Below a dark edged pathway skirted along the edge of steep slope lifting up to the forest above.
We retrieved our cameras and returned to our cars. I went home and downloaded a 150 video captures from my critter cam and began to review each one. For the results watch the video above.
The Otter study and the Otter Spotter program is a project of Woodland Park Zoo's Living Northwest. If you find any signs of river otters on Washington’s rivers visit the Otter Spotter and fill out the quick form on where and when you sighted the sign.
For more info on River Otters visit:
Besides the obvious scientific goal of our recent field work, my main work is a multimedia documentary project. It is the story of the Green River Gorge, the conservation history, the individual stories of people connected to the river, and a visual journey down it’s 14 mile length. Rediscovering more of the beauty, wildness, and rugged remoteness of the Gorge River Gorge means I’ll be spending a lot of time following game and fishermen trails, boulder hopping, off trail bushwhacking, and swimming the Gorge’s length.
To follow this journey visit: