Something to occupy your time while you wait for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to speak at Jackson Hole...
We are on the tail end of what is becoming the annual end of summer Oregon road trip. This year we headed out east to the Wallowa Mountains, which, depending on the geologist you talk to, may or may not be considered a part of the Blue Mountains. The Wallowa Mountains are formed from granite lifted by underlying magna, with the landscape later carved by glaciers. The region differs greatly from the volcanic peaks of the Cascades that many typically associate with Oregon. Especially neat are rivers filled with granite pebbles:
Our first destination was the city of Joseph, notable for an industry cluster of three bronze foundries. The main strip has what must be the most large bronze sculptures per capita of any city on the US:
I have a certain affinity for this type of region, dominated by cattle ranching and related agriculture (hay). If the number of shiny, new F150s is any guide, the region must be coming off of some fat years. After a night in a roadside motel (I couldn't bear the thought of setting up camp in the dark with two tired and hungry kids), we made our way to our anticipated campground at the Wallowa Lake State Park.
We spent one night. It was not our kind of place. To be sure, it was clean and well run. But it was large, with no separation between camp sites. For my wife and I, whose camping experience together amounts almost exclusively to wilderness trips backpacking throughout much of the Oregon Cascades and the Olympic National Park in Washington, this just wasn't going to work. Luckily, because of tight reservations, we were forced to pack up the truck with the expectation of a new site within the same campground. Thinking that the site would not be open, we took to the road to explore the region for a few hours.
We stumbled up the Lostine River, and found numerous Forest Service campgrounds. No showers, but that isn't our camping style anyway. We settled on the Shady Campground near the top of the road. Large, well-separated, clean campsites next to the river. Not having this change in mind, after we set up camp I had to head back down to the town of Lostine for a fresh supply of ice. Not that I minded; I admit to enjoying trashing the overall gas mileage blowing up dust on gravel roads. I realized at the end I had no cash and, as these things seem to go, it turned out the credit card machine at the general store (in continuous operation for more than 100 years) was down. No problem, though. The owner doesn't like to send people back up the river empty handed, so he agreed to send me a bill if I didn't pass by later in the week. Yes, this still does happen in some part of the world. So I told him my name was Paul Ryan and gave him a Wisconsin address. No, of course not.
The Wallowa Mountains contain the Eagle Cap Wilderness, an opportunity to get high (altitude) fast. The Maxwell Lake trail begins at the Shady Campground:
Maxwell Lake itself is at the bottom of a steep-sided basin:
The hike, according to the iPhone GPS:
And, honestly, we never thought we would make it, but our littlest hikers did a wonderful job:
They don't realize yet the doors this opens.
We spent three nights on the Lostine before heading back west (after paying my tab in Lostine) through the Elkhorn Range and its old gold rush towns from the 1800s. A travel find was the Clyde Holliday State Park, sitting right on Highway 26 west of John Day. Thirty one campsites, well-separated, with showers, $22 a night. Not a true camping experience, but a good stopping point. As an added bonus, walking distance to a fishing pond. I was skeptical - late in the season, the water level was low and the weed level was high. But it was stocked annually, and I managed to pull five rainbow trout out of the murky water, throwing them all back to be tortured by the next fisherman.
We continued west, stopping at the John Day Fossil Beds, first the Sheep Rock Unit:
Great visitor center (National Park Service) detailing the extent of the fossils collected in the region. Very rich beds in which the fossils of various flora and fauna are found together for a more complete picture of life in the past:
You can watch the paleontologists work through a glass window:
Striking landscapes. We continued on to meet friends staying at Sunriver, and are now on the last legs of the trip with a few days in the Crescent Lake area, back with a steady internet connection. Now waiting for Bernanke like everyone else.