Tuesday, August 21, 2018


notes from an eastern Oregon road trip – part 2 of 4

Wallowa Lake and the surrounding Wallowa Mountains are the enchanted northeastern Oregon home of the Ne-moo-poo.  Cycles of glaciation over eons created a topaz-blue lake flanked on the north and east by moraines of till scoured from the mountains that form the southern and western shorelines.  Forests are rich and deep in those mountains, and grasslands in the nearby hills and plans fertile and fruitful.  No wonder the Ne-moo-poo fought to valiantly when the whites arrived.

In Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, a piece of young adult historical fiction by Scott O’Dell, the maiden daughter of Chief Joseph says: “The whites called us Nez Perce, although that was not our name.  They said it meant ‘Hole through the nose.’  None of our people ever put ornaments in their noses, but when the whites decided something was so, nothing could change their minds.”

Something the whites had also decided was so, I thought as I read that line, was “Manifest Destiny.”

Joseph famously lead his people on a grueling journey of escape from the relentless efforts of the US cavalry lead by General Howard.  After months and nearly to Canada, worn out, starving and with children freezing and many young men dead, he surrendered to Colonel Miles saying, “Hear me my chiefs.  I am tired. My heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

He would never return to Wallowa.

This would be our second visit to Joseph, Oregon and to the impressive mountains and waters of Wallowa County.  Joseph, the town, has preserved its rustic western heritage adding a few hip eateries and a couple too many t-shirt shops.  

The museum in the old bank building is musty and great https://co.wallowa.or.us/community-services/wallowa-county-museum/and the street side displays of public art is engaging.

Securing lodging in a lovely ranch style house at the north end of the lake, our initial view was breathtaking.

Shifting winds, however, brought smoke from area wildfires as far away as both California and British Columbia.

Still, the serene view provided ample respite between the three days spend riding north and the three days of returning.

Hells Canyon is an hour of serpentine pavement away. Somehow my camera didn’t make it into my tank bag – a bane of being an old guy on a motorcycle, I suppose.  https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wallowa-whitman/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5238987

Long time readers may note my railroad-buff-ness.  So, the opportunity to ride the rails – well pedal the rails – from Joseph to nearby Enterprise would not be missed.

The grade is slight between those two villages with the return trip being the uphill – though gentle – portion.  

The two-person pedal cars are quiet, light and easy to propel.  The one we piloted provided excellent exercise for my game knee – exercise said knee does not receive while riding on the big Yamaha.

Heron, osprey, crows, cattle horses and even a coyote were seen from the right-of-way. All in our party wondered how many other abandoned rail lines might offer a similar experience.

Given that we’d rented a house, we elected to eat in rather than out. The nearest big grocery store is located in nearby Enterprise.  Also, in Enterprise is the Terminal Gravity Brewery. We loaded ourselves in the chase car and stopped in for some suds.  http://www.terminalgravitybrewing.com  

Ten years ago, I’d ridden the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mount Howard (to the victors go the spoils) too late in the day to explore.  http://wallowalaketramway.com   

This time, the timing mistake would not be repeated. We enjoyed the ride up with its 4,000-foot elevation gain, the two-plus miles of trails around the summit, inquisitive little kids being coached, counseled and exposed to these wonders by their parents, and the views afforded though limited by a smoky haze.

The wildflowers seemed to have reached the end of their season.

But reason was offered for their existence and a rationale for us caring for them.

From lake level, we’d notice hang-gliders drifting off the mountain and sailing over the waters.  Atop Mount Howard, we came across their launching point.

Not the sport for me, I’m afraid.

The trail back to the tramway offered breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain, or perhaps that breath-taken-ness had more to do with hiking at the 8500-foot elevation.

We caught up on a lot of reading and solved many of the world’s problems during the placid evenings on the cusp of Wallowa Lake.

Mounting up and heading off the next day, we lamented that this beautiful place wasn’t just a bit closer to home.

Chief Joseph’s story, and that of the Nez Perce – as well as pretty much all of the native tribes of North America – is not unique in human history.  Theodora Kroeber, in her book Ishi in Two Worlds (University of California Press, 1961) suggests:

Such invasions have occurred many times, and continue to occur in the history of mankind, but also as well in the history of all forms of life; they are part of the biological urge of each plant and animal to make or to take a place for itself and its descendants.  Invasion, then, is a necessitous act in the Darwinian sense of struggle and survival; it is instinctive, primitive and in itself inhumane.  [page 48]

For more insight into Chief Joseph,
Moulton's book is an excellent resource.
Over fifty years of motorcycle touring, I have ridden through once lush meadows now crept in with sage, or once verdant forests now burn scarred due to lightning and populated by chemise and manzanita, due, in large part to environmental changes that benefit the newcomer over the species choked out.  I appreciate and understand the rather sterile, biological explanation Kroeber offers. In the human circumstance, the environmental change has to do with the introduction of disease as well as the employment of technologically advanced weaponry.  So, I get it.

But, having visited the Wallowa Mountains so sacred to Joseph and his people, I don’t particularly like the role my predecessors played in this natural progression.


Next: Returning home – by a different route.  That’s what the wise men did, isn’t it?

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

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