After our stay in Portland we traveled west along the banks of the Columbia River to Astoria where we would begin our journey south along the Oregon coast. Astoria sits at the confluence of the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean. Due to the massive flow from the Columbia into the Pacific entering and departing the river is often extremely hazardous due to the ever shifting “bar”. The Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria is an excellent museum which provides a much deeper understanding of the maritime history of the river. The museum sits right on the bank of the river and has a retired light ship which can be toured as well.
From Astoria we followed the Pacific Coast Highway south as far as Reedsport before turning inland to visit Crater Lake NP. The Oregon coast is breathtakingly beautiful and pristine. The state of Oregon purchased the land along the coastline back in the 1930s. As a result there is no commercial development on the beaches and the entire coastline is dotted with state parks and recreation areas where you can camp with a view of the ocean and walk five minutes through the dunes to the beach. Most of the beaches range from three to seven miles in length with broad flat expanses of firm sand making for great walks along the shore. Temperatures this time of the year average around 65F as the high.
There are also a number of small beach towns lining the coast which offered us the opportunity to dine on fresh seafood and enjoy good coffee and tea during our leisurely tour.
The Oregon coast also has numerous smaller rivers emptying into the Pacific. We capitalized on this by kayaking on the Nehalem and Siltcoos Rivers. We particularly enjoyed the Siltcoos as we were able to kayak all the way to the Pacific.
We had never been to the Oregon coast before this trip but came away as big fans. We cannot speak to the summer season (crowds) but September is glorious. And, by the way, the sunsets viewed from the beaches here are magnificent!
After a couple of days of vicariously living the cowboy and cowgirl life at the Pendleton Round-Up (“let ‘er buck”) we took off the spurs and began our journey westward towards Portland and ultimately the Oregon coast.
We charted a course to Cottonwood Canyon in order to camp and hike along the John Day River. Our route took us through Gilliam and Morrow Counties which are dominated by large ranches and grain growing operations. What we did not realize prior to this trip was that this vast agricultural landscape has become home to four of the largest wind farms in the United States (some thoughts on this subject in closing).
Cottonwood Canyon SP was created in 2008 when the Western Rivers Conservancy purchased the 8000 acre Murtha cattle ranch and in turn sold the land to the state of Oregon. The Western Rivers Conservancy made this purchase to ensure that the John Day River remains free-flowing from its source in the Strawberry Mountains until it merges into the Columbia River. The John Day river is the third longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states at 284 miles (Yellowstone River and Salmon River are first and second longest).
We were keen to hike and camp here to experience the spectacularly beautiful and pristine canyons rising along both sides of the river and explore some of the beautiful and rugged side canyons. The scenery did not disappoint. Camping is limited to 21 primitive sights available on a first come first served basis – so keep that point in mind when you set out to this area.
From Cottonwood Canyon we drove north to the Columbia River and traveled west to The Dalles which is a city of apx. 15,000 sitting hard on the river. The Dalles’ history goes back 10,000 years as a major Native American trading post. In the early 1800s Lewis and Clark stopped here and within several years the Hudson Bay and other fur trading companies were actively doing business in The Dalles.
We have included below several photographs of various murals that we saw in The Dalles. The Dalles, like other western towns we have visited, have active mural societies which focus on preserving the history of the town through these works.
Our ultimate stop before Portland was Mt. Hood National Forest. The “centerpiece” here is of course Mt. Hood which dominates the skyline at an elevation above sea level of over 11,000 feet and a prominence of over 7,000 feet. Mt. Hood is certainly spectacular but the Mt. Hood NF would be worth visiting without the draw of the peak.
Mt. Hood NF covers almost 1.8 million acres and has eight distinct wilderness areas. There are over 1000 miles of hiking trails, numerous lakes for boating and unlimited camping opportunities through out the forest. In winter Mt. Hood NF is a “snow zone” affording snowshoeing, nordic skiing, and alpine skiing opportunities at any of the many snow parks accessed from Routes 35 or 26. These two roads which bisect the park are kept open all year. Lastly, if all that does not tire you out you can attempt to climb Mt. Hood!
We were able to camp along rivers or creeks every night during our stay and enjoy the rush of the water and the night sky in complete solitude while being comfortably surrounded by towering Douglas-fir trees. It does not get any better for us!
Okay…wind power. As we have traveled across the west during the last 13 months we have seen vast tracts of land lined with massive wind turbines marring the beauty of the landscape. What we have observed is that there is no consideration of the asethetic damage inflicted upon our eyes and souls. Five hundred foot tall turbines lining the ridges of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is an awful sight plain and simple. The fact that the large wind farms in Eastern Oregon are placed in lightly populated agricultural areas does not change the equation in our opinion.
But in our minds the real issue is that this scarring of the landscape – the beauty of our world – can never replace fossil fuels. Wind provides intermittent power and will always need to be supplemented by current power sources. Economically wind power owes its perceived viability to deep tax credits provided at the federal and state level. Not a single turbine would have been erected without these credits. This is nothing short of crony capitalism.
So let’s postulate that we all agree that the world would be better if we did not need to create electricity by burning coal which releases so much CO2. Natural gas is better but emits CO2 at about 50% the rate of coal.
It might surprise you to know that nuclear power is the lowest cost means to generate electricity and produces zero emissions. France committed to nuclear power 40 years ago and generates over 70% of its electricity via nuclear power with just 58 power reactors.
Perhaps it is time to reconsider nuclear power as the viable replacement for fossil fuels as the power source for electricity generation.
After leaving Hat Point and the breathtaking views of Hells Canyon and the Snake River we followed the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway to Joseph, Oregon. Joseph is a small town (pop. 1081) named after Chief Joseph, the leader of the Nez Pearce. The town was historically highly dependent on agriculture and timber as the major drivers of its economy. Tourism and three local bronze foundaries have replaced agriculture and timber.
Joseph is a gem. Despite its small size it has a number of fine restaurants, coffee shops and interesting retail stores. The town is the classic main street with no traffic lights and diagonal parking (no chain stores here!).
We stayed at a brand new hotel called the Jennings located in a turn of the century brick building that was formerly…you guessed it…the Jennings Hotel. A local artist by the name of Greg Hennes brought the hotel back to life through a Kickstarter funding campaign. Each room is unique – designed by a different artist or designer.
The Jennings also has an artist in-residency program and a cooking and crafts school. A very cool and fun place to stay. The second floor has a covered porch where you can sit and watch everything happening on Main Street or take in the Wallowa Mountains that lie just outside the town.
The Wallowa-Whitman NF offers an abundance of hiking, fishing, equestrian and camping opportunities. After leaving the Jennings we ventured into the Wallowa by journeying south some 20 miles into the Lostine Canyon. We camped along the banks of the Wild and Scenic Lostine River from where we could access a number of challenging hikes that provided us with the opportunity to climb high into the Wallowas for views of the Hurrincane Divide and wading in glacially formed lakes surrounded by granite cirques.
We left Lostine Canyon exhausted but happy!
We completed the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway with stops in Enterprise, Wallowa and La Grande before departing further north for the city of Pendleton. Pendleton is the home of Pendleton Woolen Mills and very much the classic cowboy town.
Our visit to Pendleton coincided with the 109th Pendleton Round-Up. The Round-Up takes place over a full week with many activities – parades, rodeo events, pageants, dances and concerts. Rodeo contestants come from all over to participate and the round-up includes a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) competition.
We extended our stay to watch the womens barrel racing event. These riders and their horses have no fear. The speed and power of the horses is amazing – particularly to the unitiated like us.
We are working our way west from Pendleton with the expectation (at least for now) that we make the Oregon coast about a week from now.
After leaving the McCall area we traveled west to follow the Snake River north to Hells Canyon. The Hells Canyon Wilderness has been on our must see list for quite some time. Three dams were constructed on the river by Idaho Power Company (IPC) in the early 1960s, which generate significant power to Idaho. The dams and power plants are so remote that IPC provides company housing nearby each of the facilities.
The good news is that below the last dam (Hells Canyon Dam) the canyon and river remain a protected wilderness – there is no road – no electricity – no water. In order to access the canyon in the wilderness area you have three options – walk, go down river (raft, kayak or jet boat) – access at HC Dam – or fly in utilizing the grass airstrip on the banks of the river by the former Kirkwood Ranch.
Today, Hells canyon is completely uninhabited. A number of families attempted to make a living ranching and mining within the canyon but only a couple of ranches managed to survive for any length of time. The last ranch was abandoned in the early 1960s. There is ample evidence from pictographs that native americans were in the canyon long ago.
Hells Canyon at is deepest point is the deepest gorge in North America (7900 feet). We wanted to experience the canyon from river level, from above, and go as far downriver as possible. Fortunately, we were able to catch a jetboat tour that took us downriver 27 miles to the site of the former Kirkwood Ranch (sheep) before returning to the dam access point. Our river journey provided us with the ability to see the very remote and pristine canyon – we could not possibly have hiked anywhere near that far downstream. The added benefit was the fun of running the numerous rapids on the river between the dam and our turnaround point. We did hike along the river for several miles which gave us the on the ground vantage point. Finally, we drove the Hat Point Road to gain a spectacular view of the canyon and river from an elevation of 6900 feet above sea level.
The Hells Canyon Wilderness is a beautiful, awe-inspiring area, but come prepared as there is very minimal infrastucture anywhere near the area and almost no connectivity.
P.S. Summer temperatures average daily high 100+F!
When we last posted we thought we were heading to Eastern Oregon but…….98-100F temperatures in the Alvord Desert caused us to reconsider. Ultimately, we opted to head north to McCall, Idaho where the daily high temperatures were in the 80F range.
McCall is a summer resort town sitting on the eastern shore of beautiful Payette Lake and nestled at the southern base of the mountainous Payette NF.
The drive north from Boise on the Payette River Scenic Byway is splendid as the road winds north hugging the rapid filled Payette River.
We camped at Ponderosa State Park for the first couple of nights before heading up into the Payette NF ahead of the Labor Day weekend crowd. The night sky from our mountain top campsite in the Payette was absolutely stunning. We were transfixed by the enormity and brillance of the Milky Way, the consellations and the numerous satellites and rockets criss crossing the sky.
Additionally, our stay here was most pleasant since we were able to bike into town from our camping location at Ponderosa SP and drink cappuccino and tea and then cycle back to our campsite.
The highlight of our stay in the McCall area was our kayaking trip on the North Fork of the Payette River. We were treated to great beauty, solitude and the magic of observing deer and birds of prey along the banks of the river.
We honestly never thought we would spend three full weeks in Idaho but it is beautiful and the weather was perfect. Nonetheless, time to move on…..current plan is to head to Hells Canyon on the border of Idaho and Oregon and then explore the northeastern corner of Oregon.
After departing City of Rocks we traveled north to Twin Falls for fika at Twin Beans (see fikawithfiona on Instagram). From Shoshone we followed the Sawtooth Scenic Byway into the Sawtooth NF.
The Sawtooth is an absolute gem! We were absolutely enchanted with everything about this 2.1 million acre forest and wilderness area. The mountain peaks range from 4000 to over 12,000 feet elevation with a plethora of peaks above 10,000 feet. The Sawtooth reminds us very much of two of our favorite national parks – Glacier NP and Grand Teton NP – but without the crowds!
The Sawtooth is a hikers paradise with a seemingly endless number and variety of hiking trails. Many of the trails lead to secluded waterfalls and alpine lakes while providing spectacular views of the glaciated peaks.
The Sawtooth also provides ample camping opportunities through the forest. We were able to camp along the Wood River near Murdock Creek and on the Cape Horn Creek in complete solitude. Added bonus: outrageous night sky. Our necks became stiff from staring up into a star and planet laden sky. We saw shooting stars, the Milky Way and numerous satellites and rocket bodies pass overhead while listening to the rush of the nearby water.
While in Ketchum we met two former Nutmeggers – one from Southington and the other from Cheshire. Our best hiking and camping spots were recommended by them.
We also met a delightful young couple from Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is on our itinerary because it is the home of Noble Coffee Roasting Company. We think their Ethiopian Buku beans are the best we have had and have been looking forward to visiting after years of purchasing on-line. The couple provided us with a number of recommendations for both Ashland and Bend, Oregon.
Experiencing all the beauty that our country has to offer and meeting so many genuine and friendly people continues to bolster our optimism for the future.
P.S. If you are a fly fisher you must come here to fish in the Wood River.
We are officially back on the road! Day one consisted of making our way through Ogden (Wasatch Coffee Roasters) and then on to City of Rocks National Reserve (CORNR) Our backroad route took us through Naf, ID. It is officially a ghost town but still boasts one human resident and a dog.
The CORNR is a mecca for climbers and scramblers with its many and varied rock formations. We stayed for three days to take advantage of the ample scrambling and scenic hiking opportunities.
The area that is now CORNR was a major stopping point for emigrants heading to California between the 1840 and 1870. We were able to hike along portions of the route and see the dated signatures of many of the emigrants – applied with axle grease used for the wagons.
There are terrific campsites located around the CORNR which provide tremendous views of the rock formations and the dark night sky. (002.003.004)
After arriving in Carson City and finding it very much to our liking (good espresso, tea, yoga, restaurants and friendly folk) we extended our stay to five days. We took day trips for hiking and sightseeing after our morning yoga and fika: very delightful!
Our extended stay in Carson City did necessitate a speedy trip across Nevada to return the Beast for storage and make our flight from Salt Lake City to Hartford. We covered 650 miles over our last two days on the road. Most of the drive was on Route 50 which runs all the way from Carson City to the Utah border.
The scenery along Route 50 is spectacular. Driving west to east you traverse numerous mountain ranges and valleys between the ranges. These are big mountains – 9000 to almost 11,000 foot peaks and valleys ranging from five to 20 miles across. The peaks are snow capped and the valleys vary between salt flats, sand dunes and prairie.
This is mining country with a handful of extremely large cattle and sheep ranches. The mining towns of Eureka and Ely are pretty run down despite the fact that there are still very large mining operations in the towns of Eureka and Ely. There are two major pits, one producing gold and the other copper. Even traditional pit mines are highly mechanized today and do not require significant labor to operate the mines. Both of these mines are owned and operated by foreign based companies which is very common today in this industry.
Make sure you are well prepared if you choose to cross Nevada on Route 50, known as the loneliest road in America for good reason. There are only two gas stations between Fallon and Eureka, a distance of 180 miles (and they are not 24 hour stations!) Bring your own food and water as well.
We are planning our next trip as we make this final post of On The Road with Maria + Stephen. We will be departing for the Pacific Northwest in August. Thanks for following along.
P.S. If you find yourself for any reason (we won’t hazard a guess) with the need to be in Bakersfield, California do yourself a huge favor and stay at the Padre Hotel. Classic western hotel with a great bar, cool lobby and friendly staff. Added bonus, and a big one at that is that Rig City Coffee Roasters is 252 feet from the lobby entrance to the hotel.
Final Preparation for Our Return to CT
Route 50 – America’s Loneliest Road
Garnet Hill – Ely, NV
Eureka – Mining + Basque Shepards + Good Grub
Sheparding in Northern Nevada
Reno – Baseball
Virginia City – Coffee, Saloons + Prayer
St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Virginia City, NV 1876
After our stay in DVNP we journeyed northward on Route 395 in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The SN is massive with a north-south length of over 400 miles and an east-west width of 70 miles. Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the U.S. at 14,505 feet sits just west of the town of Lone Pine. Yosemite and several other national parks also sit within this range. The SN is very impressive physically and stunningly beautiful with an unending line of jagged, snow covered peaks.
We camped in the Alabama Hills, foothills to the Eastern Sierra Range, west of Lone Pine, CA. As camping locations go, this area is one of the most spectacular we have experienced and we have been fortunate to camp in some incredible locations.
The Alabama Hills are also know as Little Hollywood. Many films and television shows have been filmed in the hills which are blessed with incredible rock formations (great for scrambling) and the SN as background.
When you find yourself in this area definitely make a point of eating at the Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery. If you are feeling adventurous try the Red Beer ( Bloody Mary with beer instead of vodka). All of the baked goods are baked on premises each morning and delicious!
Our next destination is Carson City where we will stay for several days before beginning the trek across Nevada to Salt Lake City.
We spent a couple of days camping and hiking in Red Rock Canyon SP as we journeyed eastward towards Death Valley NP. Red Rock Canyon SP sits between the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and the El Paso Mountains in the northernmost part of the Mojave Desert. This area abounds with colorful rock formations and a plethora of washes that meander for miles making for great hiking and exploring (bring your compass!). We enjoyed beautiful weather and moonlit nights during our stay and as you can see below there are still plenty of desert flowers in bloom.
We found this park to be a nice stop for a couple of days of hiking. The public lands surrounding the park are BLM managed and largely designated for OHV riding with hundreds of miles of trails. The park, however, does not allow OHV riding which ensures safe hiking and a quiet, peaceful setting for camping.
You may also see some unusual aircraft flying overhead if you visit this park. The Mojave Air & Space Port is about 25 miles south of the park. This facility is utilized by many firms to test very high tech and innovative air and spacecraft. During our stay the largest aircraft in the world (based on wingspan – 355 feet) made its first flight from the spaceport. The Stratolaunch, as it is called, is designed to launch rockets into space from an altitude of 35,000 feet. Cool stuff!