August 26, 2015

A Taste of the Eagle Cap Wilderness

“Hear me my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. 
From where the sun now stands, I will fight nowhere forever”
Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt (Chief Joseph)

Our unexpected detour to Thunder RV gave us the perfect opportunity to explore the Wallowas, a place that has been on Imkelina’s radar since our first stint in Oregon years ago. 

Because it is still the height of summer vacation here in Oregon (school does not start until after Labor Day) we knew we would not be going to the state park at Wallowa Lake. We also knew it was forecasted to be HOT and that there was smoke in the air from wildfires south of the mountains, so we opted to stay in a small RV park on the river in the Wallowa valley, The Wallowa River RV Park. The first two days were toasty as expected, but we did not expect the skies to be so dark, gloomy and thick with ash. It made everything look as though it was a sepia photograph… No verdant meadows, lush forests or alpine peaks to be seen. It was a fitting setting for what we learned about the native history of this beautiful land.  

It was in this valley that the Nimiipul people (Nez Perce) lived peacefully for years and it was from here that they were driven. Their exodus through dangerous mountain passes in the Bitteroots and Rockies and ultimate surrender to the US Army just 40 miles from the freedom of Canada is often remembered as a dark chapter in the history of this land. The town of Joseph honors his legacy not only by it's name, but with a beautiful bronze sculpture.

But not being able to see those Wallowas was not an option for us. We headed up Lake Wallowa to check out the state park and campground. As we anticipated, the park was full, a “playground” of kids, bikes, dogs and more kids. We did get a chance to hike around the beautiful lake, but those pristine views were lost due to the heavy smoke. 

Next, we drove up through Lostine Canyon to explore some US Forest Service Campgrounds on the Lostine River, which is reputed to offer some pretty good trout fishing if you have the right touch with a fly rod. This is such a beautiful area, with dense forests, a stunning river and the backdrop to die for. We located Williamson Campground and knew that our next visit to Eastern Oregon would be explored from this base camp. Access to the campground was via miles of gravel road and then hidden along the river…a recipe for the perfect forest hideaway.    

Finally, on the third day, those mountains did peak out from behind the veil of smoke and invited us in for an amazing hike!! The Hurricane Crik (Creek) hike leads hikers and backpackers deep into the Eagle Cap Wilderness. We hiked 7 miles along this beautiful creek, challenging us to some hard climbs up the canyon for some great views of the peaks surrounding us.

We left the Wallowas with one last taste of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. A stop at Stein Distillery for some local distilled spirits was a fitting end to our brief overview of this fantastic area. Their blended whiskey is a gold medal winner...very smoooooth and the huckleberry cordial went down way too easy. Good muscle relaxers after our many hikes! We plan on returning another time, when it is less busy, and spend some time fishing and hiking on the rivers. We found a perfect Forest Service Campground to use as our base as we scout out the wildnerness. Until then….

Oh one last thing...although I tried,my "dis" overcame me. Almost two weeks traveling in ash filled valleys, driving hard on gravel roads and weathering a brief thunder shower, I had to hose down the rig. It wasn't my preferred choice and it probably did not do much real "cleaning", but it did put my mind in a restful state...temporarily anyway.

At Waypoint 45.31118°-117.30721°

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