Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hot As Hells Canyon

 

Despite the forecasted high 90s, not knowing when or if we may ever get back to this area, we decided to make our way into the heart of Hells Canyon, having gotten a little taste from the overlook on our scenic drive last week. The problem is this is not an easy place to get to, especially with an RV.

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There are only three ways in and out of Joseph, Oregon and none of them involve a straight highway. We could either drive 68 miles on a very narrow, winding road, or take the long way around for 178 miles, where we would still have quite a few miles of winding roads to navigate. We decided not to hook up the car and take the shortcut, which turned out not to be so bad, but it did take us over two hours to cover those 68 miles.

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Idaho Power has several campgrounds on the Snake River and we chose Copperfield Park near Oxbow Dam, the first campground you come to on the road heading towards Hells Canyon Dam. For $14/night ($16 if you’re under 60) we had water and electric at our site. The campground was maybe a third full, and most of those people were on the loop next to the river, although you can’t see it from the sites.  We had no Verizon signal but the local telephone company offers free wifi for 15 minutes every twelve hours, or you can pay $5/day. Jim opted for the $5 but it was so poor the next morning he called to complain and the guy did something that made it better. He didn’t tell Jim but apparently he extended our 24 hours since we had fairly good wifi the rest of our 2 night stay.

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It was just too hot to do anything outdoors besides a short walk around the campground the day we arrived, but on the next morning we took a drive to Hells Canyon Dam and the visitor center, 22 miles north.

We got a few miles up the road when we came to this roadblock, a flock of turkeys slowly making their way across the road.

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Because of the dams the Snake River is just a big reservoir until you get to Hells Canyon Dam.

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Hells Canyon Dam. 

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The small visitor center is at the end of the road a couple miles past the dam. From here they do raft and jetboat tours of the natural, wild side of the river. There were several getting loaded up.

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Looking back towards the dam from the overlook at the VC.

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With the temperatures already in the low 90s, a hike on the mile long Stud Creek trail was about all we were up for, but it was so beautiful I wish we had been able to do a longer hike. There are almost 900 miles of trails in the Hells Canyon Recreation Area, most only accessible on multi-day backpack trips.

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The only other way to really experience the canyon is by getting out on the water. In hindsight we probably should have looked into that.

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And although the brochure says this is an easy trail, much of the surface was rocky and there are quite a few ups and downs and a lot of exposure with huge drop-offs.

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My favorite photo of the day, and we took a bunch.

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When we got in the car to head home, Jim asked me if I wanted to hold onto the Panasonic Lumix camera, the “good” one with a 24x zoom. We have a standing joke as I like to have that one handy in case we see something along the drive. I kept hoping to see a bear when we were in Joseph, since we were on so many roads where we hardly ever saw another car. I just knew a bear was going to show itself but never did.

So what a surprise when along came a bear cub from the bank of the river and crossed the road right in front of us! Jim was telling me to give him the camera, as by then it was heading up the hill on the driver’s side. The camera strap got caught on something and of course it took forever for me to free it and hand it to Jim, so by the time he had it the bear was almost out of sight. He did finally get one shot before it ran off.

When I looked at the photos I was surprised to see the bear picture was in black and white. Turns out in all our wrestling with the camera the setting got changed. Oh well, it was still exciting and you get the idea.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tenderfoot Trail and Odds and Ends

 

It’s not easy to get to the higher elevations of Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. Our choices were long hikes with 2,000-3,000’ of elevation gain, or spending $31/person to ride the tram up to the top of 8,000’ Mt. Howard to access the trails without the physical effort.

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Then while doing some research I came across the Tenderfoot trail, a 24 mile drive from Joseph that starts at 6,500’. In just under 4 miles and 1,300’ of climbing we could be at subalpine Bonny Lakes in the Eagle Cap Wilderness on a lightly used trail. Sounded perfect. The last 3.5 miles of the drive on a one lane rocky dirt road overgrown with vegetation definitely made us feel like we were in the wilderness, and we didn’t see another vehicle. So we were quite surprised to see at least 10 cars in the parking lot when we arrived, but being Saturday I didn’t think we’d be alone.

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We had to make numerous crossings of Big Sheep Creek, some easier than others. Jim ended up with wet feet a couple times.

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There had been a fire in this area many years ago, judging from the size of the new trees, which gave us nice open views of the scenery.

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The trail climbs gradually most of the way, but there are a few really steep parts. Jim was having an exceptionally good day on the trail while I huffed an puffed trying to keep up. I blamed it on the altitude since we haven’t hiked at over 7,000’ in a while.

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At 3.8 miles we came to Lower Bonny Lake at 7,800’. We tried to find the upper lake, but there was no obvious trail and the mosquitoes, which hadn’t bothered us at all on the trail, began swarming us so we decided to head back. The trail continues for miles to more lakes and even better scenery, according to a couple hikers we met.

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We were happy with our last hike in the Wallowa Mountains.

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Joseph, OR Five Peaks RV Park

Joseph is now in our rearview mirror, but I had some other shots I didn’t post previously. We really enjoyed our stay there and would definitely return. And Five Peaks RV Park was a great place to stay, an easy walk to everything in town.

Forgot to mention that Enterprise, another small Oregon town, is just 6 miles up the road from Joseph, where they have an excellent brewery, Terminal Gravity. We spent a couple evenings on their pleasant lawn enjoying some really good beers and bought some to go.

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We also listened to some music at the Courthouse one Thursday evening. We were amazed at how few people were there, as most times these outdoor concerts are packed.

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The rest of these photos were taken on Main Street downtown Joseph, Oregon. Although a tourist town, it is also a large artist community, and just a pleasant little place.

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Bronze sculptures are scattered along Main St.

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There is a bronze foundry that gives tours and was highly recommended, but we didn’t get around to going there. Have to save something for next time…