Greetings from Cactus Kate and Bajada Bill as we send you inspired news from eight days in the heavenly land of Joseph, Oregon. You may recall from our 11th chapter that we were ‘Bundied’ in Emmett, ID, which, a friend later told us, is a town where some of the folks are a ‘whiter shade of hate.’ We encountered a dark cloud of this while visiting Emmett’s cherry festival and saw gun rights booths with angry words posted. We detoured from a continued week in Idaho, and chose to stay in the town of Joseph OR. Lucky to find campsites during its busiest tourist season, we fell in love with the landscape that Chief Joseph once lived in and was forced to leave, never to return.
After spending a night at the luxurious Kokanee Inn, we found camping for the following seven nights. Our favorite campground was the homey Mountain View Motel and RV Park, just outside of Joseph along Hwy. 82.
Meanwhile, several hundred loyal RVers who own LaGrande OR-made Outdoors RV rigs, descended on the area for their annual jamboree, feted by the manufacturer with dinners and free bling. Most camped along the Wallowa River at Park at the River. We booked a remaining non-hookup site for two nights and Marion’s door opened to the roar of the rapids.
We rolled into Joseph on Father’s Day, Juneteenth, and enjoyed delicious fare at the Embers Brewhouse, a popular place, with 17 brew taps. Each day we visited the welcoming and local favorite bakery and cafe, Blythe Cricket. Its homemade English muffin breakfast sandwiches, GF pastries and cinnamon roll treats for Bill kept us well satisfied. We also learned so much about the Wallowa Valley at Wallowology Natural History Discovery Center, where we spent more than an hour in its various rooms learning about the area’s geology, birds, animals, plants, and people.
The Wallowa Valley, now filled with rolling hay fields, was once home to the Wallowa band of Nez Perce people. Chief Joseph’s tribe, promised sovereignty in an initial 1855 treaty, was forced to leave in 1877, when encroaching prospectors struck gold in Idaho and gold fever’s subsequent industry overran Nez Perce lands. The Wallowa band had lived in this area from 2,500 to 4,000 years’ ago.
Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, by Newbury Award-winning author Scott O’Dell, recalls the story told by Chief Joseph’s daughter, Sound of Running Feet, of the tragic exodus of the Wallowa band of Nez Perce. Men, women, and children led by Chief Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs were pursued by the U.S. Army under the leadership of one-armed General Oliver O. Howard in a 1,170-mile flight known as the Nez Perce War. Many of Joseph’s people were killed during the army’s pursuit. A few escaped to Canada, where they were protected by Chief Sitting Bull. Others were arrested and sent to reservations.
Chief Joseph, whose guardian spirit gave him the name Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, on what is now called Chief Joseph Mountain, was a peacemaker, like Martin Luther King. He never was allowed to return to his beloved Wallowa Valley, and died in exile in 1904.
A Wikipedia site, notes: “An indomitable voice of conscience for the West, still in exile from his homeland, Chief Joseph died on September 21, 1904, according his doctor, “of a broken heart.”
These days, Chief Joseph’s legacy is celebrated in bronze figures throughout his namesake town, there’s a Chief Joseph Days Rodeo, and a new state park, Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site, nearby Lake Wallowa. Other bronzes throughout the town commemorate Nez Perce warriors who fell in the ill-fated battle of 1877. The Nez Perce are making a return: they have a welcoming visitor center, the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland, in the nearby town of Wallowa. A Tamkaliks Celebration 2022! July 22-24 introduces visitors to Nez Perce, still alive today.
We visited the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Service office in Joseph. Amber Richardson, a NFS ranger, shared her enthusiasm of this scenic land and suggested some of the best natural places to visit.
While breakfasting at the homey Red Rooster Cafe in nearby Enterprise, we talked with a cowgirl, probably in her 70’s wearing short shorts and an embroidered blue denim shirt. Full of sparkle, she told us she and her 82-year-old cowboy husband own 50 acres and still host horse packing trips. “My husband would die if he had to live in a condo,” she told us. “Overpopulation, which turns people into a commodity,” she noted, is the reason for the country’s woes.
We visited Zumwalt Prairie Preserve twice, catching the vast prairie in peak blooms of prairie smoke, lupine, Indian paintbrush, and more. The Nature Conservancy manages about 36,000 acres in this rare preserved rolling grassland of protected prairie of 330,000 acres.
Sitting at the Zumwalt Prairie, time takes on a different meaning. A gentle breeze cools my skin. My eyes gaze across miles of green hills and deep folds lined with fir and ponderosa. I watch the wind blow waves across the prairie grass and flowers: magenta lupine, deep purple larkspur, pink prairie smoke flowers, yellow buttercup, and daisy-flowered balsam root. Meadowlark sing. Magpies perch on fenceposts. White crowned sparrows chirp love songs.
On our second visit, we drove along a pot-holed road to the Nature Conservancy’s entrance to the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve. Standing in a field of wildflowers at Patty‘s Trail, we swooned, surrounded by golden paintbrush, rockstar hairdo flowers of prairie smoke, fuzzy lambs ears, and buttercups, all backlit in the late afternoon sun. A peak experience.
Returning to civilization along Zumwalt Road, we stopped to visit with a couple hundred cows, pregnant and chewing grass and wildflowers. A gentle fragrance of lupine, clean and fresh, surrounded us as our eyes traveled to the Wallowa mountains rising out of the valley. In the distance we saw a peace sign carved from the forest. It is Ferguson Ridge Ski Area, a small-time privately-run operation.
Our friend and former neighbor Bert Guenther told us Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise was ‘the bomb.’ He’s right. We ate there three times. Calling itself, “The Middle of Nowhere, the Center of the Universe,’ the place is a favorite for locals who sit at picnic tables and eat delicious pub fare. Burgers, sandwiches, salads, and craft beers are served. Our first night’s server was Kelsey, a sharp engineer who moved back home after leaving earlier for college. She earns a good living in her virtual consulting business and works at Terminal Gravity so she can pay off her mortgage in a few years.
We found ourselves awash in industrial tourism at crowded Wallowa Lake State Park. Campers used smoke-producing logs, spraying them with generous squirts of barbecue lighter to create leaping flames for making s’mores.The campfires collectively sent eye-burning smoke onto Wallowa Lake each evening. Notably, the park’s showers were incredibly clean and wonderful in a place so crowded. Our camp neighbors, whose 40-foot rig was squeezed into a site for something 20-feet long, parked their truck close to Marion’s window. On our second night there, the man camper asked if we would mind if his friends parked in the space between his truck and Marion, a few feet away. We said we didn’t mind. Already feeling no pain from a wedding he’d been to, he invited us to join his soiree, which included a 12-pack of Coors, tequila and whiskey. We declined. They partied into the night, with Bill nearly walking over after 11 pm to ask them to quiet down, but they did without needing any talking to. By the time we left at 11 the following morning, no one had emerged from the trailer. We imagined they were sleeping off a big hangover.
One day we drove along Hwy 350 through a narrow canyon below the Findley Buttes, which frame Zumwalt Prairie. The clean scent of creamy white mock orange blossoms filled the air. Driving along Little Sheep Creek toward the dot of a town called Imnaha, we marveled at how surprisingly sensuous this country made us feel. Basalt steps covered in soft green grasses, occasional fields of buttercups and slopes of purple flowers, creating patterns of color amid the green on the steep walls, it felt good to be squeezed in this canyon as we drove along the cheery creek as it flowed over stones. 82° in the shade, we parked under an overhanging tree to take a little nap with the windows open, while a gentle breeze cooled us from the outside.
Back in Joseph we bought a dozen multicolor eggs from Susan, who lives in an old timey farmhouse. Her front yard was planted in deep purple velvet irises with lavender petals. Wine colored, full to bursting peonies joined the iris. Solid and grounded and part of this land, is Susan. We were glad to spend time in her presence.
The next day, Monday, June 27, the weather report told us the temperatures would climb to the 90s. We drove to higher altitudes before the heat hit Wallowa Valley, headed for Salt Creek Summit/Sno-Park, southeast of Joseph along Forest Service Road 39.
We saw some heat before we even left the valley.
Stopping for $5.69 a gallon gas at the friendly Texaco station in Enterprise, we pulled in behind an angry, no-butt-in-his-jeans skinny man in a green striped shirt, with a mustache that covered his chin. We knew he was angry because he thumped the window of the gas pump and gestured to the gas station owner who was filling the tank. The dude’s truck sported bumper stickers that read, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump” and “Biden’s not MY president.” He wore a Trump-logoed hat.
The gas station owner set his jaw, filling four gas cans, which he carefully strapped into the pickup bed. You could almost see his hair blowing in the wake of the crab’s rant.
The grouch followed the owner into the station holding a fist wad of cash.
Finally the crab drove off. The owner, a great guy, said to us, “Sorry it took so long. I got a lesson in politics I wasn’t asking for.”
Heading along FSR 39 we noted the Indian paintbrush and purple penstemon blooming from sheer rock walls. We could see skeletons of tall Lodgepole pine towering above uniformly-planted forest. We wondered if the Forest Service has the resources for thinning the too-thick growth here. Dense and over planted forests are one of the reasons the West’s wildfires have been so intense.
We parked under a pine tree near a fishing hole up at Salt Creek/Sno-Park. A few rigs parked a distance away in a dispersed campground. We took a walk along the dirt road, marveling at the wildflower meadows and vistas of the Seven Devils Mountain Range in nearby Idaho. Our phone reflected Mountain Time, though we were in Oregon.
We picnicked in the shade beneath a double lodgepole pine under a nest of Mountain Bluebirds, whose chicks sounded like musical flute notes when their parents arrived with food. Bill had packed Peace Teas in a bed of ice in our cooler. What a refreshing treat to cool us off.
Bill cooled off by diving in the pond. I dipped my bandana in the shallows, admiring hundreds of new tadpoles. We wondered how they fare as frogs in the winter under snow pack and ice.
Gazing out at the wildflower meadow filled with purple larkspur and yellow balsam root flowers, we talked about our ever-evolving 49-year relationship. We realized that we can be ourselves and not worry about what we should be. It’s been a long time coming to reach this state of mind.
We drove another half hour to the Hells Canyon Overlook. Perched at 1,100 feet above the Snake River, we sat in the shade, looking out at zigzagging geology, framed in beautiful velvet-green hills. We were so high we gazed down at the back of a Red Tailed Hawk sailing on the thermals below.
On the return to camp we saw a snowshoe hare in its brown stage, with its giant white feet. As we returned to Wallowa Valley heading for dinner once again at Terminal Gravity, we saw a battered long-haired black cat limping along the road. We wished him well in his recovery.
That night, was our last in Joseph for a while. We watched the sun set over the Wallowa Mountains. Here only 8 days and we’ve fallen for the place. We thought of Chief Joseph and his people, whose ancestors lived here 4,000 years. Their love of this land still shines through.
Now, I’m writing this story from the Palouse country in Pullman WA. We’re camped along the Snake River at a KOA. Damming of the Snake River in the 60’s with the Little Goose Dam, rendered the nearby town of Almota extinct.
Adios until next time from Cactus Kate and Bajada Bill.