Sunday, July 13, 2014

Road Trip

This weekend I ventured out on a road trip Saturday morning.  My directions were handwritten and included names of state roads marked different in real life, when marked at all.  My map was large scale and missing details, and my confidence somewhere between why am I going and you owe me.

I like more specific directions when I'm going into unknown territory even though I'm the sort who, when giving directions, is much more detail oriented - like saying 'turn right' and pointing left.

I was road weary from my travels the past few weeks and really just thought I wanted to stay home and wallow in self pity.  My life at home has been a challenge to say the least.  My theory on Murphy's Law has re-established itself in my existence and I'm once again relying on my own abilities to fix and repair things like WiFi, fountain pumps, shredders and sprinklers.  Now if I could just get my new wipers on...  I've also had to resolve issues like my medical insurance coverage (thank you Obama-care), the new roof and windows.

Instead I loaded up the car and headed to eastern Oregon.  It was going to be a long, hot day.  I'll spare you the gory details.  Suffice it to say it included a barfing schnauzer, 100 degree temperatures, dirt roads, and a 16% grade.

The drive was easy enough.  North off I-84 at LaGrande - through several small towns (Imbler, Elgin, Wallowa, and Longstine.  Enterprise and Joseph were a bit larger and definitely places I wouldn't mind exploring another time.

Joseph, OR

The last stop for civilization is Imnaha.  And I use the term civilization freely here...  It's the true meaning of a cross road with a post office and a general store.  From Imnaha the route continues up a dirt road.  If it hadn't been marked I would have thought I was going into someone's ranch road.

Imnaha, OR

The road is one gravel lane for six miles.  There is an occasional (or maybe that's being generous) turnout (or wide spot in the road).  Honestly it was a nail biter at times.  I prayed I wouldn't meet anyone along the way.  Toss in the 16% steep grade for good measure.

After the first six miles, the road becomes a main interstate highway by comparison - but it really is just now a lane and a half of hard gravel 'paved' road with more frequent wide spots.  Once at my destination I was in awe - on top of the world.  The scenery was beautiful and the temperatures at least 20 degrees cooler than below.  I found it ironic I drove over 7 hours to be in a place directly across from Riggins, Idaho - where I could have driven in three hours.  Maybe I should rent a helicopter next time.

We unloaded the supplies I was delivering and then went for a hike up the hill to the Top Hat Lookout Tower.  I'm not much for high places and the public platform of the tower is at an altitude of 7,000 feet, overlooking the Snake River Canyon below at 1,250 feet.  The actual 'look out' cab above where the fire watcher works is 82 feet above the ground, another 3 sets of ladder-like steps and a trap door.  Ruger was no more interested in continuing than I was so we stayed on the platform.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Proof I went to the tower platform.  

Mike's 'neighbor' at Heavens Gate across the River

Ironically I could see Slate Creek across the river.  We've been passing this point for years on our many trips north to Moscow.  Erin and I were just through that area two weeks ago.

Slate Creek on the Snake River

I learned about the Seven Devils.  The folklore for the different mountains around us are interesting and from a lower elevation I never even knew they existed.  Mike showed me the herd of big horn sheep just over on the next ridge and talked about a much older big horn ram which came to the cliff just under the tower to eat the yellow wild flowers.  He is missing one horn and seems to struggle a big.  Mike calls him "One Horn Billy".  I think they relate to one another's arthritic moments.

Seven Devils

Big Horn Sheep on the hillside under the lone fir.

We enjoyed dinner and a pleasant breeze out on the small deck of a 'humble yet modest' cabin (by Forest Service standards).  There was no running water.  It is delivered by Forest Service Squad 51 in five gallon bottles.  There is no electricity. But there was three little wall lamps powered by propane, as was the refrigerator and stove.  There is a porta-pottie for necessary facilities.

We enjoyed a visit with three hikers from Portland.  Mike met them last week when they asked to park their car in his lot and a six pack of beer in his frig.  He then drove them to the Enterprise airstrip where they caught a plane to fly to Riggins.  From there they spent the night in Sheep Camp and convinced a river rafter to give them a lift across the river, where they proceeded to hike back UP the hill to Hat Point.  It took them a week.

Until then I hadn't thought much about bugs.  The flies were a bit intense late afternoon but seemed to dwindle with dusk.  The hikers were pulling ticks off themselves.  Suddenly Ruger's romps through the field of wild flowers wasn't quite so fun to watch.  It was a leash for him from then on.

As the day wound down we enjoyed the sunset out one side of the cabin and then turned to watch the Super Moon rise over the Seven Devils across the river on the Idaho ridge.

We shared the moment with two large 12 passenger vans of Japanese tourist who were looking for a place to camp and saw us standing by the cabin.

This morning we were greeted by three elk in the yard at the cabin.  A bull, a spike and one more, either a calf or a cow.  Not a bad way to start your day.

Good Morning "Usie" 

I had a lot of anxiety about the six mile one lane section of the road and was anxious to get off the mountain, but sad to leave.  Mike had to go up to the tower to work at 9am.  I was on the road by 7.  Fortunately travel time was only six hours  (only one stop in LaGrande) because the trip home went better.  Ruger dispelled my theory he was car sick by managing a clean return trip.

The only Sunday morning commuters were cattle enjoying their ‘Open Range’ freedom. 

One of the little towns had this cute little shop on the corner – The Blue Banana .  As I passed it the first time I recalled someone telling me about the smoothies, etc.  Despite my aging brain I even remembered it was Erin and naturally had to send her a picture.

The Blue Banana, Longstine, OR

The car is once again free of mountain road commuter-droppings, interstate bugs and about 11” of dust.  Ironically one of those interstate bugs must have had loved one s clinging on to mourn the loss of family.  When I was cleaning the front, a bee stung me.  What a little bugger...  (pun intended).  
It's been awhile since I've solo'd a road trip and I enjoyed getting to spend time with Mike.  Sorry for the picture-palooza but there was just soooo much to share. 
Now it's back to my routine and weather watching to the northwest - keeping an eye on our summer storms. 

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