Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hells Canyon

After the Utah 1088 I wanted to head back to the northwest and ride through Hells Canyon, the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Saint Helens and Glacier National Park before heading to the Spokane/CDA area to visit family for the 4th. Just a hop, skip and a twist from Salt Lake City is Baker City, Oregon - a nice little town with a rich pioneer history from the Oregon Trail days. I found a nice, cheap hotel right on the edge of the historic district - The Bridge Street Inn. The rooms were clean, quiet, included high-speed internet and at $38/night, were some of the cheapest rates I've seen in a long time. If I ever stay in Baker City again, I won't hesitate to stay here again.

Hells Canyon is a region in the northeast corner of Oregon and includes parts of Idaho as well. It's up to one and a half miles deep and ten miles across and is the deepest gorge in North America. Today, the Snake River continues to carve its way through the canyon and expose a plethora of geoligcal formations along the way. The gorge as we know it today is relatively young at two million years, but the region began to form three-hundred to one-hundred million years ago when two oceanic plates collided in the south Pacific ocean and created the Blue Mountain Island Arc. Inch by inch the islands migrated northward over 2000 miles where it collided with the North American continent. From seventeen to six million years ago, lava flows filled in the low areas in what is now Oregon, Washington and western Idaho. The Snake River along with other elements of erosion have shaped the region since.

That evening I perused a map and decided on an easy route through the Hells Canyon region. From Baker City along OR-86 to the Wallowah Mountain Loop (FR-39) north to Joseph, OR. There are other roads that take you through the canyon itself and to other overlooks outside of Imnaha, but I had to leave something for another time.

When I left the next morning I stopped to take a few pictures from an overlook back into the valley where the Oregon Trail ran. Emmigrants flowed over the trail from the early to late 1800s. The trek must have been demanding from every perspective. Those who successfully made the trek were eventually rewarded with land and opportunity.

OR-86 is a nice, curvy road that winds along the Powder river through the drier region of the valley. As elevation increases, so does the vegetation.

In 1984 a section of OR-86 was covered by a landslide induced by an over abundance of rain and gravity. The slide also blocked the Powder river and created a reservoir. The old section of the road still exists to some degree. The photos below show the old section of road where the reservoir would have been, the slide area and the backend of the slide area respectively.

The Wallowa Mountain Loop (FR-39) is an excellent road with an overall good surface that winds its way up onto the Hells Canyon plateau.

The first section of the loop follows a creek and, not too far along, begins the ascent. Spring time is evident with wildflowers faintly blanketing sections of the hills.

The Hells Canyon overlook is strikingly familiar to some of the overlooks of the Grand Canyon. Even some of the features are familiar. The biggest difference between the two is the Grand Canyon is drier which exposes in greater detail the various rock formations, but the Hells Canyon formations are still evident. Just a bit more green. When I first arrived and took a look over the canyon I noticed the last picture below looks very familiar to this picture of the Grand Canyon. It may be difficult to tell in the last picture, but there's a path out to the edge of the plateau and that's the feature that reminded me of the other picture.

At then end of the day I found myself in Pendleton, Oregon. I was trying to hook up with a friend I've known from the Internet for a long damn time, but never had the opportunity to shake his hand. We eventually hooked up the next morning before I bolted off to the next destination. The road brings us a lot of things, but friends is surely one of the best. It was nice to finally shake Mikey's hand and meet him in person.

Followup - August

After the June trip to Hells Canyon I began to feel like I left a few things on Hells plate. I don't like that feeling so upon my return to the west in August I decided to return to the canyon to finish up. I wanted to run up to Imnaha and ride out to Hat Point Overlook. I thought Hat Point Road was paved, but it's not. Once in Imnaha facing 50 miles of dirt/gravel I decided I just wasn't up for it. I reckon I'll have to come back. :)

I spent the night in Enterprise, OR. On the way through Joseph, OR (named after the Nez Pearce's Chief Joseph) I noticed a number of metal sculptures lining the main thoroughfare. Very nice sculptures. As it happens, I also noticed the Cheyenne Cafe and heeded the first rule of the road - eat a good breakfast. The cafe was filled with locals drinking coffee around a big table and shooting the early morning shit. This place had to be good and it was. Plenty of coffee and grub for about $8.

Hells Canyon Road runs north from Oxbow 22 miles to Hells Canyon Dam. It's an excellent road that follows the water's edge twisting, climbing and falling all the way back. Definitely worth the time. Here's a few shots of the area.

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