Wallowa County’s mountains are as good as any out there

July 10, 2013 11:07 am
spent eight days on the road last week touring the Inland Northwest and wow, what a country.

Most of the time I was gone I was out of cell service and despite the fact I was in Montana to learn about natural resource journalism with a backdrop of the Northern Rockies, it was hard to let go of what was happening at home. Finally, I shut the phones off and shoved them into a bag for a few days in order to pay attention to what was in front of me — which was one spectacular scene after another.

I get homesick, especially when I don’t travel with the dogs, and eight days felt like a month. I also hate to miss anything.

I left Enterprise for Missoula and saw the cars and pickups at the Extension office of the people attending the county natural resources meeting. I had to leave them in the rearview mirror. I could always find out what went on when I returned.

Then I dove into cell-free land — over mountains and along rivers — without stopping and without traffic or construction. I dropped off my bags and entered into another world for a few days with 17 other journalists who like to write about the land on which we live and use and sometimes set aside for later.

Oddly, this is the year I revisit places I saw on a rare family vacation as a kid. Dad didn’t take many summer vacations either; when you are a forester, summer is field season and fire season so it’s hard to get away. One year my mother convinced him to take two weeks off, borrow my uncle’s pickup and camper, and drive through Oregon, Washington, Idaho and into Montana with the goal of visiting Glacier National Park.

I drove through Orofino, Idaho, on my way to Missoula and remembered the longest drive of my life on a slow, dusty road to the Kelly Creek Ranger Station where friends lived. At the end of the institute, we drove through Glacier and stopped along the way for short walks and photo ops and I thought of camping in a snowstorm in the middle of July and carrying bear bells to alert the grizzlies that it was dinner time.

Those glaciers I first saw 36 years ago will be gone in another 17. I asked a woman who worked there, “Then what?” 

“People will visit to see what used to be there,” she said. 

I was so disappointed when we went to tour Jamestown, Va., and most of what I saw were signs telling us what might have happened in that spot in the early 1600s. I wasn’t impressed.

However, with or without glaciers, that park is ridiculously awesome. The running joke, since we heard three speakers quote a man who wanted to extend oil drilling near the park, “Eh, it’s just a pile of rocks.” And what magnificent rocks they are.

We stopped at Logan Pass on the Continental Divide for a group photo. Most of us would choose a more private experience with Mother Nature as opposed to joining the international throng at the magnet shop — but as one institute staffer said, “Hey, they could have gone to Disneyland.”

Seeing these mountains and rivers and waterfalls again so many years later was impressive, but I have a different perspective — as I did when I saw the Grand Coulee Dam this spring — another stop on that family trip so many years ago. It’s magnitude was not lost on me nor its impact on the Pacific Northwest.

I promised myself a trip to Wallowa Lake the minute I got home and so the dogs and I had a swim the evening of my return. I looked at my phone and had missed a message. It was my scout reporting that he had been held up on Buford Grade just south of the Washington border because of a motorcycle wreck. Suddenly, I was no longer basking in the clear, mountain lake getting my groove back. The short respite was over — I had a story to write.

Re-entry is often like that — rush, rush, rush — a parade, writing to catch up, calls to make, a road race, and finally another break and my scout, the dogs and I headed for the wilderness just out of Joseph. As we walked into the Hurricane Creek Canyon, the magnificence of Sacajawea wasn’t lost on me. 

There she was, poking me in the eye, and the camera was in the car. After a week of capturing other people’s mountains on “film,” I was enjoying mine.

I got an email this week from a colleague who attended the institute. He asked me how my mountains were. I said, “They’re just fine.”