Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mother's Day in Hell(s Canyon)

An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.  -Spanish Proverb

We awoke and our suspicions from the night before had confirmed. We had managed to drive all the way from Portland to the Idaho border, completely on secondary roads. Our home for the night had been the Copperfield Campground on the banks of the Snake River. Yes, we were officially in Hell’s Canyon.

The entire family, dog included, at Hell's Canyon.

While enjoying the view of the river and some nice hot coffee (hot chocolate for the kiddos) we met a nice couple in the next campsite, the Coons from Weiser, Idaho. (I am not sure, it may be my juvenile sense of humor, but I found their last name, along with where they were from, completely hilarious. I managed not to convey this to them.) They spend a lot of time in the canyon, and were able to provide us with tons of tips on the area. Unfortunately, a lot of the high country was still buried in snow, so all of our sightseeing had to be done from the road that runs from the campground to Hell’s River Dam.

This is a windy road with lots of hills, and you have to watch out for falling rocks. There were a lot of rocks in the road. Not necessarily a road I would recommend in a monster motorhome, but we were getting a very early start and as it was off-season for the area, we passed very few cars.

Everyone knows my love for the Columbia River Gorge. That is no secret. As I have said before, I spend so much time there, I consider it my second home. In fact, there is a little house in Bridal Veil, should I ever win the lottery, that will become my real home. However, my first impression as we drove into the canyon was, the Columbia River Gorge has nothing on this place.

The light was bad for picture taking but beautiful none the less.

Maybe it was the rainstorm the night before, coupled with how early in the year we are visiting, but this was not the dry, desolate place I have always thought it to be. Clouds were moving through, waterfalls dotting the walls here and there, green and lush, much like my beloved basalt cliffs at home. This was much more dramatic. The canyon walls much steeper, the river more narrow and moving faster than the lazy Columbia. In fact, I envisioned this is what the Gorge must have looked a lot like before they dammed and tamed it.

Hell's Canyon Dam

After we got to the point we could go no further down the road in our behemoth, the man lamented he had not seen one mountain goat. (He had been looking for them the entire time.) This must have been the summoning words, because sure enough, it was at that point we looked up and saw one. Sage thought they looked more like polar bears with horns.

Can you see the mountain goat?

At this point, we realized that at some point we were going to have to start heading towards home. We had better start heading that way, because we had a long way to go. So onto the road and back towards Baker City we went.

We did take time to stop at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City. This is a great stop if you are interested in learning the history of the Oregon Trail, or if you want to see in real life what inspired that old computer game you played so much in elementary school. (Please don’t tell me I was the only one?)

My main reason for wanting to stop here is to see the section of wagon wheel ruts that have been preserved here. Unfortunately, it was an almost two hour round trip hike down to see them. We just didn’t have the time to do this since we wanted to get home before midnight, so I was so disappointed when we made the decision to skip it. However, upon exiting the museum, I learned that they could actually be accessed from the road, and only a short walk would be required.

So, as silly as it sounds, I have always wanted to see the actual wheel ruts ever since I played that silly game in elementary school, shooting deer with the space bar, and I finally got my chance. Overall, to look at they were fairly unimpressive. In fact, they didn’t look much different from the many truck tracks we saw encircling ranches on our journey, just more overgrown with sagebrush. However, standing there, imagining the thousands of wagons that passed by, filled with the hopes and dreams of so many settlers, it was hard not to be effected.

Oregon Trail Wagon Wheel Ruts

From there, we headed straight for the interstate. Like the pioneers, we just wanted to get home and settle in, beginning to get weary from our journey. Traveling along I-84 home, as we passed exit after exit, I marveled at how much we had seen back there off the freeway and wondered how many other people zoomed right on by not even knowing how much they were missing.

The view from Cabbage Hill, just outside Pendleton

As we entered the Columbia River Gorge, just after sunset, I made a silent apology for my newfound love of Hell’s Canyon and even trying to compare the two places. Now, as we were driving past my beloved hiking grounds,  I was hit with the relief, that even after such a wonderful trip, with so many things new to my eyes, that my little family and I were finally home.


  1. This really makes me want to travel the back roads of Oregon! I might just have to get off my duff!

  2. Home is where the heart is, even if you travel in one on the back roads of Oregon!