Friday, September 25, 2009

Imnaha and Hells Canyon

The last destination on my trip was Hell's Canyon. It is safe to say that this leg of the trip meant the most to me for many reasons. I had heard amazing things about Hell's Canyon and I couldn't wait to see what all the fuss was about. There were several lookouts to choose from, but after speaking with a guy at the local watering hole in Joseph, I decided the closest lookout was the best choice. The only concern would be the narrow, 26 mile, one lane, gravel road up to the top. It was literally like driving along a cliff and I could see why some people felt weary about the long trip. luckily I felt fine, I think in part because of my many trips to the Mountains. 

The nice man in Joseph who recommended this destination said I absolutely had to stop in the small town of Imnaha at the local grocery store/tavern. It had so much character! I stopped for an ice cream and made my way up the hill. 

There was livestock on the road. This wasn't the first time I had encountered a cow in the middle of the road on this trip. Luckily, I was only going 25 miles an hour, so no one was in danger!
As I climbed, the views became better and better!

I finally reached the end of the road and was excited to climb to the top of the lookout tower. 
This was the view from the top. Supposedly, this part of the canyon is deeper than any part of the Grand Canyon. I had been to the Grand Canyon and I think the margin is very small between the two, but it was definitely BIG!
I had to bother the fire lookout guy. He wasn't the most social character. His personality was similar to Tim the Tool Man Taylor's best friend on Home Improvement. What was his name??? Oh yeah, AL!  He was just like Al minus the sense of humor. It was only a little awkward, but heck, I drove a long way to get to that lookout, so I had no problem bugging him. 
It took guts to take this picture of the Al look-a-like fire lookout guy. Turns out being nice is helpful in relieving awkwardness. I think after 5 minutes he began to enjoy the company.
I was faced with a tough decision once I climbed down the tower. In my E. Oregon book it said there was a campground up top, just North of the lookout tower. I soon learned that this campground was pretty abandoned and on my drive up it was apparent that no other people were camping up top. I didn't feel like camping by myself again and I really didn't want to sleep in my car again, so I made the executive decision to drive back to the city where I could get a hotel room and a shower. I was STINKY!!!
Just after I took this picture, I had the highlight of my trip. I was driving around a sharp corner and saw a real wild COUGAR!!!! It was running from the road down the hill along a fence. I was speechless and all I could think to do was speed up so I could get a closer look. I was probably about 150 yards from it before it ran down the canyon into the woods. It was just about the best high I have ever felt! It was all I could do not to call everyone to tell them how lucky I was!!!  

Go Cougs!!

The drive down was amazing!
I also saw a pack of wild turkeys. There were about 15 of them, but I could only snap a shot of 3 of them. 
I had to stop at the tiny Imnaha Grocery/Tavern to tell someone what I had just seen. To my surprise, they were actually really happy for me and stated that so many people go there entire lives without seeing a cougar in the wild. I was riding cloud 9.

My visit to Hell's Canyon kept getting better and better. I was inquiring about hotels in the tiny town of Imnaha and had decided with the help of a local lady that I would just drive the 30 miles back to Joseph. Her name was Mellika. She was originally from Maine and came to Oregon to work as a repelling firefighter for forest service. Repelling from Helicopters that is. She was hardcore. She and I are the same age and she had just had a beautiful baby girl. She moved to Imnaha to be with her boyfriend Dave. They were such a warm and compassionate couple. 
While we were talking in the Tavern, I noticed her talking to Dave across the room. She was checking with him before offering me a room she had in a roadhouse/hostel they were fixing up. The room was clean and ready for a guest and after offering money, they insisted I stay there for free. How nice was that? The room was so cozy and after not sleeping in bed for about 8 days, I was so happy to take them up on their offer!
The room was in a roadhouse across the street that they were renovating to be a home style hostel for travelers on their way to Hell's Canyon. I was their first guest. After showing me around, we went back to the tavern, where we proceeded to drink and eat a lot! The store owners were so nice and shared their local delicacy with me. I actually tried Elk Heart! It wasn't bad either!
After a great night of eating, drinking and visiting, I slept hard. I was so happy about how the folks from Imnaha were so welcoming and I even thought briefly about what it would be to live in such a small, inviting place???
This was the country style restaurant in their hostel. 
A picture of the post office from my room. Cute huh?
This is a picture of the hostel from across the street. It is a work in progress.
The grocery store/tavern.
The next day, Mellika invited me to her home for a visit. It is estimated that this house was built right at the turn of the 19th century. Dave had taken it apart and moved it from a far away town to this lot.
This was a pup that they rescued. The local cowboys had used this border collie for herding for several years and she was tired and not helpful anymore. They were going to shoot her and Mellika said she would take care of her for the rest of her days. I knew I liked this girl the minute we started talking.
The outhouse.... They have plumbing, but added this to the property for it's character.
The rustic interior of the home.
Mellika and her beautiful 3 month old baby girl. 

I spent 5 hours talking/bonding with my new friend. It was tough to leave, but I finally started my 6 hour drive back to Portland. I can't really explain how therapeutic this trip was. I had great adventures and met such wonderful people. Can't wait to do it again! 

Thanks Eastern Oregon!

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