From Baker City, in eastern Oregon, Jer and I drove to the Idaho Bitterroot Mountains, where I wanted to vacation a bit by the Lochsa River. I had read about the Lochsa in The Lochsa Story: Land Ethics in the Bitterroot Mountains, by Bud Moore. Moore, who, we were told, is in his 90’s and still visits Elk Summit in the Lochsa region, started fur trapping along the Lochsa as a teenager in the 1930’s, and then, following a natural career path, became part of the Forest Service and watched the Lochsa region become entangled in all the forest management practices of that 70 year period. He is optimistic about the forest service learning from its dealings with the land, and forthright about its previous failings. He is also a gentle, funny writer.
The book enchanted me, and I persuaded Jer we should strike out across country from Baker, going through Richland and Halfway, Oregon and down to the Snake River that way. I didn’t paint in either of the villages, having stowed my painting gear under piles of dirty clothes. But I did take lots of photos, which mayhave possibilities for future work:
Halfway looked much like other eastern Oregon villages, except for its Wallowa Mountains surrounds, which look rather like crumpled sheets this time of year. Halfway, population 337, changed its name to Half.com after being promised various good things by a dot-com company. (You can read the tale of Half.com and Half.com as well as lots of interesting commentary here). The dot-com bust left Half.com without the promised perks, so the name was changed back. Although Halfway (between Pine [or Pine Town] and Cornucopia) is only 35 miles away from Baker City, it feels much further — and driving to it is, ummm, interesting.
From Halfway, we continued our saga through the long drop to the Snake River and up and down through all kinds of terrific geographic formations. Jer has already published his photo of White Bird Canyon, but I thought I’d chime in with mine. We met a couple who are biking across the US on a tandem bike; they made 25 miles the day they climbed White Bird and they rode part way on the old highway that Terry Grant spoke of. Less traffic, a phenomenon I can understand — the “new” road is bad enough. I think my photo shows some of the old road that Terry spoke of in Jer’s post:
After a long day, through many such canyons (although none as long), some without trees and later, many with, we reached the Lochsa Lodge. The best laugh of the day (rueful as it may have sounded) was upon seeing the sign that said, “Winding Road Next 99 Miles.” The sign was correct.
But we reached the River, the Lodge, unpacked some of the car, I fell in love with the cold clear water that roared down the mountain, and –well, I painted just a little.
The river is another one of those lands forms that are better experienced than painted, though, and so I doubt that my Lochsa painting will be seen by anyone but myself.
After 4 days of lounging around our rustic cabin, chatting up various motorcyclists and the tandem bike riders, being presented with a drawing by Echo Lemsbeck, Age 9, and generally taking it easy, we returned to Portland — not via Halfway, but by a much faster route, through Walla-Walla and over the Palouse Plateau down to I-84.
As was the case with the area around Heppner, Oregon, the Palouse Plateau was flooded with dryland wheat fields, looking soft and as golden as if Midas had just passed through.
I painted this area in late winter, after passing through it on the way to Portland from Basin, Montana.
It looks a bit cozier in the summer. I’ll have to do another painting, so the winter one has a companion.
And so, later that day, we arrived in Portland, 12 hours of driving, happy to be home, full of scenes and thoughts and paintings and ideas. Our grand summer expedition, painting and tripping, completed. –June
But of course there will be paintings to refresh your memories of this expedition — just stick around.