Day 18/Friday/June 13:
Friday the Thirteenth began as a clear sunny day. We left camp after filling our water jugs with some very tasty water. The drive to Roads End was a very scenic drive with many turnouts to view the mountains and the several beaver ponds.
An island meadow in the parking lot had colonies of Veratrum among the alpine shrubbery. Evidence of avalanches were along the road as tree debris had been cleared off to the side. There was a trailhead for Ruby Crest that was around 50 miles long but we opted for the short trail that passed by the creek. It rushed over boulders and some exposed rock shelf. A perfect view of the Ruby Mountains framed by several aspens and and a few Veratrum in the foreground would have made for a grand photograph had the light not been so harsh. I snapped a few iPhone images while I reveled in the view.
We headed down the road to Elko for fuel and to make our way to Silver City, a living ghost town, and a BLM campground. Elko’s downtown was blocked off as we arrived on 227 so we had to detour around. The Sinclair station on our way had dirty restrooms, no paper towels, dirty wash water for windshields and an insolent attendant who couldn’t give us receipt. We got out of town as soon as we could to head north on 225 into Idaho.
Another less traveled road populated by ranches, 225 or the Mountain City Highway passed several reservoirs and small towns like Wild Horse, Mountain City (a visitor center in a boarded up town), and Owyhee. After Wild Horse Reservoir, the landscape resembled photos I have seen of the Owyhee Canyon further north. Rocky spires on each side of the very twisting road that follows the river of the same name dominate. Between Mountain City and Owyhee, jumbled rocks, appearing in clumps held together with a special kind of side gravity clung to the hillsides.
We also drive through the Duck a Valley Indian Reservation that straddles the Nevada/Idaho border. In Idaho, 225 becomes 51. The road varies from curving descents and ascents to straight shots. When we come to 78 we turn west. To the north we can see the Snake River that nourishes the ranches that grow very green crops for stock. Rolling irrigation pipes make sure the ranchers grow enough feed for the cattle that dot the open range.
Silver City Road has several warning signs about rough gravel roads unsuitable for large trucks and towing vehicles. The city is about 20 miles away as we begin on a paved road. A sign for the the Silver Falcon Mine says it is 6 miles ahead. This is also an area for ATV activity as the many signs along the the road regarding their rules attest. We encounter several of them and some trucks towing trailers for their machines. Everyone seems to know the rules of the road (downhill yields to uphill traffic and there are few speeders). Curiously, we see a minivan and a Honda Accord which really have no business on a 4×4 road with ruts and exposed rocky shelves with blind tight curves that ascend and descend randomly. The views of the rugged mountainous terrain are spectacular but you need to pay attention. The road runs the gamut from sagebrush to junipers to fir or spruce from the gain in altitude.
It is a long slow slog to Silver City. It has some buildings that are shuttered and some that are occupied. The Idaho Hotel is open and has several ATVs parked out front. We talk to a group of riders who said the BLM wanted to take over the town but the residents fought it and the town seems to be able to keep its authenticity. That’s are several newer homes but most are restored originals from the silver mining days. We find several old safes and a large wooden cook stove at the Memorial Park along the same stream that passes by the campground.
It is dinner time but I encounter a local resident who tells us the best way to return to paved roads is to retrace our steps to 78. If we went west to Jordan Valley, it would add another 40 miles. A Vietnam Vet, he has lived here for 35 years. He excused himself as he was invited to dinner at the Idaho Hotel.
The campground has no other occupants but us so we pull into the first one. It has a picnic table, fire pit, it’s own empty garbage can and a nearby vault toilet. We also have our own marmot population which thrills Toller. He has to sniff every hole and grass clump. If we let him off leash, he would be all over the hills chasing the furry rodents.
As we eat dinner, the black clouds overhead let loose with claps of thunder and hail. We are snug and cozy in our camper but I worry about the gravel and dirt roads that we travel tomorrow all downhill. If we leave early, we can beat the weekend recreational traffic.
Day 19/Saturday/June 14:
The sky was still overcast when we left the campground just outside Silver City. We spent one of the first nights with the heater turned on. Our early start was calculated to miss all the ATVers coming up road to Silver City. I dawdled taking photos so we started meeting them a few miles out of town. However, most followed their code of off road etiquette, so any collisions were avoided. The morning light was interesting so I used the DSLRs when the light added depth to the layers of hills.
Back on 78, we head toward Nampa to fuel up. On the way we saw a which was just across the bridge over the Snake River. As we pulled in so did a group of LEOs escorting some bikers for a Crime Stoppers fund-raiser.
On to Nampa and a Thriftway for some groceries before traveling west on Interstate 84. Traffic was light westbound but a bit heavier eastbound. We exited at #3 for 30/95 toward Payette/Weiser/Midvale/Cambridge, small farming communities. In Weiser we needed a rest stop so turned down a residential street and found an athletic field with SaniCans. Toller was let loose for a wild run around the grass. He ran for the pure joy of being free of the leash.
At Cambridge, we turned west onto 7, still in Idaho as the Snake River which forms the Oregon/Idaho border was still to the west. The road featured tight curves ascending and descending for miles. We stopped at an Idaho Power Rest Stop near Woodhead Park on the Snake River which had one of the nicest public restrooms we have seen. A walk through the picnic area showed the same attention to detail and cleanliness.
On up the highway we went to find a campsite for the night. Crossing over the river at Brownlee Dam brought us into Oregon. We tried a few BLM sites along the river by the Oxbow Dam but this being a nice Saturday, they were all full of campers and folks fishing and boating. Copper field is a settlement for the workers and families at the dam.
We took another winding road (86) to head for FS Road 39 to see if Lake Fork had sites available. If not, we would boondock in the Wallowa Whitman National Forest. Unfortunately, FS Road 39 was closed for repairs for the next 2 years. This was our scenic route to Joseph and Enterprise and the red barns. The nice gal at the closed sign post, told us we could probably take Fish Lake Road through the forest from Halfway and come out above the road construction.
Back on 86, we saw a sign notifying us that we were now in the Pacific Time Zone. Halfway was a small community that evidently was proud of its recent high school graduates. On the light posts through town, a sign with the photo and name were proudly displayed.
We turned onto Fish Lake Road which wound its way across the mountains in curve after curve. We encountered snow at Fish Lake Campground so drove on to Twin Lakes. We only met a few folks traveling toward us and none going our way. At Twin Lakes, it was peaceful and vacant. One lake empties into the other with a gurgling stream. There are marshes and forest where the mixed softwood trees that have died retain stark silhouettes.
We walked out on a dock where we startled a deer having dinner. The only sounds we heard were frogs and an occasional fish splash, and yes, birds. Just about bedtime we had company from the other direction. They quietly made camp and the night was again silent.
Day 20/Sunday/June 15:
The dawn was a grey overcast but the snow-speckled Wallowas could be seen in the distance. The wildflowers were spattered along the road, in the forest and in the meadows. Forget-me-nots, Veratrum, coltsfoot, wild strawberries, lupine, Indian paintbrush, camassia, a red penstemon, and several blue varieties that I didn’t know. Deer were plentiful of course, but we did see two female elk near the road and a wild turkey raced across in front of us.
USFS Road 66 is a lovely drive through mixed softwoods: pine, fir and others I was familiar with but forgot the names. It tees into USFS Road 39 which was our intended route yesterday but it was closed for construction. We drove up 39 toward the Hells Canyon Overlook. After turning on the overlook road, we stopped part way up the 3 mile drive at an unofficial overlook. The views were vast even though the day was still overcast across the canyon to the Seven Devils in Idaho.
Once at the overlook we took the path along a restored wildflower meadow. Again, many wildflowers in a rainbow of colors were scattered on the ground. You can’t see down the canyon floor but you can see across. Even though you can’t see the Snake River that carves the canyon, it is still impressive. It is this continent’t deepest river gorge.
We returned to 39 to continue toward Joseph and Enterprise and the valley of the red barns. This road has many switchbacks and a few fallen rocks and potholes. The vegetation is creeping onto the pavement so it appears to be in need of some maintenance even above where the road has closed the road. We were surprised to see trailers and boats and a motor home as the road has some tight turns.
Eventually the road straightens out some as it approaches 82 or the Imnaha Highway westbound to Joseph (or eastbound to Imnaha). We drove on to Enterprise for fuel as it was a tight turn in to the gas station in Joseph. Enterprise has a Safeway. Which has a surprisingly good produce section and a variety of other items. It even had Silk soy milk in very vanilla which most small town grocers don’t carry. Oregon has a bottle deposit and attendants who pump the gas. Very civilized.
We drove around looking for red barns and found a few that would look good in the morning sun. We decided to camp at Hurricane Creek, a USFS campground about 8 miles south of Enterprise. The usual fire pit, picnic table and vault toilet awaited us. The toilet was new and fairly clean with no bullet holes. The picnic table had 3×12 fir planks attached to a 6″ channel iron base. Very heavy, it definitely would be difficult to steal.
Hurricane Creek roars through the campground. Most camp sites are along the creek but some have been abandoned due the ravages of flash flooding during heavy storms. Many fallen trees crisscross the creek at disjointed angles, evidence of past disruptions.
A few vehicles drove in but didn’t stay. It isn’t the brightest place to camp on a grey overcast day but for $3 it worked for us. We had arrived early in the afternoon so set up camp then wandered around by the creek. It had been an exhausting drive for Tony due to the many twists and turns of both USFS roads so we relaxed. It was still light when we fell asleep to the rushing creek.
Day 21/Monday/June 16:
Rain drops plopping from the overhead tree canopy on the camper roof awoke me at first light. We retired early among for rest and to catch the early morning light on the Wallowa Mountains backdrop for red barns. We had discovered a few and marked them on the Google Map app.
We wandered around the campground in the drizzle so Toller could do his business then left for Enterprise for Tony’s meds and to wash the truck of filthy road residue. Folks around here must oil their dusty roads as we sure picked up gobs of oily dirt.
After these chores we began to look for more red barns as the mountains were beginning to reveal themselves from behind the low clouds. We found a few and the soft light was flattering to the foliage. After getting lost on a dirt road that became progressively narrower and bumpier, we ended up on Highway 3 about 9 miles north of Enterprise.
Several years ago, we thought we had found Old a Chief Joseph’s grave near Nespelem on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington far from his home in the Wallowa area. But, further research revealed that he had been reburied outside of Joseph, Oregon overlooking Wallowa Lake. We found the memorial marker for his grave. One of our favorite quotes from him: “Hear me now my chiefs. My heart is sad and sick. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever”. A courageous leader who would not sign a treaty giving away 90% of traditional tribal lands, he led his people on a long march to escape the US Cavalry. Eventually, they were settled in the Omak, Washington area.
The rain had abated and more Wallowas were now as large as life above the valley. We found a few more red barns and reshot a few others with a more dramatic backdrop. We started off toward the Zumwalt Nature Preserve of native grasses but 15 more miles (and return) of washboard gravel roads was more daunting toward the end of our trip. Back to Enterprise and north on Highway 3 northbound to Washington.
Highway 3 is another two lane state highway that has little traffic. It becomes 129 in Washington winding its way toward Clarkston, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho and the Palouse region. We stopped at the Joseph a Canyon Overlook to see where Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce made their winter home along Joseph Creek.
After some flat stretches, Highway 3 does some tight curves as it makes its way down into the gorge created by the Grand Ronde River. I don’t think we have been on a curvier road in our travels. The curves were tight and frequent descending to the river once in Washington. Oh, but the fun is not over yet, folks. From Boggan’s Oasis, a restaurant, the road did the same thing in reverse. We did stop at an overlook where you could peer into the canyon below. The river snakes along the gorge until it empties into the Snake River.
About 5 miles from the viewpoint we stopped at Fields Springs State Park to spend the night. We needed good hot showers and to dump our black tank. $23 is more than we like to spend but we needed some services and it was getting late. There were just 2 other campers so we had a good selection of sites to choose from.
It was quiet in the park so after supper and a walk, we went to bed early after awaking so early to see what the morning light would do at Puffer Butte. This viewpoint at the butte at 4500′ looks into the Grand Ronde Canyon and has views across 3 states.
Washington state has some nice state parks. I would rate this one highly due to it being one of the few around, the cleanliness of the grounds (792 acres) and the lovely forest that is a part of it. The sites are spacious and most are level.
Day 22/Tuesday/June 17:
At least it wasn’t raining when we awoke this morning. We tried to find the road to the Puffer Butte warming hut which promised views of three states: Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Apparently, this is more of a snopark as the map on a closed road showed groomed trails for snowmobiles and other routes for cross country and snowshoeing enthusiasts. There was no road to Puffer a Butte, only a trail and I didn’t want to carry camera gear for two miles. I may be wrong but we searched for roads which we found gated or that lead to trailheads. The hosts were asleep at 6:30am and the staff had yet to arrive.
After dumping our black tank, and getting some fresh water, we turned north on 129 toward Clarkston/Lewiston for fuel and meds. I found a Safeway that had both in Lewiston, Idaho. We passed through farmland dotted with farms both abandoned and working.
Asotin, the county seat of Asotin County, is a charming town along the Snake River. Once we entered Clarkston, then Lewiston, they looked like any other cities with growing pains. Sprawl, malls, rush hour traffic. Get us out of here.
129 had ended so we took 12 out of town to where 195/95 head north to Spokane. 195 forks westerly to bring us to the Palouse for lovely barn photos amongst the rolling fields of wheat, canola, peas, other crops. Also, Steptoe Butte, which has a long spiraling climb to the top, offers views of patchwork quilt farmland. Unfortunately, the rains began in earnest and didn’t look like they would ever let up. We decided to go to Colfax, to see if conditions were improving.
Colfax was a wash and I wasn’t happy as this is prime time for photography. Time to head west on highway 26 as Twisp/Winthrop promised sunnier skies. 26 is a state highway that needs repair due to grooves from traffic. Coupled with constant rain, it wasn’t a fun drive. We took respite in a rest area that 26 shares with 395. The bathrooms are okay but the facilities for Fido were appalling. I just can’t figure out why people don’t pick up after their pets. Gross.
We turned north on 17 toward the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. At the northern border is the Potholes Wildlife Area and Potholes State Park. The Seep Lakes Wildlife Refuge fits in there somewhere in this area set aside for wildlife, hunters and fishers. We stumbled on to Seep Lakes while looking for a place to boondock for the night.
There are many small lakes in the area that are contained within the Scablands that make up a part of eastern Washington. We found a level area with a vault toilet in the Lyle Lakes camp area. There weren’t assigned spaces of course; you just found a spot with a view off the road and called it home.
People drove by occasionally on a nearby road but no one bothered us. There was some ugly trash, however that we did clean up down near the water, mostly plastic bottles and bullet casings. However, we do not pick up condoms or dirty diapers.
We could hear the sounds of the birds as we ate supper and watched them dive into the water. We were surprised to see a pelican but we later discovered that they do nest here.
As I was walking Toller, the rain sprinkled some and we were treated to a lovely double rainbow. I don’t think Toller appreciated it as much as I did. I grabbed my camera for some photos of the truck bathed in golden light but couldn’t frame the entire rainbow even with at 24mm on a full frame body. I would have had to back into the lake which was beyond the lengths I would go to for a shot.
We fell asleep listening to the evening bird song and the occasional vehicle.
Day 23/Wednesday/June 18:
I was expecting some nice light to bathe the landscape this morning but the eastern clouds were too thick to let in any golden rays. We wandered around, broke camp then returned to the main road in the preserves.
This is fruit tree and feed crops country. The farmers were busy in the fields and trucks were hauling totes to the fields for harvest. It is mainly the sweet cherries that are being picked now. Field hands were thinning the apple crop to ensure bigger apples.
We decided to swing east a bit to explore Potholes State Park. It is a well-manicured park, a bit too much for our tastes but would make a good stop when we travel through this area for our fall or early spring forays. If we buy the off-season senior pass, we can camp for free.
Back on the road, we made our way north via some county roads and highway 17 to and through Ephrata and Soap Lake. Traffic was light as this isn’t a heavily populated area. We stopped at Lake Lenore Caves State Park or more specifically, the historic site which has some caves the local natives used to prepare collected foods for winter storage. The trail wound it’s way up into the cliffs but my rattlesnake phobia warned me about rattlers lurking in the sage brush along the trail. We could scan them with our binoculars from the safety of the parking lot. We could also see the rock art along the outside of one of the cave. We were told by a local gal that they were also inside the caves.
Back on 17, we headed north to Coulee City to splurge on some wraps at a little cafe attached to a Cenex gas station. We like their food and also liked that they had a copy of a portrait of Old Chief Joseph on the wall.
You have to travel on US Highway 2 a bit before turning north to travel on 17 again. Just outside of Bridgeport, we stopped at the Chief Joseph Dam to eat our wraps. This is the second largest dam in the US and the largest straight dam in the country. It generates about a million dollars of electricity a day, enough to supply Seattle. I am just wondering if it does serve Seattle as the big city gets its power needs met by Seattle City Light’s dams on the Skagit River or so I thought.
Back on 17, we crossed the bridge over the Columbia River to highway 97 which would pass through Brewster and Pateros before we swung west onto 153. This is what happens when you choose to forego interstates in favor of county, state and US highways.
There is a nice fruit stand/bakery on 153 that has an organic orchard. They also use their own fruits to bake deliciousness into their baked goods. Black cherries were $3.50 a pound and the larger Queen Anne’s were $6.50. We bought a bag of each so I can now gorge on one of my favorite fruits.
Back on 153, we pass through Methow and Carlton, two very small towns. Soon, we are on highway 20 which will bring us through the North Cascades then home. Twisp is a bit bigger than Methow or Varlton anfpd boasts a Les Schwab tire facility and a NAPA auto parts store. Winthrop is the artsy touristy town we always drive through, only to stop at the four way stop in town. It reinvented itself as a Western-themed village when Highway 20 pushed its way through from the dams.
Our campground for the night was a USFS campground called Klipchuck which is well off highway 20. We have stayed at Early Winters but found that the highway noise was bothersome. It is quiet in here except for the sound of Early Winters Creek which has buried itself in a gorge. The campground is less than half full so we have some choices. We pick site number 1 which is fairly level and not close to other campsites. Although it is on the corner, where campsite seekers turn onto this loop, it is very quiet. We ate surrounded by mixed softwoods, mainly pine and fir. We love the glow of pine trees in the early and late evening sun.
We ate a bowlful of cherries, finished our soup then hit the sacks. Lots of driving today made for sleepy campers. Good night.