Day 16/Wednesday/September 24:
I really wished for some beautiful clouds this morning but the fog gods left their trail of dewy droplets. Still, fog can make for some moody images. It soon lifted but the sky was cloudless and there was a ripple on the lake where yesterday was like glass. We said goodbye to Karry from Colorado and headed out to the roads that would take us back home. We had reached the furthest point east and south of our trip so the remainder of our adventure would be homeward bound.
There are several spots off the road where you can disperse camp. We had met some campers who had camped along the Green River who showed me a photo they had taken yesterday, a wide angle shot with the river running toward Squaretop Mountain, a terrific example of leading lines/S-curve composition. We looked for it and found a few possibilities. Our plans for further adventures would be to more throughly explore Western Wyoming, places on the map like Plumes Rock, Chimney Rock, Killpecker Sand Dunes, Adobe Town, Crazy Woman Canyon, The Haystacks, etc. And, spend a few days, exploring this area and relaxing in our chairs along the banks of the Green River, fishing and relaxing.
We missed 40 Rod Road, a shortcut over to 189/191, by gawking at the scenery. It would have saved us probably 10-15 miles. We drove back through Hoback Canyon to 26/89 heading west into Idaho. This is beautiful country, I thought, as we drove along the Grand Canyon of the Snake River toward Alpine, Idaho. In Alpine Junction, where we fueled up, tourism hit a dead end. A large complex of Swiss Alpine themed buildings including a restaurant and motel was for sale and appeared to have been for some time. We see a lot of businesses that cater to travelers that are for sale and abandoned. I want to know the backstory. Why are these places for sale? Where do people stay? Is it the RV industry or do people have to ration their vacation time to see only the top-tier of their bucket list?
We dropped down along 26 to parallel the Palisades Reservoir, a dammed up portion of the Snake River. Our camping destination was Falls Campground along Fall Creek near Swan Valley. We turned off of 26 to USFS Road 058 toward the campground keeping an eye out for a sign for Fall Creek Falls, a scenic falls that I wanted to photograph. The campground was closed (for the season?) so we drove down Fall Creek Road (USFS Road 077) along the creek of the same name and found some areas with informal camping spots (rock fire pits). The waterfall was visible as we returned from the closed campground so we at least knew where it was. It was getting dark and we were tired. It was quiet except for the occasional bellow from the free range cattle.
Day 17/Thursday/September 25:
I misjudged the time that the sun would rise so parts of the waterfall were already basking in the sunshine. I made the best of an poor situation and fired off a few wide angle shots. We returned to Highway 26 enroute to Idaho Falls. Because we wanted to arrive home to tend to the garden and attend a friend’s going away party, we, gasp, got on I15 and drove to its junction with I86 just north of Pocatello. I86 merges into I84 just east of Burley. I am not a fan of freeways but Idaho’s aren’t as congested and the traffic flows freely, if fast.
Soon, we said good-bye to freeways at Mountain Home and fueled up. From Mountain Home, we drove on Highway 67 (Grand View Road), crossing the Snake River at Grand View to 78. We followed 78 (the Murphy Grand View Road) past dairy farms and the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Site. We saw no eagles or other larger birds of prey but did spot many hawks. We drove through Murphy and Guffey at times following the Snake closely.
At Marsing, we turned west on 55 then north on 95 through Homedale. At Homedale, we turned onto 19/201 and proceeded through Adrian. We crossed the Idaho/Oregon border just west of Homedale. It was harvest time in this part of the world. Overladen dump trucks spilled their loads of red and yellow onions at every turn. There were trucks also carrying carrots and potatoes, stew veggies. We picked up a few large red onions laying by the road side.
Somewhere in the midst of this farmland, the winds began to blow forcefully and we were now trying to see our way through the soil billowing across the road from one fallow or harvested field to the other. 201 brought us to Nyssa where we stopped to fuel up. One of the local farmers was fueling up next to us and said if we continued to drive west, we would be driving away from the winds. He also mentioned he was having a great harvest this year.
From Nyssa, we headed north until the junction with 20/26 which would take us to Vale, Oregon. We camped at Bully Creek Reservoir northwest of Vale, at a county park that had showers and power, our first hook up site on this trip. Since we were out of daylight, campgrounds were few and boon docking on farmland is not encouraged, we took advantage of the power and showers for $15. The reservoir was down substantially, like most of those we have seen. It was quiet as there were only two campers here including us.
Day 18/Friday/September 26:
After using the campground’s water and our hose to wash off almost 3 weeks of dirt, we returned to Vale and turned north on highway 26. Our map showed a shortcut via Reservoir Road but it hadn’t been used in a long time. 26 took us through small towns like Willow Creek, Jamieson, Brogan, Ironside, towns that are fading away or gone. We were looking for a cut bank along the road just before Unity that someone during one of our travels was said to have carnelian rocks. It wasn’t really evident as there were a few rocky banks along the highway and we weren’t sure how far from Unity, but we did find some pretty rocks along a promising area. The few people driving by were probably wondering what we were looking for.
In Burns, several weeks ago, a local man told us about Strawberry Mountain where he worked falling juniper. He said it may be worth our while to check it out. We drove toward Unity to ask for information at the Ranger District station but it hadn’t been open for some time. You could buy some maps from a kiosk but we wanted utd info on camping, road conditions, POIs. We could have backtracked to USFS Road 16 but chose to just sample the area by driving to Prairie City.
We immediately liked Prairie City, a friendly Mayberry RFD kind of town. The storefronts were original with stone, brick and wood. The friendly locals directed us to the correct road to the Strawberries and Tony shopped at the Mom and Pop grocery store. We had this same feeling at Condon, Oregon, last spring, another authentic real small town America place on the map..
Following the Prairie City South Road (62), we made a semi-circuitous route through the Strawberries. 62 turns left becoming 16. Since we were in the Malheur National Forest, there were a few campgrounds along or off the road. They were circled on the map for a “next time”. At Parish Cabin campground, we turned onto 15 toward Seneca and Highway 395.
It seemed just a few days ago we were traveling south on 395. Northward bound, we passed through Canyon City (fuel at Shell) and John Day. From John Day, 395/26 took us west toward Mt. Vernon where we followed 395 north toward the Oregon/Washington border. Since it was getting dark quickly, we drove onto USFS Road 432/3940 to find a place to camp for the night. It was hunting season so we did see a few hunters parked here and there. We set up camp on a single track dirt road among the pines, far enough off in case someone wanted to pass by.
Day 19/Saturday/September 27:
It appeared that the road we were camped off of would take us north a ways then drop down to 395. But, since it was a weekend and hunting season, we back tracked to 395 to resume our homeward direction. As we drive along 395 in this section from south of Fox to Long Creek and north of Ukiah, there are some really photogenic old barns, churches and homes. Somehow, we are there too late in the morning or too early in the evening or it is a cloudless day. One of these days….
We make good time driving 395. It is a good road with some traffic, altitude changes, and curves, but very drivable. We pass through small towns that time forgot, thriving at one time in this open range ranch country when ranches were smaller.
At 74, we turn west to travel this time on the Little Butter Creek Road through ranches along Little Butter Creek. Turning onto 207, we stopped at the Echo Meadows Oregon Trail Interpretive Site. We stretched our legs, read the information in the kiosk and wandered down the trail to look at the wagon wheel ruts. Overhead, we heard strange sounds. Hundreds of large black birds were flying south in numerous Vees. Later, we found out that they were brants.
We stopped in Umatilla for fuel then crossed the Columbia River into Washington. We exited onto 14 then headed north on 221.retracing our steps from when we began. From Benton City, on 221, we drove along the Yakima River to connect with highway 240. We turned left, again passing through the Hanford area. Too soon, it was getting dark and we needed a spot to camp. We thought of the rest area just before the Vernita Bridge. But, semis were there, maybe for the night, so not wanting to hear and smell diesel all night, we drove across the bridge to the boat launch and found a spot away from the weekend crowds. And, I don’t think Washington has an ordinance that allows you to spend the night at a rest area like Oregon and Nevada.
Day 19/Sunday/September 28:
We slept well and hit the road early. It was beautiful sunny morning as we drove along the Columbia River and the vineyards that thrive here. I forgot to mention when we passed by here several weeks ago, we also drove by Priest Rapids Lake and Dam. There is a large RV park and community there called Desert Aire, definitely not our style. They even have their own airport.
Since we are adhering to our route that we began this trip with, in reverse heading home, I will be brief. From 205 , we joined I90 until the exit 151 past George to 283 to Ephrata. In Ephrata, we drove the Sagebrush Flat Road/Rimrock Road/Coulee Meadows Road northbound. I took a few iPhone photos of some barns and the volcanic rimrocks. When “the road that frequently changes its name” ended on Highway 2, we made a sharp left on 2 westbound for about 5 miles then turned north yet again on 172 which meandered past wheat fields and more abandoned buildings. Someday, I would like to get permission to photograph these old structures before they become one with the ground. Most of the access roads are gated and posted so no trespassing.
We found Ridgeport Hill Road which, in a meandering way, took us to 17 and through the town of Bridgeport. Next time I will play tourist and photograph the really well-done chain-sawn sculptures hewn from standing 70 year old sycamore trees along the main road through town. There is a salmon, horse, eagle, and other animals.
From Bridgeport, we drove onto Highway 97 to fuel up in Brewster. Highway 153 was just ahead at Pateros and our favorite fruit stand called the Rest Awhile Country Market. We bought some organic apples and a pastry for Tony. This is fruit tree country: cherries, nectarines, peaches, apricots, pears, and apples. With productive volcanic soil watered by the Columbia and Methow rivers, this region grows some of the best produce in the country. You know, famous Washington apples.
153 past before Carlton was open so we drove it to just before Twisp. For a change of scenery, we took the Eastside Winthrop Twisp Road. It is a little slower paced and you drive by the North Cascades Smokejumper Base. We noticed all the homemade signs of gratitude to the firefighters in this area who fought the Carlton Complex fire. Brave men and women.
We picked up 20 again in Winthrop. Because it was still early, we drove off 20 to Mazama to check out several USFS campgrounds. Around Mazama, there are many vacation homes, some grandiose but most just small weekend cabins in the woods. The closer we got to the campgrounds, the rougher the road became. We stopped at a trailhead to walk around and let Toller stretch his long legs. We returned to highway 20, deciding the spend our last night at Klipchuck. We could have pushed to head home but we don’t like to travel at night, especially along very winding and dark roads.
Day 20/Monday/September 29:
We were a little anxious this morning as we were going to head up the looooong switchback on 20 toward Washington Pass. Last June, the radiator in our truck developed a leak almost to the top. (I have yet to document that episode as it is not fun to relate). At this point, I can recall it and almost laugh, well, almost, as it cost us over $2000 to replace it with a Mishimoto aluminum model. We limped to where we could get cell phone service in Newhalem to call AAA. We were certainly glad that we had a camper full of water and that there was a campground that we could replenish the tank with. Pretty trying at the time.
We took the long climb with ease, both of us breathing a sigh of relief. We made our usual stops along the way home, at the Diablo Lake overlook where we met several men in a homemade wooden camper sitting an older fire truck and at Gorge Creek Falls Viewpoint.
Since we had lots of time, I wanted to reshoot the falls behind the Gorge Powerhouse. I usually just shoot the one you can see from the bridge but there are several others to see by climbing a steep set of stairs. I promised that I would return in a half hour and you know how it goes when you are having fun. My time was up so maybe next time I will ask for an hour.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. We returned home to put the garden to bed, clean the truck and camper, plan our next adventure, work on photos and attend a going away party. I usually don’t keep track of mileage, food or fuel expenses. I do know that we spent $57 for camping. I think it might help others if I tally up our costs, either daily and/or at the trip’s end. I only know that it is worth whatever it costs. We are not extravagant people, choosing not to camp at RV resorts or dine out. Happy trails.