What a Drive
~Wednesday, August 19, 2020~
Last night when we were getting ready for some shut eye, we could see flashes of lightning, but very little thunder and no rain. I thought it was heat lightning at first, but now we’re thinking it was just a far away storm, which is why we couldn’t hear the thunder. It will be so cool to get real storms on our travels. I’ve always liked this kind of weather. Just please don’t throw in a hurricane or tornado.
Woke up to an orange tinge reflecting on everything due to smoky skies, but thank goodness the smoke is really high, so no smell. There are some big fires in California and Colorado so we’re not sure if the smoke is related to that?
Jeff made a delicious egg, and “everything but the kitchen sink” scramble that filled us up enough to last all day. We decided to do a little sightseeing, even without a detailed map. We have our road atlas, but there’s very little detail of Hell’s Canyon. Once we got on Hwy. 39, and a left on Hwy. 68, we were able to get our bearings to know where to go. Remember we don’t have an internet connection either, which has been a nice thing until you need detailed navigation. We unexpectedly saw Copperfield Park which was our backup accommodation in case Ollokot did not work out. We were not that impressed with the park and realized we made the right decision after all, to stay at Ollokot. We decided to go all the way to Hell’s Canyon Dam, and it was a STRESSFUL drive.
There is a series of 3 dams in the upper Hell’s Canyon area on the Snake River. They're primarily there for power generation and flood control. The first dam is the Brownlee Dam built in 1958 (too far to get to), the second is the Oxbow Dam built in 1961 which wasn’t really worth stopping to see (luckily it was only 2 miles off the highway), and the third dam is the Hell’s Canyon Dam built in 1967. There are a total of 15 dams on the Snake River. As we took the windy, intermittently steep 22-mile road through Hell’s Canyon to the dam, our nerves were a little rattled because of the steep, rocky terrain that comes right to the road, praying that a large boulder, or even a small one doesn’t roll you off the road. Maybe there’s a reason for the sign at the beginning of the drive that tells you, “Private road. Drive at your own risk”. Some of the rocks are as tall as skyscrapers, with a few that cantilever over the road, and all look really unstable. Obviously we made it through since I’m here to tell the story. After the 30 mile drive, we drove over the dam where it takes you to the visitor center which was closed, due to COVID.
We knew about the closure before we got there. It’s an impressive dam, but not very aesthetically nice. Jeff and Sadie walked down to the boat ramp from where the visitor’s center was, while I stayed to read some informational signs. While I was reading about their future dam projects, one of the employees for the Idaho Power Corporation came out and asked if I had seen the bear. I immediately thought the bear might be where Jeff and Sadie were. Luckily, the golden colored black bear and her cub were on the other side of the river (the Idaho side), and I never got to see them. He said they frequent the area for the abundance of fish, and that he usually sees them once a week. It would have been great if the visitor center had been open, to learn more about the history of the area. The funny thing was, the drive back didn’t seem as scary as the drive to the dam. I think coming from the dam direction, you have an overall sense of the width of the canyon, whereas the other direction, the rock walls are on the passenger side of the car, and you just feel more closed in. Hard to explain, but both directions have a different vibe.
When we got back to the campground, I felt a bit exhausted because of the drive so thought going down to the river would revive me. When we got down there, we met another family. Very nice couple with 2 young children from the Enterprise/Joseph area (where we’d just stayed). You think I’m a talker, she had me beat. She actually gave us a lot of great tips of where to go, when I explained our travel plans. One of her suggestions was to stop by a bookstore in Joseph to pick up a book called “Thunder in the Mountains” that gives a historical perspective on the area and about Chief Joseph and Wallocot (his younger brother). With her suggestion we both thought it would be great to start collecting books from some of the cities we’ll be visiting along the way. She also suggested seeing the Hot Springs in Idaho and also recommended Sandpoint like everyone else. Unfortunately, the end of our conversation was very sad. Her husband, whom we met, is very sick and doesn’t have long to live. But her attitude was so uplifting and positive saying, “Hey, we all have 2 jobs in this life…..getting born and dying and we’re all dealt a different game in life, so you play with what you’re dealt and make the best of it”. Now I feel incredibly guilty for all of the whining and complaining I’ve done over the last month about our truck, as this really puts things in perspective.
Jeff and I had a relaxing evening having horderves, playing with Sadie at the water, and rehashing our time here in Oregon. We’ve decided that the Ollokot campground is an amazing place to stay when you’re coming from a place that is more urban and need a quiet place to decompress. The good news from our first dry camping experience, is that we learned we can certainly do a week. Our black and gray tanks are only ⅓ full and we’re on day 3. We absolutely know we would have enough fresh water to last 7 days, especially when we’re right next to a flowing river as our backup. A summary of the Wallowa region and the Hell’s Canyon area: we are very happy we saw them, but it’s not something we would come back to see. There’s just too many other places to visit. Definitely worth seeing though.