This tour was conjured up last year by Don Spencer with some help from me after riding west to east across Oregon. Most people including Don and myself have spent time in the Wallowas and the Snake River Canyon area because it is spectacular and sometimes referred to as the Oregon Alps with high granite alpine mountains, deep glacier formed valleys and a myriad of lakes throughout the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the middle. The surrounding farm areas on the north, south and west sides and high sagebrush steppe terrain on the east provide dramatic visuals as well as good cycling routes to tour through. The Elkhorn mountains are similar but smaller and more accessable via bike and foot. We thought it would make for an interesting tour to completely circle both of these and be able to include the Snake River area as an added bonus. Like all well laid plans, that did not completely come to pass due to a high pressure heat gift from California that reached us as we were starting the last half of our figure 8 loop around the Wallowas after a great time in the Elkhorns.
Day 1: Elgin to Catherine Creek Campground outside of Baker partly using Oregon Scenic byway on the west foothills of the Wallowas. This route went through the towns of Union and Cove which are both historic including a restored hotel and museum with a hidden surprise that I can only reveal in person. The scenic bikeway designation was assigned for a good reason, it is spectacular.
Day 2: Catherine Creek to Sumpter via Baker. This was also a great route along a historic gold mining railroad that supplied Sumpter which still has a narrow guage tourist railroad operating with 2 restored steam engines, a gold Dredge museum, many old historic buildings and still has mines that are still being worked. We stayed in the 'Stockade' motel/campground' which included a faux fort with stockade and a few colorful campers with dogs that didn't always get along, especially at 1:00 AM. You can use your imagination for the collective reaction to that.
Day 3: Sumpter to Anthony Lake campground via Granite, Oregon. Another great route circling the Elkhorns clockwise from he south including abandoned houses, mines and great vistas of the Elkhorns from the north side. I took Don, Bob and Scott up to the Elkhorn Crest at the end of the day to get views of the Elkhorn range, some of the the lake basins and the Grand Ronde valley and Baker where where we came from and would return the next morning. Anthony Lake was swim worthy and refreshing after a long day.
Day 4: Anthony lake to Richland Oregon via Baker. This was a long day with the California heat arriving and pushing the temp up to 108 degrees by the end of the day. It started with a fabulous descent form Anthony Lake (El. 7,300+) to Baker (El. 3,400) and finally Richland (El. 2200) for a 5,200 drop. The route from Baker to Richland had great views of the Wallowas but the climbing temperatures made hydration issues partially resolved by a friendly farmer who filled out water bottles with water and ice. It only took about 45 minutes for the ice to melt but we didn't care and were grateful for the respite. When we arrived in Richland we found that Road 39 to Wallowa Lake was closed due to resurfacing and so there was immediate disappointment in spades and a dilemma on what to do next. We decided to see if we could find someone with a truck that we could pay to take us past the construction having abandoned the idea of going to the Snake River because of the heat and needing to continue forward rather than backtrack to Baker with 1,200' of climbing in extreme heat. Don solved the issue by finding Gene (whose last name I never found out). Gene lived in a house next to the city park we were camping in that night and after determining he could do it the next day, agreed to take us up to Imnaha avoiding some severe climbing in wretched heat at 6:00 am the next day. With that settled Don, Bob and I headed to the cafe in town where we had dinner and Bob and I had homemade huckleberry milkshakes served in the stainless steel containers they were made in.
Day 5: Today started with Scott yelling outside my tent 'John!!! its 4:30!!!'. Coming out of a deep sleep I realized if I wanted to have breakfast and a lift I needed to respond. Gene showed up promptly at 6:00 AM. We loaded the truck with our bikes and gear and filled the jump seats in the back. He drove over 40 miles with some substantial climbing which all of us thought without saying 'I'm glad I'm not doing this on a bike'. We reached a turnoff near the top of a pass that pointed to a Hells Canyon overlook 3 miles away. Gene offered to take us up there and drop us off which we of course accepted with gratitude. The view was amazing and the trip down to the Imaha was 6 miles of no pedaling bliss at our good fortune. There were 3 substantial climbs aferwards with one descent of 15 miles with no pedaling proving to be the longest descent of the trip. The last ascent finally gave us a sweeping vista of the Wallowas and Joseph in the far distance. I was so tired I missed the sign reading 'Open Range' with a stove parked under it with the oven door open. Arriving in the Wallowa Lake campground, I immediately took a shower with a 2 minute interval button which I conservatively estimate I pushed 75 times thereby depriving Bob and Don of hot water which they reminded me of for some time afterwards. After good meal all of us were ready for a long night's sleep and the final leg the next day.
Day 6: Now attuned to the daily ritual we all got up at dawn's early light and were on the road by 6:00. We didn't realize that the route back to Elgin was downhill with about a 1-2% grade and just flew into Enterprise for a great 2nd breakfast (another daily ritual where we discovered restaurants that served buckwheat pancakes... my favorite) that prepared us for the only climb of the day over a canyon wall flanking the Wallowa river. The descent from there was all the way to Elgin where we took 'showers' under a hose in back of city hall having dispensed with modesty long before that.
And there you have it. As usual, I almost always shoot in Black and White and this trip was no exception.