Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Road Trip – Part I

During a recent bike riding adventure, my friend Dale and I were comparing notes on the numerous places that we had fought fight forest fires during our careers. It was during this discussion that we realized I had never been to the northeast corner of Oregon. Since much of this part of the state is remote and not exactly on the beaten path, you actually need a reason to go there; thus the idea of a road trip was born.

We originally planned to make the trip in early May but life’s circumstances just seemed to keep the trip on hold. Oregon also saw very little nice weather this spring, in fact a couple of days before we departed, the higher elevations of the state were blanketed with a late season snow. Finally on June 12th, we loaded Dale's vehicle and headed east on Interstate 84. The highway follows the Columbia River for nearly 200 miles and the scenery is incredible, especially while passing through the Columbia River Gorge. If you get the chance to one day follow this route, be sure to stop at Multnomah Falls and Crown Point, they definitely are sites not to miss!

As we continued east, we stopped in Pendleton, the home of the world famous Pendleton Roundup, for refreshments at the local Dairy Queen. Pendleton has a long and colorful history as an old west cattle town and is now a hub for agriculture. It came as no surprise that the stools in the Dairy Queen were actually seats taken from old farm tractors. Mind you they were not of the padded variety, but just bare steel! Those old farmers were either extremely tough or had very sore butts!

We finally hit La Grand and at this point we turned northeast on state route 82 which takes you through Enterprise and Joseph and some of the most incredible scenery I believe Oregon has to offer! The road passes through a broad valley which supports numerous ranches while the Wallowa Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness tower high above you.

The Eagle Cap Wilderness in the distance

We finally arrived at Wallowa Lake State Park and were fortunate to obtain a tent site which included a view of both the surrounding mountains and the lake. Since the park is one of the State’s larger facilities, it boasts flush toilets and heated showers. The only way I was willing to consider camping out was if the park offered hot showers. I did all my primitive camping as a Boy Scout thank you very much!

Once camp was established, instead of building a fire and burning some hot dogs, we opted for fine dining in the city of Joseph at and establishment called Embers Brew House. What a place, the food was first rate and view of the sun setting over the mountains while we dined on the front porch was beyond words! After stuffing ourselves, we decided to stop at Chief Joseph’s grave site; the chief of the Nez Perce tribe is buried on a small knoll which over looks Wallowa Lake and the mountains.

Chief Joseph's grave site

Views of Wallowa Lake and the Eagle Cap Wilderness from Chief Joseph's grave site

So ended day one of the trip; we logged over seven hours in the vehicle and traveled nearly four-hundred miles.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Eastern Oregon Road Trip

When I first moved to Astoria in the late 1970s, it was not uncommon for a group of us single folks to jump in the car and drive off to some exotic location for a day of fun in sun. Well, I suppose one could hardly consider Seattle, WA or Portland, OR exotic, but they did offer plenty of opportunities to "get out of town" and travel the open road! As my single friends got married or left Astoria and the responsibilities of work and home ownership increased, the concept of the road trip died a silent death!

During a recent visit with a friend who also is a retired forester, we were discussing all of the locations in Eastern Oregon that we had visited while fight forest fires during our careers. Suddenly a voice whispered "road trip"; go and see what some of these places look like without the smoke and flames often associated with a forest fire.

With gas at $4.19 a gallon, I suppose a journey of 900+ miles doesn't seem like the smartest decision ever made, but then you are only in your midfifties once, so you better take advantage of it and try and have a little fun while you still can. Besides, with two of us, the expenses were split down the middle so the total cost was pretty reasonable.

Our trip took us to the Columbia River Gorge, Joseph and Wallowa, OR, the Hells Canyon Recreation Area, the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the John Day Fossile Beds Monument, and countless places in between. Over the next few weeks, I will post pictures of these must see places and my hope is that it will spur you to a road trip of your own!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Age of Exploration

One of the most fun things I have done as a docent this spring at the museum has been to participate in the Age of Exploration program. The program is designed primarily for students in grades four through six; it is very fast-paced and offers numerous hands-on activities. During the program, the students learn about the Native Americans who once inhabited the lower Columbia River region, their dealings with fur traders, and the navigation methods of used by early sea going mariners.

So what makes hosting this tour so darn much fun? In a single word, it’s the kids! When you ask them a question, especially the younger ones, you never know what their answer will be. It’s always unpredictable and often extremely funny! At this age, the kids are very enthusiastic and frequently three of four have their hands raised to answer a question before you have even asked one.

For me, another big plus is that they laugh at my jokes! Nothing swells a docent’s head faster than knowing someone got your point.

Finally, the young kids are open and honest; if you are doing a lousy job, they have their ways of letting you know. It’s their feedback, good or bad, that helps us improve ourselves for the next time around.