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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

High Above the Nez Perce Homeland

The Wallowa Country is the ancestral home for decendants
now living on the Umatilla, Nez Perce and Colveville Indian Reservations.
When ancestors lived here, people from many tribes came to this area
to gather food, trade and camp.

-- Quotation on plaque at the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland

Hi Blog!

Our campground in Wallowa, Oregon, was right next door to the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland Project. The Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center, Inc. was chartered in 1995, and purchased a 160 acre site adjacent to the City of Wallowa in September 1997. In Spring 2000, the adjoining 160 acre parcel was purchased, for a total of 320 acres, which is now called the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland. On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, we decided to pay a second visit by hiking the Homeland trail.

In addition to an Interpretive Center, Long House and Dance Arbor, there is a 4-1/2 mile interpretive trail which takes you up a steep basalt cliff to the top of Tick Hill. Our destination loomed ahead of us:

The trail was easy to find. Dave points the way:

The trail starts easy enough by meandering along an old ranch road:

The trail soon begins to switch back and forth across the face of the basalt. We gained over 672 feet of elevation.

This interpretive sign reminded us that we should probably stop and drink our water.

While it felt like we were truly climbing a mountain, we were merely ascending a very high plateau. Much of eastern Washington and Oregon are part of the Columbia Plateau. This area was covered by numerous lava flows -- some of which were thousands of feet thick. The lava has since been covered with grasslands, savannas and shurbs. We felt this particular shrub of thistles was very photogenic:

With all the snow and rain this season, the wildflowers are beginning to bloom.

From high atop Tick Hill, we looked down on the circular dance arbor in the Homeland. Our RV park is to the upper left of the dance hall. If you look carefully, you can see Buster patiently waiting for us to return from our trek.

A hogan shaped gazebo sits at the top of Tick Hill. It has a commanding view of the Lostine and Wallowa Valleys, which are sacred to the Nez Perce:

Another plaque at the gazebo reads:

This land, as far as your eyes can see, is a home.
Witness its splendor, magnificence, majesty.
Consider living here thousands of years
and being forced to leave this land’s abundance and the bones of your loved ones.
Envision an elder who has never been here,
yet she knows this place because she has heard about it for generations.

This elder has never been here before, but she understands why this place is sacred to generations:

If you would like to see what we saw, click the link to take in the video of view from tick hill. (Our esteemed viewers have teased our videographer about his bouncy videos; this one bounces, too, but in this case, it was the wind.  There's always an excuse.)  The video took in the gazebo, this informal memorial, and the panoramic view of the valley:

Further on, we saw a plaque with the following legend --

All who lie here fulfill the promise.
We are born of our mother.
Our physical remains return to her when we die.
All living beings experience this great law.
Once laid to rest, the remains should be left along.
This is also a law.

-- explaining the ground around this memorial:

From the edge of Tick Hill, a large light fixture stands guard of Wallowa. During the Easter Season the lights are turned on in a shape of a cross. During Christmas, the lights form a five point star.  The town doesn't see this view, but it certainly sees the display at night:

We realized that we were walking near a hallowed burying ground, and we attended carefully this wisdom:

Promise to remember.
You must never forget.
Always honor those who have gone before you.
There are many whose remains are in scattered places.
On prairies, trails, mountains, lakes and canyons, they died in distance places.
All longed to rest alongside their brethren and ancestors in this valley.

During our hike, we met only one other hiker. He warned us that it would get a little soggy in the draw between the hills. Lucky for us, someone laid out these old fence posts:

What goes up must come down. After crossing the top of the plateau, we began a series of switchbacks taking us back and forth across the face of the hill (that's tiny David in the middle of the photo):

On our way down, we got a glimpse of the Wallowa River:

Before long, we were back on the old ranch road and began a leisurely walk back to the trailhead.

As we completed our hike, we found one last interpretive sign. Wait -- this looks more like a first sign than a last sign. Do you think we hiked the trail backwards?

This hike was our last outing in Wallowa. Tomorrow we move onto Spokane, Washington. 

Until our next blog encounter, stay thirsty my friends.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Paddling Wallowa Lake

At last, the weather today was warm and party sunny, so we rushed out to paddle our kayaks on Wallowa Lake.  It is a ribbon lake 1 mile south of Joseph, Oregon, and sits at an elevation of 4,372 feet. Impounded by high moraines, it was formed by a series of Pleistocene glaciers. On the south end of the lake is Wallowa Lake State Park, and a small community made up of vacation homes, lodging, restaurants, as well as other small businesses. Wallowa Lake has been used for recreation since at least 1880.  The north end of the lake empties into the Wallowa River, which flows through our campground in Wallowa, Oregon.

As we carried our kayaks out to the lakeshore from our Jeep, we weren't particularly worried about wildlife.  But Kathy suddenly stopped with a yelp and we spotted this snake along the gravelly beach, just as we approached the margin of the lake:

It didn't take us long to launch our kayaks:

The wildlife was everywhere, but we didn't always predict where we would see it.  As soon as we launched our kayaks, Kathy spotted this Merganser duck --

-- and then we spotted this pair of wood ducks who appeared to be scouting out nesting sites along the lakeshore:

Kathy spotted the inlet of Wallowa River into the lake and made her usual attempt to paddle upstream, to little effect:

But David spotted this bald eagle nest in one of the trees above the Wallowa River.  We could see one of the adult eagles tending the nest.  The young would be too small to be spotted at this time of year:

We turned our kayaks down-lake, where the mountains on the left met the plateau and prairie to the right:

Along the lakeshore, we found large granite rocks and boulders, forming a grey background to the bleached tree trunks sloping down the rocky shoreline:

This is a classic Pacific Northwest landscape, with pine trees gracing the shores of the lake:

We were particularly curious about buoys that dotted both shores of the lake.  Below, Kathy examined one of the buoys, which appeared to be a mooring buoy:

We had difficulty understanding how roots of trees perched above the waterline could be exposed as much as these were:

Driftwood carried the reddish hues of the fir trees surrounding the lake:

We crossed the lake toward a line of cabins along the lakeshore to the west, and then turned south toward the state park.  The marina and its refreshment building sat gracefully on the southern shore:

We soon returned to our launching point and hoisted the kayaks back up on the Jeep.  Kathy wanted to hike across the southern shoreline to get a closer look at the eagles' nest we had spotted from the lake.  So we moved across the shoreline, which was alternating gravel and wet sand, and which formed a broad delta for the Wallowa River's supply into the lake.

We hadn't walked very far when we spotted this small bird.  She had obviously seen us first, and she was feigning injury to get us to follow her, to lead us away from her precious nest and the eggs that are waiting to hatch:

All in all, our visit to Wallowa Lake produced much more wildlife viewing than we expected.  It didn't get sunny until mid-afternoon, when we had already left the lake, so we don't have a lot of blue-sky photos to show you.  However, in parting we share this 360 degree view of wallowa lake taken by David as he tried to rotate his kayak with his paddle while recording the video.  Please excuse the shaking of the camera.  Eventually, he'll get this technique perfected.

We have one more full day here in Wallowa, and we intend to used it well before the rainy weather closes in.

Jeep Drive into Snake River Canyon

Hi Blog!

Yesterday, we learned a great deal about the Nez Perce Indians, who once lived near the Wallowa River. If you are curious, you can click the link and read our blog On The Trail of the Walwama. During our research, we learned the Walwama band of the Nez Perce fled their homeland next to the Wallowa River in the hopes of reaching sanctuary in Canada rather than being forced onto a reservation in Idaho.

In 1877, Chief Joseph led 800 Nez Perce men, women and children, along with 2,000 horse and other live stock on a perilous journey. Their route to Canada would take them to Idaho, where they would meet up with other bands of Nez Perce on their journey to Canada. To get to Idaho, the Nez Perce had to cross the Snake River. The only safe crossing was at an area we know today as Dug Bar.

We had picked up a brochure entitled "Experience the Nez Perce Trail." We were curious if we could follow the Nez Perce Trail in our area. The brochure is divided into three sections, "Mainstream Traveler," "Adventurous Traveler" and "Rugged Traveler." (Note that some roads along the Rugged Route can be impassable during periods of inclement weather and on these routes you may not encounter other travelers for hours or days.)

One of those "Rugged Traveler" routes was along the Imnaha River to Dug Bar where the Nez Perce crossed the Snake River into Idaho. The 25 mile dirt national forest road follows the Imnana River all the way to Dug Bar.

On Sunday, April 21, 2019, we began our journey down the Imnaha River Valley toward the Snake River.

We thought we would be following the Imnaha River down the valley, but we soon found ourselves high above the valley floor.

The volcanic layers are easy to see from this vantage point.

We were surprised to find cattle ranches all along the 25 miles of rugged road.

As we drove along, we couldn't help but think if we had been miraculously transported to Ireland instead of Eastern Oregon.

After winding our way along precarious cliff faces, we finally made it back down to the Imnaha River.

Spring has sprung in the Imnaha Valley and young calves challenged us all along the road.

The Nez Perce retain fishing rights on the Imnaha River. We stopped to stretch our legs at one of their fishing camps. The fishing weir is used to count the number of fish making their way up stream.

We have to leave the Imnana River Canyon, as the river cuts a narrow path through volcanic basalt. We begin to make our way up and over the Wallowa Mountains down to the Snake River Canyon,

After a very rough eight miles, we finally get our first glimpse of the Snake River.

To see what we saw, click the link to the video view of the Snake River Canyon at Dug Bar.

It is still possible to hike a five mile portion of the original Nez Perce Trail. If we had more time, we would have loved to walk in the footsteps of Chief Joseph and his followers.

About a half-mile from the Snake River end of the Nez Perce trail over the ridge, we entered the Dug Bar National Historic Park.

The flat bench above the river contains historical ranching structures dating from the early 20th century. Horses graze along the banks of the river.

From the banks of the Snake River we look upstream to the area known as Hells Canyon.

Dug Bar was a traditional crossing point for the Nez Perce. In the late summer, after water levels traditionally drop, it was a relatively safe place to cross the river. Unfortunately, Chief Joseph's people were forced to cross the Snake River at the end of May when it was flowing high and fast with the spring runoff. Conditions were ripe for disaster. Women, children, the elderly, and all of the band's possessions crossed the churning river on horsehide rafts pulled by swimming horses. Several thousand head of horses and cattle were also forced to swim the river, with considerable losses. 

As we walked along the banks of the Snake River, we encountered... a snake!

After lunch, we began our 25 mile journey back to civilization. We found this quail trying to cross the road.

We also saw a number of turkeys who were too shy to have their photo taken. However, this deer was more than happy to pose for us.

There is no way to describe how incredible this journey had been. The road was literally cut out of the side of the mountain.

To reward ourselves for a journey well done, we stopped at the tiny Imnaha Store and Tavern. As luck would have it, the new owners had just taken possession. We enjoyed chatting with them and wished them well with their new (to them) establishment.

If the weather improves, we hope to be able to kayak on Wallowa Lake tomorrow. Stay tuned.