Tucked away in the northeast corner of Oregon is a fairytale place of lush green rolling hills, quaint old barns and pioneer-era homes, sparkling blue lakes and thundering rivers, snow-capped mountains towering against the blue skies of summer, and, of course, wildlife everywhere. The kind, gracious, and authentic locals also have a way of making the trip even more memorable. Understandably, this picturesque place is also often referred to as "America's Little Switzerland." Covering thousands of square miles, it includes both the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. It's indeed a landscape that will take your breath away.
My first visits to the enchanting Wallowas (pronounced Wul-OW-wuhs) occurred in the capacity of a state employee. Now, I seldom visit for business purposes, but we love to vacation there as a family. (This latest trip also served as research for my mystery novel.) Having the opportunity to stay there last week (without television, cell phone coverage, wi-fi, etc.) was a powerful reminder of the craving I have for beauty as well as meaningful connection with family--as well as the land itself.
Let's face it, as a kid raised in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, I probably get on people's nerves when I visit other places in the country. "Where's the green?" or "Why is everything brown and flat?" I ask myself these questions (a little louder perhaps than intended). In short, I am probably very spoiled when it comes to scenic beauty; it's hard to beat Washington, Oregon, and California. From our home in the Willamette Valley, for instance, we're an hour from the Pacific Ocean and lush forests to the west, and another hour or two away from the mountains and high desert to the east. Crater Lake and the northern Redwoods lie to the south, as well.
When it comes to the Wallowas, though, it's more than just the place. Off the beaten path as they are, the people are indeed a unique and close-knit group. I recall, for instance, trying without success to salvage horrible Google Map directions to a friend's home in Lostine, Oregon. When it looked like we were going to be late, I finally pulled over and spoke to a postal carrier in nearby Enterprise, Oregon. Her first question was who was I visiting--not where. I gave her the name, and she instantly recognized the person, providing the directions we badly needed.
Of course, if you annoy the locals, you may find yourself taking the longest "short cut" you can imagine. One local confided that a sweet old lady she knew had finally lost patience with an out-of-towner bearing a laundry list of complaints: the mountains weren't that special, the weather was too hot, there were no stores in which she cared to stop, etc. Having finally had enough, the old woman carefully gave the complaining visitor detailed instructions to Hwy 3 out of Enterprise to Lewiston/Clarkston. She explained that this route might offer her exactly what she was seeking. Now, as someone who accidentally took this frightening little stretch of asphalt (again, thanks go to Google Maps) back in 2007, I can understand the humor here. Still, I have to say I feel a little sorry for the complainer, too.
Imagine a narrow road weaving steeply towards the hilltops, and you have some inkling of the drive. There was beauty, too, of course: wild deer and a huge owl to name a couple examples. As I recall, when the road began to feel more like a paved walking trail, I remember my wife asking me to drive slower and slower until we were inching along at less than 20 mph. When I expressed concern about traffic, she insightfully pointed out that no one else was stupid enough to take that particular road. Enough said.
There was also a remarkably astute local when it came to discerning a good book from a bad one. Walking into one business in Joseph, Oregon, we noticed a local shaking her head as she read The Shack. When questioned a bit, she admitted that her teachers had always taught her to finish those books she started...but this was her second attempt at reading it. Besides sensing something wrong with the theology, she said that the place names in the book didn't match the descriptions. It was like the author had just used a map to write the book, she said. I kept my mouth shut (mostly), but I was excited to learn yet another reason to thoroughly dislike this poor little excuse for a book--but I digress.
At any rate, that is a little snapshot of our vacation. In short, it was wonderful to visit a place where shocking beauty and majesty come at you from all sides. I hope that you can make it there yourself some day. From fishing, hiking, horse-riding, general exploring, photography, and riding the tram to the lofty top of Mt. Howard, this area really does have it all. It's a great place in which to be reminded of the beauty and power of God's creation.
In the meantime, if I should happen to pay you a visit in the midwest or southern United States, and you wonder why I am looking a bit glum, it's just because I'm spoiled; I live in Oregon, you see. This being the case, I hope you will have patience with this west-coaster. Perhaps if you come to our neck of the woods, it will make more sense...
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Update: Please check-out my new calendar featuring my Wallowa photography!