Friday, September 24, 2010 Sunny and 78 degrees
Today is our forty-fifth wedding anniversary, and after all these year's we've finally gone to Hell---Hell's Canyon, that is. It is a long 95 mile, three hour trip. The topography on the way to the canyon is such that it could be described very easily: rugged and barren. But that fails to capture its diversity, and its unique beauty.
To the east and the west lay vast mountains with undulating mounds laying at their feet looking like giant hassocks. As we drove, we climbed up, down, and around mountains and along small twisting rivers. But we never knew what we would find when we came down the other side. Sometimes narrow valleys with small tree-lined streams tried to wend their way between rocky cliffs. Other times the view opened to wide valleys with small ranches where cattle graze in irrigated pastures, and their fences are supported by tripod posts or wire baskets filled with rocks.
Small towns are also scattered through the valleys; otherwise the valleys are sparsely populated. Almost symbolically, on the hills outside of town, a lone cowboy with two dogs as his only companions rode his horse across the range.
"There is no recognized geographic place called Hell's Canyon" yet we eventually found towering craggy basalt cliffs soaring above or hanging precariously overhead. We were driving through the canyon, not looking down at it. Entrapped by the walls of the canyon is the Snake River. Upstream rapids have been tamed by the Hell's Canyon Dam which provides hydroelectric power to Idaho and Oregon. But downstream the rapids provide recreation to those riding in rubber rafts, kayaks, and power boats or fishing along its banks. Arriving at the dam, which is the terminus of the road, we took a short hike above the Snake River. Looking down we saw those enjoying the river, and looking up we found several pictographs painted on the boulders many years ago.
As we returned to Baker City, and the road crested for the last time, before us laid a vast, wide expanse stretching almost endlessly to the mountain range in the south. This was the view that the emigrants traveling the Oregon Trail saw 130-180 years ago. But more about that tomorrow.
HELL'S CANYON FACTS: The canyon plunges 7,913 ft. from its summit to the mouth of Granite Creek , six miles away, at 1,480 ft. above sea level. It is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
The Snake River originates in Yellowstone NP at 9,500 ft. elevation and joins the Columbia River at 340 ft., 1,036 miles from its source. It ranks 6th in volume of all the U.S. rivers.
TODAY'S ROUTE: WA 86E and beyond to Hell's Canyon and back to Baker City