It was a fine day for a little drive through Eastern Oregon and after my cousin lent us her hot wheels, PT Cruiser, Ville and I headed off for a spin up to Baker City, Joseph, and back to Bend. Instead of the GPS's most direct route, we opted for back roads. And here are some shots along the way.
After loading the stylish, yet refined PT Cruiser with snacks and camping gear, we headed off from Bend, Oregon east on Highway 20 towards Boise, Idaho. The 20 gets you rolling at a heart-pounding 55 mph through wide expanses of ridges of dry grass and sagebrush cut with small creeks watering the sprawling ranches out east. Keep it slow and make take a nod or wave at the passing ranchers.
Highway 20 turns into the 26 right before you land in Ontario and connect with I-84 going north towards Baker City. Be forewarned, you will be flying on this until you reach Baker City. We had a quick stopover in Baker City and what a cool little town it is. There is a very lively small downtown, a few blocks long, with rows of old brick storefronts and cafes. It is a very similar feel to what Bend use to be before it was Californicated. Go ahead, wet your palate at the brewery or at a few of the old watering holes.
After leaving Baker City, this is where the real fun driving begins. We headed east on the 86 (also known as the Baker-Copperfield Highway) where the road winds upwards along a beautiful creek as the dry grass slowly unfolds into sweeping ponderosa pines and wildlife aplenty. A few miles past the turnoff for Halfway, make a left onto National Forest Service Road 39 and drop the cruiser into low gear because it's a couple hour beautiful climb into the mountains. Sweeping views and vistas of the grassy valley below while climbing higher into the trees. We had to slow for a few cows mozying along chewing their cud and even saw a mother elk with her young calf walking down the road. After a couple hours, you will pop out onto the 350. Take this hard left and head on up to Joseph.
Joseph, population 10 or something, is a really neat little town way up in some pretty spectacular sky scraping mountains. Here is where we took the road through Joseph's Main Street to Wallowa Lake and set up camp in the State Park there. WOW! There is everything from tent camping to a Lodge there for the cushy traveler. There is food at the lodge or 5 min. back through Joseph is a scattering of cafes, restaurants, and even brew pubs. Inhale the clean mountain air and buy some local goods to help support the economy here.
On the way back towards Bend, we took the 82 through Enterprise and down to LaGrande. Here is a great spot to stop and fuel up, because the only stations onward are very small towns and spendy gas. From LaGrande we hopped on I-84 again briefly before jumping off onto Highway 244 heading southwest to Ukiah. Pull over often and stick your head out the window letting your hair tangle in the wind and your eyes go dry. It's worth it.
After Ukiah, we headed south on Highway 395 towards John Day where you will land in Mt. Vernon just east of John Day. We stopped randomly along the road a few times to wade in the creek and snap some pictures of the steep jagged cliff walls cut by the small creek meandering along. Here nature presents herself in a time long before people built roads and buildings all over the landscape for the road you are traveling along had to be built in places of least resistance and it shows. Along this road we saw a fire lookout towering in the distance and decided since there wasn't a gate to go have a look see. The man working and living in the fire lookout welcomed us inside and gave us a detailed run down on how to locate exact positions of spot fires to radio in. Sadly, he told us his job was soon to be replaced in the next couple years by cameras because they are more accurate and don't require a person to live out in a tower all summer. Imagining this little social butterfly living in the remote wilds for months at a time was way too much for me to fathom, but a few days or week out would be rather enjoyable.
Onward from Mt. Vernon we headed west on the John Day Highway 26 towards Prineville and winding through the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. As the giant rock mound towers into the sky, we realized as the car edged closer that the road was swallowed up by a giant crack in the big mountain of rock in front of us. Thousands of years of the creek flowing through these rocks made this windy path much like a ride at Disneyland. And then you pop back out into wide open fields of yellow grass on the other side, unscathed. And on to Prinetucky, before climbing up and out of the canyon onto SW Highway 126. Just past Powell Butte, take a left onto the Powell Butte Highway heading for Bend and past the old Bend Airport. Sadly, this is where the farms get smaller and more crowded and the realization that your road trip is almost over sets in. A right on Highway 20 and your a straight shot to Bend. What a trip.
K.G. & Ville
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“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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