We like our Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited for several reasons – comfort, interior space, easy to set up for towing – none of which have anything to do with jouncing along remote rugged roads. Every so often, though, in spite of careful planning, that is where we end up. Sunday was just such a day.
When we arrived in Joseph a few days ago, I spent a good long while researching everything to do around here, particularly hikes and scenic drives. One area that combined both: the Zumwalt Prairie, north east of Joseph, practically on the border of Oregon and Washington. Wildflowers, wild animals, raptors, drop-dead scenery, hiking – Zumwalt Prairie offered it all. We plotted our course, and off we went.
Paved road to gravel road (on a good road bed) to dirt-and-gravel to dirt… and then to dried (usually) mud. The directions we followed turned out to be confusing, and we were WAY past the luxury of signage. By the time we passed “the old barn on the right” and opened the wood-post-and-barbed-wire-gate, we wondered whether we had sufficient emergency supplies with us! Neither of us wanted to chicken out, especially since the scenery was so fabulous (snow-capped Wallowas to the south, snow-capped Seven Devils to the east, wildflowers everywhere), but hoped that the need for cell phone reception wouldn’t come into play.
We came from the south…
… and left to the north.
We had a lovely hike*. Sunny day, slight breeze… we followed a small creek up a draw to the crest of a hill. On our right, the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains; straight ahead, the Seven Devils in Idaho. In a far meadow, we spotted a group of five elk, including two youngsters, all alert to our presence far sooner than we were to theirs, but untroubled. Where the trail ended, we hung a left, and walked through green grass and wildflowers to the edge of the canyon of the Imnaha River, looking down – way, way down - on the tiny town of Imnaha, Oregon.
There are a few elk in the center of this photo, backed by the Wallowa range.
The town of Imnaha in is the light brown patch far below.
From Joseph, our starting point, it is a 30 mile paved drive east to Imnaha – or, you can follow the same northeasterly route we did for many MORE miles than 30, taking the “back way” to Imnaha, a road described as “rough, and possibly not suited to all passenger cars” (this portion being 10+ miles long). As we gazed down, down, down on Imnaha, we wondered: would we be back on pavement more quickly if we went back (the known) or if we went forward (the unknown)? More importantly, which seemed like more fun?
Well, forward, of course! When we got back to Jules, we turned north, downhill into the canyon, our busy brains enumerating all the things that could possibly go wrong out here in the wilderness – overruled by the inner child, yelling “yippeeeee!”
The road was one lane, alternately dirt, mud, gravel and rocks, frequently curvy. Around one corner, we surprised a deer (or IT surprised US), which took off running down the road in front of us. Rather than chase the startled animal, we paused to let it find an escape route while we caught our breathe.
Seven miles later, exhilarated, we hit pavement, took a left, and rolled into the tiny town we had viewed from so far above. The Imnaha Store and Tavern was open, serving food and cold beverages, so we slipped inside and took a seat. The décor is small town rustic (stuffed animal heads, wooden booths, wood stove, dollar bills stuck to the ceiling with thumbtacks); the menu is a mix of the expected (burgers and fish-n-chips) and the unexpected (chicken gizzards and frogs legs). It felt like a cozy gathering place for locals, counting on trade from summer patrons to see them through the winter.
While we dithered over the menu, a friendly, overall-clad local from the adjacent table stopped by our table to welcome us and chat awhile. He asked a few questions, found out we are fulltimers, and confided to us that he and his wife will be hitting the road full time this winter. A little more conversation, then he turned to rejoin his friends, saying “get the gizzards, they’re great”. We glanced at his table, where his five buddies were scarfing up the gizzards. Well, what the hell – it was just that kind of day. Grab the gusto!
Inside the Imnaha Tavern.
Chicken gizzards: taste as bad as they look.
Deep fried chicken gizzards? Are you kiddin’ me? What were we thinking?? They are just as you would imagine them: tough greasy bits of gristle, hundreds of nutrition-free, tasteless calories contained in each rubber-band textured bite. We each did our best, but eventually buried the remainder (95%) under a pile of crumpled napkins, letting our ice cold drinks wash away the flavor of the gristle and the dust of our ride while we enjoyed the quirky ambiance of the place.
The ride home, all 30 smooth, paved miles, was pure bliss.
*It’s been 12 weeks since Odel’s knee surgery. We’ve done back-to-back hikes on rough terrain with no apparent distress to his knee. Finding a comfortable sleeping position is occasionally challenging yet, and Odel continues to ice his knee daily… but we both are very happy with his progress.