Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Dusty JeepYes, we drive a Jeep.  Yes, it has four wheel drive, including 4 wheel LOW.   So yes – we are capable of “jeeping”.  However, we can’t be described as “jeepers”!

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.

Road south Rocks and bumps

We came from the south…

… and left to the north.

Eventually, many miles over dirt double-track, small creeks, and occasional rock falls, we arrived at the trailhead for the Biscuit Vista trail, marked by a neat, clean sign!  I guess people in this remote part of Oregon take roads like this for granted; to us, it was The Grand Adventure.

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.

Zumwalt Prairie Elk Imnaha Valley

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? 

Imnaha Store and TavernWell, 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 Imnaha Tavern Chicken Gizzards

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.


  1. Glad you made it to Imnaha! Even if it was the back way. What fun. I probably wouldn't have tried those gizzards. Nope.

  2. So glad to hear Odel's knee is hanging in there so well for him. Jim is really used to my dragging him off onto roads that end up not being roads. But the adventures are so worth it. Glad you guys decided to go forward. Keep it up.

  3. excellent description of gizzards!! I could almost feel them in my mouth...

    I'm glad you let your inner jeepsters come out to play!

  4. Congratulations on your jeeping adventure--we all too had one of those yesterday--lots of mud, rocks, steepness and even snow! I'm with you on the gizzards--what were you thinking??

  5. what a fabulous 'jeeping adventure'...you may not own a wrangler jeep but you have a jeep still the same!..love the 'inner child!'..exhilarating fun!!!

  6. And that is exactly why we almost traded in our low clearance Saturn for a 4-wheel drive, but we couldn't give up the 38 mpg. What a fabulous trip and I loved your line about your inner child yelling 'yippeeee!' Good stuff!

  7. Chicken gizzards - yuck! Now, if there were chicken livers, that would be a different story. You were brave to try them. Love that neck of the woods. Thanks for the tour.

  8. So, I guess we won't see deep-fried chicken gizzards added to your recipe list! Too funny! Sounds like a fun, and adventureous, day!

  9. I really enjoyed this post and laughed because I can relate to it. Trip to the Rockies in a four wheel drive jeep on old mining roads with a mountain on one side and sheer terror on the other meeting another vehicle and somebody has to back up!

  10. We're back to regular Internet servce, guys, and so happy to find you hiding way up there in Eastern Oregon. That's my mother's home country, and we have enjoyed parts of it, but are anxious to do more. We'll take note of where you are, but we won't do that road! Our Suzuki XL7 has all the 4WD stuff too, but the bouncing would be a killer for Suzy's spine!

  11. I must be the only one in blog land that actually enjoy chicken gizzards. Not that much flavor, true, but there's just something I like about the chewy texture. Gin likes chicken livers although I can't stand them.
    Enjoyed the Jeep ride. We might try one of those on our Suzuki 4x4 when we get a chance.

  12. Syl, you and the six guys at the next table: 7 gizzard lovers! I can slightly relate - I tried to imagine I was eating deep fried calamari... couldn't make it work for me!

  13. Maybe next time one should order the exotic and the other a tried and true so you'll at least get half a meal. :)

  14. We love chicken gizzards, but they really need to be simmered before deep frying them..love the livers too, but they don't need extra boiling!

  15. Hey we were in Imnaha!! We missed going to the Imnaha Store and Tavern though as it was closed the day we came through. Gizzard, huh? Yikes!!

  16. I was the youngest in my family and was thrilled when my bros went to college because I could get the liver instead of the gizzard, when mom fried chicken. By the way, We are convinced- next summer -Oregon not TX ;)

  17. Really glad to hear about Odell's knee. You two have some gumption, I think I would have turned around.

    But your description of the gizzards is priceless. I'll pass on both the gizzards and the suggested livers thanks.

    You two do have such great adventures. I love going along.

    Many thanks,

  18. Chicken gizzards are yummy if you as my hubby, give me chicken liver any day of the week! Love that area and have enjoyed time there before.

    Be safe as you travel. And thanks for being good sports and trying out the gizzards.

  19. Did you check the freezer in the store?

    When I was there, it was full of rattlesnakes for the annual feed.

    Lovely country for rattlesnakes. The drive from Imnaha to the fish hatchery is also worth doing.