Baker City to Halfway.  On the Edge of Hell’s Canyon

Mileage today:    60               To Date:  3,123

I forgot to put a map up yesterday!  So here today is our route since we left Bend on Thursday morning.  Yesterday we went from Bend to Baker City. Today from Baker City to Halfway. Both times on different Scenic Byways. We really like them. If you are travelling in the States, make sure to contact the State Information office for a copy of their scenic byway brochure.

We spent this morning in Baker City. We didnt go to the Oregon Trail diner for breakfast after all because the free breakfast at our Super 8 was just too good. Bob had biscuits with sausage gravy which he pronounced as being fluffy and delicious. I had scrambled eggs. 

We then filled up with gas ready to head into the total boonies for the weekend.  I had wanted very much to visit the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Centre, which is just up the road guarding a 7 mile section of wagon ruts and the historic trail itself….. but it’s closed for renovation.  Some of the exhibits had been moved to the Baker Heritage Museum    so we went there instead.  What a great little museum!  About $8 each for us to get in and we easily enjoyed 2 hours in there.  They had 2 docents from the OT Interpretive Centre in an exhibition room just off the entrance and we had a long and very interesting chat with both of them. 

Then we looked around the rest of the museum which centres on the history and life of Baker City in the 150 odd years of its life.  There was a room with various different sorts of transport options: old car, stagecoach, horse drawn sleigh, wagon, carriage.  There were large set ups representing the industries: gold mining, cattle ranching, timber, brewing.  Upstairs there was a full size pioneer wagon on loan from the other museum plus rooms set up as per the 1880s in various social strata.  There was a recreation of different shops and offices.  Great fun.   Well worth a visit.

We set off towards Halfway our stop for the next two nights, and on a tip from the museum docents, we stopped on a grassy hillside about 5 miles east of Baker City and found the wagon ruts of the trail.  They are not as deeply worn in to rock as the ones we saw in Wyoming a few years ago, but the trail is very visible still, ground into the dusty prairie.  I do find the Trail very fascinating and enjoy reading about it and visiting places where it is still visible.  It’s more than just a dusty old trail through the hills and brush….. it represents the movement of 350.000 people who travelled over 2000 miles in conditions of great hardship in pursuit of a dream of a better life.  And in doing so, they forged the future of the United States because they established a claim to the land, they made true the “manifest destiny” of Americans to control the land from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. By and large, these were not poor people.  They had to have a considerable amount of money to make the trip especially once the 1850s land acts stopped the land claims being free.   Anyway, it’s worth exploring the times if you like to read about how the American frontier pushed west.

Tracks of the Oregon Trail

It was very hot today – in the 90s F.  Our drive from Baker City to Halfway was not too long.  About 55 miles, over great golden plains, past a lot of cattle farms, alongside the Powder River and through a long, long narrow and winding gorge it had carved through the land.  We stopped for lunch beside it.  Saw a couple of deer dart across to drink from it at one point.  It is so, so dry in this part of the state.  You can see where there is irrigation for the cattle – great automated watering machines are constantly irrigating grass fields.  Where that isn’t happening the hills are golden yellow where the grass has been burnt dry.  It’s a very scenic drive.  There is still some smoke in the distance slightly obscuring the view in a haze.  We can see the canyonland that surrounds the mightly Snake River which is the border with Idaho. 

Arrived in Halfway at about 215.  It’s a tiny town, very old, still mostly wooden houses with porches.  We are staying 2 nights at Pine Valley Lodge a charming place right on the Main Street of town.  It is 3 or 4 linked properties with a lovely garden around them.  We have a porch room looking out to the street.  It’s really nice.  An exciting revelation when we checked in: this weekend is the Halfway Fair and Rodeo!!!!  We will hopefully be able to go tomorrow evening when we get back from our rafting trip.   A big bucket list item tomorrow is that we are white water rafting through a 22 mile section of Hell’s Canyon and then jet boating back. 

It is Hell’s Canyon that has brought us to this remote spot in far eastern Oregon.  I have been quite fascinated by it since I read about it in the tale of Jacob Astor’s expeditions to found the town of Astoria as a trading centre at the Pacific mouth of the Columbia.  He sent two parties: one by ship around Cape Horn, one by land, up the Missouri and across the Rockies.  This was in 1810, only a few years after Lewis and Clark’s expedition.  In fact, 3 members of the Lewis and Clark expedition did enter the canyon in 1806 but they turned back before ever seeing the deepest part of it.  It was not until Hunt, on behalf of Astor, stumbled into the Snake River Canyon and nearly never left it, that it was seen for the first time by Europeans.  The Astor party were very lucky to escape with their lives and returned telling of a deep and ferocious river canyon, impassable by boat and withut portages. 

Carved by the great Snake River, Hells Canyon plunges more than a mile below Oregon’s west rim, and 8,000 feet below  He Devil Peak of Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains. There are no roads across Hells Canyon’s 10-mile wide expanse, and only three roads that lead to the Snake River between Hells Canyon Dam and the Oregon-Washington boundary.  It is deeper than the more famous Grand Canyon by about 2000 feet.   So…. a pretty exciting day tomorrow rafting through that wild terrain. 

Tonight we walked 50 yards down the street and ate at The Main Place, one of about 3 restaurants in the village. Good food and a nice meal. There, was live music from the little park next door. Country and bluegrass. It was just right. Back for a JD on the porch and a listen…