Wallowas – Joseph, Oregon

June/July 2015

A story of how Kathy enjoyed herself while I pretty much had a miserable time due to Jeep problems and not being able to enjoy myself (aka, be free of stress enough to chill a bit) when my vehicle was dead.

The Wallowa region of Oregon first appeared on my radar when Nina of Wheelingit fame did a four-part blog post series on it, which you can read here, here, here and here. Go ahead and check out those four posts because it will paint a much nicer picture of the region than I will be able to due to my clouded vision. Really, read them. I’ll wait. Patiently. For you to finish. Done? OK, onto my darker story of my experience there.

Since we were in McCall and headed north, popping over to the northeast corner of Oregon and visiting the Wallowas wasn’t that big of a stretch. Nina’s blog posts had me sold and Kathy was game for anything, so we pointed a bit west and ended up staying in Wallowa Lake State Park, just outside of Joseph, Oregon (named after Chief Joseph).

Wallowa Lake State Park

There is nothing spectacular about Wallowa Lake State Park other than its location. It is at the very south end of Wallowa Lake and nestled into the north end of the Wallowa Mountains. There are 121 full hookup sites and 89 tent sites (some of which could also accommodate smaller RVs such as mine).

We stayed a total of 6 nights (longer than originally planned due to Jeep issues). 5 nights in site C35 which is a full hookup (electric, water, sewer) site designed for RVs and one night in site E5 which is technically a tent site, but one that had a nice long paved driveway that can accommodate smaller RVs (sometimes smaller is better when it comes to houses).

The park is a very popular summer destination for families, which I can’t quite figure out as it is in the middle of nowhere. Apparently it is close enough to cities in southern Washington and western Idaho to attract quite the crowd. It certainly isn’t the eastern Oregon crowd filling the place up, as there is no crowd in eastern Oregon.

The campsites themselves offer little to no privacy as there is really nothing between you and your neighbor. Plenty of large trees can be found throughout the park, but these only offer shade, not privacy. Combine this with the large number of kids, and it can be quite the noisy place. Summer camping, how I love you so.

The geographical features of the park (surrounded by mountains on three sides) meant that smoke from campfires tended to pool in the park. There was a constant haze as the fires burned in the evening. This was before the entire Pacific Northwest was on fire (which happened later in the summer), so campfires were still allowed. I am taking a wild ass guess (OK, maybe not so wild) and thinking that fires are not allowed at the time I write this (extreme late summer), as the entire west seems to be on fire. Time to break out a portable propane fire pit if y’all have one!

Besides the kids and the smoke, there is also one other glaring downside to staying at Wallowa Lake State Park – no Internet. OK, maybe this lands in the pro column for most people who are looking to get away from it all and enjoy nature, but it certainly fell squarely in the con column for a guy like me that is still a working stiff. Zero cell service (even with the signal booster) meant that I had to get creative on work days. I knew this coming in, so I just sucked it up and dealt with it. This would have totally been easy to deal with if it weren’t for the stress of having a broken vehicle. Not having the ability to make or receive phone calls from your house isn’t the greatest thing when you are trying to coordinate getting a vehicle fixed. Just saying.

Wallowa Lake

Wallowa Lake is a ribbon lake that was formed by a series of glaciers pushing north out of the Wallowa Mountains. The glaciers not only dug deep into the earth, but they also took the river sediment and pushed all this debris to either side of it, forming very tall moraines that currently tower up to 900 feet above the water (itself 300 feet deep in places) and form the walls of the lake.

Apparently Wallowa Lake has been used in geological textbooks as an example of a lake formed by moraines. It is quite clear to see why as the moraines are very obvious, especially when you stand at the state park on the south end of the lake and gaze north.

The lake is open to powered boats, so it was fairly busy on some days. There is a marina at the state park as well a boat launch ramp. We rented kayaks from the park one evening and had a great time. So much so that Kathy ended up renting one again while I was off doing something. Either working or stressing about the dead Jeep (story coming up).

The Wallowa Lake Marina offered an excellent place to view the lake and watch the comings and goings of boaters. It also happened to be the only place in the park that one could get Internet service via the marina’s Wi-Fi, so I spent a lot of time working here.

Wallowa Lake Tramway

Very near Wallowa Lake State Park is the Wallowa Lake Tramway. This privately held tramway is the steepest four-person gondola in North America (why do they all seem to have one claim to fame???) and takes you up 3,700 vertical feet to a final elevation of 8,150 feet. The 15 minute ride (each way) offers some pretty impressive views of Wallowa Lake, the Wallowa Mountains, and the surrounding areas.

You are deposited into 115 acres of land leased from the Forest Service and there are almost 3 miles worth of maintained trails that allow you to explore and enjoy the views. None of which I got to see as I had to work. And stress about my Jeep. But Kathy was able to take some time to enjoy the scenery.

I went to the top to work as I got a pretty good Verizon signal. Kathy went to the top to explore. And I am guessing to get away from her stressed out travel companion.

About midway up the slope I finally got cell service and received a voicemail from the Jeep dealer telling me my Jeep was ready to pickup, so guess what I had on my mind the entire time up there? Getting my Jeep back (yes, the gory details are coming!). So I wasn’t very pleasant. Sorry Kathy!

Joseph

Joseph, Oregon is a great little town (population just north of 1,000) at the north end of Lake Wallowa, and the closest sign of civilization to Wallowa Lake State Park. It is also where I spent a lot of time as it made a great place to work from.

Named after the Nez Perce Chief Joseph, Joseph is known as Oregon’s Little Switzerland. I guess because of its location at the base of majestic mountains? Or because every little city has to have their schtick? I don’t know, but I do know that it is a very nice place to hang.

For a town of so few people, it has plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, etc where one can plant themselves for a few hours to get some work done. They even have a brewery and a distillery. One of which we visited. I will let you decide which one (yes, this is a test to see how many of you know which I prefer).

(I swear I took more pics of Joseph…)

Iwetemlaykin

The Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site is a small, 62 acre section of what was once the ancestral homeland of the Nez Perce Tribe. You know, before the white man forced them off their land and into reservations.

Chief Joseph (the same one previously mentioned, who the town of Joseph is named after) didn’t take to kindly to this forced removal, so his people fled with the US Army in hot pursuit. Iwetemlaykin is not only the ancestral land of Chief Joseph’s people, but it also the place where the Nez Pearce started their long journey to find a new home. This journey is now remembered via the Nez Pearce National Historic Trail and stretches from Wallowa Lake, Oregon to Chinook, Montana.

Enough of the depressing history and onto what you see at Iwetemlaykin. Once the Indians fled in 1877, white man settled the area and used it for farming. Now it stands as a memorial to the Nez Pearce people. There are some trails that take you through the peaceful fields and past irrigation ponds and ditches that were put there by the white settler. Mainly it is a place to reflect on what was, what happened, and what should have been.

Activities

I feel like I got shortchanged on my trip to the Wallowas. It’s really my fault. I was so dammed stressed about my Jeep that I didn’t allow myself to truly enjoy the region.

There is lots of hiking to be had, as well as several drives that take you into the wilderness, including some that give you a great view of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. However, we did none of these. Time wasn’t on my side between me stressing out/dealing with the Jeep and work, there wasn’t much time to go play.

Kathy, however, did her best to enjoy the region. She rode her bike. A lot. There are many roads in the region that aren’t heavily travelled, yet offer scenic vistas. Kathy would hop on her bike at the state park and be gone for hours, letting me stew in my misery while attempting to get some work done.

Work

So where does one work from when they are staying somewhere without Internet access? Everywhere they can!

If I wasn’t mooching off the Wi-Fi from the marina at the park, I was in Joseph at one of the coffee shops. I even worked at the top of the tram. It’s amazing how good cell service is at 8,150 feet, far above the land below.

It was definitely an inconvenience to have to hunt down Internet, but I was fully aware of this issue before we came. I was hoping that the beauty of the place would negate any troubles finding a connection to the outside world and it might have if I didn’t have to deal with Jeep issues most of the time I was there.

Jeep

OK, I have teased you enough. Onto the details of the “fun” I had when my Jeep decided to die in East Jesus, Oregon.

Everything was going great. We had arrived in the Wallowas and we were exploring the area. Then I went into the nearby town of Enterprise (just up the street from Joseph) to refill one of my propane bottles. The refilling went great, it is what happened next when things went downhill. My Jeep wouldn’t start. It cranked over just fine, but wouldn’t catch. Crap!

To make a long story short (I promise, it won’t be too short!), turns out one of the fuel pumps died. But not before I first had the Jeep towed about a mile away to a local repair shop. They were great! But couldn’t fix the problem. At first they thought it was the oil pressure sending unit as this is what the fault code indicated. I have had this replaced once before and is most likely the cause of a check engine light I have been chasing for almost two years. The light will come on for no more than 24 hours – never enough time for me to get the Jeep to a dealer. And the code doesn’t save for some reason. So says the dealers I have taken it to after the light went out. I suspect there is something with the oil pressure sending unit wiring that is triggering a fault (ranges from once a month to once every 6 months, so it is far from consistent) and it will be a total PITA to track down.

Anyhoo, the local repair shop wanted to replace the pressure sender so I agreed. Problem is this ins’t a part the local parts place carried – you had to purchase it directly from Jeep. And the nearest Jeep dealer is about 70 miles away. 70 long miles along a twisty road following a river. No Interstates. This is why I didn’t initially have the Jeep taken to the dealer – it just wasn’t convenient.

I made the 140 mile round trip one evening to retrieve the part. They could have had it delivered but it wouldn’t arrive until the next afternoon and I wanted my Jeep fixed now!

Turns out this wasn’t the issue. Shocking! So I had to have my Jeep towed to the dealer. I didn’t accompany it and handled everything with the dealer over the phone. I am the kind of guy that likes dealing with this stuff face-to-face, so trusting my vehicle to a tow truck driver and a service writer I had never met added to my stress.

Of course the dealership didn’t have a fuel pump, so it had to be ordered, which added another day. But overall they got my Jeep fixed very quickly, considering I basically had it dropped on their front steps and I wasn’t exactly their only customer.

During this ordeal the first place I took the Jeep to set me up with a rental car. They not only service vehicles, but have a small used car lot. They set me up with a couple year old Chrysler 300, which was a very sweet ride for the couple of days I had it. For some reason, after a couple of days I received a call from them telling me they put me in the wrong vehicle. The Chrysler 300 was for other types of customers (I was confused by the reasoning, but whatever) and I needed to get another vehicle. Which was a first generation Toyota Highlander. I owned one of those when they first came out. Like 15 years ago.

This old Highlander had its redeeming qualities and I am not talking about the smell that made it obvious this was a smokers car. No, I am talking about the trailer hitch that I may, or may not, have utilized (I am pleading the 5th on this one) to move my house from one spot to the other at the state park. I couldn’t exactly have done this with the Chrysler 300, so once again the Universe was looking out for me by putting me in an old, stinky rental car.

Bottom line is that my Jeep eventually got fixed after being out of service for more days than I would like to remember. I didn’t handle the whole thing very well, and I was fortunate that Kathy was with me to be the rational voice.

Kathy

I want to take a moment to thank Kathy for her support during my mini-meltdown. I didn’t handle the Jeep situation well at all, but she dealt with me very well. I wouldn’t have been able to get through this “event” as well as I did if it wasn’t for her stepping up.

Just one of many examples of Kathy’s coolness was when we had to extend our stay at the state park due to not having a vehicle to tow my house. I was explaining to the park personnel at the entry booth (where you check in to your campsite) that we weren’t going to be able to move since I had no tow vehicle, and I was getting a bit irritated at my perceived lack of them giving a shit about my situation.

The time of year we were staying at Wallowa Lake State Park is an incredibly busy one for them. We were lucky to get the reservations that we did. We reserved 4 nights originally as this was all we could get. We ended up staying 6 nights due to the Jeep problems. The 5th night wasn’t a big issue as the person coming into our site was only staying one night and was able to be moved to another available site. The 6th night was the issue. The person coming in to our site was going to be staying a bit and there wasn’t anywhere else to put them.

I explained to the booth personnel that I couldn’t move my trailer. My Jeep was dead. They didn’t seem to care. They cared only that my trailer had to be out so that the next rig could come in. (I am sure that it didn’t really go down this way, but in my state this is how I perceived it.) I wasn’t a happy camper at this point and was getting very stressed not knowing what to do with my house.

Kathy stepped in and took over. She banned me from talking to the booth personnel anymore as she didn’t think that would end well. She found a tent site we could have as long as we needed it. We just had to figure out how to get the trailer to the new site.

She volunteered to go around and ask people if we could use their trucks to move my trailer, if it came to that (thankfully it didn’t). Fortunately through whatever reasons, the Universe stepped in and we had to change rental vehicles. The one we ended up with had a trailer hitch which allowed us to (very carefully) move my house from one location in the park to the next. Said vehicle definitely wasn’t the best rig for it (I sure the tow rating was slightly exceeded). You should have seen the looks we got when we did the move. I kinda enjoyed that part. When I wasn’t a stress case.

This is just one example of Kathy making my life easier during a stressful time for me. I will be the first to admit I made a much bigger deal out of my Jeep dying than I should have, but it can’t go back and change that. I can only learn from it and move forward. But I can thank Kathy for being my rock when I was losing it.

Thank you, Kathy!!!!

2 thoughts on “Wallowas – Joseph, Oregon

  1. Sorry to hear about the problem with the Jeep. Go Kathy! We visited the area in late summer last year, not long after your trip. We literally got smoked out of Wallowa. The planned week of hiking was cut short as we were breathing smoke during our attempted hike to Bonny’s Lakes. We did the hike but not much to see in terms of views. I have to be back. Hope you have a chance too. What a shame for not getting to enjoy the area.

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    • Thanks for visiting my little blog! 🙂 Yeah, we were just ahead of all those forest fires. I would say the timing was right, but, you know, Jeep problems. Sigh. I can look back on it now and almost laugh. Almost. I do wish I could have enjoyed the area more. No idea if/when I’ll ever be back. So much to see in this rather large country!

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