|Last Update: October 26, 2005
|Unfortunately, 2005 was not a banner for our exploration trips. Our July trip the Hells Canyon on the Oregon-Idaho border
and beyond would turn out to be our only major multi-day expedition, but it was fun nonetheless. We decided to do things
a little differently. Our Toyota 4x4, which has served us so well in the past, got to stay home for this trip. Instead, we
decided to put to the test, our brand new (to us) 2003 Subaru Forester. Considering our friends, who would accompany
us, would be taking their own Subaru, it seemed the best choice for the trip. We had no intention of seeing any serious off
road conditions, but as it would turn out, the high clearance, for what it's worth, and the AWD of both Subarus would prove
invaluable. Our trip would involve more than canyons. We also explored a few ghost towns, railroads and mines.
|Our adventure began on Friday, July 29, when we departed Gresham for Eastern Oregon. Our friends, John and Jackie would be driving their
1997 Subaru Impreza. We would be driving our just recently purchased 2003 Subaru Forester. The Forester would become Jen's daily driver,
but we also planned to use it for long highway trips where our Toyota 4x4 would not be needed. This would prove to be an excellent test of it's
capabilities. Our goal was to reach Hells Canyon by nightfall. From there, we were going to wing it. But our plan was to generally explore the
Northeastern region of Oregon. Hells Canyon is actually the deepest canyon in the United States, surpassing the Grand Canyon substantially.
But because it's not as vast as the Grand Canyon, it's lesser known and not as visited. Hells Canyon is located on the Oregon/Idaho border
and was cut by the Snake River. The upper sections of Hells Canyon, which we explored several years ago, have been dammed up while
beautiful, are not as spectacular. The lower sections, are still pristine, and is now a designated a National Scenic Area and Wilderness area.
|DAY ONE - July 29
|Leaving Portland, we headed east on I-84 through the scenic Columbia Gorge and beyond. Our "expedition" vehicles for this trip would be two Suburas. John's
1997 Impreza and our 2003 Forester. Both are relatively stock, except for roof racks. After reaching LaGrand on Hwy 84, we turned off and took Highway 82,
northwest. From there we would circle around the Wallowas, before eventually reaching Joseph, the gateway to the Hells Canyon recreation area.
|Highway 82 is the primary route into the region of Northeastern Oregon. We made a couple of attempts to locate a lookout or two, but were unfortunately met with
gated off roads, so we continued down the highway.
|At Lostine we took a quick detour to explore south along the Lostine river on this forest road. The views were pretty nice out in this part of the state. This is the
northern Wallowa Mountains and this roads leads into the Eagle Cap Wilderness. But since we were running out of time, our exploration of this area was brief.
|Joseph is a small Eastern Oregon town, but the last significant size town in this part of the state, before you enter the remote regions of Northeast Oregon and the Hells
Canyon recreation area. The town was named after Indian Chief Joseph. The area around the current Joseph was an Indian reservation set up by treaty with the
United States in the 1850s. When gold was discovered the treaty was abolished and the Indians ordered to leave. Holding out for a number of years, the Indians, led
by Chief Joseph banded with other Indian groups and fled the U.S. Army. Finally rounded up they were forced onto reservations in mostly desert wastelands around
the country. Chief Joseph lived until 1904.
|The route from Joseph to Hells Canyon along Hwy 350 and Sheep Creek is one of most beautiful in the state. Just incredible. Driving through here in the late
summer evening just made it that much better.
|At Imnaha, we began our journey to Hat Point, the highest part of the Hells Canyon area and one of the highest places you can drive in Oregon. I've been here
before, several years ago, but I had forgotten just how narrow and steep the single lane, mostly ledge road, was. The first few miles is an open range, so we had to
watch out for cattle. But soon, we would experience our first spectacular views at Five Mile Point.
|Five Mile point is 5 miles up Hat Point road from Imnaha. Hat Point Road straddles the ridge that separates Hells Canyon from the Imnaha River Canyon. Most of
our initial views were of the Imnaha Canyon. While not as deep, the views were impressive. Looking back at the road we just came up from Five Mile Points makes
the drive that much more amazing. It certainly didn't require 4WD, but a high clearance car was nice to have. One also had to be careful as there was no room to
pass along much of the route. At one point we waited for other vehicles to make the trek down before proceeding, rather than meet them on the road.
|About halfway up Hat Point Road, we selected a spot to camp for the night. The view was not Hells Canyon. Instead it was Imnaha Canyon, but it was incredibly
spectacular. Especially with the setting sun.
|DAY TWO - July 30
|After waking up the next morning, we began to pack up camp. Here are some of the daytime views of the same Imnaha Canyon. Later in the day, we would drive
through the bottom of that canyon, but before that, we planned to reach Hat Point and overlook Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America.
|On the way to Hat Point, we made several more stops to view more of Imnaha Canyon.
|Hat Point is unique among Fire Lookouts in that is has two decks. The main fire lookout building, occupied by the Forest Service Fire Lookout and a public
observation deck. Just as with any tall fire lookout, the climb up the rickety stairs is not for the timid or anyone fearful of hieghts, but it was plenty safe. The lookout
stands almost 7000 feet above sea level.
|In recent years a forest fire, almost threatened the fire lookout, which was built in 1948 to replace the original structure, built in 1916. The look out stands over 82
feet tall, pushing the observation deck to well over 7000 feet above the Snake River at the bottom of the canyon. The river is at 1460 feet directly below the tower.
A 5540 foot drop. This is not the deepest part the canyon, which is deeper than even the famous Grand Canyon. The Seven Devil Mountains on the Idaho side of
the canyon rise to over 9000 feet.
|After leaving Hat Point, we made the 23 mile drive along the narrow Hat Point road back to Imnaha. From there we drove south along the scenic Imnaha Canyon
road. Our ultimate destination would be the south side of the Wallow Mountains.
|Roughly 10 miles south of Imnaha in this very remote region of Oregon is a place called College Creek Ranger Station. It's located on the west bank of the Imnaha
River and accessed via an old rickety wooded bridge. We found the site to be completely deserted. It appeared as if everyone just left everything behind, but it had
not be in use for at least a season, maybe longer. The house on the site, which appeared to be occupied at one time, appeared to be abandoned for a number of
years. The other buildings appeared to be bunk houses, a barn and a garage. All were locked up, but appeared to be ready to used, if needed.
The buildings date to 1925 when they were apparently built. The site was a Forest Service administration site for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. It appears to
have been discontinued as a major Ranger Station in 1949. What it was used for after that is not clear, but it's certainly not used today. It's currently on the National
Register of Historic Places # 91000171.
|This is an interesting historic article on the Imnaha River valley about an interview with someone who grew up in this area in the 1920s and offers a unique insight.
|Making our way south on the long remote back roads to Halfway, Oregon we spotted a few more
|We had one last oppertunity to view Hells Canyon from above. This time at a lookout point over the southern end of the Hells Canyon Recreational Area.
|After reaching Hwy 86, we decided to visit Oxbow which is the town at the south end of the Hells Canyon Recreational area. This is area was extensively covered
when John and I visited here several years ago and can be viewed on my Lower Hells Canyon Trip Page.
However, we were able to make a few additional discoveries, including several railroad tunnels that were both abandoned and converted for use by local roads, which
I'll cover in much greater detail on my Abandoned Railroads Page. These tunnels were once part of the OWR&N Homestead Branch, which was a subsidiary of the
Union Pacific. The line was built in 1910 between Huntington and Homestead, Oregon. Homestead was the location of the huge Iron Dyke mine and it was
anticipated that the railroad would be used to haul significant ore from the mine to mills. However it was little used for that purpose and was first abandoned in the
1930. But when dam construction began on the Snake River, near Oxbow, the railroad was again pressed into service in the 1930s. As dam construction was halted
for a number of years, the line was partly abandoned, then temporarily revived in the 1960s when it was decided to complete the Oxbow dam. Today, little remains
of the line as most of it was flooded by the Snake River when the dams were built. But three tunnels remained. One significant tunnel (pictured left) partly collapsed,
but still remains open at the north end. Another one, on the road the Iron Dyke mine completely collapsed or was blown shut. The third and final tunnel is still in use
today for the road that leads to Homestead and the remains of the Iron Dyke mine.
|GHOST TOWN CORNUCOPIA
|Cornucopia is one of the most significant "real" ghost towns in Oregon. It's reminiscent of Idaho's Silver City, but smaller and less visited.
Today, there are no year round residents and few, if any, summer residents, making it a true ghost town, with a number of old historic buildings
left behind. I first visited Cornucopia in approximately 2001. Most unfortunately, I didn't have a camera at the time and didn't record our
adventures exploring the mines above the town. What we found were mostly blown in or caved adits, with some building remains at the lower
mines. The 4x4 trail was rough and we decided not to attempt the upper mines in my relatively stock (at the time) Toyota 4x4 on that rainy
summer day. On this trip, we would have little time to explore mines, but we did briefly visit the town. Mostly, so I could photorecord it, for the
first time, for the website. Here are the pictures of the ghost town. A more detailed history will be forthcoming on this page, when time allows.
|On the road to Cornucopia. There are plenty of warning signs that the road is hazardous, but it's easily traveled by a 2WD car during the dry season.
|The town is a mixture of old and really old, but all essentially abandoned.
|The old road that leads west out of Cornucopia and up Cornucopia Slope. This a steep, extremely rocky switch back 4x4 trail that we didn't dare attempt in our little
Subarus. This house, if I recall correctly, was the last year round inhabited place. Last used by an older lady, although I'm not clear when it was actually
|More abandoned buildings.
|After leaving the ghost town and consulting the maps on the computer, we decided to head back to Halfway and look for a suitable camping spot in the mountains
north of town, which we did.
|DAY THREE - July 30
|Unfortunately, our morning was eaten by a quick but necessary visit to the emergency room in Baker City. Everyone was fine in the end and we continued on our trip,
but it required that we change our plans. We decided to cut the trip a little short, but made a significant stop at the Sumpter Valley narrow gauge railroad in
Sumpter, Oregon. We didn't ride the train, but I toured the complex and took a number of pictures and video of the train. I have the rest of the pictures and a
detailed write up on my Sumpter Valley Railway Page.
|The towns of Sumpter and Granite and surrounding area is one of the most historical areas of Oregon. I've explored it many times. Unfortunately, most of my early
trips were not well recorded and I have few photos, but one trip I did record and do a write up in July, 2003. Today, we unfortunately had little time to explore the
area. But we did make a few quick stops.
|As left Granite and headed towards home we made one stop at this location next to the road. Probably the remains of a mine cabin. Note what appears to be an old
transmission half buried in the ground.
|This interesting abandoned stamp mill was located several mines north of Granite. I've visited this place a number of times. The mines that were once located
behind the mill have since collasped as far as I could tell. I don't know the name of the mill or mine, but it's been abandoned for many decades. The remains likely
won't withstand many more winters.
|We enjoyed some final views and meet up with the US Forest Service who were watching out for forest fires that might be set off by lightning that was occuring in the
area. We soon ran into the heavy rain of the thunderstorm and that ended our exploring in this area.
|We headed home via Heppner and followed the old Union Pacific Heppner branch line. The Heppner branch was built in 1889, but was abandoned in the early
1990s. I have an entire write up and more photos of this abandoned railroad on my UP Heppner Branch Page.
|Our final views on our way home were taken along Hwy 84 at the eastern reaches of the scenic Columbia Gorge.
This concludes our trip to Hells Canyon and beyond in August, 2005.
|Copyright © 2005 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
Note about the photos on this site:
Most photos were taken by me, except for those that are otherwise indicated. I usually allow people to use my photos for personal use or
websites. Simply Email me.
|July 29-31, 2005