Wow, oh Wow! I have seen so many sights today, words cannot begin to describe the highlights. I’m in McCall, Idaho, and had been here a couple of hours before I realised I’d lost an hour crossing into Idaho and Mountain Time. Oh well. A really picturesque town and a wonderful place to spend the night.
Before I get here, however, there’ s a day’s travelling to summarise for you….
On the road for 08:15, which was as well, as I hoped to be at La Grande, well into the day’s journey by 10:00. The object of the exercise on this trip is to avoid Interstates as much as practical, so this morning’s route took me east out of Hermiston. It is weird to hear the SatNav (or in my case Siri, as I’m relying on Apple Maps – too cheap to spring for a SatNav at the hire car place…) say “stay on Despain Gulch Road road for 29 miles”. That took me to Pendleton, via a only slightly circuitous route. From there, I had no viable choice but to use Interstate 84, but when you look at Google maps for this section, you’ll see it wasn’t just any old Interstate….
Around here, even the Interstates are picturesque. I’d programmed a route to take me off I84 in order to enjoy the old road through Blue Mountain Forest State Park as it paralleled the Interstate. I played leap-frog with a small group of bikers along here, a theme which was to repeat itself multiple times during the day. Back on the Interstate for a brief hop, before exiting to view the antique (i.e. 1933!) bridge over the river and railway at Upper Perry. I was treated to the spectacle of a freight train thundering by while I was there. I photographed the locos at 10:52 and the rear car at 10:56 – and it wasn’t hanging about.
Back onto the Interstate and into La Grande, where I filled the car up and had a small breakfast. More back roads from there, via the small but charming towns of Cove and Union, in the shadow of a range of hills peaked by the snow capped Aneroid Mountain. This road took me into the Whitman National Forest then out onto a desert-like plain east of Baker City. I got out to take photos here, with more snow capped mountains ahead, as well as those behind me. It was baking hot and as I was on a ridge, the wind was doing weird things. I could hear a small vortex approaching on one side of the road, crossing behind me and whistling through the scrub on the other side. I can imagine this to be quite spooky in some circumstances.
Onwards, and a left turn off the numbered roads. I had a close encounter with a deer which was drinking from the river on the right hand side of the road, but much preferred to be in the dry, camouflage of the scrub on the left. On hearing me approach, it dived in front of me, causing me to stand on the brakes, and leaped over the wire fence to safety. Shortly after that, I really went off the beaten track (don’t tell the hire car company) as I found myself on a dirt road. Another reason I knew I was off the beaten track in this area, not only did the drivers of oncoming vehicles (almost all pick ups) offer me a friendly wave, so did a farmer driving his tractor in an adjacent field!
Having successfully navigated this route, the Keating Cut Off Road, which saved me a diversion back on myself into Baker City, I came out onto Rt 86. This quickly became the “Hells Canyon Oregon Scenic Highway”, which kind of speaks for itself. It was along here that I spotted the deer at the top of the page – close by a sign which stated “No Hunting”. Travelling east I more-or-less had the road to myself, though there was a disconcerting period when not only was there a car quarter a mile in front of me, there was one behind be too, albeit at a similar distance. The miracle of cruise control being that everyone pretty much sets it to the speed limit and cruises on.
Around lunchtime I made it to the tiny city of Richland where I popped into the Hitching Post for lunch, I won’t tell you what I bought to munch on as I drove, as it barely counted as food. Filled me up though. From here the road climbed a series of ridges, dropping back into pastureland the other side. At regular intervals there are lay-bys dedicated for drivers to “chain up” in. Due to mediocre signage and no data connection to get detailed maps, I diverted via another small town called Halfway before climbing up and up to a small place called Oxbow. Here the gorge is dammed and as the road turned south-east, a spectacular body of water fills the valley. There were many folks out enjoying the water in craft of all sizes, and many more still arriving as I passed them on the road. I stopped several times for photos, and at one point was a even ble to see several huge fish in the shallows – no wonder its a popular spot with sportsmen.
A bit further on and the road crossed the top of the lake onto the other side of the valley. This was the Idaho state line and I stopped to take a quick pic with the state line sign behind me for posterity. From here, Idaho Rt.71 became really, really twisty, with a token gesture of an Armco barrier “protecting” sheer drops into the lake below. A few miles into Idaho I saw dozens and dozen of Harleys in a rest area. As I stopped for photos a short time later, I saw/heard them set off up the valley behind me, so decided to make progress ahead of them. It was a fairly long drive out to a place resembling civilisation in the form of Cambridge (population 350!). I pulled over there for photos and watched the bikes stream past. The riders all bore “Iron Warriors” patches. (Incidentally, Idaho evidently has no helmet laws. Whilst this group all wore helmets, I was later to see many bandana & baseball cap sporting bikers around McCall. Incongruous).
Cambridge also happened to be a route change, turning left onto Rt. 95, a somewhat ‘bigger’ road as I saw my first proper truck since leaving the Interstate earlier in the morning. This road took me through the sizeable town of Council, which led to all sorts of odd business names — from a British point of view. For example, the Council Laundry was up for sale.
At a place called New Meadows there was one more route change, leaving Rt95 to continue north, I headed east on Idaho 55, over one more — albeit quite impressive — forest ridge to McCall.
My first introduction to McCall was several motels and hotels with ‘No Vacancy’ signs, albeit these establishments fronted Payette Lake, the huge and beautiful body of water which dominates the town. I drove through the centre of the town and turned south on N 3rd St, the main road through, to see yet more No Vacancy signs. Not quite desperate, but a little concerned, I’ll admit, I stopped at America’s Best Value Inn and Suites. Not only did I get a very warm welcome, but they had room at a not unreasonable (in the circumstances) rate of $81 plus tax. It’s a very good room too, with everything I’d hope for — including fast free WiFi. I’m on the second floor so no banging from upstairs tonight.
First thing once I’d checked in was to have a dip in the pool. After a long, sunny day of driving, there could be little better. Not an olympic sized pool, but long enough to get a good stretch. The hot tub provided a good massage for tired shoulders too!
Suitably refreshed I walked the quarter of a mile back to the town centre and out along the lake bank a short way. What a beautiful, almost paradise like place this is. The sun was still very warm and the fairly busy lake front was still bustling. As well as families enjoying the small beach, and groups power boating or jet skiing at the “Mile High Marina” there was even an al fresco wedding reception going on in the public lakeside park. Everything and everybody felt at peace with the world (apart from the group of neanderthals on a speed boat who felt the need to belt-out rap music at full volume).
I back tracked a little to the McCall Brewing Company which I’d spotted as I drove by. Dinner was a burger (of course) washed down by several of their fine local brews. This was the polar opposite of the previous night’s experience. A true brewery, well established at that, with genuinely friendly and ultra-efficient staff. A fantastic evening.
- Loud Boy Porter
- Hippie Hopped Pale Ale
- Mackinaw Red
- Minimalist Bane IPA
Back to the room to type this. I’d like to share some photos of McCall with you, but my main camera battery gave out after a long day photographing on the road, and I’ve left the iPhone download lead in the car. Here’s one I emailed myself though…
I had toyed with the idea of a lie-in and an easy day tomorrow, but I’m not sure I have that luxury if I want to see everything I have in mind on this trip. Stay tuned to find out what happens….