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Wallowa Lake viewed from the top of Mt. Baker

It must have been 1975 or 76. I was newly married. Transported to a new state—of America and of mind.  My husband and I were eager to learn the lay of the land. Our first excursion was a round-trip scenic drive that brought us to Joseph, Oregon. 

Despite arriving during a typical rainstorm which continued for most of the time we were there, I was bewitched by the area. Since that trip, Joseph Oregon, Wallowa Lake, and this region of Oregon that wraps around the Eagle Cap Wilderness has been on my “to revisit” list. A couple of years ago I tried, but the road I intended to take was closed for maintenance. I tried again recently and was just as enchanted as that time nearly 50 years ago. Oregon’s backcountry roads are a marvel—many are paved, and even those that aren’t, are well graded.

Early in the morning I boarded the Wallowa Lake Tramway which whisked me to the top of Mt. Howard. A thunderstorm had rumbled through the night before and was still flirting across the landscape. But the tram company wasn’t concerned. “The lightening is over the valley not over the mountains,” the ticket agent assured me. Those surrounding clouds made for a stellar sky and I encountered only a few stray drops.

Interestingly, the gondola is Swiss-made and in 1970, when it was built, it was the steepest vertical lift for a four-passenger gondola in North America. It is powered by a 150 hp electric motor with gas engine auxiliary drive. A single 19,300-foot-long, continuous-loop cable delivers passengers to the breezy top of the mountain at 8,150 feet in less than 15 minutes.

Upon disembarking from the tram, I headed for the short Royal Purple Overlook. Royal is a good word for it. I kept pirouetting, breathing Wow! Just wow!

The top of the tram and Summit Cafe
“The trees on Mt. Howard were probably planted by Clark’s nutcrackers sometime after the last glacial ice age. Seedlings that sprouted in least wind-blown locations took root and slowly grew. Some whitebark pines on Mt. Howard may be over 1,000 years old.” (from the Wallowa Lake Tramway info kiosk)

Since the late 1970s, hang gliders and paragliders have flocked to Mt. Baker to launch.
Across the Snake River, Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains assertively reach for the sky, marking Hell’s Canyon Wilderness Area. I stared at them, visualizing the crew of Idaho Trails Association volunteers that I knew was sweating over their trail maintenance work as I basked in the glory of being alive.

Along my meanderings, a fellow mountain worshiper asked me to take his photo. Then, of course, he insisted on taking mine. Maybe I should hire him. It turned out ok.