Day 2: Hat Point to Crystal Crane Hot Springs
I woke up sometime around 5:30 and stepped outside the tent. In the sky to the east, Mars and Orion shone overhead. An hour later, the sun began to poke his head above the Idaho side of the gorge. The smoke from the forest fires turned the sunrise into an apocalyptic red.
With a 334 mile day ahead of us, we loaded the truck back up and headed back toward Imnaha. It turns out, however, that Hat Point Rd. had magically transformed overnight from what seemed a relatively straight-forward climb to a 17% downward grade. We passed a few warning signs indicating places to pull over to cool one's brakes. My girlfriend, continually managing to prove herself clairvoyant, asked if we ought to let the truck take a break from the descent. "Nah," I replied, "It'll be fine." We passed a white Westfalia who had camped next to us that night, cooling its brakes. I continued on, confident in my truck's abilities, and, as is my lot in life, no more than a mile later, I began to feel the telltale signs of brake fade.
"I'm not kidding, you guys!"
Anyone who has ever driven the Grapevine north out of LA will be familiar with the sickening toxic smell of smoking brakes, and it wasn't more than a minute later that the smell began to roll into the cabin. I eased the truck off to the side of the road, stepped out, and was greeted by white smoke pouring off my front brakes. The white Westfalia trundled past, and gave us a wave.
At Imnaha, we stopped at the general store for ice and encountered again the white Westfalia. As we were putting ice in the coolers, the Westy came flying backwards out of the parking lot, and slammed into my truck. I thought for sure my truck was a goner, smashed by a Volkswagen, of all things, out in the middle of nowhere, but when it turned out he only hit my tire and did no damage, I breathed a sigh of relief. His bumper was a little bit tweaked, but he seemed unconcerned by the whole incident, and after I told him no damage was done to my truck, he and his wife continued on their way. It turned out we were heading the same way as them, and as we passed, they waved, I gave a blast of the air horns, and we parted ways. Godspeed, white Westy, godspeed.
Upper Imnaha Rd. leads along the opposite side of the ridge that produces Hells Canyon, along the Imnaha River, which, although quite a bit less spectacular, is still a very pleasant thing to see. I put on a podcast, Lynne Rossetto Casper discussing tomatoes or some such thing, and we worked our way south toward the town of Halfway. The road is dirt, and like many such roads in Oregon, proceeds to become worse in condition the longer you drive it.
Uh, I'm glad the truck isn't any taller!
Halfway has a whole bunch of nothing, but it is the way toward Cornucopia, a ghost town in the Wallowa Mountains, precisely on the opposite side of them from Wallowa Lake, which we saw yesterday. Built in the 1880s, Cornucopia was a gold rush town, which was abandoned as quickly as it was built. Ongoing preservation efforts have kept the buildings in remarkable condition, and it is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Oregon.
From Cornucopia, we went back to Halfway, and continued to Richland, where we departed the main road and got onto the Snake River Rd. This dirt and gravel road parallels the Snake River through a 38 mile section of Hells Canyon, and like most things dealing with Hells Canyon, is awe-inspiring. That said, the road is slow-going, and by the end of the road, we were well tired of gravel and well behind schedule.
We got back onto the Interstate for a brief period, and went southeast toward Ontario, where we refueled. Ontario is part of Malheur County, an anomaly within the state, in that the northern two-thirds is on Mountain Time, rather than the Pacific Time of the rest of the state. After a day of driving and probably not enough water to drink, the fact that my phone, which updated itself as soon as it got cell signal, was showing one time and my radio another, was thoroughly confusing.
We then turned west, toward our final destination for the day, Crystal Crane Hot Springs, where we rented a cabin for the night and relaxed in the warm water.