Even the smoke from recent wildfires couldn’t cover the magnificence of the Wallowas.
Our exploration of Eastern Oregon started with a camping trip at Wallowa Lake State Park, just outside of Joseph.
We arrived late in the afternoon and decided to hold off on most of our activities until the next day.
We had a great morning on the lake, after renting a small boat from the marina. After about three minutes on the water even the dog was able to enjoy the boat trip.
At first she sat on our laps — Dixie is a 60-pound lap dog — but after a while she was hopping from the front to the back and tried to drink the lake water by hanging over the sides.
Afterwards, we splashed in the water and tried to teach the dog how to swim (she had a great time splashing and jumping, but no actual swimming occurred).
In the afternoon it was finally time to enjoy the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
The boys decided to stay in the little tourist town of Wallowa Lake and play miniature golf, while the girls were set on an adventure.
Since it was hot and the trails were crowded, we opted to do something a bit out of our comfort zone and go horseback riding.
The Eagle Cap Wilderness Pack Station is the oldest continuous packing business in Northeastern Oregon, and our guide, Reed, took us on a one-hour trip into the wilderness.
It had been awhile since I had been on a horse — probably more than a decade — while my daughter has been riding a handful of times in recent years.
My horse, Rebel, was a fan of going the road less traveled. When the rest of the group would go around a boulder on the left side, Rebel would veer to the right at the last minute.
He also stopped several times to eat some leaves or berries, taking his sweet time as I tried to urge him back to the group, tugging on the reins and kicking my feet.
My daughter proclaimed, “It’s like Dixie, but as a horse.”
But the horses allowed us to cover a lot of trail in a short time and provide us with views that we wouldn’t be able to get to for several hours if we were to go on foot.
Unfortunately, the views were also obstructed by all the smoke.
The ride was strenuous and because of the elevation changes sometimes the horses would do a quick gallop downhill; other times they would do little jumps to get over big rocks.
At the end of the ride we were plenty tired but had seen several miles of the trail along the East and West forks of the Wallowa River.
After dismounting our horses, we met up with the boys and drove some laps on the Scenic Meadows Go-Cart track before heading back to set up our tent in a different spot for the night. (The campground was so packed that we were unable to get the same spot for two consecutive nights.)
Our first night, we camped near the marina and pet exercise area.
Dixie enjoyed the open exercise area and we walked with her toward the trails behind the campground.
Less than half a mile onto the Chief Joseph Trail, the dog stopped in her tracks and barked once.
She doesn’t usually bark — and if she would have seen a squirrel or bird, she probably would have chased it — so we stopped too. A small tree moved a few feet away from us.
We were warned about increased black bear activity in the area and told the kids to walk back down the mountain. They did and, in true kids fashion, made lots of noise on their way down.
We waited a few more seconds and then saw a large black furry mass rush from one side of the trail to the other. Although neither of us got a good look at it, there’s little doubt this was a bear.
Our hike was cut short that day, but it gave us more time to enjoy laid-back family time — making s’mores and playing Uno.
The next morning, we awoke to a group of dogs barking. When we got up to use the facilities, it became apparent that campers a few tents down had been visited by a bear.
Our camp area the following day was near the Wallowa River — on the other side of the park — and as soon as we got there, we were informed that a bear had visited that exact site the night before.
Suffice it to say, we didn’t sleep great that night. But aside from a deer, we didn’t get any unwanted visitors.
The following morning, we were on our way to Baker City and decided to take the back roads and stop at the Hells Canyon Overlook.
Smoke covered that view almost entirely. But that’s just a reason to go back and see it when there are no wildfires in the area.
Taking the road less traveled was a great way to see a part of Oregon that many don’t get to explore from the freeways.