Road Reconsidered: Highway 82

bluebanana
The Blue Banana coffee shop in Lostine. Photo by: Scott Larson

JACKIE BURGOYNE CALLS IT HER SEVENTY-SIX-MILE OFF-RAMP. Her turn-of-the-century bed and breakfast lies near its eastern terminus in Enterprise. Highway 82 snakes east from la grande at interstate 84 to its terminus in Joseph, at the foot of the scenic Wallowa Mountains and the head of Wallowa Lake. The Enterprise House that Burgoyne and her husband operate is just one of the many eclectic attractions on this road that transports you from the Old West to a modern art haven six hours from Portland. Wildlife, pristine rivers and iconic symbols of rural life are the backdrop for this trip. These are just some reasons to hit Hells Canyon Scenic Byway.

 

 

Ease out of city life mentality at New York Ritchie’s, at about milepost 3 in Island City. This pie-maker has some of the best New York-style pizza and Philly cheese steaks in these parts. Its meats and cheeses come directly from New York. Manuel Escamilla runs the parlor with his mother, Maria, who took over from her husband, who actually worked with New York Ritchie. Now eighteen, Manuel has been working here since he was nine years old. “People make it a point to stop here,” he says.

Heading east, watch for the quick left turn that leads you out of town and onto the two-lane asphalt ribbon that will lead to your next destination. A mostly agricultural land along the way to Imbler pans out just past milepost 11. This is the first of a few quaint towns that dot the landscape out this way.

You’ll cross the Grande Ronde River about milepost 18, just before you come into Elgin, home of an annual Riverfest held every June with a Dutch oven cook-off, music and art. Here you’ll also find the first of a few rafting guide services along the three main rivers in the region that cater to adventure seekers.

It’s a pleasant pastoral drive along this stretch in hilly cattle and horse country. At about milepost 33, you’ll find Minam State Park, along the banks of the confluence of the Minam and Wallowa rivers. The Minam runs clean and clear coming right out of the Eagle Cap Wilderness to the south. The park is a popular put-in site for the many outfits that raft downstream and into the rugged outback.

It wasn’t much farther, maybe milepost 45, that Steve Deal was sitting at his residence by the side of the highway, strumming his guitar in the pleasant spring weather— just waiting for something different to happen.

At about milepost 48 is Wallowa. Mostly Wallowa is home to the Wallowa Band Nez Pierce Interpretation Center. The famed band of Nez Perce Indians made the Wallowa Valley their home and traditionally gathered fish, game and wild plants. Near here, Old Chief Joseph made his stand against new migrants, defying the United States government’s demand that the Nez Pierce give up their ancestral land. The interpretation center exists today to preserve and extend the Nez Pierce legacy in these parts. Old Chief Joseph’s burial site is thirty minutes farther down the road at the foot of the Wallowa Mountains along the northeastern shore of Wallowa Lake.

River Camp Ranch passes at milepost 49, Wolfe Ranch at 51. Then it’s into Lostine at about milepost 55, where you can’t help notice the Blue Banana espresso shop. It’s a cross between a shack, a banana, a Volkswagen Beetle and a crashed airplane. All that and coffee, too.

Outside of Lostine, more ranches crop up along the highway through a lush and fertile valley. Fine breeds of cattle (or stock as its locally known) graze in the green pastures. Deer farther afield find this equally appetizing.

At about milepost 65, a turn of the road exposes the majestic Wallowas as if they’ve just been set there for your appreciation. Enterprise is straight ahead. At first glance, you might wonder what makes this town tick. But scratch the surface and you’ll find some very interesting attractions. It’s home to the annual Hells Canyon Mule Days, a truly fascinating Western event featuring mule races, cowboy poetry and more. There’s the soical hub of the town, too. Terminal Gravity Brewery and pub owner, Dean Duquette, says the brewery has become a destination in itself. “People actually come all the way to Enterprise just to sample our beer,” he says. “Terminal Gravity offers everything a pub should be—a creek, trees, tables outside and a good comfy feel.”

Just a bit off the beaten path in Enterprise is Sunrise Iron, an informal museum of the implements that turned scrubland into productive fields of wheat, barley and more. Erl McLaughlin offers custom tours at no charge because he wants to people know learn about the machines changed the landscape. He started collecting and fixing the old machines back in 1983 and hasn’t slowed down since. “I’ve been known to climb out of my combine and meet people,” says McLaughlin. “The more I can share, the better it gets.”

The beautiful downtown Joseph, enters the road at milepost 71. Joseph is home to bronze foundries, galleries, statues and more artwork than might be expected of a town of a couple thousand. Drawn by the natural beauty of the area, a great deal of Joseph’s residents are artists. Each year at the end of May, local artists and many from far away, show their work at the Wallowa Valley Festival of Arts. The three-day festival features local, regional and national artists working in all types of media.

Joseph isn’t quite the end of the road here. Wallowa Lake, just a few miles down the road, takes us back to nature and fishing, hiking and camping. Looking over the vast rugged peaks from the shore of the lake, it’s easy to see why many folks refer to these mountains as the “Alps” of Oregon. A peace settles over Wallowa Lake in the reflective presence of these lofty spires that punctuate the beautiful journey along this seventy-six-mile off-ramp.

 

Mutiny Brewing Company | mutinybrew.nfshost.com

The new brewery in town not only has a solid beer list, but a menu that surpasses most brewpubs.

 

Embers Brewhouse | embersbrewhouse.com

Summer in Joseph is practically defined by sitting on the patio with a beer and a pizza at this local brewhouse. Live music on the outdoor stage is a nice compliment to the unobstructed view of the mountains.

 

Old Town Cafe | 541.432.9898

The wait can be long, but breakfast in this tiny cafe is worth the wait.

 

R& R Drive-In | 541.432.9000

Fast food never tasted so good. The independently owned burger and ice cream joint serves cones this size of the Wallowas for less than a buck.

 

Vali’s Alpine Restaurant | valisrestaurant.com

Fine dining, alpine style. Check the website and make a reservation, because this cozy restaurant is tiny and only serves one Central European dish per night.

 

Wallowa Lake Lodge | wallowalake.com

Located at the head of the lake, the 1920s-era lodge is a classic mountain getaway hotel and restaurant.

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