The Hells Canyon Trip

Hells Canyon, WA/ID/OR

- 25 May 2002 -

This is the moment you've all been waiting for, the moment I had been waiting for... Hells Canyon.

I signed up for the full-day jetboat trip at Beamer's Hells Canyon Tours.  I had to be at the boat at 7:30am (uggggh!) 

I had the hotel give me a wake-up call at 6:00am (uggggggh!), and I was highly amused to find that (due to the hotel being a Motel 6) they had the voice of Tom Bodett in their automated wake-up call system. w00t! :)

So I was at the boat at 7:30am, with a 32 oz. Coke in my hand ("*grunt* translates to 'I need caffeine, darnit!'";) ). The boat: The Hells Canyon Rose. The captain: Captain Dan, who was quite a character; he kept things very entertaining and enjoyable. (When I signed up for this trip, I was somewhat curious about whether I'd get bored after 8 hours of being on the boat... but I wasn't bored for a minute. :) )

And thus began my trip into Hells Canyon.

This page (May 25) is dedicated to my friend Jennie, with whom I had been corresponding via AOL while I was on this roadtrip. Jennie totally rocks! :) :)

"But first, a loud snarl from your sponsor."

Far too many of the pictures on this page will look like this. I apologize profusely. I'm sorry. (Boy, am I ever sorry! :b )

I feel like the crazy uncle at the family reunion who always brings the boring and dodgy vacation slides. ;)

The seat that I got on the boat was this one -- positioned in precisely the worst possible spot for taking pictures. :/ But if you can ignore the windshield wiper, the metal thing, and the hat of the dude in front of me, you'll get a chance to see some superlative scenery!

So what is this, other than a hat, a metal thing, and a windshield wiper? It's Asotin, Washington, as viewed from the middle of the Snake River. :) 


More lower Hells Canyon scenery... and the debut of our friend's hat. We will become intimately familiar with his hat by the time this page is done.

Note that this is not officially Hells Canyon yet -- by geological or governmental standards. Hell has yet to begin... well, unless your idea of hell is a picture that contains interruptions like a windshield wiper and a hat. ;b

... I'm a perfectionist, and I vote! ;)

Trying to cut as much of the nonessential stuff out as I can, folks. I apologize. Again.

Captain Dan talked a lot about the wacky folks who live in Hells Canyon. 

There's this one guy at the Earle Cattle Ranch who built a scrap-iron sculpture of the prize bull that he'd entered in the County Fair. (I tried to get a picture of the sculpture from the boat, but it didn't turn out too clear. :/ )

The houses (which are in Washington) are permanent dwellings that are located along the road to Rogersburg. Rogersburg is about 30 miles south of Clarkston. After Rogersburg, there are no more roads alongside Hells Canyon.

There are houses after Rogersburg, both on the Idaho and Washington side... they're privately owned vacation homes. They were built by folks who carried the supplies for their vacation homes to the site by boat. Some are the size of suburban homes. I was rather surprised to see such vacation homes in the canyon -- although after you pass Heller Bar, there aren't a lot of them.

This is a view upstream from the deck at Heller Bar Lodge, which is owned by the Beamer's tour company.

We stopped at Heller Bar for a quick breakfast break. They had weird muffins with nuts in them, and very crunchy buttermilk biscuits. Fortunately for my picky self, I discovered mini-bagels, which saved my day. (I'd had breakfast earlier, but I was hungry again. Such is the life of an adventurer! Or something.)

A view from the Heller Bar Lodge deck, facing downstream (i.e., the way we came from).

A hill in Idaho, across the river from Heller Bar Lodge.


Ahem. *cough*

This is a really crummy picture of the official geological entrance to Hells Canyon. The rock types change here, y'see. 

Millions of years ago, northeastern Oregon was a New Zealandesque island chain of its own -- 1,000 miles off the Idaho coast. Plate tectonics acted up, and one thing led to another, and pretty soon this island chain slammed right on into North America, making this section of southeastern Washington, western Idaho, and northeastern Oregon look mostly the way it looks today. The rocks from this point on all hail from that island chain.

The line on that hill up ahead is Chief Joseph's Trail -- an ancient Nez Percé trail that is best known as Chief Joseph's line of retreat from the government agents who came to take the Wallowa Valley away from the his tribe. (To see why everyone made such a huge fuss about the Wallowa Valley, check out my pictures from May 24th. It will immediately make sense to you.)

(Tangent: I learned from Bernard DeVoto's annotations to the Journals of Lewis and Clark that Nez Percé trails tended to be along the tops of mountains, rather than down in the canyons and along flatlands.)

Gotta love reflections off of windows. (Can you see me bruxing over here? Tooth-gnashing is a sure sign of joy and happiness!!!!!! *cough*)

See the reflection of the thing that looks like an airplane wing? Look at the left edge of that, below the green hill below. That's the mouth of the Salmon River. >:/

The people behind me got to open their window and get a clear picture of the River of No Return. Snarl.

This was important enough for Hat-Boy to take a picture, too... for this is the narrowest point in Hells Canyon. Look to the left of the tassle on Hat-Boy's chapeau, and you'll see a point where the Snake River is only 45 feet wide.

The hay in this barn is from 1916.

This picture was taken near the Dry Creek Cattle Ranch. The ranch in this picture lost almost all its cattle in 1915; the hay from 1916 was harvested and placed in the barn, but never used. The rancher left Hells Canyon. The barn, and the hay, are still there.

The entrance to Copper Creek Ranch (45° 45' 10.8"N, 116° 32' 43.3"W), where we stopped for a mid-morning cola break.

Copper Creek is owned by the tour boat company, also... this is where I would've stayed overnight with my geology class, if I hadn't wimped out of taking this trip in 1994.

The "Copper Creek Taxi", on the upper beach near Copper Creek Lodge.

Hells Canyon scenery, and a lovely tan chapeau. What else does a person need in life?

This spot (known as "Pleasant Valley") was apparently supposed to be the site of an absolutely massive dam in the '70s, before the government passed an act in 1975 that stopped development in Hells Canyon.

This is Pittsburg Landing, Idaho -- a campground that's reachable by road from White Bird, Idaho. 

(If you look reeeeally closely, you can see some white dots in the trees -- those are campers and other buildings located there.)

No hat in this picture. I'm sorry, hat fans. ;) 

That building in the trees is Mike Thompson's homestead, in Oregon -- well, it used to be Mike Thompson's homestead, anyway. Now it's the Forest Service's administrative office. It's still in Oregon, though.

This is the picnic table where I ate my lunch. It's located at the Kirkwood Historic Ranch in Idaho. :)

(The picnic table is located at 45° 34' 08.9"N, 116° 29' 50.7"W, in case you like the scenery and need a place to test out the teleportation device you've been working on. ;) )

I really like this picture. :)

This is a cabin that's on site at the Kirkwood Historic Ranch.

Kirkwood was where Len Jordan (former governor of Idaho) and Grace Jordan (author of a book about living in Hells Canyon) lived, in Hells Canyon, at some time in the past. They raised their kids and various agricultural animals and crops and stuff here. (I am not in touch with my inner farmer, or I'd be able to tell you more about the Jordans' life here. Go forth and read Grace's book!) 

This cabin wasn't built until 1953. However, it was built according to the olden ways, and it's a nifty museum full of info about the homesteaders in this area, and so it's on the National Historic Register despite its newness. 

The Jordans' actual former home is over to the left of this picture, and back a hundred feet or so. I didn't take any pictures, because the residents were having lunch on the lawn. Just believe me when I say that it wouldn't look out of place in a 1940's neighborhood in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Nine miles to Sheep Creek!

The Kirkwood Historic Ranch is on a Hells Canyon hiking trail... the trail was established to get supplies to ranchers living here, but now it's used by people with long hair and backpacks. I saw several such individuals doing the whole hiking thing while I was there. As for my longhaired self, I just got back on the boat -- not that a hike through Hells Canyon wouldn't be fun, someday, but I don't think I'm quite ready for it just yet. :b

My little digicam generally tends to minimize the size of any given natural feature.

So I walked to this spot on the Kirkwood Historic Ranch, held up my little digicam, and said to it, "So you like to make stuff look small, huh? Do ya? Well, just try to minimize THIS!"

No matter how hard it tried, it simply couldn't. Hah! For once, I win! 

Scenic grandeur, come to papa. ;) 

Again I said unto my digicam: "Minimize this!"... and still it couldn't! Hah!

(Now maybe one day it'll show the Cascades at their proper awe-inspiring size...)

Anyhow, the cabin in this picture is the 1953 cabin/museum that I showed you a little while ago.

This is the trail to Sheep Creek.

Any questions?

Yes, I swear on a stack of Lewis and Clark journal manuscripts that this picture really was taken in Idaho. ;)

This is a nifty little creek (romantically referred to as "the agricultural flume") that ran through the Kirkwood Historic Ranch.

The same creek, leading down to the jetboat upon which I arrived at this scenic spot.

This is on the Oregon side of the river, opposite the Kirkwood Historic Ranch.

I was told that the green trees in Hells Canyon are mostly hackberry trees.

Note the snow on the mountain in the distance. Said mountain is quaintly called "Dry Diggins Lookout" -- 7,300' in elevation. 

A full view of that dude's hat! INCREDIBLE! ;)

This scenery is near Sheep Creek Rapid (which is the white portion of the water, straight ahead). Sheep Creek Rapid is "the end of navigation". We went through it and took a look around on the other side, and then turned around.

A picture that turned out the way I hoped it would! YES!

That snowy ridge in the distance is Hat Point, in Oregon -- 6,980' in elevation. It's the home of the Hat Point Lookout. 

Folks can drive to Hat Point from Imnaha, Oregon, which has the telephone prefix (541) 577. Once said folks reach Hat Point, they can look. Outward.

Once we had looked outward enough at this place, we turned around, and headed on back down the river toward Washington, the Sales Tax State®.

At this place, within view of the aptly named Hat Point, I took a courageous stand to liberate myself and my camera from the ocular reach of Hat-Boy's then-ubiquitous chapeau. I begged and pleaded with him and his spouse for the right to trade seats with them. The Hat Couple grudgingly complied, mostly from a fear of being inundated with water on the way back -- the front hatch of the boat was now open, to cool us off! (It was a tad stuffy in the boat by this point.) I was bravely willing to take that risk... for science (!)

Therefore, my pictures won't be quite so dodgy from this point on.

Lone pine.

There weren't a lot of pine-type trees in Hells Canyon. Captain Dan said it was because the soil couldn't support them, rather than any other factor... this seemed to be supported by the fact that we saw a whole bunch of pine trees growing in a natural alum bed near Kirkwood Ranch. Apparently, pine trees like alum. *shrug*

Generic Hells Canyon scenery... now with 100% less hat!

See the white spots on the water up ahead? That's a rapid.

And not just any rapid -- that's one of the shallowest, narrowest points in the river, according to Captain Dan. Doesn't look like much (at least in this picture), but he had to zig quite frequently (for great justice, even), and the boat sure shook when we went over it!

One odd thing is that the boat jumped around more when we went down the rapids than when we were going up the rapids. I found that odd and wacky. 

More scenery, at the lower point of the High Rage Rapid.

The mouth of Oregon's Imnaha River. :)

The Imnaha Rapids, as seen while we were going over them. 

Can you find the two Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in this picture?

(I've used the Sharpen feature of Paint Shop Pro twice on that part of the picture, to make it easier.)

The scenery at the mouth of the Grande Ronde River.

I was a La Grande boy for 4 years. I had to get a picture of this. I couldn't help myself!! (Donations can be sent to the Help Yansa Get Over His Four-Year Sojourn In Eastern Oregon Fund, Eugene, Oregon, USA. ;) )

Here are some of the famous Hells Canyon petroglyphs. Captain Dan pulled the boat over here so that we could all rubberneck and get pictures.

Returning to Clarkston on a drizzly afternoon.

Clarkston, Washington is to the left; Lewiston, Idaho is to the right.

Text written 12 June 2002.
Last updated 19 January 2006.

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