Winter in Wallowa

Snow, buffalo, deer, bronze statues, delicious food and beautiful sights fill a trip to Wallowa Lake.

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The sun behind Chief Joseph Mountain casts rosy reflections on Wallowa Lake.

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Looking north across Wallowa Lake, a classic glacial moraine appears on the right.

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The Tollgate Historical Society office gleams in the sunshine at Langdon Lake.

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A bronze sculpture stands in the shade of Chief Joseph Mountain.

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Buffalo enjoy December sunshine at the Stengel Buffalo Ranch near Enterprise.

We started out before noon to check snow conditions on Weston Mountain at Morning Creek, Woodland Campground, Andies Prairie and Summit Road.

We ended up at Wallowa Lake as the sun sank behind Chief Joseph Mountain.

Then we dined at Heavenly's Restaurant and drove home in the dark.

Several days with an "air stagnation advisory" had featured bright blue skies with no wind and low nighttime temperatures that left the bird bath on the porch and Nora's water dish in the truck frozen solid.

By 10:46 a.m. on that Tuesday, however, after we had replaced the ice with fresh water, sunshine had melted the truck's windshield frost.

So, off we went.

I wanted to know about cross-country ski conditions for Nora the Schnauzer. Packed or crusted snow works fine. Fresh powder not so fine. It clumps on her feet.

We had dry roads on Highway 204 to the Basket Mountain turnoff. We had patches of packed snow, well graveled, from there to the Summit Road turnoff with clear roads to Elgin.

I pulled off briefly before the "Tollgate Historical Society Office" at Langdon Lake, across from the turnoff to Jubilee Lake. Nora and I briefly tested the well-packed snow.

We also stopped briefly at Morning Creek, Woodland, Andies Prairie sno-parks and at Summit Road.

At each, Nora dashed around on the packed snow.

Darlene visited the Woodland one-holer.

After that, I heard a "cold-toilet-seat" tale that gave me the shivers.

Brrrr!

At Elgin, Darlene pointed out a sign for $3.55 per-gallon regular gasoline.

At Minam, the motel appeared to be closed, and we cruised along the Wallowa River without seeing a single steelhead angler.

We made another Nora-exercise stop at the sun-drenched Fountain Wayside at Wallowa River mile 16.5.

We passed slowly through Wallowa and Lostine, where I suggested coffee at The Blue Banana.

Darlene preferred to wait.

At Enterprise, we passed Heavenly's Restaurant with "world famous burgers."

"I don't remember that," Darlene said.

"Maybe we can stop there on the way back," I said.

By then, we had roamed for three-plus hours, and the sunshine approached the crown of Chief Joseph Mountain.

Nevertheless, we detoured down Highway 3 for three miles to the Stengel Buffalo Ranch. We passed it, turned back directly into the slanting sunlight, and stopped across from several buffalo in a corral.

We observed awhile and drove back to Enterprise. We detoured to check the hours at Cloud 9 Bakery and Deli.

Open until 4 p.m.

The dashboard clock said 2:19 p.m.

"We should visit the lake first," I suggested.

"Surely," Darlene said.

In Joseph, I drove two blocks to the public toilets off the Imnaha Highway.

Darn.

Closed because of vandalism.

In Joseph?

I hurried to the lake.

Whew!

The toilets survived.

Brrr.

Nora and I walked along the shore and the pier while the sun settled behind the mountain. Its rays colored the sky, the lake and the historic east-side moraine with vivid patches of tangerine-pink.

Time passed quickly there, until we had to hurry to reach the south end of the lake before dark.

The lodge and some motels had "open" signs. But no people moved around. One man fed several deer from his porch.

We parked near the boat launch, and Nora raced across the smattering of snow. She had been cooped-up too long.

As we re-entered Joseph, a yellow cat sprinted across the road in front of us and nearly smacked into a startled deer's legs. The deer sniffed at the cat as it passed.

I turned around. The deer remained, but the cat had gone. When we drove among the houses, deer grazed calmly in several yards. One three-point buck with a gimpy foreleg passed a front porch.

Back on the main street, a bronze statue of a woman had replaced a full-sized bronze horse at one corner, across from the blue-dressed woman in the garden.

Other sculptures may have been changed, but we saw the warrior on horseback and the bald eagle as we left town.

At 3:57 in Enterprise, too late for the Coud 9, I ordered a well-stacked (about seven inches tall) Heavenly Burger, and Darlene ordered fish and chips.

We saved bites for Nora.

I bought coffee at The Blue Banana in Lostine, and we drove over the mountain in the dark.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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