Haze & dust don’t deter from beauty along Summit Road

A colorful, aromatic mint plant along Summit Road overlooks the Grand Ronde River Valley.

A colorful, aromatic mint plant along Summit Road overlooks the Grand Ronde River Valley. Don Davis

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If You Go

Drive 45 miles from Walla Walla to the Summit Road (FR 31) exit on Oregon Route 204.

It’s about 10 paved miles to Ruckle Junction.

It’s 27 graveled miles to Interstate 84 (Exit 243), which comes out between La Grande 18 miles to the east and Pendleton 34 miles to the west.

For information about renting the Summit Guard Station Cabin, Google Umatilla National Forest. Go to “Recreation” on the left margin and click on “Camping and Cabins.”

Find the cabin under the “Walla Walla Ranger District.”

During winter, renters may reach the cabin on skis, snowshoes or snowmobile.

It’s about 11.3 miles, including a one-mile climb from the Sno-Park on FR 31 (about 1.7 miles from I-84).

To reach the Whitman Route Interpretive Area follow Summit Road for nine miles to FR 3109.

Turn left and continue for 2 miles to the Whitman Route Trailhead Interpretive Area.

Smoke from wildfires clouded our view toward Walla Walla from Oregon State Route 204 on Weston Mountain.

We looked back as we waited for the pilot vehicle at a chip-seal road project.

Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I had started at 8:31 a.m. to tour Summit Road.

Normally we go often, especially in the spring when flowers paint their fresh colors on the mountain.

This year, time had slipped away.

As we waited, I pondered turning back.

Briefly.

With a chance to drive Summit Road, you deal with haze and chip-sealing.

And dust.

They may darken the drive, but they don’t deter it.

So, as we turned onto FR 31, I gave Darlene the camera with the big lens in case we saw Smokey Bear or Big Foot.

Or squirrels, deer, elk or coyotes.

I also kept wide-angle and a macro lense ready.

We had plenty of water, but no sandwiches since I promised to buy lunch at La Grande, Mission or Pendleton, depending on our route home.

As usual, we dawdled along with peeled eyes scanning the woods and meadows for Smokey or Big Foot.

Et cetera and et cetera.

I stopped before Ruckle Junction to record colorful roadside flowers and at the junction to shoot the shot-up mileage sign.

It said 204, 10 miles, and Interstate 84, 27 miles.

After that we crept onto the dusty gravel road that climbs steadily.

We drove slow, yet a billowing dust cloud swirled in our wake.

We stopped often, especially on the high hardscrabble ridge with a clean scent of mint in the air, for views into the Grande Ronde River Valley toward Summerville and Imbler. Haze shrouded the Eagle Cap Mountains toward Cove.

On the slant toward 84, still 12 miles away, we drove nearly a mile on FR 3113 to the Summit Guard Station and a cabin that can be rented (see below).

Nine miles from 84, we drove two miles on FR 3109 to the Whitman Route Trailhead Interpretive Area.

Nora and I walked the short, easy and partly shaded trail to the marked overlook.

We passed a patch of tall, flowered weeds alive with green-grass skipper butterflies. They have bright orange-brown wings and large dark eyes.

On the way back to FR 31, we angled up the hill on Spur Road 25/26 and a short, steep, pine-scented footpath to awesome rock cliffs popular with rock climbers. Nora and I spent almost an hour in the cool shade of the tall, massive rock walls.

They dwarfed us, especially the foot-tall, 15-pound Nora.

From there, at well past lunchtime, we dusted it to 84 and headed toward Mission.

I feted Darlene to McNuggets at McDonald’s victual palace.

Then we saw the new Dairy Queen and Subway as we left.

Next time.

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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