National Geographic : 1934 Feb
A NATIVE SON'S RAMBLES IN OREGON Leaving Wallowa Lake, the trail now dipped south from La Grande toward Baker, through a series of irrigated valleys, where haystacks dotted the landscape like a continuous village of African beehive huts. BAKER A SURVIVAL OF GOLD RUSH Baker remains the most prosperous sur vivor of the gold towns that sprang up in the sixties. For 20 years the long trails of covered wagons had rolled westward up the Powder Valley and over the Blue Moun tains, headed for the green Willamette Val ley, using eastern Oregon merely as a series of overnight camps. When gold was discovered in eastern Oregon in 1861, miners poured into this region lying between the Wallowas and the southeastern spurs of the Blue Mountains, followed by freight wagons hauling supplies from Umatilla Landing and The Dalles. Those were the days when steamboat fortunes were made on the Columbia, with freight littering the overtaxed portages from end to end. But a new star was al ready ascending. In the early 1880's the steel of two railroads gave Oregon direct all-rail communication with the eastern United States, via the Columbia River route. Baker began with mining, followed by livestock, irrigated farming, and lumbering. Not only is it one of the largest shippers of beef on the hoof in the State, but its specimens of wheat, corn, and peaches from seven irrigated valleys will meet any com petition. Above the hum of its pine mills, Baker talks of mines. In the hotel lobby a dozen mining scouts talked of gold. Mining classes, giving practical work in panning, sluicing, and rocking, are putting prospec tors into the hills to make new strikes, working on the theory that the early miners scooped only the rich pockets. A trip into the Blue Mountains toward Sumpter will bring one to ghost towns, stamp mills, and abandoned mines, where frontier justice was meted out so swiftly that both the murderer and his victim were buried on the same day. The deserted miners' cabins are interesting as antique libraries in which newspapers printed on the awkward pioneer presses of the eighties are occasionally found in the jumbled masses of forgotten things. Snake River, between its brown, parched banks, appeared green and inviting as I followed it north from Huntington, on the Homestead Road, where flocks of doves were feeding on the wild sunflowers. My real reason for taking the Home stead Road was to see the Snake River Gorge, especially that section of it which is locally known as Hells Canyon. For a long time, by reason of lack of roads, many scenic places in Oregon were inaccessible. Even Gertrude, who had lived near it all her life, had never seen the canyon. At my invitation she wrapped up a few of her father's peaches and came along. SNAKE RIVER CANYON RIVALS GRAND CANYON IN DEPTH Hells Canyon, shared jointly by Idaho and Oregon, begins at Kinney Creek, where the tumultuous Snake roars its way north ward between huge, uplifted masses of the Seven Devils and Wallowa ranges. Here, above the raging Snake, mountain after mountain piles its walls skyward in vol canic desolation (see Color Plate I). Although neither so well known nor so kaleidoscopic in color as the Grand Can yon, Hells Canyon is classed as rougher, deeper, and narrower between the rims than the more famous canyon. The deepest portion is where the pinnacle of White Mountain rises to more than 8,000 feet; from the summit the river, miles away, resembles a small mountain stream. Despite the unfriendly attitude of the canyon, Capt. William Polk Gray, a Co lumbia riverman, piloted the steamboat Norma safely through it in May, 1895. Accounts of this feat were repeated through the newspaper columns for 40 years, until his death. Intrigued by its savage isolation, I have voyaged twice through the canyon by canoe. My first companion, John Mullens, of Homestead, a "rim-rocker," self-classified, with careless scorn for portages, steered me through in six days. My second voy age, on which I steered, took me 14 days to the Salmon River. Years ago a few solitary tenants lived on the bars in the upper canyon, but they were finally overwhelmed by their environ ment. On the lower end ranchers run cattle in the side canyons and on the benches.