Losing time in wilderness and traditions in an Eastern Oregon mountain town
written by Kevin Max
IT’S NOT EASY TO GET TO. It’s a long way from anywhere. But then you round a bend and it comes for you, and it grabs you, and you don’t want to leave. Ever. Tucked away in the northeast corner of Oregon and at the edge of Eagle Cap Wilderness, Joseph is the tiny mountain town that shows as well as
This is a place filmmakers like Ron Howard crave for its simple beauty, where cattle can be their best, mooing about in high alpine grasses and where photographers need only step outside for inspiration. It’s Mountain Mayberry but cast in bronze.
Joseph was named after Chief Joseph, the famed Nez Perce leader who, in 1877, fought the US Army with heart during his tribe’s eviction from the area to a reservation in Idaho. The population of Joseph is now close to 1,100. The town is a mix of farmers and ranchers, restaurateurs and brewers and artists. Indeed, bronze foundries in Joseph bring sculptors to live and work in the area, casting sculptures throughout the town.
The big community events are the Chief Joseph Days, which centers on a rodeo (July), and the Bronze Blues & Brews festival, which brings music, sculptures and craft beer to the
I’ve been to Joseph a few times over the past decade, but never in spring. My goal was to hit new trails, see new views in the Wallowas, eat healthy farm-to-table, discover new beers from Terminal Gravity and see what’s new in bronze sculpture.
Normally I couldn’t stand still enough to hike trails and have to take off running, but on this trip I wanted to slow the world down a bit more and enjoy every step. Bonny Lakes Trail is just shy of 8 miles out and back, and gains 1,300 feet over the 3.9-mile first leg. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with two alpine lakes. At this time of year, no one can hear when you scream in delight.
No trip out here is complete without a stop at Terminal Gravity Brewery, 6 miles away in Enterprise, a comely little cottage with heavenly hopped craft beer. I quenched with the Fuggetaboutit Hazy IPA, then finished with a sweet tooth and the local collaboration Arrowhead Chocolate IPA.
Back in Joseph, I craved something different. The Blythe Cricket Bakery & Bistro, known for its homemade soups, frittatas and “jack up” corn cakes smothered with salsa, sour cream and cheese, spoke to me. One of each, please—I did put in three hours on the trail, after all!
On my next day’s hike, I headed to High Ridge Trail, hoping for more gasping views in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. High Ridge Trail is a good early-season hike at relatively low elevation, despite its name. Wildflowers, open green meadows and towering Ponderosas were my companions until I reached a winning vista at 3.8 miles.
In town, I sought out a new bronze sculpture on Main Street created by Native artist Doug Hyde. His piece is a full-size Nez Perce woman, her hair perfectly braided, her arms held in front of her as if she had two swaddled infants unexpectedly pulled from them, her face stoic and expressionless. The piece, funded by the Oregon Community Foundation, is called “etweyé·wise,” meaning “I return from a hard journey.”
I headed back to the country-chic, boutique The Jennings Hotel and its restaurant, The Gold Room, a Neapolitan pizza place that was started by two Ava Gene’s restaurant refugees from Portland who were looking for a small town. Still bent on stopping the world from spinning, I ordered an old fashioned and let the bourbon wash over my tongue, the bitters taking the edge off the bourbon. The pizza came later from the wood-fired oven, and it transported me to southern Italy, where pizza is made daily and simply.
In the morning, I had one last task, one last old world indulgence—a silky Early Grey custom blended tea and a box of handmade chocolates from Arrowhead Chocolates. Chocolate doesn’t slow time, it just makes it sweeter.
The Range Rider