Buck relocated to La Grande from Orofino, Idaho a few years ago after marrying his smart and sweet wife, Sharon. They are now closer to his brother and his wife in Pendleton. Buck is not a city guy, so he and Sharon found a beautiful clearing on a small hill near the Wallowa and Whitman National Forests. It is amazing how fast the scenery changes from the desert lowlands of Baker County to Wallowa County. Buck is a true westerner in the spirit of my Garritson family. His father was a ferrier, and his grandfather drove horses from Colorado to Washington state and later tried to homestead in Montana in the 1920’s. The whole family lived west of the Rockies except my grandfather whom the rest of the family pestered to no end to move back west. But my grandfather had horrible hayfever and there was none of that to be had in Tennessee, at least not on his little hill (and not much else to be had there as far as I am concerned).
Buck is a retired teacher and high school coach, while Sharon still works. On this weekday while she was working, Buck took Ken and I up to what is called Johnson Hill. Since I am not familiar with the territory, I could not find my way back here if I tried. Besides, it turned out to be a four-wheel drive route anyway. (wishing we had those AMC Eagles we saw in Casper!) After a slow, slippery drive up the side of a very steep mountain, we were duly rewarded with a most spectacular view of the Grande Rhonde valley!
The magnificence of our country is overwhelming. We crept up-hill in a modern 4-wheel drive truck for what seemed like hours. As the truck hauled us up, dogs in the back baying and wanting to run, my knuckles going white from seeing over the edge of an unpaved, snow-covered, guardrail-less mountain shoulder, I thought back to those in covered wagons. On the westward journeys, how long such a climb might take with horses pulling wagons on stiff wood and iron wheels laden with everything from food to furniture. Then once at the top, with the grand vista, I believe neither party in either century would remember the drive upon seeing this Grande valley. I am once again reminded, no matter how much I think I have traveled in these United States, there is always something beautiful around the next bend.
The dogs I believe were just as relieved as we were to get out of the truck, albeit for different reasons. It was comforting to set foot on ground and walk around. There was not a moment that our arrival at our destination was in question, though Buck’s sense of humor tested my gullibility. Buck grew up in this country, has worked in it and lived it, knowing how to get around and where to go are not questions for him.
The air up on Johnson Hill was fresh, cool, and clean. Something I look forward to on the entire rest of our journey and in Alaska. After years of unhealthy alerts, Texas arguing with the EPA over what constitutes non-attainment for air quality, it is nice to absorb this atmosphere. We clomp around the rocks a while, then Ken and I climb the fire watch stand for an even more incredible view. Talk about testing your fear of heights if the edge of the mountain was not enough, seeing through open steps is equally un-nerving. I hope you will agree it was worth it!