On a trip to Eastern Oregon for a food conference in May (read my report here), I decided to take a couple of days to explore this incredibly beautiful part of the state. You can read part one about the trip to La Grande and Union; part two traveled to Baker City and Halfway, where I uncovered murder and mayhem on a bison ranch. The portion below follows up with adventures in the Wallowas, with stops in Joseph, Enterprise and tiny Lostine.
It was tough to leave beautiful Halfway and the stories of bison rancher Dave Dur, but my husband Dave and I were due in Enterprise for our farm stay at Barking Mad Farm, where owners Emily and Rob Klavins had arranged a meet-and-greet with local food folk. The trip was going to take three hours if we took the standard route back to Baker City to catch I-84 to La Grande, basically making a long circle around the western side of the Wallowas.
Barking Mad Farm.
But we'd heard about a short cut through the mountains on a National Forest highway that would slash our travel time by a third. Trouble was, no one could tell us for sure if the road—which is closed in the winter due to snow—had been cleared of debris and fallen trees. We were pretty sure the snow was gone, but I wanted reassurance that it was passable all the way through to Joseph. The forest service office in Baker hadn't heard, so Dave Dur called his buddies at the Halfway ranger station, and, while they couldn't officially announce it was open, they assured him that it was clear to Imnaha, just a few miles from Joseph. (Read about a previous camping trip to the Imnaha.)
So we took off in Chili, crossing our fingers that its low clearance wouldn't be a problem, and found our way to NF 39, a winding—and paved—two-lane highway that snaked its way through the mountains. At times it followed beautiful creeks that cut their way between steep forested gorges, at others it climbed zigzagging switchbacks to dizzying alpine heights above the trees. Eventually it dropped down to the Imnaha River and into Joseph, where we decided that our daredevil exploits deserved to be celebrated with a pint of local brew.
Well-deserved beers at Embers Brewing.
Unfortunately when we got to Joseph we found that Mutiny Brewing, our favorite area brewpub—and at the time the only woman-owned brewery in the state (now there's Covalent Brewing in Portland, owned by Meagan Hatfield)—had closed. Luckily we discovered Embers Brew House just down the street featuring 17 beers on tap and settled at the bar for our celebratory pints.
We pulled up to Barking Mad Farm with a half hour to spare, which gave us time to unpack and chat with Emily and Rob and meet their cattle dog, Roo. Their comfortable craftsman farmhouse is situated just outside Enterprise on the rolling plain at the foot of the mountains, which affords a spectacular view of the range (top photo) and an occasional peek at the its highest point, snow-covered Sacagawea Peak. The lawn and garden are studded with Adirondack chairs, with additional seating on the expansive deck, but I was drawn to the double hammock slung to take advantage of the view.
Michael and Jody Berry of Dandelion Wines.
Our room on the second floor of the house, called the Treetops Suite, was a large, airy room with sliding doors opening onto a private deck looking out at the mountains. I was ready to settle in with a book, but people were starting to arrive for the meet-and-greet. Emily had laid out a generous spread of breads and cheeses, along with dips and wine, and introduced me to the crew, including my friend Lynne Curry, a local author, food activist and blogger. Lynne had given the keynote at the food systems conference I'd attended—which led us into a discussion of local farms, CSAs and issues of food access in rural communities. (See my report here.)
After that we adjourned to spend a little more time catching up with Lynne, and she suggested a new wine shop in Enterprise that was having a rosé tasting that evening. We walked into Dandelion Wines, owned by Michael and Jody Berry, and saw not the expected lineup of four or five wines, but a counterlength formation of more than a dozen rosés from all over the globe ranging from the palest of blushes to a bright lipstick red. The just-over-ten-feet-wide by a hundred-feet-long space was also packed with locals exchanging hugs and catching up on gossip while juggling wine glasses and plates of noshes from a sideboard of delicacies that would be impressive at any catered event in the big city.
"This is Eastern Oregon?" I found myself thinking. "My, how you've changed!"
Wallowa Lake Lodge.
The evening continued at Terminal Gravity Brewing's pub, where you'd swear you'd walked into that Boston bar called Cheers where everybody knew everybody's name and the beer and food flowed freely in a spirit of community and conviviality. After that, retiring to our quiet aerie at the farm, we fell asleep as fast as our heads hit the pillows.
The next morning the coffee was strong, the pastries piping hot from the oven and the eggs were fresh from Emily's chickens, their bright yolks making up for the lack of sun in the sky. We drove off in Chili right after that, knowing we wanted to make a couple of stops on the way back, first an obligatory pause to admire Wallowa Lake and its historic lodge.
Original log chair at Wallowa Lake Lodge.
The lake was originally home to the Wallowa tribe of the Nez Perce band before settlers arrived, and the lake and the area surrounded it were guaranteed to the tribe in the Treaty of 1855. It was, that is, until gold was discovered in the area, and the tribe was displaced and banished. The Wallowa Lake Lodge was built in 1925 and is a gem among small lodges that still retain their rustic roots. The lodge's 22 rooms sit above the main floor with its stone fireplace and wood panelled dining room, and historic photos document the building of the lodge and grounds. This is definitely a place we want to come back to.
Our second stop was in the tiny town of Lostine. I'd read in none other than the New York Times Sunday Magazine about a fellow named Tyler Hays, who'd recently opened a shop in SoHo called M. Crow and Company carrying "a marshmallow roasting stick made of oil-rubbed walnut, copper and leather ($60). A child’s leather tool belt with a toy hammer made of cherry and Osage wood ($250). A pickle jar handcrafted from local clay and glazed with wood-stove ashes ($260). A pot of hair product made with homemade beeswax and hand-expelled oils ($120)."
M. Crow in Lostine.
What does this have to do with Lostine? Well, it turns out that the tony New York store is Tyler's second. The first is in Lostine, just miles from his hometown of Joseph. According the store's website, Tyler's family "were among the first few dozen families to settle the valley in the late 1800's" and the store in Lostine was run by the Crow family for 107 years. In 2012 he purchased the store "to prevent its closure and the loss of an iconic memory of my childhood" and to provide an outlet for his fascination with making everything he needs.
Interior of M. Crow in Lostine.
Much more rustic than the photos of the ultra-spare, white-walled SoHo store, the original in Lostine still has the creaking floorboards and dusty, old-building smell that I remember vividly from my childhood when I'd explore abandoned buildings and old cabins. It's got some of those expensive over-$300 jackets and fancy cutting boards, but it also features house-brewed beer and local honey (more of Tyler's hobbies). The article in the Times said "he plans to build a workshop in Lostine that will take over much of M. Crow’s production while creating jobs for area residents," providing an economic boost to the communities around the store.
Tap list at Ordnance Brewing.
It certainly gave us something to talk about as we drove home, making our final stop in Boardman at Ordnance Brewing to check out just what was going on in the big metal storage building by the train tracks. (In the first installment of this series we'd arrived too early to sample its wares.) While it isn't a glossy brewery with repurposed timbers and copper-topped tables, they make an impressive array of 30 beers from the expected IPA to a fruit beer called Bloops to a sour beer, a CDA, a saison and a host (literally) of others, eleven of which were listed on the whiteboard graph tacked up behind the bar. It's easy to enjoy one or more sitting on folding chairs at the cable-spool tables.
Read the rest of the Mountains of Fun series: Part One about La Grande and Union and Part Two about Baker City and Halfway.
Top photo from Barking Mad Farm; photo of Dandelion Wines by Lynne Curry.