Our daughter, Amy, resides in Portland, OR, and several months ago Jane and I concocted the idea of visiting her in the May or June time frame. My devious mind is always influenced by my affection for fly fishing, so I suggested that we combine a camping trip with a visit to Amy, and May and June happened to overlap with the months, when Colorado streams were blown out by snow melt. The 2018/2019 snow pack was significantly above average in all drainages, so an opportunity to escape to Oregon was a welcome option to this avid fly fisherman.
I recalled a trip in September 2002, when I drove Amy back to college at Whitman, and I lingered in northeastern Oregon to fish the local streams. During this visit I enjoyed a fantastic day on the Wallowa River between Minam and Wallowa, and I wondered if I could resurrect the magic in 2019. I researched the camping options in the area and settled on Wallowa Lake State Park as our destination. The on line reservation web site enabled me to reserve a campsite in the park for five nights beginning on May 28 and then departing on June 2. Amy arranged some time off from work, so she could join us from Thursday evening May 30 through Sunday June 2. Needless to say I was very excited to spend three plus days with our daughter with the possibility of fly fishing in some trout streams in Oregon merely icing on the cake.
In preparing for the trip I bought four new tires, since the originals logged more than 50,000 miles. We packed the Santa Fe to the ceiling with camping, hiking, fishing and cycling gear; and departed from Denver early on Memorial Day. Day one was spent driving for ten hours to Twin Falls, ID, where we found a room at the La Quinta Inn and ate a tasty meal at Johnny Carino’s. The highlight of the driving portion of our trip was listening to an audio book by C. J. Box entitled Out of Range. Jane and I love the Longmire series about a sheriff in Wyoming, and Box’s western mysteries about a Wyoming game warden fall within the same genre.
On Tuesday, May 28, we continued through western Idaho and then angled northwest on Interstate 84 through eastern Oregon, until we reached the small town of La Grande. Here we veered to the northeast on Oregon 82, and we followed the highway to Elgin along the Grande Ronde River. This was my first sighting of river conditions in northeastern Oregon, and the picture was not auspicious. The river flowed very high, and the clarity was rather murky. The next section took us down a long hill to the confluence of the Minam and Wallowa Rivers, and my hopes for stream fishing transformed to despair, when I viewed the raging current and turbid conditions.
Oregon 82 followed the Wallowa River to Joseph, Oregon, and since this was the last town before entering Wallowa Lake State Park, we stopped for information. First we visited the Joseph Fly Shop, and the gentleman behind the counter dispelled all my hopes of fly fishing in flowing water. He informed me that all the local rivers and streams were blown out due to the cold wet spring. Normally by this time of year the shop was booking guided fishing trips on the highway section of the Wallowa, but he speculated it would be at least another two weeks or longer until the 2019 season kicked off.
As an alternative he suggested that I make a trip to nearby Kinney Lake. It was six miles from Joseph, and he reported that anglers were enjoying success on woolly buggers and prince nymphs. In addition some surface action was available for short periods during the day. He sketched a crude map on the back of a piece of paper, and I purchased five flies and some tapered leader in exchange for his information.
We departed the fly shop and stopped at the forest service office in Joseph. A nice young lady named Sara suggested some moderate hikes within the local national forest lands. We purchased a nice waterproof map for $16 and anticipated some fun treks near our campground. I consoled myself with thoughts of hiking and cycling with Jane and Amy to replace the fishing time, and my spirits once again elevated.
We were now on our way to the campground. We drove along the eastern shoreline of Wallowa Lake, and since we were already registered at the campground, our stop at the entrance station was brief. The young lady manning the window handed us a tag to place on the rear view mirror and provided directions to our loop and campsite.
Jane and I quickly unloaded the car and assembled the canopy and tent. Large clouds continually floated across the sky above us, so we made shelter a priority. Once our campsite was in order, we visited the wood shed and purchased a cart of firewood. Heavy rain the previous day rendered the kindling a bit soggy, but I managed to use newspaper and thin splinters from the purchased logs to get the campfire blazing. As this scene was evolving, a herd of deer arrived, and they began to browse among the neighboring campsites, as if happy hour on loop D was a commonplace occurrence.
Meanwhile Jane discovered that the lentil soup on the menu was a block of frozen broth, and without access to a microwave oven, we were forced to consider alternatives. A trip back to Joseph seemed to be the simplest answer, so we jumped in the car and returned to The Embers Brew House on main street. The choice proved to be a winner, as we enjoyed ice cold draft beers and dinner, before we returned to the campground. Tuesday was a long day, so we climbed into the tent and our down sleeping bags early. For some reason I sleep very soundly in a sleeping bag on a Thermarest pad, and Tuesday was no different.