A Trip From Biggs Junction To La Grande Via The Hell’s Canyon Scenic Bypass

Given that yesterday evening I drove from the Portland area to Biggs [1], and that I have traveled a good deal more than usual this month with my mother in town [2], I figured I should continue the theme of my travels by discussing them, and today was a day full of interest, as well as travel to unusual places that many people are unlikely to be familiar with, which gives all the more reason for me to give a more hipsterish than usual account of such travels. To be sure, many readers are unfamiliar with my blogs about travels, but when I lived in Thailand, I would regularly blog about the fairly mundane trip between Chiang Mai and Mai Sai [3], so I hope my readers will tolerate, and perhaps even enjoy, hearing me talk about a more dramatic than usual trip to an unusual and beautiful series of places that I was able to take some photos of. Hopefully my friends on Instagram and Facebook will be able to enjoy those photos when I figure out how to upload them from my phone.

When I woke up this morning, I figured it would take a little time for all of us to get ready. We had set an ambitious goal of leaving by 6AM, but given that I fell asleep with the computer on sometime around 11PM or so, I figured it would take a little longer than that for all of us to be ready. As it happened, I got up and typed my post about last night while the other members of my party got ready, and then after fighting off a nosebleed I took a quick shower and then grabbed a bit of the free continental breakfast while we waited for the person at the desk to take our keys. Seriously, the town of Biggs has among the most uninspired workforce I have ever seen. It should not be difficult for people who live in a tiny town dependent on tourist income to smile and have a bit of a spring in their step when dealing with people. I would like to think that even in tourist mode that I am a friendly person and that it should not be difficult to serve. Anyway, at about 8:30AM or so we filled Wheezy, my car, with gas and were off on an epic adventure.

The first part of the trip consisted of a drive along I-84 from Biggs to La Grande. I counted the happy and unhappy pedestrians. Wheezy was able to make up to the summit of the Blue Mountains and then down again to the basin on the other side. I listened to several cds of a book on John of Gaunt’s mistress. The other people in the car happened to sleep while I drove, and as we approached La Grande, my snoring navigator thought we had missed our turn, and so we went to the Chamber of Commerce in town, where I met a lovely young woman behind the desk who happened to have lived in both Portland and the Tampa Bay area, and who now made a living answering the question of lost tourists in a small town in Eastern Oregon. We chatted with her and with her coworker for a while and ended up with lots of maps, something I consider a success, and then we were off, having realized that we had not arrived at our road, which was only a mile or two off. Finding OR-82, we were off on a large loop that the people in La Grande told us would take about five or six hours, and we were given the advice to get gas in Joseph because we would not be seeing any gas stations for a long while. It was advice I would have been wise to take.

In driving along OR-82, it was clear that the countryside we were traveling through was very lovely. There were hay fields green with irrigation, houses and barns well-taken care of, classic cars, and the other trappings of old-fashioned but prosperous life. The small towns were filled with lovely buildings and even warned motorists of speed traps. One town even invited those passing through to hug a cop. I would rather hug other working people first, like the cashiers or waitresses who bring or facilitate my purchase of food, so long as they didn’t mind it or find it uncomfortable. Once we got to Joseph, we drove by the grave of Chief Joseph twice, once each way to Wallowa Lake, where we spent a few very enjoyable hours. For one, the lake and its surrounding mountains were immensely beautiful. We went to the tramway and got tickets (they were a bit spendy at $31 a person) and went up to what was not entirely truthfully called the summit of Mt. Howard, 8150 feet above sea level. Having arrived at the top, we walked in a loop, seeing beautiful views of the highlands and the summit, seeing a glorious buck, some beautiful but fragile looking alpine flowers, and seeing some of the most obese pocket gophers that one can imagine. While I was having lunch, the gophers acted like the squirrels at USF, begging for food and showing no fear whatsoever of human beings. It was both amusing and entertaining as well as alarming, which describes a fair amount of what goes on in my life, I suppose. Anyway, lunch was tasty, the gophers ended up even more obese after eating a lot of crutons and fries, and we were off down the hill to ponder amazing views and to resume our travels.

At this point, after retracing our steps into Joseph once again, we went off towards Hell’s Canyon, which happens to be the deepest canyon in North America, even deeper than the Grand Canyon. The drive was a bit rugged, fortunately it had been paved since last year, even if there were a lot of pot holes and even one occasion where we had to carefully navigate around some black angus cattle that were in the road. After a long and fairly slow drive through the rough roads, we finally made it to the Hell’s Canyon overlook, which gave some amazing views and also very sparse numbers of people there. It is difficult to understand how such an amazing place with such wonderful views can be enjoyed by so few, even if it does require some pretty extensive traveling through the middle of nowhere to get there. It seems like a particularly hipster vacation spot–not accessible enough for the masses but greatly enjoyable for those who are willing to take the effort and time to get to know it well. One wonders whether there is even the interest in making such a place accessible to more people, if that would damage it. Some things are just meant to require a lot of work, I suppose.

After viewing Hell’s Canyon we went the rest of the way along the loop, passing more beautiful mountains, seeing some more cows, and passing some more beautiful but remote country, but all the way back to La Grande there was one thing we did not see at all along the way–a gas station. For the last 40 or 50 miles of the trip or so, until we finally arrived at the Flying J while I was running on fumes with the idiot light on, I was praying that we would be able to make it and looking in vain for a gas station along the route. So, if you are a fellow hipster traveler looking to enjoy a less than mainstream travel destination, heed the advice of those who gently urge you to get gasoline while you can. It may be a long time in Eastern Oregon before you happen to see a gas station yourself. Anyway, we ate dinner at the Flying J, which was tasty and with excellent service, then did some extremely last minute grocery shopping for tomorrow’s pot luck in this small and somewhat remote congregation in La Grande, and then went to the trailer of the friendly widow with whom we are staying. It was a long day, but all in all it was a very good day, and full of thought-provoking incidents and memorable situations.

[1] See, for example:


[2] See, for example:




[3] See, for example:








About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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