Daughter Katie was to be in a wedding in Joseph. So she flew from Austin, TX to Boise, and then caught a ride with us in UberMoby. So Janene and I had a weekend to kill while camped at nearby Wallowa Lake State Park.
Not Katie. But it is Wallowa Lake.
But like most state parks on a Labor Day weekend, Wallowa was a crowded zoo of humanity. To escape we walked to the nearby Mt. Howard tramway and caught a ride to the top. Allegedly the steepest tram in North America at the time it was built in 1970, the gondolas rise 3,700′ to the top of 8,200′ Mt. Howard.
Mt. Howard was named after Oliver Otis Howard, a well known Civil War general. Despite losing an arm early in the war (in an action that earned him the Medal of Honor) he continued to command troops and finished the war as a commander with General Sherman on the infamous March to the Sea. (See Gone with Wind for details). After the war General Howard was known for his efforts during Reconstruction in trying to help the freed slaves. Sadly, we know how badly that effort turned out. About as well as our reconstructions in Iraq and Afghanistan went after we “won” those wars.
Most folks ride the tram up, hike to a couple viewpoints, snap a few photos, eat something at the “Summit Grill”, and then go back down. But we had other plans. We tried to buy a one-way ticket, but they aren’t sold. But the concessionaire crew was glad we told them we weren’t coming back down, as they do a headcount so as not to leave anyone overnight up on top.
We set out south along a ridgeline trail that grew ever more faint.
A few late season flowers were still in bloom.
After mile or so the trail petered out entirely, but we kept on until we spotted our objective, Aneroid Lake. Promoted as “Oregon’s Alps” (perhaps by someone who had never seen the real Alps) the Wallowas are nonetheless a lovely and geologically unique little mountain range for this part of the planet.
Bushwhacking off-trail from the ridgetop to the lake basin got a bit steep in places, but despite Janene’s usual worrying, it wasn’t too difficult. A special bonus was spotting this bedded-down herd of elk without them knowing we were around. But elk hunting season had begun, and at the first twig snap underfoot they bolted and disappeared into the forest.
Another bonus was discovering this old, yet recently refurbished cabin belonging to the local watermaster. We had spotted it from above, but anyone walking in on the main trail would never know it was there.
But there was no missing Aneroid Lake. Situated in the heavily used Eagle Cap Wilderness, it hardly seems “wilderness” when there are designated campsites. But when I was born 60 years ago Oregon had 1.7 million residents. Now it has over 4 million. That is a lot of extra campers and people desiring a wilderness experience.
Aneroid Lake had at least a half dozen camps that we could see. Voices carried back and forth across the lake. I caught a couple stunted little brook trout, which is about as good as the fishing gets in the Wallowas, and called it a day. The weather looked ominous, and catching so many big trout in the mountain lakes of Idaho has ruined me for this type of fishing.
The outlet stream looked promising, but no lunkers were hiding there.
Still dry coming out of the wilderness, but the storm caught us before we hiked back to Moby.
The next day the peaks above Wallowa Lake were dusted with fresh snow from the storm. There must have been some cold backpackers up at Aneroid Lake. This lush and lovely Wallowa basin was the homeland of one band of the Nez Perce tribe. Promised the land in 1855 as their reservation, it goes without saying that the treaty was broken when gold was discovered in the area toward the end of the Civil War. In 1873 the treaty was renegotiated, and the Wallowa band could still remain on their much reduced lands.
The leader of the Wallowa Nez Perce band was Chief Joseph (Young Joseph). Still in the US Army, General Howard had become an “Indian Fighter”. They were fated to meet, for in 1877 the US Government revoked the latest treaty, and General Howard was tasked with forcing the Wallowa band to move to Idaho. Instead, Joseph led his 750 people on a run for refuge in Canada.
This chase became known as the Nez Perce War. For over three months and 1,200 miles the Nez Perce battled and eluded Gen. Howard’s troops. This was despite the serious handicap of the Nez Perce moving not just their warriors, but also the children, women, and elderly. Just 40 miles short of the border, having lost 150 of his followers, Chief Joseph surrendered after a final, devastating five day battle.
In surrendering, Joseph was promised that they could return to the Idaho reservation where all other Nez Perce had been relocated. Instead they were shipped in unheated box cars to a prisoner of war camp in Kansas, and then the following summer shipped to a reservation in Oklahoma. In the next seven years while there a great many died. This picture of Joseph and his family was taken on the Oklahoma reservation. In 1885 the Federal Government agreed to let them return to Idaho, but the locals there opposed the plan, and so instead they were relocated to the Colville reservation in central Washington. Joseph traveled the US speaking to the plight of his people, and even met with President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903. But it was all in vain, and in 1904 his doctor said Young Joseph died “of a broken heart”.
Wallowa Lake State Park lies at the far end of the lake. Joseph, Oregon is a lovely little town situated in the beautiful valley below. Too bad it has such a tragic past. Old Chief Joseph had a traditional burial nearby in 1871. But in 1886 settlers desecrated his grave and took his skull as a souvenir. In 1926 he was reburied overlooking the lake just outside of town. Young Joseph’s grave is on the Colville Reservation in Washington. Even his bones never got to come home.