Thursday, January 04, 2007

Snowy Elkhorn Scenic Drive

The truck tires rolled
silently through snow six-or-
seven inches deep. The truck
grill passed the 7,392-foot
sign and tipped downhill.
Tree boughs along the nar
row Elkhorn Scenic Drive
road bent with the weight of
the wet snow. The truck's
quick-working wipers swept
away the residue of fluffy
flakes melting on the wind
shield.
I guided the truck on tracks
in the snow, moving slow
enough to glance often into
the shadowy forest on the left
or less often over the pano
rama on the right.
The dash clock said 11:42
a.m., but the snow created
dim dusk-like effects.
``I'm surprised that we don't
see critters standing in the
woods,'' I said.
No sooner did ``about'' pass
my lips when a break in the
timber revealed a meadow
with elk, a bull and several
cows, collecting flakes.
``Elk,'' I said, sliding the
truck to a stop as my wife
Darlene gripped the security
handle on the dash. I lifted the
camera from her lap with one
hand and rolled down my
window with the other.
I turned on the camera and
twisted off the ignition. Elk
stood like statues in the snow
as I focused. I snapped photos
as elk gathered their wits and
strolled regally away.
Darlene, Sadie the
Dalmatian and I had left
Walla Walla beneath clouds
spitting rain. Rain fell in
sheets on Weston Mountain.
The spur-of-the-moment
drive had no specific desti
nation when we left home at
8:03 a.m. The truck move like
a turtle.
On the mountain, I slipped
the camera into a plastic bag
and took photos of golden,
red and rain-soaked trees.
We passed quickly through
construction that has taken
place on Highway 204 for sev
eral months and nears com
pletion. Notably it's replaced
the curves near the E. J.
Haney Overlook.
As we crossed the summit,
at 5,158 feet near Spout
Springs, rain drops morphed
into snowflakes.
At an Andies Prairie pause
to refresh, we found that a
joker had left the south-end
toilet locked. Laughing up
roariously, we scurried to the
north-end one-holer.
Whew! It was open.
On toward Elgin. Sunshine
broke through the clouds at
Middle Ridge. Western larch
trees, wearing golden needles,
sparkled on the slopes and
along the highway.
We took the road to
Summerville in the sunshine.
Misty scarfs draped the
shoulders of Mount Emily .
We took Pierce Road, to
bypass Island City, and
looked for grazing antelope at
Ladd Marsh. We passed the
historic, long-ramshackled
Union Hotel that sculptor
Dave Manuel is renovating.
Reluctantly I passed the
open coffee bar at the hotel
entrance.
Clouds spit raindrops inter
mittently as we drove through
Union toward Powder River.
Colorful willow, cottonwood
and locust trees beneath
basalt-cliffs lined a canyon
road that led into a wide val
ley.
At Powder River, we con
tinued toward Anthony Lakes,
through another colorful val
ley and climbed a narrow
road into fogs.
Snowfall began five miles
from the top and increased as
we climbed.
Sadie and I strolled in the
3-inch-deep snow at Anthony
Lake Campground.
I hooked an apple for me, a
Coke for Darlene and a nibble
for Sadie from the cooler, and
we passed the ski area.
Ten minutes after we saw
the elk, I mumbled. ``I'm sur
prised we haven't seen any
hunters.''
As ``hunters'' passed my
lips, a man dressed in camou
flage with his coat open and a
rifle slung on his shoulder,
stumbled from the shrubs into
the road. I braked. We slid.
Darlene ducked away.
The man smiled and waved
as we passed.
At the snowline, our odom
eter said we'd driven over 10
miles of snow.
We met the road from
Ukiah at North Fork John
Day Campground, about eight
miles west of Granite.
We paused to refresh, and
took FR 51 along the Grande
Ronde River and reached In
terstate 84 nine miles west of
La Grande.
At 3:09 p.m. we stopped for
lunch in La Grande where
Chinese honeyed chicken
replaced the expected yogurt.
Near Imbler again and
Darlene spotted a rainbow.
We went for the gold. We
missed. Again.
This time we met heavy
rain at Summerville.
And we entered heavy fog
(or clouds) near the summit
on Highway 204. Visibility
dropped to the distance of a
left-handed bowling-ball toss.
I slowed to 35 mph.
``I'm surprised a deer hasn't
jumped off the bank in front
of us,'' I said.
No sooner had ``us,'' passed
my lips than a car in the other
lane skidded nose-down as a
wild-eyed deer bounded
across the road AND right
toward me!
I swerved two tires off the
road. The deer missed. Or
vice-versa. And I missed the
metal slats at the roadside.
And we didn't tip over.
Mt heart rate bounded.
Darlene glanced at me with
saucer-like eyes and tight-
pressed lips. Sadie yawned.
``I'm surprised that ...''
``Oh, shut up,'' Darlene
said

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