Monday, July 19, 2010

Travels with Chili: On the Wild Imnaha

Yes, we tent camp. But with a car. And a queen-sized blow-up mattress. And a fully stocked bar. It's just the way we roll.

The Indian Crossing campground, 50 miles outside the town of Joseph and on the banks of the Imnaha River, was just what we wanted. Arriving mid-week, we found one other couple camped there, and they left early the next morning, leaving us as the sole occupants if you don't count the herd of deer that apparently called the area home.

After setting up the tent and the stove, the first order of business was a batch of martinis to wash away the dust from a day of driving. Because we'd arrived late, we made a quick fire from scavenged wood scraps and sat down to a sophisticated dinner of deli sandwiches while we sipped our cocktails and watched the thousands of stars come out.

A note about the campground while I'm at it: As you can hear in the video above, the river was a noisy and constant presence. I thought of it as white noise and got used to it roaring in the background, but if you want a quieter experience there are several sites away from the river bank. The best campsite is lucky number 13, a double site that's plenty big enough for two good-sized tents and is situated next to the river with a small pebbled beach.

As for the river itself, it's not terribly deep but flows swiftly as it drops from its source at 7000 feet up on Eagle Cap. So those with dogs and children need to keep a wary eye on them if they wander near the river, since the current flows swiftly even near the banks. We had Walker with us, and though he's not one to go jumping into bodies of water, I watched him carefully whenever we were near it.

Sponsored planters in downtown Joseph.

The second day we drove into Joseph to explore the town and have lunch at Mutiny Brewing. The small Western town finds itself in the happy position of catering to skiers and hunters in the winter and outdoor enthusiasts and tourists in the summer, and has a fair number of artists and sculptors as year-round residents. It's also recently started a campaign, funded by state and federal grants, to spruce up its downtown with planter boxes sponsored and maintained by local residents and businesses, many featuring bronze statues of wildlife crafted by local artisans.

The view from Mutiny Brewing's front yard.

Mutiny Brewing itself has a large front garden that spills out onto the street, its front-row view of the Wallowas putting it in a dead heat with Pelican Pub as the prettiest view from a pub in Oregon. Brewer and owner Kari Gjerdingen's beers were spectacular, as might be expected from the brewer who put Terminal Gravity's beers on the list of must-have Oregon brews.

Kari Gjerdingen in her element.

Her small but much-loved four-barrel system allows her to put two or three beers on tap at any given time, and fortunately Kari is as dedicated to the quality of the food she serves as the beer she brews. She was somewhat embarrassed that she had only two beers on tap, but they were a fantastic hefeweizen and a truly impressive ESB. The hef was appropriately  cloudy and light, with a slight hint of a saison that Kari said came from the Belgian yeast she used to brew it. The ESB had a very assertive maltiness that was somehow not overly sweet, with great body and flavor. We both gave this beer a huge thumbs-up.

Negronis on a stump.

After a stroll around town, it was back to the wilderness where Dave built a fire in the firepit as the sun was going down, the better to have coals to cook steak and potatoes. When the coals were ready he sliced the potatoes and doused them in olive oil and garlic, then wrapped each one in tin foil and set them in the fire. As they cooked we had some of the premixed Negronis he’d brought, then with the coals at their peak he cooked the steak and I made a salad from homegrown greens. With a nice bottle of inexpensive French red (an ’08 Domaine Chapoton Cotes du Rhone), it was a perfect meal.

With the resident deer haunting the edges of the light thrown by the fire, we again watched the stars come out and, once in our sleeping bags, slept without waking until morning.


Alison Cassin said...

Wow, now I want to plan a camping trip there! Last weekend I camped on the McKenzie River and I loved sleeping with the sound of the water. I also want to check out the town of Joseph. Your photos are beautiful! Thanks for the great post!

Kathleen Bauer said...

It's a truly special corner of the state…our own version of the Alps!