Hell on Wheels – Day 6 – Downward Drift
After leaving Wallowa Lake and Joseph, the route avoids the main state highway in the valley by using Hurricane Creek Road. This road will have little traffic, and is slightly downhill to Enterprise. The route skirts the main part of town to arrive at a state fish hatchery for the first rest stop of the day. The Wallowa Fish Hatchery is used for adult collection, spawning, acclimation and release of summer steelhead. After leaving the first stop, the only available road is Highway 82, and traffic on this state highway could be moderate, so use of the highway shoulder and riding single file will be a necessity.
The road travels through the small communities of Lostine and Wallowa before entering the Wallow River Canyon for approximately eight miles. In the canyon the road narrows and is somewhat curvy before arriving at the lunch site at the confluence of the Minam and Wallowa Rivers. This location is popular as a launch site for those rafting and fishing on the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers. This site is also the point where all of that flat, or mostly downhill road everyone has been enjoying since Enterprise, turns to climbing, and the four and half miles of the Minam Grade. The hill has a moderate grade, with a 6% pitch just before the top, and then its mostly downhill to Elgin, and a stop in the city’s park.
The day’s hill climbing is done, but there are still a couple of hours of riding before the finish in LaGrande. The first few miles after Elgin uses a state highway before turning onto county roads and riding through the unincorporated community of Summerville (population 130), with a small country store. The remainder of the day travels through agricultural fields in the Grande Ronde Valley, bordered by the Blue and Wallowa mountains. For thousands of years, abundant resources drew several different tribes to the valley. Tribes included the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla and Shoshone tribes, who lived together in harmony during the summer in what they called “The Valley of Peace.” Today, the major crops produced in the valley are peppermint oil, Kentucky bluegrass for seed, and certified seed potatoes.
After a final rest stop, there are just over thirteen miles of riding remaining, with Mt Emily (6,110’) off to the right. After passing over Interstate 84, the green grass and shade trees of LaGrande’s Pioneer Park will be a welcome sight after the longest day of the week.