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Posted June 19, 2017:

Hellís Canyon

Weíre back in Wallowa County where June has thus far been a very wet month. All the evergreens have profited. Douglas firs, Noble firs, White Firs, Red Cedars and Spruce trees all have bright green tips of new growth.

Around our cabin I have a score of trees, some of which Iíve planted, most of which are volunteers, that I tend and watch with interest. I trim them and fertilize them. Sometimes I will stake a tree that needs support. If weíre in a really dry stretch, I will water those that appear to be struggling. Most of the trees I tend appear to have three inches or more new growth since I was here just three weeks ago.Rain is marvelous thing for growth.

The rivers are all running high in the Valley and fast ó at full throttle. Lots of water coming down out of the mountains from snow melt, on top of the spring rain.

If past summers are any indication, things will soon both warm up and and the rivers will slow down. People like me will head into the mountains with packs on our backs and may still find enough snow higher up for a ride on our butts down some slippery slope.

On Saturday morning this week, Linda and I begin a four day, three night raft trip on the Snake River as it courses through Hellís Canyon. Though Iíve done several trips on the Grande Rhonde River, this will be my first on the Snake. The Canyon is deep (deeper than the Grand Canyon) and the history runs deep as well, both the geologic and the human history.

The Nez Perce wintered in canyons close to Hellís Canyon, Joseph Canyon and Imnaha Canyon. Their creeks and rivers are tributaries of the Snake. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, after some not very successful gold miners, sheep ranchers ran thousands of sheep on the steep hillsides of Hellís Canyon. They carved out a way of life there that probably sounds way more romantic than it was.

In preparation for the trip Iíve read one such account writer by Grace Jordan, Home Beneath Hellís Canyon. Jordan, her husband, and three children headed into the Canyon during the Depression, preferring hard work in the wild to no work in town. Itís quite a story.

A more recent book, Temperance Creek, by Pam Royes, is another glimpse into that world. Pam tells her story as one of the last of the sheep ranchers, with her husband, Skip, at the Temperance Creek Ranch in the Canyon. A marvelous coming of age story.

When the area became the Hellís Canyon National Recreation late in the twentieth century, the homesteads and ranches became property of the National Forest Service, and a wild and extraordinary way of life came to an end.

Part of the reason that people in areas like this one, in contrast to say a Seattle or Portland, are not so high on government is that government plans and programs has meant the loss of land, ranches and of a way of life.

I will benefit, on my river trip, from Hellís Canyon now being a National Recreation Area. But not everyone has experiences such changes as a benefit. Iím sure Iíll know more about this and have a richer and more complicated perspective on Hellís Canyon, in little over a week. 

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