Michael Totten

Hell’s Canyon — and Snowy Mountains in June

Glenn Reynolds is beach blogging. Good for him! I went away this weekend, too, but I went inland. Unlike him, I didn’t blog while I was out. I took pictures instead. The Internet doesn’t exist where I went without a satellite modem. (Cell phone modems don’t work everywhere yet — and they may never.)
Half Dot Com.jpg
I stayed in a town called Half.com. Don’t let that fool you. There’s nothing dot-com about it, not really, not yet. The town’s old name is Halfway, which is still how it appears on every sign except this one. The name was kinda sorta changed because the Half.com company donated computers to the local school and offered to plug the town on its Web site as a tourist destination. It is a tourist destination of sorts because it’s just down the road from Hell’s Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America. Yes, Hell’s Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon. But it’s a six-hour drive from the nearest international airports in Portland and Seattle, and it’s a bitch to get to even if you live in this state. That’s why you haven’t heard of it.

Empiness Near Halfway.jpg
This is what it looks like just outside Halfway — er Half.com. The town got its old name because it was halfway between two other places, two other places that effectively no longer exist. One is now underwater. The other one is a ghost town. Now it’s smack in the middle of a whole lot of nothing, as you can see. Hardly anybody lives anywhere near it.

Field in front of Wallowa Mountains.jpg
They do have a nice view in Half.com, though. The back side of the Wallowa Mountains form the skyline to the north.

Blair Witch House.jpg
If you drive up into those mountains on the gravel road that leads to the “town” of Cornucopia you’ll find the local Blair Witch house and see why that road is not paved.

Road Near Halfway.jpg
Drive on the paved road toward Hell’s Canyon, though, and you’ll see mountains that are utterly bare and yet are somehow green at the same time.

Greenscape Near Hells Canyon.jpg
There are miles and miles of beautifully, naturally sculpted landscape. And yet practically nobody lives there. You could build nations in the empty spaces of Oregon.

There are a handful of farms around, like this one, but that’s about it.

Rain Over Hells Canyon.jpg
And here is Hell’s Canyon plunging a depth of 8,000 feet. It’s narrow and it goes down in stages. So you can’t see the top from the bottom and you can’t see the bottom from the top. It’s less photogenic than the Grand Canyon, but it’s striking all the same and it’s worth all the hassle you have to put up with to get there if you’re ever anywhere near it.

Cabin in Snow.jpg
It’s weird that I can drive to Winter in the middle of June. But I can. Here in the Blue Mountains, just down the road from Half.com and Hell’s Canyon, more snow fell on June 11 than fell on Portland throughout all of last year. (That’s because we didn’t get any. Portland is almost always too warm for snow.)

Anthony Lake.jpg
It was 30 degrees Fahrenheit at Anthony Lake. 10 minutes by car down the road it was 80 degrees.

Snow Close Up.jpg
It’s hard to believe I took this picture yesterday. But I did.