Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Gorge/Wapinitia Loop, Part Three: Maupin and the Wapinitia Highway

Highway 197 is a long, lonely drive through desert country, but in the small town of Maupin the road briefly drops into the wild and beautiful Deschutes River Canyon. Named for pioneer Howard Maupin, this area was settled in the late 1800s around a ferry across the Deschutes. Now the ferry is long gone and a modern bridge crosses the wild river. Maupin is famous as a rafting town, and several local outfitters offer whitewater runs for those who don't have their own gear. This section of the river is also a popular place for fly fishing, and wildlife abounds in the steep canyon. The snowmelt-fed water rushes briskly along, clear and cold under the towering rock cliffs.

James Hill's west bank tracks visible on the far side of the river
Visitors to the canyon soon notice the railroad running along the west side of the river. This track was the focus of a railroad war  in the early 1900s. Railroad baron James Hill planned his tracks to run along the west bank, while his rival, Edward Harriman, built on the east bank. Scuffles ensued and supplies were sometimes stolen or destroyed, but the real battle was with the hard stone walls of the rugged canyon. After a few years both railroads had trains running, but after Harriman's death in 1909 the companies became more cooperative, eventually combining tracks to reduce maintenance costs. Today, trains still run on the westside track as they have for over a century.

Deschutes River Access Road and Wapinitia Campground
Drive over Maupin's bridge and you will find the Deschutes River Access Road. Maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, this road is actually built on the roadbed of Harriman's eastside railroad. Turn either way to follow the river along the bottom of the canyon; the road is paved for a while before it gives way to washboard and gravel. Several campgrounds are spaced along the access road; river access is excellent, but amenities are simple. Maupin City Park offers more plush camping, and there are a few private campgrounds in the area as well. It is worth noting that campgrounds fill quickly on summer weekends and dispersed camping is not allowed in the canyon; if possible, come during the week or after Labor Day.

Fill your tank at the old-fashioned service station and perhaps pick up an ice cream cone in this friendly little town, then backtrack on 197 for four miles to the Wapinitia Highway (216). For one last abandoned building, follow the highway for six and a half miles and turn left on Reservation Road. One mile off of  216 you will find the remains of tiny Wapinitia, notably an old church building sagging into oblivion. Return to 216, which shoots as straight as an arrow across the wide desert. Then suddenly, at the small town of Pine Grove, the road enters a vast mountain forest. We are now in the Cascades, headed back to Portland.

Twin Lakes
This is an easy drive through beautiful woodlands with the Warm Springs Reservation on the left and the Mt. Hood National Forest on the right. Our small forest byway meets up with larger Highway 26; turn right, toward Portland. There is camping at shallow Frog Lake, a popular family gathering place. If you haven't had enough hiking, turn at Frog Lake but look to your left for the trailhead to Twin Lakes, a beautiful seven-mile round trip that features, not surprisingly, two mountain lakes.

For one last historical stop, turn north at the Highway 35 junction (toward Hood River) and drive about 2.5 miles to Forest Road 3531 (Barlow Pass Sno-Park). Follow this road to find the final resting place of an unknown pioneer woman, as well as a hike along the old Barlow Road. Wagon ruts can be found in the woods across from the grave. Pause in this peaceful place, then return to the busy highway. Drive 35 back to 26 and descend the broad and winding road to Portland, a town that was named by the flip of a coin in 1845 (the other choice was "Boston").

Wagon ruts on the Barlow Trail
Once upon a time, hardy, adventurous people left behind everything they knew to risk an onerous journey to a promised land known as "The Oregon Country." Many never lived to see that land, but others arrived to build new lives in a largely unmapped wilderness. Today we can still find traces of their lives in the Columbia Gorge, in the high desert, and on the Barlow Trail. Native Americans pull salmon out of rapids as they have for centuries, dusty wagon roads wind across rugged countryside, and weather-scarred wooden buildings hold themselves tenuously together, abandoned and empty save for the ghosts of dreams.

Deschutes River and access road

Wapinitia Rapid
Wapinitia Campground

Chicken Spring Canyon, near Wapinitia Campground. I'm sorry to say that no chickens were found springing from this canyon.

Twin Lakes
Pioneer Woman's Grave

Barlow Road wagon ruts, near the Pioneer Woman's Grave

See you out there!

1 comment:

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