When people find out that we’ve been traveling fulltime for three years, they often remark that we must have been everywhere and seen everything by now. We naively assumed the same when we embarked on this journey. But what we didn’t anticipate is that our travel bucket list is getting longer instead of shorter (this seems to be the lament of most full timers we’ve met). It doesn’t help that we’re not really crossing much off our list—many of the places we visit go right back onto our “must return to” list.
Thus, in early June, we once again found ourselves in Joseph, Oregon—the first destination on our list when we began our journey three years ago.
Joseph is an easy town to fall in love with. Cozy and welcoming—with only 1,000 residents—the town is postcard-perfect, but refreshingly lacking in pretense. Nestled against the snow-capped Wallowa Mountains, there’s a pretty main street brimming with flowers and interesting shops; the street corners are anchored by magnificent bronze sculptures, all created by local artists.
The most striking bronze—and the most prominent—is that of Chief Joseph, the esteemed Nez Perce leader who fought, first diplomatically, and then in battle, for the right of his people to remain in their ancestral lands.
The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. ~Chief Joseph
Long before white settlers arrived, this rugged place of high mountains, deep canyons, and cascading rivers was the homeland of the Nez Perce. A peaceful nation, the Nez Perce cultivated good relations with white settlers—until gold was discovered nearby, and they were forced out of the valley they called “The Land of Winding Waters.”
The legacy of the Nez Perce is woven deeply into the fabric of Joseph. The town, once called Silver Lake, renamed itself Joseph in 1880 (in honor of Old Chief Joseph, the father of young Chief Joseph). Just outside of town, Chief Joseph the elder is buried, forever overlooking his beloved Wallowa Lake.
Adjacent to his gravesite is the Iwetemlaykin Heritage Site. It was here the Nez Perce began the sorrowful journey that took them from their homeland. It is a beautiful place; rolling green hills dotted with wildflowers and a small pond lie beneath the grand presence of the Wallowa Mountains. This is sacred land to the Nez Perce, and it is a gift to be able to walk the trails.
We spent our week in Joseph hiking, biking, and exploring the town. The Eagle Cap wilderness is nearby—this is truly wild country, best seen on backpacking trips. But a few trails allow access into the wilderness for reasonably easy hiking adventures. We hiked both the Chief Joseph trail just outside of Wallowa State Park, and the Hurricane Creek trail, just a few miles from town. For a different type of adventure, we “rode the rails” on a unique bicycle-built-for-two contraption with the Joseph Branch Rail Riders, pedaling 12-miles of repurposed train tracks through undulating farmland, from Joseph to Enterprise and back.
We planned our visit to Joseph to coincide with the peak wildflower bloom along the Hells Canyon Byway. It’s a long, slow, dusty 40-mile drive (three-quarters on a rough gravel road) to the Buckhorn Lookout, but absolutely worth it. The road passes through the Zumwalt Prairie, Oregon’s largest native wild grassland. The wildflower bloom in the grasslands and at the canyon overlook was just as spectacular as we remembered.
I wish I could say that we could now cross Joseph off our list. But we can’t. There’s more we want to explore in the area—rafting the scenic Grande Ronde River is at the top of the list. I think we need another lifetime to fit everything in.
About the RV Park:
We spent six nights in Joseph, and just like last time, stayed in town at tiny Five Peaks RV Park. It’s the perfect location for walking and biking into the pretty little town and just a few miles from trails heading into the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Full hookups, excellent WiFi, friendly owners, and a cozy, peaceful vibe (no showers, bathrooms, or laundry).
Next Up: Family Fun In Pullman, WA