Let’s just say that we figured out why they call it Hell’s Canyon. Getting down in and back up the other side, even one branch of it took hours and involved the scariest driving in all of our Northwest adventures. The switchbacks came one after another, stacked one above the other in tiers. I downshifted the Nissan into second and at one point into first. About then a double –yes double– grain tractor-trailer came roaring up the switchbacks – what would happen if you met him on some of the sharpest, blindest corners, I don’t even want to speculate. I can’t imagine why doubles are allowed on this road!! Did I mention that there were few guardrails or stone barriers? The area is very arid yet the steep mountainsides are range land and we actually saw cattle on them. I don’t know how the beef cows have any energy left to grow after all it would take to move around the canyon sides. There were fences too, but the ranchers must have had climbing gear to build them. We really didn’t get all the way down to the Snake River which forms the very bottom of the canyon; we crossed a tributary river called Grande Ronde.
Before we began the drive down, we drove to one of the overlooks to view the scenery. The area is very remote and getting to the overlook involved a 40 mile country drive one way. It was our first experience at seeing the slippery metal cattle crossing grates across the main roads, an experience we would repeat many times. Every mountain stream and river looked like a super-sized version of a Pennsylvania trout stream—pure clear water, often with that greenish cast of a spring run-off. The canyon itself is vast in its scope and depth. It is definitely grand enough to invite comparisons with the Grand Canyon itself. There are few canyons in that league. This one was much more complex in structure if that is possible; involving a large number of tributary canyons. It did not have such precipitous sides as our experience of the South side of the Grand Canyon. The rock here is much more eroded and has some sparse evergreen covering. We spent some quiet time at the overlook while JoAnne sketched and I observed the flowers, scanned the canyon, and watched for birds with my binoculars.