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The Gearboat Chronicles


I’m heading down to the Imnaha canyon for the week. Get out your Wallowa County vacation itinerary if you haven’t made it to Imnaha yet. Here’s one of the reasons I live out here. You got the lovely mountains. Check. Rivers. Check. Big old Zumwalt Prairie. And then things drop off a couple thousand feet into rimrock canyons and warmer climes where the bighorn sheep roam and gardens grow tomatoes the size of softballs.

It’s a geography sample platter squeezed into one relatively small area, that still manages to be big and roomy at the same time. Try the comparison tour. Get out here and hike up to the alpine lakes, float a river the next day and head down to Imnaha the next. They’re different worlds. And worth exploring.

The town of Imnaha is 33 miles from Joseph. There’s a handful of houses. A school. A tavern and store famous for their fried chicken gizzards. If you take a left, you wind down toward Cow Creek or Dug Bar and hit the Snake River. Go straight from town to climb to Hat Point, where there’s a fire lookout and you get a visual on why Hells Canyon is the deepest canyon in the lower 48 states.

I’ll be heading upstream 13 miles to a writing retreat run by Fishtrap, a local nonprofit that puts on a writing conference in the summer and fall. There’s a log house on a bend in the Imnaha River, accessible only by an Indiana Jones-style suspension bridge. You hike your gear across and settle down for a week with a group of people who are all working on different projects.

The usual routine is to write during the day. Then take a hike. Do some fishing. Photography. Whatever. Then everyone gets together for dinner and you retire to the living room to sit around a fire and give your writing a test run while everyone discusses or reads what they’re working on.

This year I’ll explore some of the side creeks and a gorge in the upper river that I’ve wandered before, happily doing nothing but scrambling around on the rocks.

There’s another gorge downstream from town that Morgan and Paul have seen, but I’ve yet to float through and that’s high on my list. I won’t get to it this week, but that is a chunk of river I’ve been wanting to lay eyes on.

About those chicken gizzards at the Imnaha Tavern. I do believe you have to try them. Officially, they’re gross. But when in Rome you sometimes eat gross things. And I’ve done my share by taking friends and family there, ordering these deep-fried nuggets of . . . I don’t know precisely what a gizzard is. It’s been explained to me before, but I block certain things from my consciousness as a survival tactic.

That’s what the Man vs. Wild TV show should have done, is have Bear Grylls survive in the canyon on nothing but Imnaha Tavern fried gizzards.

So there’s my travel recommendation for this week. See Imnaha if you haven’t already. And if you have, get down there again. Canyon time is good for your gizzard.