It’s as if the Vienna Boys Choir and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir got together for a grand concert.
I’m at the top — but not the end — of Government Mountain Road. Here the prairie meets the rolling hills and the rollings hills meet the pines. Wind whooshes in updrafts through ponderosa pines, creating a deep, cool, relaxing sound.
Off Telephone Pole Road south of Walla Walla, Government Mountain is a wild place. It’s like the Scottish Highlands, except replacing kilts and bagpipes with panoramic views of checkerboard fields and the city far below.
The drive is gravel and suitable for carefully driven passenger cars for many miles. Climbing ever upward, the road splits a gantlet of deciduous trees.
A rooster pheasant, happily napping, nods as I pass.
A flock of wild turkeys, wider awake, race the Prius and then fly frantically into the underbrush.
Early morning sunlight brightens yellow lupine and arrowleaf balsamroot blooms.
Higher up, no trespassing signs warn of straying too far from the car.
The deep canyons of the North Fork and South Fork of the Walla Walla River are shadowed ripples undulating into the distance.
Nearby draws offer a patchwork quilt of sunlight and shadow.
Looking north and west, the views are expansive. To the north, Walla Walla stands guard of its plain. To the west, Milton-Freewater poses.
Beyond is an array of vineyards. Wind towers exercise exuberantly, bathed in the theatrical spotlight of sunbeams.
The view is long, the quietness pervasive — except, that is, for the sighing of the wind and an occasional enthusiastically singing meadowlark, Oregon’s state bird.
This is not Oregon’s state road. The surface deteriorates as it rises in elevation. But it remains passable to the Prius, as long as I dodge the biggest of the rocks and potholes, a craft honed growing up on a ranch with a driveway more than a half mile long “paved” with boulders.
Government Mountain Road, though, looks like a superhighway compared to side roads. Closed in winter, and accessible for high-clearance four-wheel-drive rigs, the gnarly roads bump down to Birch and Cottonwood creeks.
The communication towers on Pike’s Peak look tantalizingly close. A yawning abyss, though, stands in the way, yet another of the Blue Mountain’s awe-inspiring trenches in the earth that challenge even the most daring of transportation engineers.
According to my map, Government Mountain Road eventually dead ends in the Blue Mountains forest. I, however, have reached my Short Attention Span Theater limit. I turn around, stopping long enough to admire the glacier lilies in bloom, and listen once more to the “choir” in the pine forest, then begin to carefully descend the mountain.
One eye is alert for boulders, the other remains focused on the long, soul-nourishing view.