If you’re in a hurry, have Amazon orders to make, reality TV shows to watch or investment strategies or LinkedIn networking to attend to, this Sunday drive is not for you.
I’m driving up the Lincton Mountain Road. Rising above the Walla Walla Valley southeast of Milton-Freewater, the gravel road passes one last farmstead, then it narrows at a sign suggesting no travel December through March, and warning the faint of heart or those with cars held together by duct tape and prayers to turn around and return to civilization.
No signs are found beyond this point. No signs tell deer where to cross. No signs say how fast rigs should go around corners or to watch for farmers ahead on tractors or for open range cows.
It calls to mind the famous song by the Five Man Electric Band, but in this case no signs blockin’ out the scenery.
Mostly, I go slow. I want, need, must have the Prius, with its clearance slightly greater than that of a snake, reach 300,000 glorious miles.
I travel at 10-15 mph — and dodge the largest of the boulders and meander effectively up the cobbled stretches.
Rewards await around every corner.
A meadowlark on a fencepost heralds my arrival with a rousing rendition of its Oregon State Bird song. Three whitetail deer cross the road without looking both ways. A western kingbird perches on a barbed wire fence scanning the lunch buffet. Cows congregate in mountaintop pastures ignoring physical distancing rules in place for the COVID-19 pandemic. The cows — unaware of global calamity — look extremely contented.
Where winter wheat is not flourishing, native prairie prevails.
Arrowleaf balsamroot doesn’t wait for rainbows to display pots of gold.
The road follows a ridgeline. To the north, the canyons of the South Fork of the Walla Walla River drop out of sight. Each side draw is
painted by that grand artist, Sunlight N. Shadow.
To the south, the Couse Creek canyon offers its own dramatic and beautiful slash in the earth’s crust.
Very far to the west, through the haze, the volcanic wonders of mounts Adams and Rainier stand guard on the Cascade range.
After miles of rolling range land, the road enters the pine-dominated forest, with everything but Vote Ponderosa for President signs.
I see my first car and — alarmingly close — a herd of deeply contented mule deer. Not wanting to disturb their tranquility, I continue on deeper and deeper, through a gantlet of farm lilies, into the forest.
Here and there are meadows rutted by four wheelers wanting to test their vehicles in mud. Not being their judge and jury, not wanting to waste brain cells worrying about human foibles, I drive on and reach the chalet and Tollgate highway for the trip down the mountain to Weston and home.
I’d estimate the loop to be 40 miles — or equivalent to about 700 miles on the interstate. But at 10 mph you see every dew drop on a butterfly’s wing.
A fine reward for a few moments out of the fast lane.