Last weekend we took a tour of B Reactor at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington. While researching what else we could do in the area, Hells Canyon was mentioned at several web sites. And there was even one dedicated to Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. Naturally, we chose to go extra an hour or so further east to pay a visit. 

Before we left Richland, we had a late lunch after the B Reactor tour which ended around 2pm. Then stopped by The Spudnut Shop, recommended to us by a friend who grew up in the area for its donuts made of potato flours. It gained its 15 minutes of fame in 2011 when Sarah Palin responded with “Spudnut moment” to the “Sputnik moment”, a phrase used by President Obama in the State of the Union speech to describe the need for the United States to catch up the rapid development of certain technologies in other countries. Sputnik I was the first man-made satellite ever, launched in 1957 by Soviet Union, orbiting the Earth, triggering the creation of NASA and a slew of technological advancements. Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn became the first human and American into space orbiting around the Earth, barring Alan Shepard and others in suborbital flies. To our surprise, the girl, cleaning the shop, apologetically informed that they had sold out the donuts for the day, even though they started making them eleven o’clock the previous night. 

Disappointed, we hit the road about 3:30pm for Baker City. A side note. In the hotel room, I learned the existence of LIGO Hanford Observatory, which offers public tours in certain Saturdays. This, along with potato donuts, will be good enough a motivation to go back and visit again. 

When we relocated from Texas to California in early 2016, we visited Death Valley National Park and crossed the state line, climbing over the 5,000 to 6,000 feet-high Sierra Nevada mountains almost from sea level to sea level, into California. At places a guardrail separated me and seemingly bottomless cliffs where I only dared to go 20 miles an hour while the speed limit was 35 MPH. That was the impression and expectation I had about mountainous roads. 

Highway 14, and Cascades Mountain Range, was a completely beast. Even though it was dark and winding at the beginning, it’s obvious that the elevation change was not as dramatic and the road was very much straight. And once passed the high mountains like Mt Hood and Mt Adams, it never felt going down much. Just gentle up and down over hills.

The drive from Richland to baker City along I-82 and I-84 was in late afternoon and gave us a chance to see the landscape of northeastern Oregon. There was a mountain range between Richland and Baker City. The land was vast and flat grassland. I am not sure what it looked like before the settlers moved in as it seemed farmland growing hay. It followed by rolling prairie with snow-capped mountain ridge looking behind. The cross of Blue Mountains on I-84 was very interesting. The eastbound and westbound lanes split before the climb to the crest at 4,193 feet. The grade was not the deepest I had driven on an interstate highway by the sharpness of the turns was unprecedented. At times I had to brake to bring the speed down to the posted limit. And because of the grade, the speed often dropped more than anticipated and it took a long while to bring it back up.

Only later I learned that we had visited a geological and geographic region called Columbia Plateau. According to Wikipedia, it is a wide flood basalt plateau between the Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains, cut through by the Columbia River

  • Flood basalt n. (geological science) 

A very large extensive lava flow of basaltic composition that has issued from a fissure, often to be found as part of a series of such flows one on top of another, forming a plateau.

Baker City was in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. I first heard of this city from the book about the Oregon Trail. We chose Baker City instead of La Grande, which is near the other end of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway for the price of the hotels. When I asked the clerk at check-in for places to go as it was late afternoon, all I could see were blank stare. Luckily I did some reading before the trip and knew the existence of Geiser Grand Hotel, a historic hotel opened in 1889. It was considered as the finest hotel between Portland and Salt Lake City during the Gold Rush. We decided to pay it a visit and maybe have dinner there. After driving through deserted downtown streets in an early Saturday evening, we found the hotel.