Magazine article Sunset

Get to Know Joseph, Oregon: You've Probably Heard of Its Awesome Lake. but There's an Undiscovered Side to This Idyllic Summer Town

Magazine article Sunset

Get to Know Joseph, Oregon: You've Probably Heard of Its Awesome Lake. but There's an Undiscovered Side to This Idyllic Summer Town

Article excerpt

Truth BE TOLD, I'm not expecting much from Joseph, the no-stoplight town wedged between Hells Canyon and the soaring, Alps-like Wallowa Mountains. I've been on one too many road trips east of the Cascades when a day behind the wheel ends in a restaurant with rec-room paneling and animal heads, a chicken-fried steak (which, I'll admit, has its place), and pint options limited to Bud or Miller. Once even poured by a guy named Bud Miller.


I came here to hike the pristine Eagle Wilderness and soak up the throwback charms of Wallowa Lake--Joseph is the gateway town to both. But from the start, there are signs that Joseph, a former lumber town turned bronze-casting center in the J8os (note the statues of bare-chested cowboys and Nez Perce warriors all over downtown), deserves some exploration itself. When I check into my suite, two blocks from the 1950 Indian Lodge Motel, it's in an L-shaped annex freshly sheathed in cedar with flower boxes and flat-screens inside. And when I stroll to the north end of town, I find a sizable chunk of Joseph's 30-something population kicking back with pints of hoppy SssWheat Ale from Mutiny brewery, Joseph's first brewpub. Two doors down, Dan Stein, manager of eastern Oregon's first micro distillery, is pouring fingers of huckleberry cordial made in a gleaming copper still imported from Germany. And across the street, Scott Lathrop, a rancher whose family settled the Wallowa Valley in 1881, is converting an auto shop into a winery. Something is happening in Joseph.

Fm caught off guard. It's almost enough to make a person from Portland--the city where anything worth eating or drinking seems to be preceded by "micro," as in roastery, distillery, brewery--feel at home. The high point comes that night at Calderas restaurant, where I have heirloom greens gathered that morning followed by apricot-bourbon-glazed pork chops, eaten under a spreading ponderosa pine.

But if the town of Joseph is undergoing a gastro-revolution, there's something equally wonderful about the timelessness of the Wallowa Lake resort community. Six miles away on the fake's south shore, its cabins and pine-paneled lodges have a slow summer-camp charm, preserved from when Oregonians started vacationing here in the 1920s. Following a tip from the bartender at Mutiny, I head to the pebbly strand on the north shore just outside of town, where the water, bottomless and blue, stretches like a five-mile mirror to the base of the Wallowa Range.

There is one thing the lake has now that it didn't a century ago: the Wallowa Lake Tramway, which whisks me up nearly 2 miles to the summit of Mt. …

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