Michelle and I had a groovy week with half a dozen world travelers, a most excellent guide and llama wrangler named Raz, and a string of cartoon quadrupeds who moo when they are lonely and sound like fire engines when they see a snake. The Eagle Cap Wilderness is a high meadow region with in-your-face geology that in places could have been the Sierras except the they weren’t having a drought. The places where it couldn’t have been the Sierras were red-to-white fault lines across a cliff face, the flowering slopes that even now are glowing with lupine and buckwheat and gentian and were ostensibly even more spectacular last month.
Wallowa Llamas is a mobile dude ranch where they provide nightly cocktail hour and box wine pairings with the outfitter’s wife’s amazing cooking. Mobile dude ranch sounds pejorative but it was basically the best, because (1) leading a llama string is like taking a piece of rope for a walk they are so compliant and (2) any evening you wanted you could help with the llama care, grazing, staking, watering, or migration to higher pastures on off days, and any evening when you were currently having a nosebleed you could sit quietly with a gin and tonic and provide tech support for the no fewer than eleven solar-charged electronic devices that daft people had brought with them. The scenery was stunning, although in addition to some of the grandiose mountain-silhouette-in-the-mist memories I can also picture Perseus the llama yanking a full Indian paintbrush plant bigger than his head from the side of the trail and staring at me unblinkingly as he chomped it all up, all the while moving unerringly forward as if his feet had little course correctors of their own with no input from his brain. On layover days we took sun-baked thermarest naps and day hikes just like you expect, to destinations with uncreative but entirely accurate names like Glacier and Crater Lake. On working days we got to experience some quality mud canyons along the snowy (!) Imnaha and appreciate the advanced llama descent.
I might be forced to finally retire my pants after what I must acknowledge is quite a catastrophic footlong rent. I forgot a headlamp, bandaids, and a needle and thread, but it was a full moon, Michelle had extra, and the tear in the pants was really only at the end anyway. My single physical souvenir was an elk cartridge and my most educational moment was connecting the word “gentian” with actually seeing a gentian, so now I understand romance novels when the heroine has gentian blue eyes. For Alex I diligently wrote down that we both saw and heard Clark’s Nutcracker birds but I already don’t remember what they either look or sound like so take that as a mere fact and not a story point. The nicest bird story is the family of grouse that ran along with us on the last day, zip ping in front in their waddling little lines. I learned about gjetost cheese (peanut butter cheese) and apples and I stayed tactfully out of the firebuilding committee on the only night with rain.
Substitute Raging Madness is not a substitute for Raging Madness, but what a very nice week!