Hells Canyon

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Exactly seven months later, on July 31, 1976,1 sat with approximately three hundred other people under the boiling sun at Hat Point, on the Oregon rim, as the new Hells Canyon National Recreation Area was dedicated. A fleet of bright yellow buses commandeered from a neighboring school district had inched up the tortuous, rutted Hat Point road all that morning, bringing us there; the Forest Service had wisely closed the road to private traffic for the occasion. Far below, in the vast depths of the canyon, the Rush Creek rapids showed up as an insignificant white patch on a thin gray ribbon of water; I remembered how the rapids had looked as I stood beside them a few months earlier and listened to Lewiston physician Dave Spencer tell, in a shouted conversation that barely carried over the roar of the churning, high-piled white water, how that insignificant white patch had torn the windshield from his $6,000 jet boat the one time he had been rash enough to attempt to climb it.

There were speeches. Bob Packwood referred to “the jewel that is Hells Canyon”; Oregon’s Governor Bob Sträub called it “this magnificent, incomparable area”; Al Ullman capped them both by flatly and unashamedly describing it as “the most beautiful area in the world.” Afterward we scattered out along the rim among the alpine flowers to eat lunch. I thought of Fern Hobbs and Wilson Price Hunt, of the Norma and the Shoshone , of the vanished promise of Eureka, of the shame of Joseph’s Crossing, of the bloodstained bar at the mouth of Deep Creek. I took some pictures. Then we all got in the buses and drove away from the rim, down the long twisting road into Enterprise, leaving the big canyon to the winds and sun.