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When glaciers moved through Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, they ripped apart the earth, leaving dramatic granite faces streaked and exposed, creating what is now the Wallowa Mountains, the state's premier backpacking location. As my father likes to say, "This is God's country," and I'll hand it to him that the Wallowas do provoke a sense of awe and perhaps even a spiritual feeling within me. Maybe it's the solitude or the openness of the landscape. Maybe it's the people I meet when I am on the trail, cowboys mostly, who shuffle by on horses and remind me that there is a simpler life happening not too far from where I stand, on the sloping ranches and golden farms of La Grande and Lostine.

My family is from Portland, Oregon, and the Wallowa Mountains are our tradition. From the time my three brothers and I could strap on a backpack, our father loaded us in the car for a six-hour drive east, followed by a two-day hike into the heart of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, where we'd explore for a week or so. Though our family is spread out now, we make an effort each year to come home and hike into those familiar alpine meadows. We do it for us, but we also do it for dad, as nothing makes him happier than seeing his children suffering under the weight of a pack or tenderly applying moleskin to enlarged blisters on our heels and toes. By the end of our trips to the Wallowas, we are sunburnt, mosquito-bitten, blister-covered, and physically exhausted. We are also happy. Some families have picnic reunions or vacations to Cancun; ours goes backpacking.


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