In Search of the Last Best Places

by | Apr 6, 2011

America is all tapped out. It’s all been discovered, mined and otherwise done. Am I right?

Of course not. There are still many special places tucked away, especially in hard to reach corners of the West. Although few places feel as tucked as Wallowa County, Oregon. It is the northeastern most county in the state, about six and half hours from Portland. The Nez Perce loved this part of the county, and fought hard to keep it. Once you see the granitic Wallowa Mountains against the aching blue sky, it’s easy to see why.

As much as I wanted to see nature’s grandeur up close, I have to admit I was also curious about Terminal Gravity in Enterprise. Terminal Gravity is one of the finest brewers in Oregon, and in the nation, and it comes from a tiny town in a remote part of the state. Naturally, that gets the wheels spinning in more ways than one. What is this place where rivers and beers flow freely, I wanted to know.

I’m happy to report that Terminal Gravity is a friendly little spot. We sampled some of the seasonal beers that they do not bottle and then came back for dinner. I ordered seared Ahi tuna and a Double IPA. That’s the thing about small town Oregon, you can place that order and have every confidence that it will be delicious upon delivery.

The next morning, we drove a few more miles over to Joseph, Oregon and found the town to be even more charming than Enterprise. We visited Wallowa Lake and then settled in for a great breakfast at Old Town Cafe, before heading to Walla Walla for the rest of the weekend.

Walla Walla in southeast Washington is another off-the-beaten path destination, although it’s much more well known than Wallowa County, Oregon. It’s well known because the wine industry has exploded in the area over the last decade (it’s also home to Whitman College). The wine business is now a $100 million a year business in Walla Walla County and wine snobs and non-snobs alike are flocking to the little city from points near and far to quaff the local vino.

There are 108 tasting rooms in Walla Walla County and 140-plus bonded wineries. The historic downtown is literally jammed with tasting rooms, the airport industrial area has another 20-plus producers and then there are the estate wineries out in the country. I love to get a feel for the land where the grapes are grown, so we focused our visits on the estate wineries south of town on this first trip to the area. We were particularly impressed with Tertulia Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon. We also got into some serious Syrah over at Waters Winery and had a nice picnic on their picnic table. Dusted Valley is another producer south of town that’s well regarded and well worth visiting.