When you are a travel writer and your aunt decides to open her ranch to paying guests, an unusual situation arises. Yes, you have the opportunity to write about a place you know well and to do your dear aunt a favor. But can you still hold on to that “journalistic objectivity” we hear so much about?
Well, OK - maybe I’m not objective, but I can certainly provide the inside scoop on the JUST U Ranch, a family-sized cattle and guest operation in northeastern Oregon.
The JUST U opened doors to visitors last winter, but already it has earned a place in the hearts of a variety of travelers from as far as Texas and the East Coast.
Location is both the strongest and weakest factors of the JUST U. The isolation and unique beauty of the half-mile-high benches surrounding the Grand Rhonde River in northeastern Oregon have inspired some to call for national park status. The landscape is so unusual, so out-of-context, it can make a visitor feel lost, especially a visitor on Terri Morse’s nearly two-mile-long driveway.
The rocky road is made worse by the fact that it’s hard to pay attention. With the wildness of Squaw Creek on one side, the Lost Prairie hills on the other and the breaks of the river straight ahead, I always feel like I’m driving down a theater screen into a western movie.
Visitors finally end up at a large barn and medium-sized ranch house perched on a sky-high bench above the river, some 60 miles and several razor-edged switchbacks from Clarkston, Wash.
If visitors come to get away from city lights and into apple blossoms and bird song, they’re in the right place. If they are here to learn more about authentic ranch living in the ‘90s, they are in the right place. And if they are here for some of my aunt’s home cooking, they are in for a treat.
Beef is the order of the day, along with homemade soups and breads, cinnamon rolls, and pies. This woman has spent more than a quarter-century making scratch food for hungry farmhands.
The accommodations are simple, clean and comfortable. Unconventional antiques provide interesting decor, but guests seldom spend much time indoors. The real appeal of the JUST U - named because the lodging was designed for individuals, small groups or families - is found outside.
Bird watchers will discover oriole nests in the yard; river lovers will enjoy a side trip to fish the wild and scenic Grand Rhonde, and hikers will find hundreds of acres of tramping-grounds. The Morses can provide insiders’ advice on routes and itineraries. They also offer guided tours of the area. Hunting is excellent, and can be arranged on the property for an extra fee.
I traditionally visit the ranch at least twice a year. And I’ve just realized - by doing Auntie the favor of a positive commentary, I may be limiting my stays to a tent in the back yard. Disregard all of the above.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: If you go The JUST U (541-828-7775) is located near the borders of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, 12 miles from Troy, Ore. (no services). The nearest town is Enterprise, Ore., 45 miles away. Rates vary from $79 per person per day in the summer to $65, winter. All meals provided. Guided tours, transportation, hunting, and child care are available by arrangement.