Wallowa County, Oregon, possesses all the elements of a good makeover story—complete with the requisite Instagram-ready place to stay. Yet the forces at work make this narrative more of a revival: of a hotel, a river, a town, and your soul.
Behind it are generations of homesteaders, as well as the requisite big-city transplant and an entrepreneur-artist-dreamer with a DIY sensibility, who seek to amplify the town’s traditions to the outside world. Its catalyst is not a luxury resort but a rough-hewn restoration of a 106-year-old former flophouse. Its characters are epic: the cowboy hat–wearing matriarch, the contractor who hunts with a bow and arrow. And woven through the storyline is the iconography of the frontier—the rodeo queens, the prairie, the rich tribal history of the Nez Perce Indians who first settled the Wallowa region thousands of years ago.