Getting Closer

Getting Closer
Getting Closer

Friday, September 27, 2013

September 15 Magical Joseph

Currently in Rocky Point, cloudy breezy and  57 degrees F

from the trail on the Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site For thousands of years, this land has been home to the Nez Perce, “Nimiipuu”.  It is a magical place, tucked away in the remote northwest corner of Oregon, off the beaten track.  For the past several days, I have been writing about the things to see and do, but in the midst of all the natural beauty, the scenic drive, the magnificent mountains, there is more to this place. 

The Nez Perce National Historic Trail begins in this spot, home to Old Chief Joseph, father of the famous Chief Joseph who led his people on a sad but epic journey that ended just 24 miles from the Canadian border, where his band of hungry men, women and children would have found refuge.  Old Joseph refused to sell his native lands, fought and signed a treaty that gave the Nez Perce 8 million acres “forever”.  Later, when gold was found here, the US Government decided that he should sign a new treaty, giving up his ancestral homeland and 7 million of the original 8 million acres.  He refused, and thus began the story that ended with Young Joseph’s famous words, “I will fight no more forever”.

the story of the Nez Perce is everywhere in this valley, their homelandI have traveled through Nez Perce lands ever since I decided back in 1972 that Idaho would be my soul home.  Then again in the 80’s I learned much about the people and their land as I worked the Weippe Prairie, the terraces along the Clearwater River, the Camas Prairie, once ancestral grounds covered with gorgeous blue camas that provided rich nutrition for the people.

There is a special site just south of town called Iwetemlaykin, and no, I can’t pronounce it either.  Just a small parcel of rolling grassland, near the grave of Old Chief Joseph, 62 acres honoring the ‘place by the lake’ where you can walk the trails in silence and contemplate the land that was taken from the tribe.  This land is familiar to me, the Nez Perce story is important to me.  I sat for quite some time in Nez Perce photo exhibit on Main Street in Joseph, looking at historic and present day photos of the people. I have danced and sweated with Nez Perce teachers dear to my heart.  My old Nez Perce hand drum still sits in a place of honor on my shelf. Maybe that is why it feels so good to be in this part of the world.

downtown Joseph on a Saturday morningOr maybe I am just a sucker for fresh air, clean water, gorgeous mountains, and really cute little shops and restaurants.  Yeah, I know, I am a romantic, and Joseph is the perfect place for someone like me.

In addition to the Nez Perce story, however, there is another story from Wallowa County that captured our interest.  We read about the Maxville Heritage Center on our way to Joseph, and spent quite a bit of time looking for it.  Once located in the town of Wallowa, it is now at a new location in Joseph, next to the Art Center on the north side of town.

Northeastern Ore_026Big surprise, the Logger’s Daughter was right there, and met us at the door to share her story and the PBS film that featured her search for the people and history of Maxville.  When the Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company from Missouri founded the logging town, it brought African-American families with logging experience from the south to work and live in Maxville.

At that time, Oregon was almost entirely white, and segregation laws were strict.  In spite of that, the people worked side by side until the town died and disappeared. Gwen was a delight, and her work and the story of Maxville are a great Oregon treasure. 

downtown Joseph on a Saturday morning So many things about Joseph are a surprise.  The beautification projects that began more than a decade ago have created a lovely place to walk and enjoy really nice little shops.  Almost every restaurant has outdoor seating and is dog friendly.  The galleries are gorgeous, and I especially loved the restored bank building that houses the Stewart Jones Designs gallery. There is a chocolate shop with fine artisan chocolate makers, and I tasted a salted caramel right from the melter and had to buy a bunch, at a whopping buck and a quarter each.  Worth every penny.

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birthday breakfast view of the Wallowas I had a great birthday breakfast in the Old Town Cafe, enjoying every tasty morsel and the view of the mountains was gorgeous, even under cloudy skies.  We visited the gallery housing more of the magnificent bronze sculptures that decorate every corner, with prices ranging from a mere $3,000 to more that $50,000.  Who buys this stuff anyway?!  The owner said that people come from all over the world to buy bronze in Joseph.  In fact, the bronze medallions that decorate the World War II monument in Washington DC came from Valley Bronze in Joseph, Oregon.

Wallowa Lake_038 The day before, on Saturday, we spent some time at the wonderful farmer’s market, small but still filled with fresh, organic food and local honey and jams.  Perfect greens, heirloom tomatoes, fresh flowers, easter egg radishes, tiny little squashes, it was all there to tempt me into filling the small RV fridge to overflowing.

downtown Joseph on a Saturday morningThe town itself would be delightful even without the magical setting of the Wallowas and the Zumwalt Prairie to the northeast, the clear Wallowa Lake to the south.  I kept looking around wondering why we couldn’t manage somehow to do for Klamath Falls and our lovely old downtown what progressive folks have managed to do for tiny Joseph.  I spent a lot of time talking to the shopkeepers about this, asking what was their magical formula.

Sadly, some told me it was their ability to run a business that didn’t have to make a profit that made it work.  Most of them had supplemental income and lived and ran a business in Joseph specifically because it was worth it to them to live in such a magical place.  The most repeated phrase was, “Everyone here is here because Joseph called to them”.  Not many of the shopkeepers were historically local, with the surrounding area populated with ranchers who didn’t actually shop much in town, according to one woman I spoke with.  9-14-2013 Joseph

Still, whatever they have done, we get to reap the benefits of a sweet little place to rest, relax, eat great food, see beautiful art and sculpture, drink in the skies and the views and the history, and leave refreshed and restored in so many ways.

Then again, there is always the story of OR7, or Journey, as he was named by the schoolkids of Oregon. 

OR7 OR7 was part of the famous Imnaha wolf pack and was for a time the only wolf in the state of California as he journeyed far from home trying to find a mate.  OR7 spent some time in the Wood River Valley, in the Cascades near our home, and one dark night, out in the hot tub, Mo and I heard him howl.  Last I read, Journey is somewhere nearby in Western Klamath County or Jackson County.  Like me, he left his homeland, wandered thousands of miles, and ended up back in Oregon.  Gotta love that wolf.

 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

September 14 The Wallowa Lake Tramway

Currently in Rocky Point, it is all the way up to 48 degrees F  and there is snow at Crater Lake

most perfect examples of lateral moraines anywhereBuilt in 1968, the Wallowa Lake Tramway is the steepest 4 person gondola tramway in North America. Beginning at the south end of Wallowa Lake, at 4,200 feet elevation, it rises 3,700 vertical feet to the top of Howard Mountain at 8,260 feet.  

From the top, the views are among the most magnificent in the state of Oregon.  There is a small restaurant at the summit and a few nice trails that meander around the peak for about 2.5 miles.  Most access into the breathtaking Eagle Cap Wilderness require a lot of miles of hiking and some very steep ascents to reach the high glaciated lakes.  Not so if you take the tram and access the wilderness from the top of Mt Howard.

We didn’t see any backpackers on this day, but a friend of mine used to talk about how long it took to get UP in the Eagle Cap and how great the tram was to allow high mountain hiking from the very beginning of a backpack trip.  Looked great to me, I’ll tell you! 

Wallowa Lake Tram-005 Of course, we didn’t come to backpack, just to see the views and enjoy the walk and maybe even enjoy a beer and a wild mountain berry cobbler in the restaurant.  The regular fee is $27. but for seniors it is a mere $24.  Yeah.   A bit steep, but worth every penny. It actually costs a bit more than the huge Palm Springs Aerial Tramway that we visited when we were in Desert Hot Springs a  couple of years ago.  I think that tram was a lot more vertical, but the cages were a lot bigger than these tiny little 4 person gondolas.  A different experience entirely.

It was in the low 60’s F, about 12 degrees F colder than the valley below, when we arrived at the summit, just enough that we were still ok in shorts and shirts with no jacket.  Still, it is something to be aware of if you want to spend any time at the top and have been warm and toasty down in the campground before your ascent.

Wallowa Lake Tram-024 The views really are breathtaking, and the trails to each overlook are easy enough that little kids can do it, maybe on the back of a parent some of the time, but there were plenty of families walking the trails.  I would have loved to have been prepared, and had the time and the permit to just wander off on the trail that led south into the wilderness.  Even for a day if not an overnight.  It looked so incredibly inviting.

At the north side, the Valley Overlook has views of Wallowa Lake, Joseph, and Enterprise in the valley below, and the Zumwalt Prairie to the northeast and toward Washington to the northwest.  In the somewhat smoky and cloudy skies, I could even make out the dim outline of Moscow Mountain near Moscow, Idaho.  I used to sit on that mountain and look toward the Wallowas.  I could also see where the Lewiston Hill begins it’s winding descent toward Lewiston, another place where I would look south to the magical outline of the Wallowas and the Blue Mountains.  It was nice to be here again looking north.  The last time I was in the Wallowas was in 1979, in another life completely.

Wallowa Lake Tram-021 Also at the north view was a jump-off spot for hang gliding launches.  I used to think I wanted to do that, but lately that particular item has drifted to the very bottom of my bucket list.  After looking at that drop, I sort of dumped it out of the bucket altogether.  There were lots of people taking photos, and of course, you know how it goes.  Someone walks up to a couple and says, “Do you want me to take your photo together?”  The same person taking this photo of this happy couple said it to us, but we declined.  Just how many photos of the two of us with a gorgeous view in the background can we keep anyway.  I think these shots are kind of like the shots I get of the front of my kayak on the water that my daughter always laughs at.  Water, Sky, Mountains, and oh…the pink triangle of the front of my boat.

everyone wants a photo from this spot Just a  little aside here: you know how some people have lives that are linked together through the years?  Mine doesn’t seem to do that very well, and it seems I have lived a lot of different, unrelated lives in this one.  With no real extended family, the only links that connect all these different phases of my life are with my friend Maryruth and my children, which I had when I was almost a child myself.  Maryruth and I will celebrate 50 years of friendship next month.  Maryruth and her husband Gerald, and Mo and I are all going to spend a few days together at Harris Beach.  UhOh, more Harris Beach photos will be coming up I am sure!Wallowa Lake Tram-025

While the tram ride is just a short 15 minutes, it is easy to spend a few hours wandering around, drinking in the views, and sipping a beer to celebrate once you are up there.  I am not sure I would have to do it every time I decided to visit Joseph and Wallowa Lake, but I would definitely not want to miss doing it at least once.

More photos from our day at the top of the mountain are linked here.

heading for the Valley Overlook

September 13 Hells Canyon

Currently in Rocky Point, Oregon Partly Cloudy and 45 degrees F

Hells Canyon Overlook Funny, as crowded as the state park campground was, at night it was quiet and dark and I slept great.  We decided that there was no need to go to Imnaha on this trip.  Mo had been there before, and after reading Laurie and Odel’s very funny account about their trip there, we figured fried gizzards weren’t a big enough draw to get us to take the back way north to Imnaha.  Another time.

Instead, we followed the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway on the northern loop from Joseph, east and then south to Hells Canyon Overlook.  The scenic byway is worth the drive if only to stand high above the layers and layers of ridges and imagine the Snake River far below.  Of course, you can’t see the river from the Overlook, you have to go to Inmaha to actually see the river from above.  You could do as the women we found out there who had traveled from Portland to camp on the Imnaha River and then bike to the overlook.  Not me!  It was a lot of very steep uphill, and we saw one of the women walking her bike about 3 miles short of the top.

You could decide as we did to take the byway all the way to the mighty and magical Snake River and then turn north and drive the 20 plus winding miles to Hells Canyon Dam. In addition to the magnificent drive and the river that flows north through the deepest canyon in North America, we had a destination, a river trip.Seven Devils

We had a great time at the overlook, me trying to discern which ridge I camped on back in the 80’s when we were mapping the canyons.  Then of course we had to try out the delay shutter feature on my camera, but it was too far down for me to get in the picture quickly enough.  Made for some good laughs until the women on their bikes offered to take a photo of us together.

Hells Canyon Overlook

Northeastern Ore_092 Hells Canyon Adventures does several different versions of a jet boat ride on the river, and we chose to just get a little taste with the 2 hour tour. We had called a few days in advance to be sure they were still running, and as luck would have it, we got a reservation for the 2PM run.  River trip06

I have rafted a few rivers, and even did the Colorado River in a paddle boat a few years back.  Six days from Moab to Hite Crossing, and a lifetime of memories.  That is me in the purple hat, back in 1993, getting ready to paddle through “Five”, the one that dumped us.  But that is another story. Being on the river in a jet boat isn’t quite the same, of course, but it was still a river, and still an amazing canyon.  

Approaching the dam from the south, the road follows the eastern shoreline of Oxbow Reservoir, with several launch sites and a couple of small campgrounds.  The campground at Oxbow was full, but farther up the lake there was plenty of space at another camp about midway to the dam, again with hookups and nice access to the water.   The Original Hells Canyon Adventure Tour, South Entrance, leaves from the river just below the dam and downhill from the Hells Canyon Dam visitor center at the end of the road.Driving to Hells Canyon Dam

It was pretty hot, and shorts were the perfect choice for the day.  I also brought along the Pelican Case to carry the camera, just in case something happened and we went down.  Jet boat accidents are extremely rare, but I still didn’t want to lose my camera to that river.  I needn’t have worried.  There was only one Class 4 rapid to get through and our captain was an expert at negotiating the big rocks and holes trying to suck us up.

Driving to Hells Canyon Dam Hells Canyon is almost a mile and a half deep from highest wall to the river, deeper than the Grand Canyon, although the canyon walls are actually stepped and farther apart, so it doesn’t seem as deep when you are down in it.  Still, no matter how I tried, it was impossible to get photos that depicted the immensity of the towering walls above us. Hells Canyon Dam

Our guide explained the rapid level rating system, talked about the building of the dam, and the fact that salmon don’t get past this dam.  Built in the mid sixties, the dam has no fish ladders, and the salmon are stopped here.  This entire issue of salmon and steelhead on the Snake River is controversial and if you are interested in reading about the complexities of the 3 Hells Canyon dams on the Snake River, this link is fascinating. The permits for these dams will expire shortly, and Oregon is still not on board for re-licensing because of the lack of fish passage. 9-12-2013 Hells Canyon Scenic Adventure

The run through the rapid was fun, but not at all scary in the high powered jet boat.  Three big Cummins diesel  engines are underneath the deck, and when one of the engines had an electrical problem, we still had two working well enough to get us back home.

hiking to the pictographs in Hells CanyonWe heard stories about settlers trying to make a life on the high benches along the canyon and above the river, and saw evidence of some abandoned homesteads.  At the farthest point on the tour, we disembarked and hiked along the river to some pictographs that were supposedly created by the Nez Perce.  Again, the pre-history of these images is a bit controversial, and there are several different stories about the people who made them and the time frame when they were done.  I only heard what the guide said, “The Nez Perce did them more than 1,000 years ago”.  Were the Nez Perce even a tribe 1,000 years ago?  hiking to the pictographs in Hells Canyon

The Nez Perce say their ancestors have been here for 15,000 years.  Unlike some of the larger pictographs on the Columbia River near The Dalles, I couldn’t find much information on these images.  Still, it was delightful to walk along the river and find them.  Of course, once again I had on the Oofos instead of decent hiking sandals.  Sheesh!  I was planning a river trip and didn’t know it included a hike!

We didn’t see any bighorn sheep or mountain goats on this shorter tour, but we did see two different bear sows, one with a single cub and one with twins.  Watching the young cubs frolic and jump around on the rocks was fascinating.  As usual, there was one bigger cub who was more adventurous, and a smaller one who lagged behind.

Because of the time we spent watching the bears, and the bit of engine trouble, our trip lasted half an hour longer than the two hours allotted.  That was fine by me, except we knew that we had that long climb back up the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway to our waiting motorhome.   9-12-2013 Hells Canyon Scenic Adventure1

Forgot to mention what we did with Abby on this tour day!  Another reason for giving ourselves an extra day in Joseph before we went on the boat trip was that we needed to find a dog sitter.  A bit of searching and a call to the vet in Enterprise yielded good recommendations for the Lin Lee Kennels in Joseph.  They are only open in the morning and evening, but when we picked Abby up the next day she seemed completely happy.  The owner said Abby just followed her around the entire time she was there.  IF you are in the area and want to do something that isn’t dog friendly, this is the perfect solution.On the Wild and Scenic Snake River in Hells Canyon    

Since it was getting late, we decided to stop at the one open establishment that was between the canyon and Joseph on our route.  Hells Canyon Inn is anything but fancy, but we landed on the Thursday taco night so dinner was OK and the price was bearable.  When we pulled into Joseph in the dark at nearly 9PM we were glad we didn’t have to try to find dinner in Joseph or cook something up at home.

More photos of our Hells Canyon Adventure are on google linked here

Tomorrow: the Wallowa Lake Tram

 

 

Monday, September 23, 2013

September 10 to 12 Baker City to Wallowa Lake State Park

Currently in Rocky Point, Oregon, partly cloudy at 55 degrees F, predicted high of 64F

Don’t forget to click on the photos if you want a bigger version

Baker to Wallowa Lake Sometimes when we are traveling, our tendency is to go fairly long distances between locations.  This time, however, we took our own sweet time getting from place to place, and then settled in to really enjoy the countryside.  After the morning in Baker City, we thought it might be fun to wander off on some back roads instead of sticking to the Interstate.  We could see the curvy road ambling northeast rising on the southern foothills of the Wallowa Mountains.

How bad could it be anyway?!  Sure, the road was narrow, there were curves, but no real spooky drop-offs like the ones back in John Day Country, and we were rewarded with beautiful vistas of the Wallowas and the Eagle Cap Wilderness shining in the late summer sunlight. 

long route through Union and Cove It is amazing to me how many tiny little towns are scattered across this part of Oregon.  Of course I knew of Baker City, La Grande, Pendleton, Joseph, and Enterprise.  I do actually live in this state.  But I had never heard of Cove, or Union, or Medical Springs, and as we continued our travels for the rest of the trip, many little towns appeared that were just blips on the map, and a blink of the eye. 

long route through Union and Cove People lived in these little towns, there were city halls, and fire departments, police stations, antique stores advertising “used antiques”.  Hmmm.  There were old barns, and beautiful ranches, and miles and miles of open space.  It was lovely to wander through the countryside and imagine what it must be like to be born and raised in places like these, or to live there now.  Did these people grow up here or did they somehow choose to come to a tiny town in the far reaches of Northeastern Oregon.  Lots of fodder for the imagination as I rode along, for sure.

As you can see from the map, there is really no way to get to Joseph without skirting the amazing Wallowa Mountains.  Home to the Eagle Cap Wilderness, these mountains are sometimes called the “Little Alps of Oregon” with good reason.  Formed dominantly from granite from the Wallowa Batholith, the peaks are glaciated and dotted more than 50 apline glacial lakes.  They reminded me a bit of the Sierras, only a bit more open like the Big Horns.  The Wallowas are one of the premier backpacking destinations in Oregon, not nearly so well known as the Cascades with their volcanoes, but much more enticing to me.

Lostine Creek Scenic Byway The meandering route gave us just a taste of what was to come in the far corner of our home state.  Somehow I was reminded a lot more of the Idaho I lived in for more than 30 years than the Oregon that is now my home.  Everything felt so familiar, the forests even smelled different, familiar somehow.  I recognized the plants, the geology, all of it was like coming home somehow. 

Just like a lot of other folks, I thought, “I could easily live in this place”.  The winters are long, the population of Wallowa County is a mere 7,500 or so, and shopping is far away in La Grande or Pendleton.  But the towns are lovely, well cared for, the vistas are magnificent, the land open and spacious.  Beautiful. 

Wallowa Lake State Park When we arrived at the Wallowa lake State Park in early afternoon, we were a day early for our reservation, but in spite of the crowded park, there was a site open for us until our space was ready the next day.  We originally planned to stay longer in Baker City, but continuing to the lake and taking our chances for a spot was a good plan.  When we first planned this trip, I didn’t think we would need reservations, but checking the State Park website was a good hunch, since we just barely snagged a spot for the four nights we wanted to stay.

Wallowa Lake is home to one of the best examples of glacial topography in the West, and images of the huge lateral moraines are used often in textbooks on geology and geomorphology.  The lake is deep and blue and incredibly clear.  Often the mountains still have a bit of snow in late summer, but none was left this year, a low snow year for the entire area.  The lake was really quite low as well, surprising since it is a natural lake and not a reservoir, but I guess drought is drought, and lake levels will go down.

Lostine Creek Scenic Byway After settling into our one night spot, we took the Tracker for a visit to the Forest Service Information Center on the edge of the little town of Joseph.  The woman at the desk was incredibly helpful, and there were a ton of brochures about the area.  She suggested we try the Lostine Creek Scenic Route, maybe hike up Hurricane Creek, or go check out the Zumwalt Prairie to look for wildlife.  All good ideas, but we settled on Lostine Creek, a deep glacially cut valley that climbed back into the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

We hoped for some close-up views of the mountains, but the creek is so deep in the canyon that it is hard to see much without actually doing some of the 12 mile hikes into the back country that boast elevation rises of 3 to 5 thousand feet.  Maybe not today.  Let’s go back to the campground and check out the local nature trail and let Abby swim in the lake. 

Wallowa Lake State Park It was good to be settled in and to know that we had at least one day of doing not much of anything.  Mo had surprised me with the idea of a special birthday treat, and in a couple of days we were going to drive the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway to Hells Canyon Dam and a big adventure on the Snake River in the wild and scenic part of Hells Canyon. 

After a great sleep, we took our time enjoying the campground, went to town to do some laundry and actually check in on the internet for a bit, and were back in camp in time to move to our more permanent site for the next few days.  This is a very popular park, even in late September, and on this Wednesday morning as we tucked into a rather short space, I was again really glad I had made reservations the previous month before everything was completely gone.

Wallowa Lake State Park As I picked up the new tag for the new site number, I overheard a very sad RV driver complaining to the park ranger in the kiosk, “I NEVER make reservations this time of year! What do you mean there is NOTHING?!” Blue lake, big mountains, cute town….a very popular place.

Finally in late afternoon we wet out on the lake in the kayaks to enjoy that gorgeous clear water.  The mountains are so high that the sun disappears fairly quickly on the tucked away part of the lake, but it was still beautiful.  There are lakeside homes all along the western shore, most of them very big and spendy looking, and only a few of them with folks hanging around on the decks and porches.  Even so, the lake was reasonably quiet, and the kayak time was nice. 

We never did see a lot of birds around.  I suppose the shoreline is too rocky, the lake is too low, and the water too clear for bird food in any quantity.  As lovely as the lake was, and even with that gorgeous clear water, I think I would rather meander around in an estuary somewhere that has a bit more complexity.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful kayak and it felt great to finally get our boats out on the water.  We originally planned to try doing some kayaking on the John Day River, but the drought wasn’t about to let that happen.  I hate it when we haul the boats for miles and miles and never get them on the water!  evening kayak on Wallowa Lake

Mo had packed up a good amount of wood for the trip, so we had another huge campfire after supper and enjoyed all the activity of a very busy campground with kids on bikes, lots of dogs (well behave and leashed) and giving Jeremy a chance to play around outside unhindered.  We even put up the chili pepper lights on the MoHo awning, something we haven’t done in a very long time. There are some more photos of the state park linked here

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 8 to 10 John Day to Baker City

Currently we are back In Rocky Point, Oregon.  Cloudy and light rain, 43 degrees F

Clyde Holiday State Park near John Day Sometimes I can just sit down at the computer, open up the photos of our travels, and all the memories come flooding back.  It is easy to write and remember what we have seen and done.  Other times I look at the photos, I remember, but writing about it just doesn’t quite come as easily.  Makes me glad I made the effort to write about our days in John Day Fossil Beds while they were happening.

Our original plan this summer season was to stay home, to enjoy our own state, and we did just that.  There are parts of Oregon that are very familiar to me.  The corridor north and south along 97, the corridor along I-5, the road over 140 to Medford, the roads east to the desert.  I have traveled along Highway 26 to Idaho in the past, but never had the time to really linger and explore.  This month we took that time and it paid off with beautiful back roads, amazing vistas, and good memories.

Donna over at Travels in Therapy mentioned Clyde Holiday State Park, and we changed our original plans to overnight at the fairgrounds in John Day in favor of this lovely patch of green along the John Day River.  I have been trying to read and catch up on blogs, and have been surprised at the number of people traveling in this area, often just a day or two apart from us.  Funny how each of us sees something different, or writes about it differently, but many of the photos are similar.

Clyde Holiday State Park near John Day It was a short respite in the two week trip where we actually had telephone  and internet service, giving me time to catch up with phone calls and check on bank accounts.  I was surprised at how the internet, email, telephone messages, all seemed so necessary and yet so intrusive.  I love being connected, but it definitely can be stressful sometimes.  Almost as stressful as not being connected.  Still it was wonderful to hear my daughter’s (plural daughters) voice and to get missed phone messages from my son and other friends. 

Clyde Holiday State Park near John Day Clyde Holiday State Park is right along the highway, just a few miles west of John Day.  It is a bit like camping in a large city park, with grass and a nice river walkway, and a place to build a campfire.

There are teepees for rent that were locked up, but looked as though they would be quite cozy.  It was a busy park, and without a reservation, we were glad to arrive around 2 in the afternoon after traveling south from Fossil.  We got a nice back-in spot, and settled in for the evening after driving in to the town of John Day.  We were in the midst of the Cycle Oregon event, with hundreds of cyclists camped for the night in the fairgrounds.  It was definitely a place where the bicyclists had the run of the place, and we had to be especially careful driving around town.

The next morning we ambled a very short distance east along highway 26, and then highway 7 toward Baker City.  On the way we stopped at Bates State Park, and wandered through the brand new park built to commemorate the tiny logging town that once existed there.  Visiting with the camp host was a treat, and there were only 2 rigs in the entire park.  The trees are young, there is no internet access (he told us we could drive a few miles to milepost 6 to get a phone signal).  He said his busiest weekends might have up to 7 rigs in the park.  We enjoyed his down home conversation, and loved his description of camp hosting in such a quiet park.

The Union Creek Forest Service campground seemed much more inviting even without hook-ups than camping in a city RV park jammed up against the interstate 84.  We wanted to spend plenty of time at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, and still have plenty of time to explore Baker City, touted as an amazing place to visit by all the Travel Oregon booklets we had been collecting.9-09-2013 Sumpter Dredge

Not far west of our evening destination, however, was a turn-off to the historic town of Sumpter and the Sumpter Valley Dredge. As we approached the old gold mining town, the huge piles of tailings left behind by the dredge were evident all along the drainageway.  I was familiar with dredge gold mining from other areas in the Idaho mountains, and have tried to map soils on landscapes forever altered by hydraulic mining in California.  But I had never actually seen a dredge or understood  how they work. If you are interested in the actual mechanical workings of the dredge and its history, click here.

Day 5 John Day_036This huge dredge was used in the Sumpter Valley from 1935 to 1954.  It was interesting that during this time there was a second gold rush to the area, and it lasted until the price of gold again went too low to make it profitable.  I appreciated the Oregon State Park volunteer that offered incredibly detailed information about the dredge, its operation, and back stories of the people who lived in Sumpter and ran the dredge.  The little museum room at the state park had a nostalgic photo album of the reunions of original dredge workers over the last decade.

visiting the Sumpter Valley Dredge When we arrived at the park, the lot was almost completely empty, but as we started to leave, some kind of amazing parade of vintage cars entered town and turned into the park.  I think there must have been 50 to 100 cars, all shiny and perfect, and they all poured into the lot as we were leaving so we got some nice close up looks at them.  Sure did look like those folks were having a great time in their old cars.

For more photos of the Dredge and Sumpter click here 

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the Oregon Trail Interpretive CenterWe arrived at the campground, just a few more miles down the road, opened up the Fantastic Fan for Jeremy, and drove the short 20 miles into Baker City. Just 5 miles east from town is the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.  The building sits high on a hill, with a magnificent view of the Blue Mountains to the west and basin and range country to the east.  It was hot when we got there, even though it was late afternoon, so Mo walked around with Abby while I explored the center.  Of course no dogs are allowed inside, and the trails, while open to dogs, were made of hot asphalt, not good for doggie paws.

I enjoyed an hour in the various exhibits, then walked Abby while Mo took a turn.  When she came out, we decided that it really was too hot to try to hike down to the Oregon Trail wagon ruts, but from the high point you could see the scars in the desert where thousands of people fled their lives in the east for the Promised Land of Oregon. 

the Oregon Trail Interpretive CenterI have no idea why but somehow the stories were depressing instead of inspirational to me.  I felt the pain, the sadness, the death and loneliness of the trail.  There was a special exhibit of narrated stories of individuals traveling that was especially touching.  I could see young women, pregnant or with young children, following their husbands wild dreams into new territory.  They left behind friends, family, and familiarity and in most cases never saw their loved ones again.

Made me think of how much I love to travel, and yet how much I love to be home, how much I love to be able to talk to my kids, or even get a text or a facebook post from them.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

It was a wonderful exhibit, but definitely left me feeling somewhat pensive.  I was glad when we returned to our hot, dry, very open and very empty campground to all the comforts of our “covered wagon”.  Good food, water, a toilet, a shower, lights, shelter, all taken completely for granted most of the time, but not on this night.  As I fell asleep I was still haunted by the stories of the trail. More photos of the Interpretive Center are here.camping at Union Creek FS Campground

The next morning we continued east to Baker City, leaving late enough to be leisurely, and yet early enough to explore what we thought might be an area that would require several hours if not an entire day.  Our first stop was the visitor center, which was closed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  Great.  We finally found a sign outside where there were a few brochures, and picked up the Walking Tour Guide.  Whew!  At least we could see some of the famous historic buildings and have a clue what they were about.

We walked the town, a bit disappointed with the guide that didn’t include even half of the buildings that we could see with Historic Register signs on them.  The galleries were a bit disappointing as well, with one of them actually lit with fluorescent lights, and many of them not even open.  Geez, it is only September!  The nicest parts of town were the beautiful Geiser Grand Hotel, although we were only allowed in the main part of the lobby as unregistered guests.  We also were impressed with the Carnegie Library, now a city art center that seemed full of life and activity. 9-10-2103 Historic Baker City

Baker City was once the Queen City of the Mines and was considered a cultural oasis in the emptiness of Eastern Oregon.  There were restaurants, fine hotels, orchestras and opera, and beautiful elaborate homes.  By 1900, the population was nearly 7,000 people, more than either Boise or Spokane at the time.  We enjoyed parts of Baker City, but didn’t find a lot to keep us there more than a couple of hours.  I would say that the Chamber of Commerce has done a great job of promoting their town, they got us to go there, but we still didn’t spend any money.