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