Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Thursday, March 7, 2024

03-01-2024 Mo's Birthday Trip

It has become a tradition for the last few years:  Mo will start thinking in January about where she might like to spend her March birthday and what she would like to do.  

Sometimes, as we did last year, the trip involves several days of camping and we traveled north to the part of Oregon where Mo was raised. We camped on nearby Sauvie Island and spent a few days exploring the places that Mo remembered from her youth

One year we spent a very cold and windy day playing in the snow at Crater Lake.

In 2021 Mo decided that we should spend a day exploring some of the covered bridges in Southern Oregon. 

One year we drove over the pass toward Klamath Falls and ended up spending a beautiful starry night at a wonderful campsite in Lava Beds National Monument.

Whether we are at home, or traveling the country, most often Mo will decide in advance what kind of day she would like to celebrate her birthday.  The one thing that I can be sure of is that under NO circumstances is there to be any kind of a party for her. That is the only request that she is adamant about.  Most often we will celebrate with a nice restaurant meal.  I have come to look forward to her birthdays, and to enjoying whatever outing she plans for us to share.  This birthday was no exception. 

Mo decided this year that she would like to explore some ghost towns.  She did as she often does, researching extensively to learn about places to visit.  The problem was that there are not a lot of ghost towns in this part of Oregon that have buildings that are still standing.  

Mo did find some historical sites to visit that were interesting to explore, and a couple of them were places that we have passed many times driving here and there without paying much attention to the history.

Our first stop on our birthday tour was the small community of Rock Point, Oregon.  Rock Point is just north of the junction of Interstate 5 and Oregon Highway 99 along the Rogue River.  The small community was founded by John B White, who fought in the Rogue Indian Wars.  In exchange for his service, he was awarded land in this location and developed a homestead on the north side of the old stage road now in the vicinity of Highway 99 and continues on a road fittingly known as "Old Stage Road".

We read that there was a tavern and a stage stop and that John B White was the postmaster.  We also read that the tavern and stage stop were still standing, but there was no actual location for the existing buildings listed.  Imagine our surprise to discover that the existing tavern and stage stop was now the location of the beautiful tasting room for Del Rio Vineyards, a site we have passed often without a clue of the history behind the building.

Mo also wanted to visit the beautiful and historic bridge built in 1919, famous for its lovely arches.  Unbeknownst to us, we have traveled over this bridge countless times without a clue about its history.  We never had a clue that beneath us as we crossed the bridge were the lovely arches that made the bridge so special.  

We exited our normal route toward Gold Hill near the winery and parked along the old road to walk beneath the bridge.  Even though it had snowed earlier that day, the sun was brilliant and the snow was melting enough that walking around wasn't terribly difficult.

Mo also read about the Dardanelles Post Office in the community of Dardanelles, which we discovered was simply an extension of Rock Point, or what it was once called, "Point of the Rocks".  The old post office just across the river opposite Rock Point still stands and is now a convenience store and gas station.  The original postmaster was none other than J.B. White himself.

Another site in Rock Point that we have passed many times is the historic Rock Point Cemetery. More than 100 years ago, a local landowner deeded 26 acres of land for a cemetery just south of the tavern and stage stop.  Part of the cemetery land was deeded to the IOOF and that side was maintained but another section became known as the Pioneer Cemetery and declined.  In 1955 a group of citizens got together, cleaned up the cemeteries, and recorded tombstones and grave markers.  There are many stories still out there about hauntings, including eerie lights and sounds and a green fog that suddenly appears.  

On this lovely sunny, chilly day, we saw no evidence of hauntings but thoroughly enjoyed viewing the old gravestones and inscriptions in the part of the cemetery that we visited.

The ghost town of Golden is north of Grants Pass near Wolf Creek, but Mo didn't want to go that far north so visiting that ghost town will have to wait for another day.  The second ghost town that remains in our area is Buncom, Oregon.  

We continued south along Old Stage Road toward Jacksonville and decided that traveling to Buncom via Sterling Creek Road would allow us to avoid backtracking as we left Buncom.  Sterling Creek road is narrow and winding and crosses some steep hills as it leads toward the old ghost town in what is now called the Little Applegate.

As the road climbed the hills, the snow got deeper until we decided it was snowy enough to kick in the ECT drive on the car, which helps in snowy conditions.  By the time we got to Buncom, however, there was no sign of snow and the sun was again shining brilliantly.

The tiny town of Buncom was settled in the 1850s by Chinese miners.  Locals got wind of the find, pushed out the Chinese, and established a general store, a saloon, and a post office before the 1900's.  In 1918, however, the town was abandoned because the region's gold dried up.  Shortly after that, many of the remaining buildings in the town were destroyed by a fire.  Only three buildings survived, the town post office, a wooden bunkhouse, and an old cookhouse.

In 1990, the Buncom Historical Society was formed by local residents who wished to preserve what remained.  Beginning in 1993, they organized the first "Buncom Day", an all-day annual affair designed to promote interest in local history.  There are events including a BBQ, a parade, a petting zoo, and craft and food booths.  According to something I read, up to 500 people attend to help raise money to preserve the buildings of Buncom and promote the history of the Little Applegate Valley.

Mo and I sometimes enjoy attending local gatherings like this but the last Buncom Day information I could find was from 2016.  I also found a notice indicating that Buncom Day 2023 has been postponed indefinitely.    Perhaps Buncom Day is going the way of Buncom town and may only be a memory.

No matter.  We thoroughly enjoyed walking around the old buildings in the sunshine, imagining the life that was once there.  Mattie thought the place was great as well since it allowed her to get out of the car and run around a bit.

The next town on Mo's list wasn't an actual ghost town, but the Ruch area had several buildings listed that were of historical significance.  The town was originally named after Casper M. Ruch, who bought a tract of land in 1896 where the community now stands.  

The Historic McKee Bridge at Christmastime

Mo and I have traveled through Ruch many times on our way to visit the McKee Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The local people decorate the bridge at Christmas time and it is always fun to drive south on a snowy day to see the bridge decorations.  

Ruch is also of significance to me personally since it is the town where my youngest daughter Melody moved to from Eastern Washington in the mid-90s.  I lived nearby at the time and I was devastated that she had to move so many hundreds of miles away from me.  I visited later that year and still remember she and her husband at the time and the little house they lived in. I often point out the driveway when Mo and I drive through Ruch and always am grateful that we are now only separated by 3 hours instead of 800 miles.  

Sweets-n-Eats in Ruch, Oregon for lunch

There are at least 8 historic markers within 7 miles of Ruch, but since we were looking for ghost towns rather than old town sites, we decided to stop at the local store for a bit of lunch instead.  Lunch was delightful, as we shared a hot dog between us before continuing on our journey.

Our next stop was the small community of Provolt where the Provolt Country Store is located on the Jackson/Josephine county line.  Local lore says Samuel Provolt, who established the store in 1875, later moved the store from Jackson County so that it would be in Josephine County because the taxes in Jackson County were getting too high.  This is an interesting story because, at this time, taxes in Josephine County are generally much lower than taxes in Jackson County.

The store has been a hub of local commerce continuously ever since it was established in 1875. It is thought to be the oldest continuously operating establishment in Southern Oregon selling an eclectic mix of convenience foods and nuts and bolts. 

The post office was established in 1895 and the first postmaster was Mary Provolt.  That post office was discontinued in 1955.  The historic Provolt Store is a popular site in Jackson/Josephine County, where people journey from town to enjoy the old-fashioned store and its popular delicatessen.  We visited the store once during our travels along Highway 238 through the Applegate Valley and didn't feel a need to go inside on our visit this time.  We were still full from our hot dog lunch and knew that suppertime wasn't far off.

North of the store, we drove a little bit further to discover a place new to us, the Provolt Recreation Site, a BLM Day use area with bike trails, walking trails, and picnic areas adjacent to the Applegate River.  It was quite chilly and beginning to rain, but we could see how it might be a fun place to visit on a hot summer day.

Our final destination for the day was at the northern end of the Applegate Valley and is a place that will be familiar to friends and readers of this blog.  We arrived at Schmidt Family Winery in time to get a nice indoor table near the fireplace to wait for daughter Deborah to arrive.  Deb agreed to come to help celebrate Mo's birthday with wine and pizza at Schmidt and when she walked in the door she was carrying a beautiful bouquet of birthday flowers.

The music was perfect for the evening, the company was great, and the wine and pizza were delicious as always.  The entire day had been wonderful, without any mix-ups or surprises.  Mo does a great job planning these birthday trips and she said she was very happy with how the day turned out.  

Next year we will be in Desert Hot Springs and I look forward to seeing what Mo comes up with for us to do then.