Granite, OR – An “Almost” Ghost Town

31 08 2016

Granite town sign

On our North Fork John Day River trip, we’d made up our mind to head east to Anthony Lakes, OR. The route passes straight through Oregon’s forgotten past – its 19th Century Gold Rush region. The spotlight was thrown on this region on Independence Day July 4th, 1862, when A.G. Tabor struck gold on Granite Creek. Today, there are still active mines and claims being worked!

Mining Posted

Just like a Clint Eastwood film!

Word of Tabor’s strike spread like lightning, and within 10 years as many as 5,000 hardy fortune seekers and their families had descended on Granite. More towns emerged, with names like Sumpter, Greenhorn, and Susanville. Folks from back east, European immigrants and Chinese all came. The area was a cultural hot spot until the early 1900’s. Dance halls, bars, pharmacies, general stores, churches and more served the families, with more than 80% involved in mining.

Fortune seekers worked the land in any number of ways. Some worked in “placer mines,” which is essentially mining a river bed. It might involve hydraulics blasting jets of water to excavate. Or, simple panning for gold. By 1914, placer mining had found over $2,000,000 of gold in the North Fork John Day River and Granite Creek. In other places mines were dug into hillsides in search of veins of gold. Some of these can be seen today.

Granite Mine

I don’t suggest exploring this old mine!

It was a tough life. Work was dog tired hard. And dangerous. Winters brutal. It was remote. Granite’s telephone and electrical service were cut off after WWII. Well, the telephone returned in 2000. These days, there is a single wireless router that operates intermittently from the telephone switch box.

Granite Bell Tower

Granite Town Hall.

By 1960, Granite almost joined sister towns of Greenhorn and Susanville as ghost towns – its population had dwindled to 2. But by the 2010 Census, Granite’s population swelled to 38!

Today, there are two businesses in Granite. The Outback, and The Lodge. The Outback Gas and Supply Store was our only resource out here. It has a closed down cafe in the rear. Out front it’s got limited supplies of fishing and camping gear, plus non perishible foods, toiletries and some ice cream. As we were car camping in Anthony Lakes, I was seeking something for the barbeque. When asked, the response from the owner was, “Well, you know, we haven’t got much. This IS Granite after all.” She dug out a package of hot dogs, but they were past the expiration date. However, she was resourceful, and managed to dig out some hockey puck hamburgers from the freezer. Well, with that my only option, I went ahead and bought them along with some gas, and a few supplies. Total bill was $36.

Outside, Laura found something familiar in Portland! A Little Free Library!

Little Free Library Granite

Granite General Store

This was the old Mercantile Store.

Despite the remote living and challenges of survival, people kept going. Families had kids – but the mortality rate was very high. The palpable evidence of hardship was illustrated by our walk of the Granite Cemetery. Way back when, folks often listed cause of death on tombstones.

“Suicide.” “Mining accident.” “Bear attack.” Plus diseases. Not all the headstones had a name. For us, the most heart rending was a section for infants and still births. There were so many who died at birth. Or in the first week. Clearly, life was tough.


Laura and I walked what is left of Granite. Many homes in a state of near collapse. But others showed signs of care – many in a state of “project” status. So, Granite still is home to about three dozen souls! It escaped true Ghost Town status!

North Fork John Day River Backpack

26 08 2016
River Evening Peaceful

The peaceful nirvana of early evening at the Oriental Springs Campground

In July, Laura and I planned to backpack a 10-mile section of the North Fork John Day River in central eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains. The entire river is a nationally designated wild and scenic river, so we were very excited! I had hiked the eastern portion back in 2014. This time, the plan was to try hiking from the western end. The whole trail, some 50 miles, is steeped in gold-rush history. Back in the 1870’s gold was struck in the area, and thousands braved the wilds to strike it rich. Today, although the big mines are mostly gone, there are still active mining claims with people panning for gold! I’ll post a blog about that next. But for now, it’s about the backpacking.

This hard-to-reach trailhead and backpack had been on my list for many years. It took about 5 hours from Portland. Even when you get off the state road, the dirt road/4WD track to the last campground and trailhead is many miles. Due to the long drive, we just planned to car camp the first night at Oriental Springs Campground. Arriving about 5:00 p.m., the heat of the day had passed. The river sits in a tight valley, and the shadows were already beginning to lengthen.

Oriental Campground We had the whole place to ourselves. There were lots of puddles on the road – and blow down. There must have been a recent thunderstorm. Though most of the area was dry and dusty, the evidence of rain was there. Despite the standing water, there were no mosquitoes. Lucky us.

Laura found the campfire to her liking! Laura Fire Oriental Campground

In the morning, we sipped coffee, ate breakfast and packed up.

It was a moderately cool morning. Very pleasant!

Not in a hurry, we didn’t plan on hitting the trail until maybe 11:00. Big mistake.

Laura packed for backpack

Packed up and ready!

With the car locked and packs filled, we hit the trail. My research revealed that this is bear and cougar country. So, we both wore jingle bells on our wrists and used trekking poles, which made us very noisy to any hungry or motherly creatures out there! And merry makers to others.

Bear Bells

Bear bells highly suggested!

The trail lies on the northern (i.e. sunniest) side of the river. The forest here is amber-colored bark Ponderosa pine. If you’ve never been in a Ponderosa pine forest – I need to describe. Instead of tightly laced tree branches typical of Douglas fir forests – which are shady and therefore offer a cooling effect, Ponderosa pines are spread farther apart, with not nearly as many branches between trees touching. Hikes in Pondersoa forests are more vulnerable to hot sun. This one is no exception.

The valley slopes reached skyward immediately from the northern side of the trail. Soon,  the place became a convection oven! We had no relief from the sun or the broiler-like hillside next to us. But there was more. There was winter blowdown. Packs on, we climbed over or slithered under fallen trees.

It didn’t take long for signs of large wildlife to appear. The recent rain and puddles left some flat, muddy areas. Anything walking over would leave footprints, betraying its presence. We noticed deer, elk, and then – bear and cougar prints!

Bear Track

No doubt about what left these prints!

Not long after, and right smack in the middle of the trail, we saw a pile of poop. Not just any pile of poop. Because whatever this creature ate it was full of seeds! Bear scat. Between the trail and the river at this particular point is an area full of blackberries. No doubt this bear was feasting.

Heat aside, it’s a very beautiful river. It winds lazily along, and except for some deeper pools, it’s about 2-3 feet deep. But the heat quickly got to us. We found an open place for lunch and discovered it was a camping spot. It didn’t look like it had been used recently because growth was starting to cover the fire ring. As hard as it was to accept, we actually decided to base camp here. It was a place that offered shade!


Feeling guilty and pretty annoyed about the heat and the fact that we’d only covered 2.5 miles, we decided to hike further up the river. What we discovered unexpectedly justified stopping to camp were we did.

We didn’t find anywhere suitable to camp. And grass plus brush had assertively grown across the trail, about knee high. We wore shorts. And I’d heard stories about lots of ticks from other hikers recently. So we pressed on, but were constantly checking our legs for critters.

Eventually we’d had enough and, frustrated, we started back. Just when we began to get cranky, I saw a possible wading spot. We walked down there and waded out into the river. This was the respite we needed. More, we realized, this what this day was all about. Sitting in the river, with it flowing over our overheated souls, we cooled down enough and it became almost meditative. Impossible to get out.

Laura on rock in river

We spent time here, and then back at camp, spent more time just enjoying the water! Well, what to do with the rest of our time out here? We decided to get on the trail early the next day, before the heat picked up, hike out, and then drive over to Anthony Lakes and car camp.

Laura on Anthony Lake

An end-of-day happy hour at Anthony Lakes!

Anthony Lakes is a year-round recreational area. In summer there is camping, hiking, boating, and fishing. And even some sailing. It’s elevation is over 7,000 feet, so it’s got dry powder snow in the winter. The Anthony Lakes Ski Area is popular with locals all winter long. Plus, there are lovely Cross-Country trails all around. The stars were really spectacular. All together, we had a nice trip!


Black Butte Hike

17 08 2016

Of the many activities to choose from in Oregon’s Metolius River area, a hike up 6,436 ft Black Butte is one I had never undertaken. Black Butte (affectionately known as “Black Butt”) is a cinder cone, formed thousands of years ago when Central Oregon was much more geologically active. When in the area whether at Santiam Summit, Three Fingered Jack, the town of Sisters, the Metolius Valley, or McKenzie Pass, you can see cone-shaped Black Butte.

I had heard the hike is hard, but the 360-degree views are unsurpassed. So on my birthday weekend, we made plans to undertake it. Bill, Tatsuro and I took the challenge. It was a perfect bluebird day. Turns out much of the hike up is very exposed, so it’s a good thing we started in the morning.

There is a way to cut off most of the way up – because a road switchbacks up to a trailhead about halfway up the mountain. We arrived at 11 a.m., and it was almost filled with cars. Slathered in sunscreen and tanked up with water, we slung backpacks and started up. Lower portions are dotted with many old-growth, wind-blown Ponderosa Pines. It was clear to me that winter winds take their toll on trees clinging to the slopes.


We were at Three Fingered Jack yesterday! Wow.

When we first emerged from the lower forest, we were rewarded with a view west – Three Fingered Jack! Yesterday’s clouds and fresh dust of snow were gone. But this was but one of many views we were to encounter on the two-plus mile to the summit. Just glimpsing this one added much energy to the quest. The hike is steep! Not for the timid. We met a lady at the trailhead who seemed really focused and let her go on. Little did we know, was doing the trail twice that day! Olympic training?


Summit fire tower, with hikers below.

The hike is very steep and exposed to the sun and wind. On this day, we had sun and heat. But zero wind. It could have been much more hot. Or windy. We considered ourselves fortunate! And the views? Food for the hike. To the south – a view of geologic history. Newberry Crater, McKenzie Pass, and the Three Sisters!


North and South Sister. Middle Sister is hidden.

Such beauty is breathtaking! Thousands of feet below us lay the Metolius River Valley and Black Butte Ranch.

But there was much more climbing to go. The trail finally switchbacks its way in a circuitous route eastward and then northward before it reaches the summit. Bonus! This means more views!


10,450 ft Mt. Jefferson, Black Butte’s northern neighbor.

We enjoyed unlimited views in all directions along this hike, none more spectacular than that of Mt. Jefferson just to the north.


Tatsuro, myself, and Bill. To the left are the Three Sisters, and on the right, Mt Washington.

Rod Trailhead

I love trails!

A 360 degree view is the treat when you summit Black Butte. You can also see all the way to 14,410 ft. Mt Rainier and 12,280 ft Mt Adams. Wow! We met many people there with lots of stories to tell. We then wolfed down our lunches, loaded up and made the journey home.

This was a birthday hike to remember! On the way down, I encountered the woman doing laps. All she could do was grunt. Well, I Hope to do many more hikes like this one!

Hike Up To Three Fingered Jack (Almost)

10 08 2016

A brooding Three Fingered Jack awaits hikers

Our first Metolius River Region activity was to be a hike up to Three Fingered Jack. The trailhead is at Jack Lake, reached via a bony unmaintained dirt road. Myself, Bill, Tatsuro, David, Teresa and Anthony all did this hike.

The weather at the trailhead was warm. Yet the mountain remained shrouded in clouds most of the hike. When it did emerge, we saw fresh snow coating the rocky slopes.


The first part of the trail was warm and sunny. Later, lots of blow down lay across. Bear grass blooming!

Years ago a massive forest fire scorched this region. Initially, the trail climbs through new growth which has sprung up since then. Bear grass, huckleberry, and young pines cover the landscape. The upper reaches were spared the conflagration. Up there, trail crews hadn’t gotten a chance to fix winter’s carnage, so a number of downed trees lay across the trail. We had to climb over or under.


Wildflowers and new growth coming back, amongst the charred remains of the old forest.


Snow patches several feet thick became more numerous as we got closer to Canyon Creek. Canyon Creek Meadows is a beautiful area which by July is a carpet of wildflowers. Once at Canyon Creek, the entire meadow was a threaded series of snowmelt streams, and it became difficult to continue. I decided to stop with David, Teresa and Anthony at a log, and have lunch. Bill and Teresa hiked further, but it wasn’t long before they returned. The trail got buried under snow and mud up there.


The Canyon Creek Meadows hike to Three Fingered Jack is a must-do if you visit the Metolius area. It’s only a few miles up to the foot of the mountain. Beautiful views and an up close look at an extinct volcano make it worth the hike!

Metolius River Birthday 2016

8 08 2016

Right on cue, fly fishermen emerged as we set up our camp chairs.

Of Oregon’s many natural wonders, the Metolius River Valley stands out in my heart. With its red-bark Ponderosa Pines, dry air, fly fishermen and perfectly burbling river waters, the Metolius River valley is absolutely cinematic. I return there year after year, and have never been disappointed. I celebrated my birthday there this year with Bill, Tatsuro, plus my neighbors Teresa, Dave and son Anthony.


Tatsuro’s riverside real estate! It warmed up so much we were down to T-shirts and shorts.

My favorite place to camp is the Allan Springs Campground. It sits on a peninsula in the river. Bill, Tatsuro and I left Portland early to score a campsite and we were rewarded with a big site on a bend in the river. We could see up the river, plus it meandered and bent just at our campsite. Once we set our chairs on the water’s edge, Tatsuro pronounced, “THIS is IT!” And he was right.


Anthony found the hammock pretty quickly!


Maybe an hour after we set up, Dave, Teresa and Anthony joined us. There was a possible shower in the forecast so I set up my pop-up shelter over the picnic table. After happy hour by the river and chopping some wood for a fire, it was time to cook up some good grub!

Teresa Rod Bill at happy hour

Happy was the hour that day by the river


Teresa does stir fry like a boss!

My favorite group camp meal by far is stir fry. Intimidating to the uninitiated, stir fry wins over everybody because what comes off the flame is fresh, hot, healthy and in no way can be screwed up. It’s so simple. Chop up the ingredients and leave them on the table in small tubs. Leave the sauces out. And let each camper have at it. The only drawback is it’s one wok meal at a time. Campers have to wait their turn, but it’s worth it. If someone offers to make something in advance, it only makes things worse as it sits getting cold. The one thing to make for everyone is rice. So, I bring a rice cooker and make it on a separate stove. No Jetboils here. They won’t work for a stir fry meal!

Supper finished and cleaned up. Time for relaxing by the fire. Well, that’s hard for Anthony, because there is wood to be chopped! I think he needed to burn some calories, which he surely did.


Morning brings more guess what? FOOD. OMG. Talk about gluttony. Bacon, link and patty sausage. Eggs. Hash browns. Had enough? Oh no. Blueberry pancakes! Stuffed? There was more.


Got to cook up all of it no matter what!



Breakfast was birthday time! Pound cake with CoolWhip….OMG.


A picture is worth 1,000 words!

OK. We did more than eat and drink. We hiked up to Three Fingered Jack, and also hiked to the summit of Black Butte – just two of the many things to do in the area. But those will be up coming blog posts! Stay tuned.