The Blue Mountain Oregon Scenic Byway – Ought to be Renamed “Skyway”

10 09 2013

Blue Mtn BywayToday I took my time and ate a leisurely breakfast at Anthony Lakes. I’d check out Oregon Route 52, the Blue Mountain Oregon Scenic Byway – on my way to the Columbia River! I’d planned to spend more time out here, but a previous injury cut my trip short. I had to head back home.

I confess to starting the trip with a mending back and leg strain problem – I typically like to hike when camping, but I knew I’d just have to spend a lot of time driving. Last week, I camped, and had no problem with my mending back. But the night at Anthony Lakes was horrific. I had lots of leg pain, and getting up caused stabbing pain. These would ease with walking a bit, but remaining still, including driving for hours, or sleeping, worsened a strain in my leg. With no access to ice out here, I made up my mind to head home right away and get some attention.

The injury was caused at work lifting a heavy kayak. It caused a lower right back strain. The back strain was mending well, but somehow favoring it caused a strain in my right leg. What I learned was that inactivity like driving and then arriving at camp, just having a fire and sleeping (more inactivity) was a recipe for disaster. I decided to cut the trip short so that I could spend the night at home icing my injury in Portland.

Nevertheless, I’d travel the scenic routes on the way back to the Columbia River. Oregon Route 52 meanders along the top of Oregon’s Blue Mountains, before reaching Ukiah, Oregon, and following Oregon Route 53 along agricultural valleys and past vast wind turbine farms before connecting with the Columbia River. I decided I would have to stop every so often and walk 20 minutes to keep my leg loose.

After packing up, I headed up and over the Elkhorn Mountains, once again climbing to about 7,300ft. Once I reached the North Fork John Day River Campground, I would be at the intersection withe Route 52. There was an information kiosk. I noticed right behind some walk-in campsites and checked them out. Oh Man….! For easy walk in sites these were to die for. With the North Fork John Day River burbling right behind, and even with pre built tent staking sites. And NOBODY around. Gorgeous.

Oh well. Next time! On to the Blue Mountains. Today I was to discover something something totally unexpected. Unlike other scenic byways, most in valleys or with big mountains above, this one goes right along the tops of high altitude meandering meadows. Not only that – there are gates all along the byway where you can literally just go out and drive out there and camp. ANYWHERE.

Blue Mtn Meadow

Wow! Just go and camp anywhere.

I couldn’t resist. With my new higher ground clearance car, no problem. These went from horizon to horizon! There were islands of evergreens amongst the meadow, a couple with people camping there. But no established campgrounds.

I am an avid star gazer. With no city lights around, and dry, and such horizon to horizon views, I had to come back to check out the stars out here! OMG. AND, best part: There is absolutely NO ONE out here. Seems everyone is in the Wallowas, or down by the Three Sisters?

If it weren’t for my back / thigh strain, I would definitely spend the night out here.

But I must push on.

The scenic byway has many points with views west, or northwest. With nothing obstruting all the way to the horizon. The North Fork John Day River cuts through this area. Its valley seems to dominate the area.

Blue Mtns ViewSometimes I felt like I could see all the way to the Pacific. I stopped at a wildlife preserve with a short interpretive hike – a great place for lunch.

The hike was only a quarter mile to a shady island with two picnic tables and limitless view. All along the way I saw coyote, elk, and deer scat. It must be busy!

When done, I descended to Ukiah.

Ukiah is another Eastern Oregon town – crazy small, with its own vibe. Clearly expressed by the welcoming committee!

Ukiah Horse

Twice on the outskirts I had to navigate folks on horseback…but that is the way things are done in Ukiah!

Continuing on, through forest / ranch lands…and river valleys, and past vast horizon-to-horizon wind farms, I found the Columbia Gorge.

Wind Farm PanoramaIt seems from these vantage points, green energy is going limitless!

Only I can hope. Till next time!

 

 

xxx





Oregon’s Gold Rush Region! Sumpter, Oregon and Granite, Oregon

6 09 2013

Route MapMy interest on this trip was focused on the areas around the North Fork John Day River Wilderness Area. I’d be driving Oregon’s Route 7, Route 73, Route 20 and Route 52. Today, I’d pass through Prairie City – on state highway 26, on my way to Sumpter, Oregon. This is 100% marked as scenic on the maps!

I’d be camping at Anthony Lake, though I didn’t know it when I began. I will tell you the drive along Oregon’s Highway 26, the Journey Thru Time Oregon Scenic Byway, is serene and calming. It wends its way through ranches and farms and small towns like Mitchell and Dayville, with less than 250 population. Absolutely nobody is in a rush here.

A few dozen miles east lies Prairie City. They’re making an effort to refresh main street here, and it looks pretty. I fill the tank with gas, and here they still clean your windshield! Then Oregon Route 7 intersects, and I’m on my way up to the Elkhorn Mountains, climbing all the way.

This is GOLD RUSH territory! In 1883 Sumpter was founded. By 1897 a railway reached the area, and the population grew to 2,000 as gold mines and claims proliferated. There were 12 miles of underground tunnels. Even today, I saw staked out gold mining claims!

Fort SumpterThese days Sumpter is preserved as a tourist attraction of Gold Rush history. Much of it has been restored to look as it was. I even saw a fort. I wondered if that fort was supposed to look like the Civil War Fort Sumpter? To me, it looked like it was right out of the 1960s TV series “F-Troop.”

Two of Sumpter’s main attractions are the Sumpter Valley Railway and Sumpter Valley Dredge. The railway, opening in 1890, was built to haul lumber 22 miles to Baker City. Within two years it was hauling passengers and freight. Today, it is a 6-mile narrow gauge tourist ride.

The Sumpter Valley Dredge is a monument to capitalism and 19th century technology. These 4-stories-tall dredges floated in ponds, and as they dug, the ponds moved with them. They consisted of conveyor belt of buckets to dig earth and carry inside for processing, the internal processing machinery, and another conveyor out back to dump out the waste. There were three of them in the valley. Ironically even though they only employed three workers each, they ended their machine-lives $100,000 in debt. Sumpter Dredge

Climbing out of Sumpter, the road switchbacks ever higher. I drive along a high altitude creek lined with mining claims, and with piles of rocks which could only have been left by days-gone-by gold prospectors.

Then I reach Granite, elevation 4,695. Granite’s population is 38. It looks bigger than that. It’s got a “Welcome to Granite” sign over the road. It’s got a fuel depot and a hotel. Still, it has a look and feel of a genuine frontier town. Founded in the 1880’s, granite boasted a population of 86 gold miners by 1940, but in WWII, the government ordered gold mining shut down to make miners dig for “esseFire Crew Signntial war effort” materials. Granite collapsed, and never recovered.

Past Granite, I made up my mind that I would camp at Anthony Lake, some 40 miles distant. I’d be cruising the Elkhorn Oregon Scenic Byway. On my way to that byway I ran across something unsettling – a Forest Fire Camp. During this trip there was a giant fire threatening Yosemite National Park, so forest fires were in the news.

Yet I didn’t know that the Forest Service established camps supporting hundreds of firefighters even before a fire started. Wow. That is serious.

Fire Crew StationThe camp I saw was several acres, high in the mountains, in a big meadow. And as big as it was it was clear that there was room for probably a thousand men up there.

 

Fire Crew2That made me much more aware of the gravity of the situation.

Beyond the Fire Camp, I ran into something I came out here for. It is the trailhead for the backpacking trail on the North Fork of the John Day River. I had heard about this many years before and now I was here. Too bad I am injured now, and can’t do it. But I will be back.

NF John Day SignIt’s very very pretty up here, and there are just not a lot of people to bother you. That is the beauty!

I decide to push east and camp at Anthony Lake. I have been there to ski in the winter, but never seen it without snow. I just have to check it out. On the way I reach a high point in the Elkhorn Moountains, about 7,250ft.Elkhorns 7250

The view goes on forever. It seems a high plateau goes on from here and one could backpack quite a ways.

Then I descend down into the Anthony Lakes area.

The lake is much smaller than I remembered, as I had cross country skied around it two times in the past.

Anthony Lake PanoramaI had imagined it would have campsites on it. But nope. The campground is to one side, and it has day use areas on the other. There are walk-in sites to another side.

I also paid a visit to Anthony Lakes Ski Area.Anthony Lakes Sign

 

Without snow, it looks so different. I quickly realized I could actually drive around the lodge and onto some of the lower slopes I had skied!

This was pure devilish fun! Well, with that bucket list item checked off, I returned to the campground and made my meal. I grilled a pork chop, made mashed potatoes, had an awesome campfire, and salad. Then, off to sleep.

I had hoped to see a million stars – but that was not to be. The smoke from the Yosemite fire partially obscured a picture perfect view. Next time I guess!

 

xx





A Scenic Road Trip through NE Oregon – Journey Thru Time Oregon Scenic Byway, Elkhorn Oregon Scenic Byway, and Blue Mountain Oregon Scenic Byway

30 08 2013

Journey Thru Time BywayFor years, inner NE Oregon has been on my bucket list! I have seen the areas around it, but never been in the thick of it. I have been to Halfway, Oregon. I have been to Hells Canyon. I have hiked the Wallowa Mountains. I have backpacked the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Three of Oregon’s Scenic Byways lie there: Journey Thru Time Oregon Scenic Byway, Elkhorn Oregon Scenic Byway, and Blue Mountain Oregon Scenic Byway.

I have always been curious about the less renowned Blue Mountains, and the Elkhorn Mountains. The Central Cascades and Wallowas get all the attention. In the Blue Mountains and Elkhorn Mountains lie the headwaters of the John Day River – the North Fork and Middle Fork.

Elkhorn Byway

And 19th Century history lies here. Gold Rush ghost towns, abandoned mines, mine tailings left behind by Chinese prospectors.

 

Blue Mtn Byway

The John Day River cuts through a swath this region – made famous by the John Day Fossil Beds, where huge discoveries of Ice Age fossils were made. It meanders lazily in the valley underneath the Strawberry Mountains, where cowboys tend cattle and farmers raise grain. In the Elkhorn Mountains, the road passes gold mines before climbing to over 7,300 ft. then descending to the jewel of Anthony Lake.

Oregon’s Blue Mountains are high altitude rolling hills and vast meadows with limitless views of the Columbia Plateau and John Day River. There, one can simply camp on a horizon-to-horizon meadow, with not a care about neighbors whatsoever

This area is full of beauty and history. But not crowds. By comparison, Central Oregon seems downright urban! It has its own beauty, which is not overwhelmed with volcanoes dominating the view. My next few blogs will cover this beautiful, often overlooked, region.