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





Oregon’s Ochoco Mountains and John Day River Picture Gorge: Journey Thru Time Oregon Scenic Byway

30 08 2013
Journey Thru Time Car

Uh Oh! Am I going back in time?

Planning my trip was a bit of an effort. The route I wanted to see in inner NE Oregon wasn’t all that clear – I had no less than four maps and guides. Some showed route numbers, and some just gray lines on the map. Others showed possible ghost towns, like “Greenhorn,” “Granite,” “Sumpter,” or “Susanville.”  And others still showed tent icons where one might camp along the way. So, I pieced together a route from all these sources. Looking at it in total, I decided the most rewarding way to head out there was to use Oregon’s highway 26. That would take me past Mount Hood, into Central Oregon, through Prineville, and up and into the Ochoco Mountains.

From there, the road would meander along the John Day River and the Journey Thru Time Oregon Scenic Byway. What better way to get to inner NE Oregon? The other way would take me via I-84 which I have seen so many times. Highway 26 meanders through farms, ranches, and small towns such as Mitchell, Dayville and Prairie City, all the way to its connection with the Elkhorn Oregon Scenic Byway.

I’d need to get an early start. So the night before, I packed the 2013 Ford Escape SE. The weather forecast looked great. I would be on the road by 8:00 a.m. And what a day it was. Sunny and bright. I’d just had the car’s first oil change, so it was ready. Packed up, iPhone 4S plugged in with 1,840 songs, ready to go!  No kayaking this trip so I removed the roof rack to get max mileage. I’ll have grilled pork chops tonight with mashed potatoes and salad. But I dunno where I’ll be camping. Just figure it out. See how it goes.

On my way. Up and over the Oregon Cascades, through Blue Box Pass, about 4,400ft. Then into the Central Oregon Plateau past Madras. From here, I can see Mount Bachelor (9,068 ft), the Three Sisters (10,358 ft),  Broken Top, Mount Washington (7,800 ft) Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson (10,450 ft) Olallie Butte, Mount Hood (11,241 ft) and even Mount Adams (12,280 ft)!

I climb the Ochocos. These are high dry mountains. It’s pretty up here. Ponderosa pines are everywhere.

OchocoDescending toward the John Day River Valley, the view is unlimited, the sky crystal clear.

The road eventually drops into a crack in the earth – the Picture Gorge. In the Picture Gorge, the John Day River has followed a fault line for millions of years. That is right.

And it has flowed here for so long that it is older than the mountains themselves. When the flood basalts erupted and flowed all over eastern Oregon millions of years ago, the John Day River kept on cutting through on its way to the Columbia. Thousands of feet of basalt layer caked one upon another but the John Day continued cutting.

Today, the John Day river flows north right through the ascending basalt layers, even as the highway descends in the opposite direction. There are few places on Planet Earth where a river seems to flow INTO a mountain, rather than out of it. This is one such place. I saw another in New Zealand, when I was there in January 2013.

Not long after the Picture Gorge, highway 26 opens up into a beautiful valley filled with farms and ranches.

It is here one finds the entrance to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and Oregon’s Painted Hills. I’m not here to see these treasures, my quarry lies beyond.

But I am enjoying the view, and by noon getting hungry. The town of Mitchell comes within striking distance, so I decide to Stop in Mitchell, Oregon and grab a bite for lunch. Mitchell1

Like a lot of eastern Oregon towns, Mitchell has seen better days. Yet, it has enough character to hold up all its own. Townsfolk lazily walk the street, stopping to seek shelter and converse under a shady porch or tree.

Mitchell2Nobody is in a hurry in Mitchell!

My lunch spot today is to be the Little Pine Cafe, right on main street.

Its customers this lunch are myself, a family from Portland, and a mother with toddler. Mom and toddler regularly go behind the counter to pick up condiments or change the station playing on cable TV.Mitchell3

I pick the Mushroom Swiss burger and a side of macaroni & cheese. Turns out to be fine and dandy!

Adorning the walls are pictures of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gene Autry, plus locals over the years. There are a lot of dollar bills with various scribbles thumb-tacked to the walls. One says, “Brought my boyfriend from CA up here. He says, this explains a lot!”

I can only imagine. I depart feeling satisfied, planning to return on my next pass through.

Today’s drive will take me through the towns of John Day, Prairie City, and into the Elkhorns, into Sumpter and Granite.

Check back on the next blog post for Elkhorn Mountain trip journal entries!





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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Skiing Anthony Lakes, Oregon

25 01 2011

Lunch in the lodge

MLK Weekend 2011 was spent out in La Grande, OR, and we planned to ski and enjoy the outdoors around Anthony Lakes Ski area. Our friends Craig and Lisa moved out there in 2010 and had bought a house downtown.

My friends Kent, Alex and Stacy all planned on heading out with me for the weekend. Craig & Lisa were very excited to have us in town and show off their place! They had a nice one-story place – real cute with a new metal roof. Craig had just bought a new 55″ LED 3D TV…holy cow it took up half the back room! We’d spend a lot of time hooking it up for Blu-Ray and Netflix streaming movies.

Ready to head out...

Situated in the Elkhorn Mountains about 45 minutes from La Grande, Anthony Lakes is a combined alpine and Nordic ski area. The alpine area only has one triple lift. Small, but it’s known for dry powder. Its base is about 6,000ft and the summit 8,000ft. The lakes themselves make for nice cross country skiing. And one can park at the alpine lodge and do an XC ski from there. Very pretty area!

It’s very low key, something I love. The lift tickets are sold out of a little shack, and are only $35, good for both XC and alpine. If you only want to do XC, it’s $13. Better yet, you can get $5 off if you bring a season pass from another ski area! The lodge is 1970’s retro. And I got a sharpen and wax in 20 minutes for $15.

Just before we left for La Grande, the weather forecast was gloomy and I was afraid everyone would cancel. A massive “pineapple express” – a warm front, was coming and rain predicted even up to 8,000ft. Winter in recreation in the Cascades would be ruined, and maybe as far as Anthony Lakes. Because we wanted to visit Craig & Lisa we rallied and still headed out. We were rewarded Saturday because instead a wintry mix, it snowed all afternoon! Even though the downhill skiing conditions weren’t ideal we felt really fortunate!

Kent, Alex, Craig and I did lots of the groomed runs. The non-groomed runs were passable, but not worth bothering that day. Craig showed us some of the views and I could definitely see that on a powder day Anthony Lakes offered some sweet terrain.

I got a nice shot of Alex at a craggy tree at the summit. It was fast snow and I was tempted to tuck all the way to the bottom!

By noon, I had my fill of the alpine terrain. If the snow were typical powder, I’d have done more downhill.

Lisa and Stacy skied the Nordic area in the morning. By now it had started snowing in earnest! I decided to check out the cross country ski trails for the afternoon…

Cross country skiing at Anthony Lakes is a treat. Trails follow routes around small lakes and these lakes lie below some craggy peaks of the Elkhorn Mountains.

I headed out with Kent, Stacy and Lisa, and we all split up because we had different XC goals for the afternoon. The trails had some twisting downhill sections, and I fell three times! I rarely fell in downhill skiing. In fact the ONLY time I have ever come out of my current ski bindings is when I was hit by a snowboarder, dislocating my shoulder, in 2009! But not so in Nordic. There, I am more of a novice I guess!

Saturday night we had a relaxed dinner in La Grande at Ten Depot Street. It’s one of the nicest restaurants in town, kind of Western grande style, but you don’t have to go for the $26 entree. You can still get something for $12.

Then we headed back to the house for a night of fiddling with the new Samsung 55″ LED TV and the Blu-ray player. Blu-ray is very nice! But these streaming and 3D systems can be problematic …I won’t go into a lot of details, but it was a wireless system, 3D, capable of streaming movies over Netflix, etc. To get this to work you have to get yourself the right accounts set up, your passwords handy, have your manuals ready, have your wireless router signal strong, have your Internet connection fast, etc. etc. etc. If one piece of the puzzle isn’t up to the task (and that includes the human techies) it can get problematic. In our case it took Internet research to find out the TV had a software bug and couldn’t connect to the Internet – so we used the Blu-ray for that. In the end, it was the bandwidth. We needed a faster Internet connection. But the time spent gave a window to make a marionberry cobbler, which was a good reward.

The 3D was interesting, especially amusing to look at people wearing the 3D glasses…

I’m not ready to say that 3D for HD TV is ready for prime time. But it is a fun toy I guess! Those glasses cost $129…

Sunday broke with heavy rain courtesy of the warm front – dousing any winter recreation plans. We spent the morning reading the paper at a La Grande coffee shop and then decided it was time to make our way back to Portland…we got Kent some new windshield wiper blades for the monsoon-soaked drive back…see you next time Anthony Lakes…when the powder returns!





Christmas 2010 at April’s

19 01 2011

With both parents passed away and a brother in Minnesota and cousins back in NY/CT, I was an orphan this year. So when my friend April Obern and her beau Jim Dockwiler asked me for Christmas dinner I accepted thankfully!

April invited some other orphans, too, like Olga and Lisa. Brother Kevin drove over from La Grande for the celebration. Also in attendance were several members of April’s immediate family. I arrived to a merrily decked out house, and the cooks were involved in what seems an American holiday tradition – fretting over the meal!

In this case the culprit was the gravy…April is gluten intolerant so they were making “alternative gravy.” Someone had an idea to add ‘coconut flour’ to thicken it…and with that, all hell broke loose. I tried it and thought I could deal with it…

This is the offending element! Must fix!

However, most others simply turned their noses at this stuff. So Jim toiled over an alternative gluten-free concoction, which turned out to be the choice for the day’s dinner!

A little of this and that...

I am impressed with April’s cooking! The salads, sweet potato side, dressing, and especially the home baked pies (one was pecan topped pumpkin pie) were to die for!

OK, DIG IN….Time to let go all thought of restraint, and enjoy the spread!

That's a gobbler, quacker and a clucker!

Vegetarians, close your eyes! We are having a Turducken…a duck stuffed in a chicken stuffed in a turkey. Simply scrumptious. And when combined with the accompaniments…

Carnivore at heart!

The company was warm and the conversation vibrant!

Kevin gushed with stories about backpacking and climbing/exploring far east Oregon and parts of Idaho. He has a lot of stories about hiking the Wallowa Mountains, Elkhorn Mountains, and Blue Mountains, as well as the Owyhee River. I’ll have to head out there and let him be my guide!

Olga is a reporter and was looking for contacts on an assignment. She hails from Moscow, a city I’d like to visit one day. She took her Mom to see Lady Gaga! Wow, I had a hard time imagining that!

Well, the clock struck 3:30 and it was time for me to head to my next Xmas “dinner,” which I’m afraid would just be dessert, at most!