John Day River Region, Oregon Day 2

19 05 2011

Morning Joe

I camped overnight. The only camping place I saw on my Oregon Atlas was the Shelton Wayside. I knew it had 40 sites and was open. It is about 15 minutes from the John Day River.

It has a brook running through it. Otherwise unremarkable. There was a vacant camp host RV in the campground.  I was the only camper. I had a nice fire and dinner, and went to bed.

In the morning I awoke to gobbles from a wild turkey before dawn! That guy would not be quiet. He was determined to let other turkeys both male and female know he was the dominant guy around!

Once done with a breakfast of oats, fruit and yogurt I packed up and headed out. Down to Service Creek, up John Day to Spray.

Wow. I hadn’t seen this stretch of the river before! I was totally impressed! It was so beautiful, green, serene, with the brown hillsides above. I drove along the river, it bending, winding, and with the town of Spray as a simple destination.

The river was in a pretty mellow state. I was due to return to the area in late spring with my friend Tully for a boys out weekend. It looked perfect, and I could envision getting some boats out on the river.

In Spray, I found another sleepy town in the John Day region.

It probably has less than two thousand people total in town. It had some lodging and a little city park on the river.

On the outskirts, the river winded through a farmers green field surrounded by the beautiful mountains. It was so peaceful, and the cows were just sitting in the fields admiring the view.

Though a lonely town, I could see the attraction of Spray. Such beauty, unspoiled by the buzz of big city life, not being bothered with the constant need to keep up with the Internet, social media, and all that. Just letting the day flow with the season etc.

Later on, I drove back past Service Creek, and found a road that took me too a place called Twickenham. Holy Cow was this a silly beautiful road. It just wound through the canyons and I was so mesmerized I just let the car coast down the roads through little gulleys and canyons where homesteaders had stakes out their places, each green against the stark brown of the valley walls above.

Finally I arrived in Twickenham, which is nothing more than a few ranches with a bridge over the John Day River.

The scene at Twickenham is just so pretty. The green valley with the lazy river flowing along, little human activity going on, and lots of birds doing their thing.

From here, I had to make some decisions which the map I had could not provide. I decided to take a dirt track around a mountain which seemed to wind up at the Painted Hills National Monument.

Truth was, I really did not know if the road would go where I wanted, and I was a bit concerned about gas.

More to come. I finally did find the Painted Hills…

I saw a dotted line around a mountain on the map and a road to “Burnt Ranch” on the other side…and then it seemed to lead to the Painted Hills…so I took it. It soon became a dirt track and I really wondered if I’d get lost. Earlier in the day I’d been searching for a “Dry Hollow Road” on the map – it just did not exist. Or, if it did, it had to be this dirt road running behind a mobile home!

So, I arrived at the Painted Hills.  They’re interesting. The hills are piles of ash from ancient eruptions, that turned into clay. When it rains the hills absorb and hold the moisture and become so hard that plants cannot get a toe hold. They also change color with moisture.

There is a small hiking trail through an area called Painted Cove – the elevated trail is so close to the hills that you can touch them – but touching is highly discouraged!

It’s warm and quiet out there. I took some time to pause and have lunch.

Then, it was time to head home.

I picked highway 26 back through Prineville and then through Government camp. It’s a spectacular contrast to the John Day area. Farms & ranches with the snow covered Cascade volcanoes in the distance! This was a lot of driving, but I saw some really beautiful country!

John Day River Area, Oregon, Day 1

18 05 2011

In early May I had a couple of days off and the weather forecast called for a couple of really nice days! Having extreme cabin fever brought on by months in the Portland, Oregon gray skies, I pulled the camping gear out and headed for north central Oregon!

In spring, even in May, most Cascade camping is snow bound. So if you want to car camp, you have to look elsewhere. North Central Oregon has the Deschutes and John Day Rivers. The John Day begins way east and it’s a snow melt-fed flow. It courses through sleepy valleys and ranches before wending its way into the canyons and fossil beds of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. There are sections where the road passes right by the river – truly beautiful, especially in spring, when the valleys are still green, and the mountains are so brown you’d swear you were in the southwest.

I started in Arlington, where Oregon 19 winds south through wind swept agricultural areas and is home to thousands of wind turbines…

All along highway 19 you view wind turbines.

The turbines stretch out in every direction. It’s an area prone to constant wind, so this comes as no surprise.

It is comforting to me to know that sizable efforts are underway to tap clean sources for electricity!

There aren’t many people out there. It’s wide spaces of farms with not much in between. Instead of flat farmland like Kansas, it’s as if that same land has been upheaved everywhere. In the distance you can glimpse snowy cascade volcanoes Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams.

The first town you pass through is Condon. I’d never heard of Condon, but its lonely place in this part of Oregon is palpable. Its downtown has a cowboy feel, but also a feeling as its best years are behind, and that it is falling further into decay. Somehow I found this appealing.

There were architecturally significant buildings – crafted in the days when a human hand’s touch added character. But many were in disrepair. Still, I found this refreshing.
I’ve spend some time in Sisters and Joseph, and once in Condon, those places seem so fake – very gentrified. There, outsiders moved in and upgraded everything. Where as Condon is nakedly left alone, as it was, the bare bones of its old West Heritage laid bare. In some ways it is sad, in others, attractive.

The town still sports a Hotel, plus some other trappings of a frontier town…

The next town I came across was Fossil.

Fossil, Oregon, is another sleepy town quietly nestled in the hills of the John Day region. There, I witnessed cowboys passing the time with downturned hats on the porch of one of the general stores.

In Fossil, I realized I was nearing the John Day River. I saw postings advertising services for river running like shuttle services!

You are now in river running country!