Thursday, August 30, 2018
Crown Villa RV Resort to McCall RV Resort via US Route 26, Oregon 7, Interstate-84
Distance Traveled 387 miles
We left Bend last Saturday, August 25, headed up US Route 97 to Redmond and hooked a right onto US26, the Sunset Highway. US26 is a two lane road that travels over hill and dale which includes some pine covered passes and big open range. It takes us through Ochoco National Forest, and past John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Occasionally we come upon a town, all small to tiny settlements. We stop a couple of times to stretch our legs and walk the doggies.
Dayville City Hall and Library
We eventually come to the cute, clean little of Dayville (pop. 129). We stop and walk through their nice community park with the mutzos who appreciate the nice lush grass. The town lies on the bank of the South Fork of the John Day River and is very near its confluence with the John Day River.
There are two, yes, two RV parks in town. If both are occupied the population would most likely double! Hunting and fishing are big attractions. Jil needs a latte fix and goes into the general store to buy it. Inside a young lady waits on her. She states that she has lived in Dayville all her life and that she attends Eastern Oregon University, Ontario Oregon. She comes home on weekends to earn her keep. Good girl!
We continue eastward and go through Mt. Vernon (pop. 504). US 26 and US 395 intersect here. Continuing on we come to the city of John Day- and US 26 and US 395 intersect here also with the 395 coming in from the south of town. The 395 joins the 26 and continues in a westerly direction to Mt. Vernon where it continues northward.
John Day is located two miles from the gold rush town of Canyon City, the seat of Grant County. Back in the 1880’s the town was small compared to Canyon City. Due to Canyon City’s many fires a lot of townsfolk and merchants relocated to John Day. The county seat may be in Canyon City but the county fairgrounds are located in John Day.
By 1887 John Day was home to nearly 1,000 Chinese immigrants, who had been attracted to the area by a gold rush 20 years earlier. A trading post built in the 1860’s along the Dalles Military Road was purchased in 1887 by two chinese immigrants, Lung On and Ing Hay. They converted the post into a clinic, general store, and social center which continued to operate into the 1940’s. The property was converted into the Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum, now operated in conjunction with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
We continue eastward traveling through Prairie City (1000 souls) then head north on Oregon 7, the Sumpter Stage Highway. We are now driving the curvy, narrow mountain road towards our overnight destination Union Creek Campground located on the shore of Phillips Lake. Before we arrive at the campground we take the turnoff to the tiny burg of Sumpter (204 souls). The last time we came to Sumpter the whole town was for sale! One of the senior locals told us that everyone in town were getting too old to keep the town running properly so rather than let it go to Hades the proud but aging folks of Sumpter per her up for sale. I don’t know the outcome of that endeavor but the town is still alive.
Back in the 1890’s Sumpter experience a gold mining boom. By the late 1890’s the city expanded near a set of deep shaft gold mines with a combined total of 12 miles of tunnels. The population grew to 2000 souls. About that time the Sumpter Valley narrow gauge railroad arrived and would eventually run from Baker City through Sumpter and on the Prairie City. Until the line shut down in the 1930’s ranchers, mining interests and timber companies used it to move freight. The city started to decline as the mines played out but the kiss of death was the devastating fire of 1917. Dynamite was used to help put out the fire, which destroyed 12 blocks of the towns buildings. A few of the surviving structures remain and are occupied by retail shops.
Sumpter Valley Dredge #3
And then there were the dredges- the last of three that were used to mine gold along the Powder River between 1913 and 1954 is located where it last operated in what is now the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Historic Area (Sumpter Valley Dredge State Historic Area). The remaining dredge, Dredge #3 was essentially from parts from the first dredge.
Path the Dredges took visible on Google Maps
They traveled more than 8 miles extracting 10-12 million dollars of gold. It actually cost more to run the dredges that the gold they extracted could pay for. The last dredge (#3) shut down in 1954 more than $100,000 in debt.
Inside the Dredge, the Tailings and an Ore Car
In Dredge #3’s lifetime it made $4.5 million at $35 a troy ounce. In today’s world that would equate to approximately $180,000,000! The State Historic area has preserved the dredge and the huge amount of tailings around it. The Sumpter Valley Railroad also still exists, but only as a tourist attraction offering rides to paying passengers on selected days. If you want to ride the narrow gauge railroad check the Sumpter Valley Railroad calendar for train schedules.
A few miles down the road from Sumpter is the Union Creek Campground located on the shores of Phillips Lake. The campground is very woodsy with pines and firs with an understory dominated by grass- dry grass this time of year. Many sites offer electric hookups and water. A dump station is also provided. At the end of the road and within sight of our camp site is a very large boat launch and boat trailer parking area. The paved boat launch leads straight down into…….DRY LAND! What the heck? The lake is very low so all the boat launches on this end of the lake are closed. One campground host explained that the lake’s water purveyor decided in all his infinite wisdom to release too much water from the lake. So there it is, a nice boat launch ramp that has no access to water.
On Sunday, August 26 we packed up and headed into Baker City (9770 souls). We get within a couple of blocks of the access road that will lead us to I-84 east and encounter an rail underpass. Our rig is just under 13 feet tall so I am a little leary of low looking bridges and underpasses. I have a car behind us so I creep forward looking for signage that tells the clearance under that structure but don’t see it until I have to commit to another route. To make a long story longer Jil’s “smarty pants” phone is consulted, guides us to a “road closed” sign, then reroutes us all the way around town to catch the least convenient I-84 eastbound ramp.
Anyhow, we finally find the onramp and off we go towards Ontario, Oregon. The interstate is very nice to drive taking us from one river valley to the next. It also takes us through some steep walled canyons. We exit the Interstate and head towards Weizer (pop. 5300), pronounced Weezer, Idaho a border farming community located just across the Snake River. From there US Route 95 takes us over rolling hills, through Cambridge (316 souls), Council (800 souls) and up through the Weizer River Canyon finally ejecting us into the New Meadows (477 souls) area. It’s ten miles from New Meadows to McCall and requires another climb through a narrow winding canyon.
Driving through McCall (pop. 3200) can be a pain as the two lane main road will only accommodate so much traffic. It’s heavy today but not unbearable. We turn off on Mission and arrive at the McCall RV Resort, set up and call it a day.