Daily Archives: June 28, 2015

Oregon Trail: Day 3 – Ghosts of the Old West

Sunday morning we awoke to a learn the wildfire remained uncontained, encompassing 5000 acres and closing some roads. Given that and the heat from the last time we hunted fossils we dediced to skip the John Day Fossil Beds and instead head towards the town of John Day.

We gassed up and grabbed some ice at the only and as advertised “cheapest gas in town” – not! Where they also honored the graduating class of 2015 (all 5 of them).


Following Highway 26 along the meandering John Day River and through cute and quaint little western towns who’s boom-time days had long since come and gone.

On a whim we decided to pull into Kam Wah Chung Cultural Heritage Site. The building didn’t look like much but we walked in expecting to learn a little about the history of Chinese laborers in the Old West. What we learned was a whole lot more. We were assigned a guide who walked us down the road to an old house surrounded by what is now a city park.  The building dates from 1866 when Doc Hay and Lung On (both imigrants from Guandong) had started their entrepreneurial enterprise – the Kam Wah Chung & Co. Lung On was a businessman who sold goods to the local Chinese mining population (nearly 2000 strong at its peak) while Doc Hay was an herbalist and pulminologist who tended to the local Chinese population. They were very successful, with Lung On buying and running many business across the county and Doc Hay becoming the most respected doctor in the area (treating many non-Chinese) and becoming the county doctor. In 1952 after Lung On had since died and upon the death of Doc Hay the property was willed to the city of John Day where it sat locked up for 20+ years. In 1973, when the park was being surveyed the city opened the building and found it exactly the way it had been left in 1952.

Walking through the doors on a private tour from a local volunteer was like walking back in time to visit with the ghosts of the old west.  




Kam Wah Chung was a hidden gem of history. I highly recommend if you are ever heading through John Day on Route 26 that you stop in for an informative history lesson.

We drove on towards Baker City and turned off of 26 onto Route 7 through the Dixie Mountain Pass – 5600+ feet and 97 degrees. We were looking for something we saw on the map called Whitney (Ghost Town) but we never found the turn off for it with so many forest roads cris-crossing this area. We had read up on a haunted (and still active) gold mind up a short detour off 7 in the town of Sumpter. While Sumpter was an old west town on its last breath – looking soon to be a ghost town itself – we never found the turn off  for the haunted ghost mine. But the map showed another ghost town of Bourne just up the road six miles. What it didn’t show was it was 6 miles up a steep and narrow gravel road. Mind you, we are pulling a trailer  up this road now looking for a town that only appears on an old map. Tawny -ever the voice of reason – suggested we turn around…but where. There was only one way to go…foward….. “It’ll be our adventure for the day”, I said. Clara and Morgayne agreed. Six miles at 15 miles an hour pulling a trailer takes a lot longer and is more white knuckle inducing than you’d think.

Suddenly the road got decidedly worse. Nowhere to go but forward…slowly. Extremely slowly. The r-pod and truck covered in a fine ashy dust. “What are we going to do? Where are we going to turn around?”  And then there, through the trees, miles from nowhere, we saw a woman sitting in a chair reading a book. A ghost? We stopped, stared, and called out to her. “Hello?”  She got up from her chair, came through the branches like a banshee, and slowly approached our vehicle. “Howdy” she said softly. She wasn’t a ghost at all, but a very nice woman from Boise who owns property adjacent to the Bourne Ghost Town where her and her husband spend their summers camping. 

She assured us were had made it to the old mining town of Bourne and that if I continued up the road a few hundred yards more there’d be a place I could turn around. I dropped off Tawny and the girls and went to turn the vehicle. In 4WD and with great difficulty and removal of our sway control I was eventually able to turn the trailer around in a broadened area of the narrow road just before the road became impassible. 








 We headed back down the gravel road and to Baker City to the Mt View RV Park (not sure where the mountain or the view is) but we escaped the heat in the pool, showered, and did a load of laudry to get the dust out our britches.  

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Oregon Trail: Day 2 – Fossils

Ten minutes into our Saturday drive we saw a “Next Services 94 Miles” sign and turned around to make our way back to Biggs Junction to fuel up, letting the service attendant attend us as is the law in Oregon. We then headed up a lonely but beautiful road across the high desert of North Central Oregon. For nearly 2 hours, as we made our way to Fossil, we had the high hot road to ourselves (105 degrees at 3500 feet!). No cars passing us, a rare car coming towards us, no homes, but amber fields of wheat punctuated by the occasional green oasis and abandoned farmhouses.  


We arrived in Fossil near high noon. We were looking for Wheeler High School where we had heard you could dig for fossils at the school. It being Saturday we weren’t sure that was possible. We drove the near ghostly quiet town a few times and couldn’t find the school. We parked and walked to the only cafe open in town for lunch. They gave us directions and explained how we might need some digging tools. Tawny went to the local mercantile while we waited for our food and tried to buy some gardening equipment such as a trowel. No luck. But for $1.50 at the local thrift store she was able to puchase an ancient slotted spoon and two carving forks. They would have to do.

The themometer read 107 when we parked at the school and made our way up the fossil hill behind the school. Luckily there were some tools set out in a shed by the trail you could use for a small donation.  



We worked fast in the scorching heat promising we’d all leave as soon as each had found a fossil. Ten minutes in we hadn’t any luck. “Dad, is it always this hot where pepole are looking for fossils? If so, I’m not going to become a palentologist”. As we were about to quit we found our first fossil. Then quickly another, and another. With a solid four we quickly made for the car, out of the heat, and on with our drive. 

We turned off the lonely road to a yet lonlier one  that headed up over a winding and stunning mountain of shades of green grasses, sage, and dotted pines towards another town of near ghosts in Mitchell. We were able to get a few gallons of expensive fossil fuels here and tthen head up the road to the Painted Hills National Monument. 




 The  heat was too much to take for too long so we gave up on hiking into the Painted Hills and inteaded to Dayville where we had reservations for the night. 

Along another lightly trafficked road we came upon the Shoe Tree – a bunch of lonely soles  just hanging around. 


It wasn’t far from here to Dayville (population 197) and the Fish House Inn – a clean and cute little RV park with grass and shade for 6 campers. We set up the mister and cracked a beer to cool ourselves. The place smelled fantastic, of pine and sage. Then ashes began to fall on us. There was a fire, a large fire from the previous night’s thunder storms a few miles from us behind the hills just beyond the John Day River. We watched sheriff vehicles and helicopters stream by try and contain it. 

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