John Day Fossil Beds & Eastern Oregon Back Roads

June 6-10, 2005

Leader: Ray Jensen

Departing in cool rainy weather, we had our coffee stop under cover at Greenwaters Park. The huge snowflakes above 3,000 ft. were unexpected, but a delightful dressing on the trees; so our stop at Salt Creek Falls was very brief. At 11:30, we arrived at the High Desert Museum. Inside exhibits and “Raptors in the Sky” and otters shows were excellent. We had a good lunch at their Rimrock Cafe. Then east through Alfalfa to Prineville Reservoir, following Crooked River Canyon, where Ewart Baldwin, as he did the entire trip, described the geology in an area not previously visited by bus. We stayed overnight at the Stafford Inn in Prineville.

Day #2 was a big geology day with Ewart front and center. The Painted Hills were spectacular. The strata colors are red-green-buff, but we learned that it is in the green where most fossils are located. Most of us hiked a half-mile to a vantage point where the wildflowers were in abundance. We continued on #26 through the Ochocos, with everything fresh and green. At Mascall Formation Overlook, even the untrained viewer could identify the formations: Clarno, John Day, Columbia Basalt, Mascall and the topmost, which is the Rattlesnake. On to the newly opened Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, a unique building containing labs, storage places, meeting rooms, exhibits and great views. The 18-minute video and talks were very good. Ewart and his professional work in geology were duly recognized by the Sheep Rock Unit staff. Our outdoor lunch was across the road at the historic Cant Ranch. Next, another less traveled by-way: . . via Kimberly, Monument, Long Creek and Mt. Vernon to John Day, a scenic two-hour drive. Our guide at the Kam Wah Chung Museum was very informative. There is a new second building emphasizing the contributions of the Chinese here. We stayed overnight at the Best Western John Day Inn.

On day #3, at Sumpter Valley Dredge State Park, guide-narrator Lynn Christiansen took us aboard this behemoth. We explored the town and enjoyed the Gold Post Store with its one-room museum. We had planned to travel the Elkhorn Scenic By-Way with lunch at Anthony Lakes, but received several negatives about this route. So we continued to Granite, where we would make a final decision, similar to when Lewis and Clark made a choice at the Marias River.

At Granite General Store and Restaurant, a nice young blonde lady at the bar insisted we not go ahead. After much too brief a consultation with her, I returned to the bus and we backtracked to Sumpter for lunch. We stopped at McEwen to check out the railroad stuff used for the excursion train on summer weekends. Then, a nice drive along the Powder River to Baker City to see gold nuggets at U.S. National Bank. Finally, to the Oregon Trail Regional Museum, which features a great rock and mineral section. We stayed overnight at the Geiser Grand Hotel, renovated in classical elegance. Wes Prouty, now residing in Durkee, joined us for dinner, and we did a lot of reminiscing about the Old Days.

Day #4: After a great breakfast, we went to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center on Flagstaff Hill. Excellent dioramas and displays and we were treated to a live raptor demonstration by a BLM lady from Boise. We trod ruts of wagons made 150 years ago. At mid-day, we were at Union County Museum, which includes “Cowboys Then and Now.” Some of us ate at the Main Street Eatery and others picnicked at the city park adjacent to the historic Union Hotel. Then, on to Elgin and over the Tollgate (Sprout Springs) road to Fort Walla Walla. Road construction delayed us, but the staff graciously stayed overtime to escort us. We thank them. Ewart guided us through lovely Whitman College campus. We stayed overnight at the Marcus Whitman Hotel—elegance plus. We discovered the bus had a flat tire, but it was Les Schwab to the rescue! A scary thought: what if this had been on the Elkhorn in 5" of new snow at 7,300' pass level??

Day #5: West on #12 with 500 wind power machines visible on the ridgelines. En route, Mary Ellen West told us about Madame Marie Dorion, who was on the Hunt (Aster) Expedition in 1811. A great narration about a respected woman who was buried near Gervais in 1850. On to The Dalles and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center’s excellent films, displays and exhibits, featuring replicas of the cargo carried by Lewis and Clark. Our excellent driver, Larry Edwards, then got us through the Portland mess, and home at 6:30.

Many thanks to Liz Reanier, Ewart, Vera Woolley and her hospitality crew, Don Payne, Janet Speelman and all who contributed to a successful trip. Riders: Don Baldwin, Ewart Baldwin, Paul and Barbara Beard, Pat Bitner, Mary Lee Cheadle, Barbara Chinn, Marjorie Crueger, Judy Dobell, Margaret Fea, Rachele Fiszman, Jeannette Forsman, Barbara Hottle, Kess Hottle, Ray Jensen, Rosella Jones, Verna Kocken, Dot Leland, John and Lenore McManigal, Joyce Norman, Barbara and Don Payne, Liz Reanier, Julie Snell, Mary Ellen West and Vera Woolley.

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