The Emigrant Road just east of I-84 near Pendleton, Oregon (it starts or ends up in Mission, Oregon), is a scenic rural drive, with knock your socks off panoramic landscape views and an abundance of wildflower (and deer).
Oregon Blue Mountains Mini-Road Trip 5.22.2014
Oldmantravels ~ Yakima, Washington
I checked the weather forecast for the La Grande, Oregon area and studied a pile of maps, from National Forest folding maps to a handy Oregon Topo map atlas. I decided on two primary locations I wanted to "explore" (I use that term for any place I haven’t been before). I would also retrace a few place I have been, but enjoy so much that a do over is a pleasure.
I would try to cross over from the Upper Grande Ronde River to the upper portions of the North Fork John Day River (NFJDR) on FR (forest road) 51. I had traveled 16 miles south on that road a month ago and it had been closed by too much snow. So first, I wanted to see the area where Forest Service Roads 73; 51, 52, and 10 – – converge in a remote and scenic area.
The second destination would be a dirt road the follows the right bank of the NFJDR between Camas Creek (north of Dale, Oregon) to the tiny town of Monument, Oregon. There was a method to my back road travel madness. After seeing some photographs of a multi day river float trip on that section of the NFJDR, I was intrigued.
I found my, purchased a long time ago book, Soggy Sneakers ~ a paddler’s guide to Oregon’s rivers by Pete Giordano. There I looked up the stretch of river and found it rated (difficulty) to a similar two day float my son and I had done in small cata-rafts down the Wallowa and Grande Ronde River (between Minam and Troy, Oregon). The two float trips were about the same distance (around 44 miles) and at proper water levels were rated through class 2 with perhaps a section or rapid or two in the lower class 3 rating.
I sent a Flickr email to long time Flickr contact Ed Keith in Oregon, and asked for advice on observations about floating the section between "north of Dale" down to "Monument", Oregon on the NFJDR. I hesitated asking because in Ed Keith’s photos I could see they floated the river in more substantial and appropriate white water raft equipment than the small cata-rafts my son and I have.
Still Ed wrote a very helpful, measured, honest, and information filled response back. Thank you Ed. Now encouraged, I went to Google Earth and "drifted down the stretch of river" like a raven. At every landmark (cabin, bridge, creek), I flew over, I noted the waypoint and wrote it down. I also took my hi-liter pen to the Umatilla National Forest map, I already owned. Thus armed I was ready and motivated to "explore" that section of the NFJDR and travel some back roads I had never been on before.
The road trip didn’t go exactly as planned, as is often the case, but as it did turn out it was better than what I had expected. I not only saw a lot of beautiful country, met some nice people along the way, but am also now armed with great reconnaissance information for more trips into the area (which I will do).
If you have trudged through this narrative this far, what follows are some of the details and highlights of this short little road trip into the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon.
First important stop was at my now favorite place to eat in the area (The Oregon Trail Store and Deli), in old historic rail road town Meacham, Oregon (It was the capitol of the United States for one day – – there is a story there). The cafe and store is owned and operated by Dixie and Randy. Dixie does most the work and Randy helps and greets the locals and strangers as they come into the store and cafe. Nice people, most interesting and loyal clientele, and GREAT FOOD.
So I went in for dinner and found that this day was Dixie and Randy’s day off. Janet greeted me (It turns out she bakes many, if not all, of the delicious home made pies that are on their menu). I ordered up a huge "half order" of biscuits and gravy, then got my maps out to ask Janet a couple of questions.
The result;: knowledge needed to "find" the old Emigrant Road that runs from the Deadman Pass area down the Blue Mountain grade to the town of Mission on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. I had never traveled this road before and was excited at the prospect of doing so. It is a much photographed area in spring, because of all the wildflowers, deer, and panoramic views. There is even an iphone cover that photo credits: yellow lupine emigrant road, that can be found on the internet.
I decided to try do cover as much ground as I could the next day, leaving Pendleton, Oregon early in the morning and as it turned out, not returning there until close to 10 at night. A great, adventure filled, fun day of travel.
Thursday the 22nd of May 2014: I took my cameras and started up the way I had come down the night before: the Emigrant Road from Mission up to Meacham. I couldn’t identify half the many wildflowers that cover the area but the stars of the show were the bright yellow lupine (which I misidentified at first as Golden Pea). There was also mule’s ear, wild rose, desert parsley, and a host of other colorful fragrant wildflowers. I photographed my way up the hill.
Next I hopped on the interstate and drove south on I-84 to the exit for highway 244, which runs west toward the small friendly town of Ukiah, Oregon. I passed Hilgard Junction campground, where I had tent camped a week or so ago, and stopped at Red Bridge campground to check it out. I met camp host Linda, from Ajo, Arizona, and checked out the "prime" tent camping spot right along the Grande Ronde river. A real find, and one I almost thought not to share with this narrative but I do like to share "good finds" with others on Flickr, even though many rarely thank me, when they write for information and I provide it. Red Bridge campground is not that far off I-84 and the short drive up scenic highway 244 is worth the quiet, and lovely setting found, at this small Oregon state parks campground ($10 a night to tent camp).
I was semi-disappointed to find that the sign was still up on FR 51 saying it was closed due to snow 16 miles up the road, so I went to my first fall back plan and that was to drive on to Ukiah and drive up FR 52; down FR 73 to Granite, Oregon; then west on FR 10 to the Dale, Oregon area. That was the "new" plan but as fate had it, that wouldn’t go entirely according to script either (but what fun).
I stopped at the rangers station at Ukiah, to purchase a Wallowa -Whitman National Forest map, to go with the Umatilla National Forest map I already had with me. There were two women rangers that were really familiar with the area and most helpful. I was delighted to find out that the Forest Roads I sought to travel, were open (only one tiny stretch reduced to one lane due to snow). Off I went, stopping to photograph an picturesque old barn, that will not last another winter.
I drove all the way to Granite, Oregon and felt like I had entered the "Twilight Zone". A rich history and mining center back then and sort of today, it has quite an eclectic collection of cabins, cars, and a mailbox row that seems to ask "what do all these people do, who live here now?".
After my visit to Granite, I go lost…big time. Forest Road 10 was not marked on the roads in the area. What I thought was FR 10 was marked County Road 24 or something like that and destinations included the Red Boy mine (or something like that). I ended up taking the wrong turn at a junction. I should have gone straight toward Olive Lake. In my defense, the five maps I had of the area showed different roads in the area and seldom the same name or number on any of the roads.
With the help of my NUVI GPS, I found out where I was and traveled south to pick up Oregon highway 7 between Whitney and Austin. Now no longer lost and on pavement I chose to drive down the Middle Fork of the John Day Rive, a scenic route I had driven once before. This would get me to Dale, Oregon, by next destination.
Along the way was a photo op happening, which for me was the highlight and hallmark of this road trip. It was a chance happening and a wildlife drama, that I had stumbled upon, and with my presence, changed the ending of the story being played out:
I was driving slowly, enjoying the MFJDR (Middle Fork John Day River) wildflowers and deer, when I glance down at the river and saw a coyote standing chest high in water of a small channel of the river.
Hoping for a photograph I did a 180 (which takes a little care and caution on narrow canyon highways) and drove back to where I had spotted him. He glanced up at me as I parked the car and got out with my camera, and retreated into the high grass and brush on the island formed by the river. He disappeared, no coyote photo standing in the river photograph for me.
Then I looked up the channel and saw a pair of Canada Geese with six little one, too young to fly. The drama I had interrupted, now seemed clear. The Coyote had the geese trapped in the shallow channel. The young couldn’t fly and in the shallow water it would be "duck soup" (no near pun intended), for the coyote to run down some of the goslings.
With the coyote now away in the brush and with me there as the geese’s "good guy", the whole family of Canada Geese swam down to the main channel of the MFJDR and in deep swift water, bobbed on down the river in safety.
I drove to where I could turn around and head west again and when I drove back by the spot, the persistent coyote had returned to lie down in the deep grass by the small channel, not knowing the his meal was now gone. Once again, I slowed the car, rolled down the window and tried to get a photograph of the coyote. No luck. The coyote was disgusted with my presence and once again quickly took to the brush and trees on the island. No meal. No photo op – – seemed to be the coyote’s answer to me.
I will now shorten the story (a little). I reached highway 395, where the MFJDR travels under it, and drove north through Dale to the Camas creek bridge at the NFJDR. There I found the start of my intended route down the right bank dirt road that would follow the North Fork John Day River all the way to Monument, Oregon.
But alas, the day was disappearing fast. I had tried to do too much in just one day, but it was all so much fun, I hadn’t been able to resist. So once more I changed my already "changed plan". I would travel halfway to Monument, getting to see at least half the river float route, then take FR 15 (I hoped) and return to the MFJDR and highway 395 junction via the Ritter Hot Springs route. This would be another back country road I had never traveled and I really like the idea BUT the failure to properly find and follow FR 10, had me a bit worried.
I had left my Google Earth waypoints at home, but had good maps with me. I decided to "go for it" and I did and all worked out great. The rangers at Ukiah told me the area I would travel was absolutely infested with rattlesnakes, so I watched for them on the road and when I got out to hike for photo ops. Not a one did I see, though a friendly little gopher snake did cross the road on FR 15 when I was driving out at dusk. I saw several group of white water rafters floating and camping along the NFJDR. The road trip reconnaissance was a success. Thanks again Ed Keith for your photographs on Flickr, which got me interested in this destination and for kindly sharing your river floating knowledge with me via Flckr email. NOTE: Ed had floated the section of the Wallowa and Grande Ronde River, which my son and I had done, and Ed had done that one several times, so he had the perfect perspective to compare the two float trips).
It was dark by the time I drove through Pilot Rock and on to Pendleton. A full day of fun. I hope you enjoy the selection of photos I have chosen to post of this trip.
Oldmantravels 24 May 2014.
Tagged: , Emigrant Road , Pendleton Oregon , spring wildflowers