My last major adventure of the summer entailed a week long foray into the John Day area of Eastern Oregon. After a stop at the wonderfully eclectic Maryhill Museum and a swim in Cottonwood Canyon, we passed a night with Phil and several expat Brits at the Wilson Ranches Retreat. There, we saw a herd of deer and the remains of a roadkill rattlesnake. Bummer, we were hoping to hear a real rattle. A trip into Fossil came up with...not a whole lot. All that was missing was a tumbleweed rolling across the street.
From there we worked our way to Priest Hole and camped along the shore of the John Day River (after some discussion as to the ethics of camping in an area with no designated campsites). An isolated spot to be sure, however, there was a bouquet of locals in pontoons and floaties festooning the waterway. The research and the signs all indicated that camping was okay, so that was a bit of a surprise. "Primitive" in this case, meant, "wherever." A sign indicated that the BLM has plans for developing the area. I liked it how it was. We were the only ones who passed the night there. Just us and the Milky Way.
The Painted Hills came on Day Three. I believe we were the first ones at the Monument. The trash-pulling Ranger wasn't too far behind us. Trash-pulling is of course a time honored cover to check out what tourists are up to. For the record, we didn't walk on any of the hills, but it was obvious where people had. This is a case where leaving only footprints is really bad. By the way, what's with the shoe tree on the Ochoco Hwy (Rt. 26)? If you Google, "shoe tree Mitchell, OR," you'll see what I mean. Whimsy for the traveler. Toward the end of the day we ended up outside Prairie City at the edge of the Strawberry Wilderness.
You'll see a catalog of the subsequent two nights and three day backpack trip in the slideshow. Apparently Ranger Gary passed us on our hike out the final day. Salute to the retired Ranger! Our pilgrimage to your side of the state was simply stunning. It's good to let the moss growing behind my ears dry out from time to time. We hope to return soon for Hells Canyon, Eagle Cap (in the Wallowas), and Steens Mountain.
For the traveler: one of the best sections of road as far as scenic mystery, was Twickenham Road along Girds Creek. Best where-the-hell-are-we-going adventure was the part where Xena (my car's name--hey, it's a way to remember the license plate) conquered the section of road into Priest Hole labeled on the map as "The swimming there is remarkable by the way, several degrees warmer than the lakes of Strawberry country.
Helping you find
Jenny Gapp, has sixteen years experience as a teacher librarian, four seasons as a seasonal state park ranger assistant, and two summers adventuring with National Parks in an official capacity.