The Oregon I Bet You STILL Don’t Know

The Oregon I bet you STILL don’t know.

As you can see, when I say eastern Oregon I do not mean Bend as some travel bloggers do. I mean further east as in closer to Idaho than the coast. Not many people think of beautiful conifer forests, waterfalls, hot springs, fossil beds, historic sites, roaming elk herds, nor majestic mountain lakes when they think about true eastern Oregon. In fact, I would say not many people outside of the few who live here spend much time thinking about eastern Oregon if they think about it at all. This seems to be particularly true when people are making their travel plans, and that is perhaps the best part about it out here. If you dare to go against the grain (and do a little bit of roughin’ it) there are numerous trails with brilliant views, and historic structures of some form awaiting your discovery year-round with little to no crowds. Read on to learn more about the eastern Oregon I bet you STILL don’t know!

Did you know about the National Forests and other public lands in eastern Oregon with miles of all types of trails?

Hike, bike, backpack, ride a horse or ATV, maybe even Nordic ski! It’s all here depending on the time of year.

A pristine stream during a summer hike in the Steens Mountain Wilderness, Oregon
A wintry, Nordic ski trail that can be found in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon
It’s a short, uphill hike to this breathtaking mountain lake found in the Malheur National Forest, Oregon
On a trail of the Winom-Frazier OHV Complex in the Umatilla National Forest, Oregon – Photo courtesy of RiderPlanet USA.

If you prefer to have a more relaxing visit you can simply camp along a lake, river, or visit a hot spring.

Ritter Hot Springs, Oregon – Photo courtesy of  Zach Urness/ Statesman Journal.
Did you know that eastern Oregon also has one of the most renowned fossil beds in the USA?

They have discovered such unusual fossils like those of ancient, small mammals.

A marsh “rhino” tusk fossil which can be viewed at the Thomas Condon Palentology Center of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon – Photo courtesy of NPS
Did you know eastern Oregon had its own gold rush?

Asian immigrants were participants, and there are even a few active claims still. 

Kam Wah Chung exterior
This strange building holds some incredible wonders. If you are interested in old Chinese medicine and the influence immigrants had on the gold rush you should consider taking the time to visit the historic Kam Wah Chung in John Day, Oregon – Photo courtesy of Oregon State Parks.
Sumpter Valley Dredge
Gold mining was much more than sifting through pans by hand. To learn more visit the Sumpter Valley Dredge in Sumpter Valley, Oregon! – Photo courtesy of Oregon State Parks
Did you know eastern Oregon has fire look outs that are still in operation during the summer?

Their often rugged roads end in some of the best views perfect for romantic sunrises or sunsets and dark sky photography. You can probably stop by and have a chat with the look out too!

A starry night at Dixie look out of the Malheur National Forest, Oregon – Photo courtesy of Matt Franklin
Did you know. . .I purposely did not give you a lot of specific details?

What good is an adventure if you don’t get to put in the effort to discover it for yourself?! I myself have been disappointed by going to places travel bloggers have already given nearly every detail away about. Putting in the time and effort to find these and other hidden gems out here is one of the reasons I fell so in love with it that I now live out here.  I have a continual sense of excitement about the next beautiful creek or historic remnants I may find on my next outing.  I do not want to potentially ruin that sense of excitement for you. Come out and discover it further for yourself! I will give you a hint though: having a vehicle, particularly one for rough dirt roads, is a good idea.

I hope you enjoy whatever your next adventure is! I must admit I hope it is out here.

My Favorite Places Along The Oregon Trail

If you went to school in the 80’s or 90’s you probably played the computer game The Oregon Trail.  While on your exciting and fateful journey you learned about dysentery and getting run over by a wagon.  Luckily, on this journey you have very little chance of those things happening.  However, there is a high chance you will learn about our ancestors and have a bit of fun.  So let’s get started…

We’re going to begin our journey west in Independence, Missouri.  All of the historic trails—Oregon, Santa Fe, and California, started at or near Independence.  This was a popular “jumping off” point where the pioneers

could stock their wagons before their arduous journey.  Spend some time getting acquainted with the trail at the National Frontier Trails Museum. This museum researches, interprets, and preserves the history of the pioneers who traveled along the trials.  After seeing the museum head to the Independence Courthouse Square, this was the official start of The Oregon Trail.  Walk around the square and try and get a sense of what it was like to have all of your earthly possessions crammed into a wagon to set off on a dangerous journey across the continent.

Make your way west to Rock Creek Station which is near Fairbury, Nebraska.  Rock Creek Station was a Pony Express station and road ranch that served the

pioneers along the trail.  It is here where Wild Bill Hickok shot his first man.  You can see reconstructed buildings, pioneer graves and trail ruts.  While in the area you should definitely check out the wonderful Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Keep heading west to Kearney and The Great Platte River Road Archway, one of the coolest spots along the trail.  The monument is a museum that honors the people who followed the historic trails and built America.

After visiting The Archway head to the south side of the interstate to visit Ft. Kearney.  This was an important outpost along the trail, it allowed the pioneers to resupply and offered them a safe resting area in a sometimes harsh territory.

 

Continue on brave pioneer, you’re 15% finished with your journey!

 

We are next headed to the Scottsbluff area and there is A LOT to see here so make sure you have some snacks.  This would also be a great area to make your home base for a few days.  The first landmark you can see from a distance is Courthouse and Jail Rocks.

These are the first rock formations that the pioneers would have seen on their journey west.  At one time there was also a Pony Express station located here.

 

 

Just a mere fifteen miles further west stands Chimney Rock.

One of the most awe inspiring and famous landmarks along the trail, Chimney Rock rises over 300 feet above the valley.  Do you have some quarters in your pocket?  If one is a Nebraska state quarter then you will see a wagon in front of this majestic landmark.  While you’re here make sure to check out the pioneer cemetery.

After Chimney Rock head over to see the fabulous landmark Scotts Bluff National Monument.  Scotts Bluff encompasses over 3,000 acres and towers 800 feet over the valley.

Visitors to the monument can walk in the footsteps of the pioneers of the Oregon Trail, drive to the top of the bluff via the Summit Road and stand in awe at the sight of the bluffs rising up from the prairie.

Before you leave Scotts Bluff pay your respects to an Oregon Trail pioneer, Rebecca Winters. Her grave lies on the eastern side of the town of Scottsbluff at the corner of South Beltline Highway and US Highway 26.  Rebecca died in 1852 after contracting cholera, a friend chiseled her name on an iron wagon tire which still stands on her grave today.

Keep heading west, pioneer, to Ft. Laramie.  You’ve made it to Wyoming! You’re a quarter of the way there! The fort was constructed in the 1830’s to support the fur trade and it soon became the largest and most important fort on the frontier.  Travelers would stop here for several days to rest, mail letters home, and resupply.  Today you can stroll the grounds and visit some of the many restored buildings and ruins.

Just down the road a bit from Ft Laramie is the town of Guernsey where you can see Register Cliff and the Guernsey Trail Ruts.  Register Cliff contains the engravings of hundreds of trail pioneers in the soft sandstone.  Register Cliff, along with Independence Rock and Names Hill, is one of three prominent “recording areas” in Wyoming.

The Guernsey Trail Ruts, or the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic  Site, is an amazing section of preserved trail ruts.  Decades of pioneers, wagons, and animals wore down the sandstone two to six feet.  Take some time and walk in the ruts.

Next on our journey is the town of Casper, Wyoming.  This would be an excellent place to rest for a couple of days.  While you are here make sure to visit the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. This museum showcases the several different trails with artifacts and interactive displays.

 

Just a few miles away is Ft Caspar, this is a military post that was named for Caspar Collins who was killed during the Battle of Platte Bridge Station.  Yes, Caspar really spelled his name that way.

 

 

Independence Rock, which lies about an hour southwest of Casper, is a large, rounded monolith that is known as the “register of the desert.”  The rock was a major landmark for the pioneers, they needed to make it here by July 4th to ensure they made it across the Rocky Mountains.  If you walk all the way around the rock you’ve walked about a mile.  Also try and climb to top so you can see the many pioneer inscriptions.

Head west on Highway 287 and south on Highway 28 you’ll see some of the most gorgeous Wyoming landscapes, you’ll be traveling through what’s called South Pass.  This is also the half way point of the journey west. Hopefully, you’ll get to witness the graceful antelopes bounce through the sage.  Make sure to stop at some of the roadside pull offs where you experience both the past and present.

Next you’ll want to make your way over to Montpelier, Idaho and visit the National Oregon/California Trail Center.  This is a living-history center, which sits directly on the site of the historic Clover Creek Encampment on the Oregon Trail.  The center contains displays and artifacts and depicts the pioneers’ journey along the trail.

Fort Hall is just a short drive from Montpelier but it would have taken the pioneers several days to get there.  The fort was originally used as a fur trading post but soon became a major resupply center for the pioneers.  They had been traveling for weeks since a resupply and hundreds of thousands of immigrants made use of Fort Hall.

Keep cruising along, pioneer, we are almost there!

Just west on I84 is Three Island Crossing.  This was a major point for the pioneers.  It was here where they had to decide on whether or not to cross the dangerous Snake River.  If you remember from the Oregon Trail game many pioneers never made it across.

The last stop on this Oregon Trail journey is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, Oregon.  Yes, you made it to Oregon!  This 500 acre site features original Oregon Trail ruts.  The center also features dioramas, artifacts, and theater presentations.

Well, pioneers, you’ve made it to Oregon!  Hopefully, no one drowned, died of dysentery, or got bit by any snakes.  There are many more amazing places to see along the trail, hopefully you’ll be inspired to go on your own manifest destiny across the plains, prairies, and mountains of the west.

 

 

The Great American Summer: Northwest Edition

The sun is shining, temperatures are rising, and its time to start planning for summer. There is no better place to hike, bike, dance, or go on a road trip with your friends than the Pacific Northwest. Consisting of four great states and a variety of places and events to explore, you’ll run out of summer before you run out of things to do.

So pack your bags and hop in your car. The adventure starts now!

May 9th & 10th
Maggot Fest – Missoula, Montana
Average Temperature: 67 degrees

It’s the 39th annual Maggotfest this year, and the mix of competition and fun makes this a weekend you won’t want to miss! Bringing together 36 rugby teams from across the US and Canada, this tournament will not fail to entertain. Beer galore and an unforgettable party on Saturday night will keep you coming back year after year.

1_Maggot Fest_Map of NW

May 16th & 17th
Silverwood – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Average Temperature: 65 degrees

The second stop on your Great American road trip is just north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho at Silverwood theme park. This is the weekend to take your family or friends on the Timber Terror roller coaster, since tickets into the park are half off! Make a quick stop at Lake Coeur d’Alene on your way up to the park for some relaxation by the water and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

2_Silverwood_Map of NW

May 22nd – 25th
Sasquatch Music Festival – George, Washington
Average Temperature: 72 degrees

If you are a music junkie, then this is the event for you! Sasquatch Music Festival takes over the Gorge Amphitheatre in central Washington every Memorial Day weekend, and never fails to impress with a variety of musical genres and the beautiful Gorge scenery. Bring a tent, some friends, and a lot of energy, you’ll need a whole week to recover after a weekend at the Gorge.

3_Sasquatch_Map of NW

Early June
Seattle, Washington
Average Temperature: 69 degrees

Next stop: Seattle! Home of the Seahawks, Mariners, and Sounders, Seattle has numerous activities to enjoy and places to explore. You’ll need at least a week here to experience the main perks that Seattle has to offer, including a trip to Pike Place Market overlooking the Elliot Bay waterfront.

4_Seattle_Map of NW

June 27th & 28th
Lincoln City Kite Festival – Lincoln City, Oregon
Average Temperature: 65 degrees

Make your way down the coast for the second half of June and stop in Lincoln City for a kite festival on the beach! The weather should be warm enough by now to spend some much needed time playing in the sand and sticking your toes in some Pacific Ocean water. Make sure to stop in Astoria, Seaside, and Newport to explore what these coastal towns have to offer as well.

5_Oregon Coast_Map of NW

July 10th – 12th
The Country Fair – Veneta, Oregon
Average Temperature: 83 degrees

We are halfway through our Great American adventure, and things are about to get a little weird (but in a good way!) Make a stop in Veneta, Oregon before you head any further east to enjoy the legendary Oregon Country Fair. Experience the art and culture that will nourish your spirit until you make your way back for next year’s fair!

6_Country Fair_Map of NW

Mid-July
The Cascades – Central Oregon
Average Temperature: 85 degrees

Before you leave the great state of Oregon, make sure to stop in The Cascades where there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. Take a scenic bike ride from Sisters to Smith Rock and visit Bend’s Deschutes Brewery, the 6th largest craft brewery in the nation, as well as a handful of other microbreweries throughout the city. Sunriver Resort and Mount Bachelor aren’t too far away, either!

7_Oregon Cascades_Map of NW

Mid-July
Mountain River Outfitters – Riggins, Idaho
Average Temperature: 90 degrees

While making your way back through Idaho, you’ll probably want to head for water. It’s hot out and there is no better way to cool off than to go fishing on the river. Mountain River Outfitters has a variety of trips to offer for any fisher, from beginner to expert. Catch some dinner, then take a dip to cool off!

8_Riggins Rafting_Map of NW

July 23rd – 25th
Evil Knievel Days – Butte, Montana
Average Temperature: 81 degrees

Back to Montana, and back to legendary. At the end of July, the annual Evil Knievel Days takes part in Butte America to celebrate the late Robert Craig aka “Evil Knievel”: the world’s most famous motorcycle daredevil. Join 50,000 other visitors in the Mining City for a fun-filled weekend!

9_Evil Kenievil Days_Map of NW

August
Glacier National Park – Glacier, Montana
Average Temperature: 78 degrees

Tired yet? Don’t worry, your final stop on this Great American Summer adventure is here, and you’ll have plenty of time to get in touch with nature. Glacier National Park offers visitors over 700 miles of trails to hike and plenty of history to explore. Take the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Hidden Lake for some up close and personal experiences with mountain goats if you’re feeling adventurous! Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path on your Great American Summer adventure through the Northwest. Hope you get a chance to enjoy this beautiful corner of the United States!

10_Glacier Park_Map of NW