Who was John Day anyway?* June 6/7/8 2013

We had an interesting drive Thursday from Lakeview, Oregon north to John Day, Oregon.  A distance of approx 200 miles on Hwy 395, a major north/south highway.  Once out of Lakeview, vehicles pretty much thin out.  Just one of the things that made it so different was a record that Jimmy set while driving the first shift from Lakeview to Burns.  He drove a solid 92 miles with no vehicle in sight behind him.  No car, no truck, no nuthin.  We met very few vehicles coming from the other direction.  Guess we were on the road less traveled!

Lake Abert was another interesting element.  It's bounded on the east side by Abert Rim, a steep escarpment that rises over 2,500 ft above the lake surface.  Hwy 395 is wedged between the the lake and the rim, and it runs that way for miles and miles.  This shallow lake is landlocked, and the water is bordered by a white alkali substance that burned my nose and Jimmy's eyes before we saw it... with Tergels vents closed -- now that's powerful.  The rim was awesome, with a sheer-sided basalt cap that looked like an ongoing fortress.

When I took the helm from Burns to John Day, the landscape changed from sage-covered high desert into the timbered landscape, with creeks and grasslands, of Malheur National Forest.  And then down we went, descending to an elevation of about 3,000 ft - the lowest elevation we've been in in many a day.  We picked Clyde Holiday SRA, literally on top of the swift John Day River, and signed up to camp for three nights.  We want to visit John Day Fossil Beds Nat'l Monument and Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site while in this area.

Thomas Condon (named after a pioneer missionary with a scientific passion for palentology) Palentology Center at John Day Fossil Beds was a treasure.  We spent quite some time (it was also air-conditioned and the outside temp was 86F) looking at the exhibits, studying the time lines of evolution represented.  The John Day Fossil Beds uncovered a remarkable number and variety of fossils.  Indeed, entire communities have been uncovered, analyzed and identified.  We highly recommend this park visitor center; it's also a research facility dedicated to the study of the fossil beds, as well as a green building, powered by solar panels and windmill generators.  A person can gain a keen appreciation of history here.

We like to hike and the Blue Basin Overlook Trail was recommended....

Jimmy starting out on the 3 1/3 mile Blue Basin Overlook loop trail, which circumnavigates the Blue Basin and looks downhill into it.  What a spectacular vista overlooking the John Day River Valley!  It was hot and dusty and moderately strenuous with a 600 ft. elevation gain (and loss), and precious little shade. Smart people like us wait till the heat of the day, after eating a ham/cheese sandwich lunch, to start hiking.  Er, maybe not smart.  Smart people do bring plenty of water!  (we did)

This blue/green ash or claystone is, well, I don't know how to describe it.

Awesome, up close or far away.

Hiding in the shade and examining the stones.  (I look hot, huh?  I was.)  I dearly wanted to tuck a piece of picture rock in my pack, but Jimmy reminded me that it's bad luck to take goodies from a designated national park/monument.  I left 'er right there.

Top red arrow shows where Smartie is somewhere down there!  Other two arrows indicate our trail up.  We heard chukars (partridge) on the ridge to the right - sounded like chickens laying eggs!  Wonderful views.

Descending the other side of the overlook.

View from near the Blue Basin Overlook.  Smartie is parked down near the bright green strip.

If you enlarge this, you might be able to read more about the geology.

This Nat'l Monument wasn't really on our radar initially, and neither was John Day especially, but things worked out and we're happy they did.  This place was a find.

* http://gesswhoto.com/theman.html.  John Day (1770 – February 16, 1820) was an American hunter and fur trapper in the Old Oregon Country.


  1. I'm feeling quite envious of your travels... you are in one of my favorite parts of the country! If you visit the town of John Day, DON'T MISS the tour of the The Kam Wah Chung & Company historic site. You will love it!

    1. Laurie, we visited that yesterday (I'll post about it later) and we loved the tour. We're off to Joseph today! :)

  2. Mighty kind of you two, blazing our trail for us... *grinning*

  3. Oh, Joseph! You know how I feel about Joseph!! I decided not to ask if you were going there because it is so out of the way - figured it was either already on your route or it was too late to add it. Can't wait to read about it. Now I know why so many readers over the years said "we live vicariously through your blog!"

  4. Oh, what a great day you had. Yes, I love that area, but have never stayed long enough. We have plans to go to John Day Country and Joseph and the Wallowas right after Labor Day this year. Could still be hot, but not as, at least I hope so. Between Laurie's writing a few years ago and now yours, I'll be all ready to go find the good stuff.


We love hearing from you -- please leave us a note! (Comment moderation is turned on, and your comments, including anonymous comments, will be visible after they have been reviewed and published.)