Road Trip 2010 Day 7: Elkhorn Scenic Drive, Sumpter Dredge, Granite, John Day Fossil Beds: Sheep Rock Unit

by Kara on August 4, 2010

We slept in a bit this morning, since we had such a long day yesterday. I woke up around 7:00 am and had time to post the past couple days’ worth of travelogues. At about 8:30 am, we headed out toward the Elkhorn Scenic Drive in Baxter and Grant Counties.

Our first stop, and probably the best today, was Sumpter. It is a charming little town and home to a gold dredge that is in the midst of being restored. We were able to tour the lower level of the dredge (the upper level still needs further restoration in order to be safe for tours). The guide was great and extremely knowledgeable about the process of dredging. They didn’t have many accidents on the dredge, but there were long-term health consequences, including hearing loss and mercury poisoning. She said that at its height, the dredge was bringing in about 30 ounces of gold a day. The man operating the cable levers made $5.00 a day and the men oiling all the gears made 90 cents an hour working eight hour shifts. This was pretty good money for those days. The Sumpter Dredge was our favorite stop on the entire Elkhorn Scenic Drive, and is definitely worth a visit. I made a small donation toward the restoration.

There was a pretty good little grocery in Sumpter, so we stocked up on drinks there before moving on. Our next stop was Granite and it was kind of disappointing. Several of the historic buildings were occupied and had modern elements, such as gas meters. We had a map of the town, but it wasn’t entirely accurate and some of the buildings were hard to identify. After that, we just drove. There really wasn’t anything else on the loop that got our attention, except for a long delay for road construction. We stopped for a shake in Baker City, then headed back down toward the John Day Fossil Beds.

We went to the Sheep Rock Unit of the fossil beds and stayed there taking pictures for only about 45 minutes, because we had a fairly long drive ahead of us up to Condon, where we had a reservation. Sheep Rock was pretty, with a river in the foreground, but I thought Painted Hills was more beautiful.

We drove into Condon just as the sun disappeared. Our reservation was at the Historic Hotel Condon. We knew that the front desk was not staffed after 7 pm, so they said they would leave an envelope on the front door for us. Sure enough, when we got there, we found an envelope on the door with the hotel key and our room key and a letter. Try leaving the keys on the door at a hotel in Los Angeles. We let ourselves in and Stephen made lentil and brown rice burritos for dinner. There was a microwave and a little fridge right outside our door, which was great. As far as we could tell, there was only one other room occupied in the hotel. That was great for us, but probably not so great for the hotel. But since it was Wednesday night, that is probably why they weren’t so busy. The hotel room was lovely, and we slept really well.

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