Sumpter Valley Railroad . This narrow-gauge train once transported lumber and supplies as well as passengers; now it is available for rides and special events during the summer season. The train is an ongoing restoration project; one of the cars was once cut in half, with one half used as a chicken coop. On your way to the railroad depot, watch for a small, swampy pond on your right. In the pond, you will notice a rough assemblage of ancient lumber: the bones of one of the dredges. All around you will see piles of its tailings. Returning to the highway, note a collection of old buildings, all that remains of the town of McEwen. Behind the old town, there is a tiny cemetery.
A few miles past McEwen, turn right off the highway toward the town of Sumpter. In its heyday, this gold mining boom town boasted three dozen saloons. Now a semi-ghost town with a few shops, Sumpter gives a glimpse into Oregon's wild-west history. Here you will find the last dredge to operate in this area, the Sumpter Valley Dredge. It ceased its digging in 1954 and fell into disrepair, but ongoing efforts have restored and preserved this massive machine. The first floor is open to the public and reasonably accessible. The long chain of buckets remains where it stopped decades ago, reaching down into the pond. Inside the dredge hull itself, dirt and rock were sifted and washed in a continual search for gold. The resulting earthy mix was then dumped out of a long boom in the rear. Much of the machinery used in this process remains inside the dredge, larger-than-life and mystifying to modern eyes. Outside the dredge there is an outdoor display of miscellaneous mining equipment and an information center/gift shop which offers more information on the area.
Cracker Creek Museum of Mining as you drive back through Sumpter. During our recent visit we were the only people there and the exhibits seemed somewhat unmaintained, which only added to the fun of examining these old machines. If you do go, be prepared to explore at your own risk; there are no barriers and no restrictions at present.
Back in friendly Baker City, be sure to check out the many well-kept historic buildings in the downtown area. For more history, check out the Baker Heritage Museum and the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
A Final Note:
Many ghost towns and interesting old buildings are on private property. Please respect fences and "no trespassing" signs. Everyone we met during our recent visit was pleasant and generous, and we would like to keep them that way.
Old mines are very tempting, but we don't explore them. Here is an excellent PDF on the hazards in and around mines. Visit, take pictures, and safely enjoy the history of this beautiful area. There's a lot more of Oregon left to see.
The authors would like to thank Dwight Gosen for introducing us to this beautiful area.
|Remains of a dredge near Bourne|
|House at Bourne|
|Watch out for old flumes in this area. These reinforced pipes once carried water to the mines.|
|Are we in a Tim Burton film? Terry Gilliam? Studio Ghibli? Nope, we are in Baker City. This bizarre crane walked slowly along the nearby plains on two humongous "feet".|
|A contraption, perhaps a rock crusher, screams silently from its resting place at Cracker Creek.|
|House in McEwen|