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US 395, Part 20: US 20 to US 26 (Harney and Grant Counties, John Day)

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Go to: Part 19 | Main 395 page | Part 21

US 395 between Burns and Pendleton can best be summed up thus: meadow, summit, meadow, summit, rinse, repeat. Despite the picturesque vales it passes through and the beautiful national forests, after the second such iteration of this formula, you'll swear you're stuck in some sort of highway practical joke.

Most of the forest land in this Part is within the Malheur National Forest, established by President Taft in 1908 and named for the Malheur River, which was in turn christened in 1825 by Peter Skene Ogden, an unfortunate fur trapper for the Hudson's Bay Company who lost a cache of fur along its banks and cursed the river with the French epithet for 'misfortune.' (This wasn't all Ogden was famous for; we'll talk about him a little more in Part 23.) The river lived up to its name again in 1845 after trekker Stephen Meek tried to find a faster route along the Oregon Trail and led his party up the river valley, whereupon they ran out of water once they left it and twenty-three died along the way. The Malheur is a tributary of the mighty Columbia River via the Snake River; oddly, the Malheur River does not feed the Malheur Lake, despite their proximity. Malheur NF's particular claim to fame is that it houses (as of this writing) arguably the world's largest organism, a honey fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) covering almost three and a half square miles and discussed in this nice Australian Broadcasting Corporation article.

During this Part, we cross into what is left of Grant county (Harney county being, of course, its old southern portion). Grant county is named for General Ulysses S. Grant, "only" a Civil War hero at the county's creation from a portion of Wasco county in 1864, but would of course later become President. Roughly as populous as the county it spawned south of it at 7,935 [2000], its seat is Canyon City (population 669 [2000]). Canyon City is itself moderately dwarfed by John Day (1821 [2000]) to its north, setting up a situation like Bishop and Independence, or Bridgeport and Mammoth Lakes, but in this case the reason is historical; Canyon City existed in 1864 and John Day wasn't incorporated until 1888.

Past the US 20 separation, we continue on NB US 395 as OH #48 (John Day-Burns Hwy).

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First milepost (Mile 67).

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North of this point, we start to exit out of the Harney Basin towards the Devine Ridge and Canyon. Both are named for local pioneer John S. Devine.

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Descending below the mesas into the Canyon. Compare this picture with this Jervie Eastman photograph from 1941, courtesy of the University of California Davis General Library, as well as this Eastman photograph further on showing the dirt alignment US 395 originally took north of this point through Devine Canyon.

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Officially now the Devine Canyon Scenic Corridor.

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Devine Canyon is quite spectacular, especially here in early autumn with the wide range of colours.

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The heavy forestry makes a beautiful lush backdrop.

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Officially entering the Malheur NF. This won't be the last time we do.

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Devine Ridge summit (5,340').

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Descending from the summit into one of the local meadows.

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After another brief spat of forest, we leave Malheur NF for the first time and descend into one of the watersheds north of the Ridge.

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This area is somewhat more dry than the green forest, but a number of small farming tracts continue to till the land here in this valley meadow.

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Mile 42.

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Grant county line.

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On the back of that sign is the Harney county border sign, and another one of the square US 395 shields. This alignment, being somewhat older, has quite a number of them.

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A proper county route pentagon, for once.

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Along this alignment we also see this compressed-type of distance signage at intersections, very reminscent of Australian fingerboard signage. Also note another instance of the square US 395 shield. Some of the signage out this way is very old.

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Silvies, a small settlement just a few miles past the Grant county line. Silvies and the small creek by the same name, which starts to run parallel to US 395 a few miles north of here, were both named for Antoine Sylvaille, a trapper who assisted Peter Skene Ogden and was sent to the area in 1826. The name probably started as "Sylvaille's" and was gradually corrupted over time to "Silvie's" and then "Silvies." The Silvies Creek (some maps refer to it as the Silvies River) is one of the feeders for Malheur Lake, far to the south back in the Harney Basin.

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Distance signage leaving Silvies.

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Mile 30, starting to head back up into the hills.

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The terrain is now becoming more mountainous and forested again.

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The Silvies Creek, now running with US 395.

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Seneca. This small incorporated city of approximately 200 was not named for the Roman philosopher, but for Judge Seneca Smith, the sister-in-law of original postmaster Minnie Southworth. As the story goes, the Post Office wanted a short name for the town and it was the first thing that popped into Southworth's mind. It carries the record for being Oregon's coldest spot in history, achieving a low of -54 F in 1933.

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Passing through town.

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Mile 23 entering the small tracts north of the little city towards the mountains.

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Advance signage for one of the local county road turnoffs (here to Izee) as we ascend towards the summit in this section.

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Most of the fingerboard signage is being replaced with more conventional distance signage now.

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The road in question is GrantCo 63, using a non-standard font for the numerals.

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The trees are spidery and fascinating through this part of the forest.

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NB US 395 continuing up.

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It's unusual to see 4-digit National Forest shields for secondary routes, but here's one just before the summit.

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Canyon Creek summit (5,152') along the southern edge of the Blue Mountains.

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There are a number of other signed National Forest secondary roads here, including this one (NF 4920) signed with a more conventional marker.

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Distance signage at the NF road junction.

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Descending the mountain towards Canyon City. This is a lengthy and sometimes precipitous decline of nearly 2,000 feet from the summit.

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The descent is quite steep and sudden and there are numerous truck turnouts.

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Overlooking the curves.

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A bit of the world below, looking over the edge.

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Leaving the Malheur NF again as we finally reach the canyon floor.

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Mile 8, outside of Canyon City.

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ODOT limited access marker. Compare this with California's in Part 2.

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More advance warning signage about the limitations along US 26 and US 395 as we saw at the end of Part 18.

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You'll notice on this and the last sign that there is a suspicious gap. That's because a US 26 shield was on the earlier incarnation of these signs also.

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Canyon City city limits. Grant county likes to use these charming and actually useful county maps at municipal limits.

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Today's diminutive city came out of a massive gold rush during the 1860s in which gold was discovered in Canyon Creek; thus was the town born in 1862. The unbelievable part was the yield, which could sometimes net several ounces of pure gold in just a single pan of sediment, and prices on land abutting the river skyrocketed as prospectors descended on the town from every direction. By the gold rush's peak, nearly 10,000 people had crammed into the canyon, and over $26 million in gold was mined out of the region.

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Beside the highway, the Canyon Creek runs in a small gully.

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Passing the local municipal complex.

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Through Canyon City, US 395 will become Canyon City Blvd. In 1937, most of the city was destroyed by fire and the present-day city was built on its ashes.

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Post office.

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NB US 395 through north Canyon City.

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Signage for the local high school, and ...

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the local high school itself.

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Entering John Day, Grant county's largest city with a population of 1,821 [2000]. It is named for the John Day River, which itself was named for John Day, a scout with the 1811 Astor-Hunt overland expedition commissioned by John Jacob Astor, an acquaintance of Thomas Jefferson and founder of the Pacific Fur Company in New York, and commanded by his lieutenant Wilson Price Hunt. Astor is the "Astor" in Astoria, OR, then Fort Astor sitting as it does now at the mouth of the Columbia River. The John Day is another tributary of the Columbia; we cross the Columbia in Part 23 (and again in Part 24, and a third time in Part 29). More about the Astor-Hunt party in Part 23.

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Through John Day.

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Now Canyon Blvd.

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Looking up at the houses clinging to the hillside.

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Approaching downtown John Day and the US 26 junction.

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Signage for the Kah-Wah Chung Heritage Site, which we will make a quick detour to see in the next Part.

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Junction US 26. We turn left.

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As we branch around, wave to another "OR 395" on the south side of the intersection.

Continue to Part 21

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