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US 395, Part 21: Grant County (John Day to Umatilla County Line)

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Go to: Part 20 | Main 395 page | Part 22

[US 28 (future US 26), 1938.] In the middle of downtown John Day, US 395 meets its next major US highway, US 26 (which we saw advance signage for way back in Riley in Part 18). During US 395's first signage in Oregon, however, this was actually the junction with US 28, now decommissioned. US 28 was part of the original 1926 Federal highway grid and ran entirely in Oregon between Ontario, OR and Florence, OR for a distance of 462 miles. By 1937, it was truncated to Eugene. However, with AASHTO's disapproval of US highways entirely within one state, it was an obvious target for dismantling and was first absorbed into the 1951 extension of US 26, designating the portion from Prineville to Eugene as US 126 in 1952, then later decommissioned outright as OR 126 in 1962, restoring the old road through to Florence.

For its part, US 26 was (in 1926) itself an insignificant non-trunkline route between Ogallala, NE and Dwyer, WY. By 1951, however, it reached Idaho Falls, ID, and then all the way to US 101 in Astoria, OR by 1952, incorporating US 28 from Ontario to Prineville and accepting the remainder of its brother as its spur. Just recently in 2005, US 26 was cut down to Cannon Beach, OR, south of Astoria but still intersecting with US 101, reducing it to a present-day length of 1,510 miles.

The drive between Pendleton and John Day is harrowing at night and quite possibly hazardous -- it is literally infested with deer. Due to a traffic closure on US 395, I was delayed for several hours on the return trip and had to pass through this section at around 2am. I do not recommend night driving on this portion of US 395 in the strongest possible terms. If you must travel this section at night, have your high beams and flashers on, be prepared to use the horn, and do not exceed more than 30mph or so. (To top it all off, it was raining as well.)


Now WB US 26/NB US 395 through the north end of John Day. This alignment is OH #5 (John Day Hwy).

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Now signed as Main St.

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The turnoff to the Kam-Wah Chung Heritage Site is very near here, so we'll take a short detour.

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[Doc Hay and Lung On, undated photographs.] Detour: Kam-Wah Chung

For a short lunch break, I drove to the park around the Kam-Wah Chung Heritage Site, about a half mile off US 26/US 395. The Heritage Site and Museum grew out of the Canyon City gold rush in the 1860s (Part 20) as many Chinese immigrants came to the area hoping to prospect or find work. By the 1880s, John Day was home to nearly a thousand such immigrants who put down roots as the gold rush waned. Two of these immigrants, Doc Hay and Lung On (right), bought out a local trading post in 1888, renamed it Kam Wah Chung & Co., and turned it into a local general store, herbal medical office and temple for the local Chinese community.

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The bottom story of the building (the name Kam Wah Chung roughly translates as "Golden Flower of Prosperity") was originally built around 1870, possibly before.

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The walls are quarried volcanic tuff, and the remainder built out of pine. Lung On and Doc Hay added the upper deck around 1890.

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[Top: Hay's pharmacy; bottom: On's mercantile.] The building, sadly, was closed on the Sunday I visited (but doesn't allow photography inside anyhow); so, I include some scans from the brochure at right. It is left largely in its original condition. Within it, Doc Hay ran the medical practice and continued in his profession as a healer until 1948 as the "China Doctor of John Day." A large number of Caucasians heard of his reputation and similarly became devoted patients, in addition to his large panel of local ethnic Chinese; his pharmacy is shown at the top. For his part, Lung On ran the mercantile portion of the shop and expanded into imports and labour management. Fluent in English, he was popular with the local miners and Chinese community alike. Some of his wares are in the bottom picture.

After Doc Hay's death in 1948, the building was shuttered in 1955 nearly intact. It was deeded to the city by Hay's family, but escaped notice by the city planners until an inquiry into nearby properties almost two whole decades later revealed that the city already owned land there. The site was meticulously restored and the items within it catalogued, and the new Kam-Wah Chung Heritage Site was opened as a state park in 1978.

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End Detour

Through the west end of John Day on WB US 26/NB US 395.

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Distance signage leaving town.

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You gamble with your money -- so why not gamble with your pets?

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Thanks for the tip.

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The John Day River runs a few miles to the west.

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Crossing the river.

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Grant county also has suffixed county routes, but they're better printed than Harney's (Part 19).

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Entering Mount Vernon, a small city of about 550. The name of this town comes from a local stallion, but the horse's name probably came from George Washington's old estate.

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US 395 separates north in the middle of town.

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US 26 and US 395 separation. US 26 will continue on its way to the coast, while we turn right to continue as NB US 395.

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First shield.

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First milepost on this alignment (Mile 120), now OH #28 (Pendleton-John Day Hwy).

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Distance signage leaving town.

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Mile 115. Views like this show where the Blue Mountains got their name (probably caused by copper oxidation in the soils). Part of the Columbia plateau, the mountains run more easterly than the Cascades and go up to 9,000' feet (Strawberry Mountain, 9,038'). Between here and Pendleton US 395 skirts the western edge of the range, which represented a formidable obstacle to travelers on the Oregon Trail further north. More about the Oregon Trail in Part 22.

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Back into Malheur NF.

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Despite the sign, there was no snow out here in late September.

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This stretch of forest is short and non-descript, and we exit the NF ...

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... quite quickly.

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More fingerboard-style signage. I apologise for the confusing orientation; our direction of travel is to the left.

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Beech Creek summit (4,687'). Rand McNally states this is 4,694', however.

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Mile 102 coming down into another valley meadow between prongs of the mountain range.

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Continuing through the valley road.

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As we approach the next summit, we pass into this unheralded little town first.

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This is Fox, a very small settlement nestled in the valley. It derives its name from the nearby Fox Creek, a tributary of the John Day's north fork. The creek, in turn, seems to have received its name from a hunting trip.

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For some reason, it was only signed on the northern side facing SB.

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Distance signage leaving town.

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And here you said you wouldn't ever get sick of National Forest.

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This section peaks even faster after a rapid run up to the Long Creek Mountain summit (5,075'). Again, Rand McNally disagrees and places it at 5,102'.

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Mile 94, leaving the forest just as quickly.

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The decline here is a little more sizeable.

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At the bottom, we enter Long Creek, a small city of 228 [2000].

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In the middle of town, we intersect with OR 402, an interesting anomaly in the Oregon numbering system. OR 402 is actually OH #402 (Kimberly-Long Creek Hwy); there is no corresponding route number according to the 2004 ODOT mileage report. However, the route is obviously signed in the field despite having no official route number, anomalous because navigational signs should be based on the route number (which it lacks), not the highway number. Indeed, many maps do not sign this highway with a route number, including Rand McNally and NAVTEQ (see Google Maps). The reason for its signage actually stems from 2002 legislation that declared all Oregon Highway routes without an Oregon Route System number must be given one (or, presumably, be decommissioned). Despite this law being on the books for almost four years now, the ODOT route log hasn't caught up, and neither have most of the highways. This is probably because of consternation over what to do with partially numbered highways, or highways whose OH# conflicts with an ORS number at large.

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Distance signage leaving town.

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There is a small summit just north at Ritter Butte (3,993'), again contradicted by Rand McNally which places it at 4,004'. Ritter Butte (and the small town of Ritter, about 10 miles east) were named for the Rev. Joseph Ritter, who established the town's first post office on his ranch. The Davis family mail goes in the box, not by the sign, please.

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Fascinating blunted off terrain as we descend from the butte into the river valley of the John Day's middle fork.

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Mile 79, coming down to the river.

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Crossing the middle fork in the valley floor.

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I admit, it's not a good view from the bridge.

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We start our next ascent with a change of National Forest finally, this time as the Umatilla NF.

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This summit comes up very fast (Meadow Brook Pass, 4,127' -- and Rand McNally for once agrees).

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Meadow Brook seems very apt for this mountain meadow terrain.

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Nestled in the National Forest is Dale, a tiny trading post and rest stop along the descent to the John Day's north fork. It was first established in 1887 as Dorman, named for James W. Dorman, the first postmaster. What happened next is unclear, but most authorities point to a name change to Dale somewhere around 1891; however, the reasoning behind the new name is similarly nebulous, and it's not even certain if Dorman was where Dale is now. Here is a short story about this ambiguity.

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Distance signage leaving Dale and continuing our descent.

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Umatilla county line, just before the river fork.

Continue to Part 22

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