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US 395, Part 18: Oregon State Line to US 20 (Lake and Harney Counties)

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With the crossing of the state line, we leave California finally behind and enter the fascinating eastern "desert" of Oregon. US 395 in this state is quite rural and not until we reach Pendleton could it be considered more than a thin ribbon of asphalt streaking between beautiful mesas, lakes and forest summits.

Lake county and its seat, Lakeview, are as much population as we'll see for around the next 150-plus miles. Among the least populous counties in the state (7,422 [2000]), Lake county is named for the large number of nearby lakes, including Goose Lake (which we passed by in the previous Part) and Lake Abert. It was created from pieces of Jackson and Wasco counties in 1874, although its original seat was Linkville (now Klamath Falls) until Lakeview was established a year later. Modern Klamath county was a later split from Lake county's former acreage.

Lakeview today has only 2,474 [2000] citizens itself. Its place in the history books is due to the Japanese balloon bomb that exploded near the town, killing an entire family (except the father, who watched in horror) that happened upon it in the woods and dragged it out on May 5, 1945; horribly, the Mitchell family were the only casualties of the Second World War on American soil because of it. More than 9,000 of these lethal "aerial jellyfish" were released from Japanese bases during World War II starting in November 1944, of which some 1,000 are estimated to have actually crossed the Pacific, carrying a 15kg antipersonnel bomb and two incendiary devices. Most landed harmlessly or otherwise somehow failed to detonate, and of those that did actually land and explode, the American press corps cooperated with the military in carefully hiding such incidents from Japanese intelligence. Convinced the bomb balloons were a failure, the experiment stopped within six months, but unexploded balloons were still found up to a full decade later. The US Air Force described these weapons in a 1998 issue of Airman magazine.

In this section, we will also cross into Harney county to the east. Harney county will be discussed more in the next Part.

Oregon uses two sets of route numbers in the present day, much as California used Legislative Route Numbers (LRNs) and signed state route numbers up until the 1964 Great Renumbering (explained in the Roadgap glossary). Analogous to California's use of LRNs to denote early state roads (see Parts 1 and 15), the Oregon Highway (OH) numbering system uses specific names and highway numbers to refer to Oregon's own set. This was the original system in use during the early allocation of Oregon state roads and highways. With the rise of the Federal highway system in 1926, a number of US highways conflicted with the highway numbering system and in 1932, the Oregon Highway Division (now Oregon Department of Transportation/ODOT) overlaid a new set of signed routes over the old highway network. This second set of numbering, the Oregon Route System (ORS), is what you see on signs, reported on maps and used for general navigation. However, Oregon still uses the OH numbering system for internal accounting; on the 2004 Oregon Mileage Report, the ODOT route log gives the following OH (HWY#) numbers and names for US 395: 2 (Columbia River Highway), 5 (John Day Highway), 6 (Old Oregon Trail), 7 (Central Oregon Highway), 19 (Fremont Highway), 28 (Pendleton-John Day Highway), 48 (John Day-Burns Highway), 49 (Lakeview-Burns Highway) and 54 (Umatilla-Stanfield Highway). Although hardly any map carries the OH number of any given segment, a few (including NAVTEQ) helpfully give the formal highway name. Since this may be helpful for roadgeek research, and because unlike California's LRNs they are still very much in use administratively, we will mark these highways as we reach their particular segments as an aid to the curious.

First milepost at mile 157 (increasing north to south). Oregon (as well as Washington) use MUTCD-standard mileposts on all their highways, federal, state, Interstate or otherwise. This robs us of some of the information the Nevada and California state postmiles would tell us about a route's history, but we can still extrapolate at least the legislative definition of a route from the mile number and continuity of the count. US 395 enters Oregon as OH #19 (Fremont Hwy).

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Oregon likes to use "SPEED" signs instead of "SPEED LIMIT." This isn't to say there aren't speed limit signs, and there are, although they are mostly locally erected; however, the majority we will encounter along US 395 in Oregon are like this one.

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NB US 395 into Lakeview.

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Mile 147. One very inconvenient thing about Oregon's use of mileposts is that they place them only on one side of the road on single-lane-per-direction alignments like this, along the direction in which the number increases. This is difficult to photograph, especially when the sun is in an unfavourable position, and sometimes obscures the numbers behind road devices as exemplified here. I have seen this in other states, but it's still aggravating from a photography point of view.

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A fahn ol' cowpoke welcomes yew all to Lakeview, the county seat.

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Really, to a California city boy like me, the CONGESTION signs get funnier the more I see them. People out here have no idea what CONGESTION means.

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One-stop shop for your government slop. The Fremont National Forest is nearby and named, of course, for our good friend John C. Fremont whom we talked about in nearly every single Part previously.

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Entering Lakeview to become G St.

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More SPEED signage (slow down!!!). There is a little swerve here to move the highway to F St.

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US 395 enters through primarily residential territory on the south end of town.

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That gives way to the charming old city center and downtown shown here.

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Junction OR 140 (N 4th St) and our first state highway junction in Oregon. Oregon's state highway shield looks suspiciously like a California marker turned upside down and painted white, but this is purely coincidental; it is merely a simplified version of the shield depicted on the state seal. OR 140 heads west to Klamath Falls and US 97 and from there to Medford and I-5 (old US 99) as OR #20 (Klamath Falls-Lakeview Hwy); its east leg is cosigned partially with us. We continue on NB US 395/EB OR 140 on G St.

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Branching to the right, through northern Lakeview.

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Oregon Outback signage as we bend around to leave Lakeview.

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Distance signage leaving town. Note how Bend keeps turning up as a control city, even though US 395 doesn't go there and never did. The reason for this will be obvious shortly and even more so in the next Part. We continue still as OH #19 (Fremont Hwy).

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Mile 140, as US 395 NB/OR 140 EB.

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First look at a Lake county route. You can't really see it here, but the number is actually "2-17." This hyphenated notation seems to be systematic to Lake county, but also entirely unique to it.

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[OR and NV 140, 1976] Advance signage for OR 140. From here, it heads southeast as OH #431 (Warner Hwy) to the Nevada state line and keeps its number, entering as NV 140 to finally intersect with US 95 about 30 miles north of Winnemucca, NV (see the 1976 map inset at right, reprinted from Part 17).

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Turnoff and separation.

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Distance signage leaving the junction.

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Mile 136.

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Starting the curve down the hill.

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Entering this region, US 395 will change to OH #49 (Lakeview-Burns Hwy). This officially occurs at the intersection of US 395 and a minor local road (National Forest secondary route 3721, next to LakeCo 2-13). However, part of the routing of OR 31 (see below) seems to imply that OH #19 is still carried on this alignment.

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Call this dead deer a warning -- to you. There are lots and lots of deer along these southern segments of US 395, and the herds in this relatively arid section aren't the thickest they come on this highway at night. More about that later.

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A small meadow region between the wooded portions. This, too, is a microcosm of what we will encounter further along.

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Mile 127.

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This is where the "Oregon Outback" begins to earn its name as the crisp woods start to give way into a scrub valley bordered with mesas. The escarpments above are part of the Abert Rim, one of the highest fault scarps in the United States, dating back to the Miocene era when extensive lava flooding from a number of large fissures produced a huge basalt formation that cracked, split and tilted under further geologic activity. The Rim represents the western edge of one of these tilted blocks.

The Abert Rim was another John C. Fremont discovery in December of 1843; Fremont christened it after his commanding officer, Col. John James Abert. One wonders if this sort of egregious bootlicking paid off.

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Valley Falls, literally a couple buildings and the last gas for 90 miles.

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I told you.

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Valley Falls is also the terminus of OR 31, which runs to US 97 and thence to Bend (but this is not the reason why Bend is a control city; the real reason is at the end of this Part and the beginning of the next). It runs on OH #19 (Fremont Hwy), thus adding more evidence to the suspicion that OH #19 and OH #49 share alignments between LakeCo 2-13 and this point. The Oregon Outback byway designation continues north on OR 31; we branch east to continue as OH #49 (Lakeview-Burns Hwy).

Compare this picture with this Jervie Eastman 1954 photograph, in poor shape but showing white signage instead. OR 31 is also signed here.

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Another, better view of the Lake county "hyphenated" route numbers.

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Distance signage leaving Valley Falls.

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Didn't I tell you?

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Looking back one last time at the intersection as we head north.

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First milepost on the Lakeview-Burns Hwy alignment (Mile 89).

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North of Valley Falls begins probably US 395's loneliest routing in all three states. Between this point and US 20, I saw one car on the whole entire road and it was going the other way.

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This is a shame, because it is also one of US 395's most spectacular routings as we begin our circuit around Abert Lake, named for the same Abert as the Rim, although the Lake itself is actually on a separate basalt section than the Rim.

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BLM signage.

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Mile 83.

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Artsy shot with a fast exposure time and some gratuitous lens flare. I was just playing around here.

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For some miles as you can see US 395 very closely hugs the shoreline in this section.

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"SHRW" -- State Highway Right-of-Way. These are the ODOT R-o-W markers, and are actually rather numerous on this particular stretch of road.

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The clouds had started to roll in a little as I continued around the lake.

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This really does earn its name as a reassurance shield. With the near absence of other signs and even other cars, one can be forgiven for wondering if they're still on the right highway.

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Beginning of twilight on the northeastern edge of the lake.

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There is only a single feeder stream on the southern end (not here) and when the creek's level is low Abert Lake has been known to dry up considerably as well. The level seemed to be low at the time this photograph was taken (September), owing probably to the dry summer. For that same reason of diminished input, just like Goose Lake in Part 17 and Mono Lake in Part 8, Lake Abert's water is similarly somewhat alkaline and concentrated.

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Mile 68 leaving the lake. This should give you an idea of how large Abert Lake (and the Rim) actually are.

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Overlooking the lake at Hogback Summit (5,012') with a sign error facing SB showing OR 395 instead of US 395. Unbelievably, this is a very common gaffe by ODOT and we'll see it quite a few times.

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Distance signage for the small junction here, one of only a few of any consequence in this region.

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This is another hyphenated route at the "summit" crossing over the Rim.

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Shot-up NB shield. These little square (not rectangular) "three-digit" US shields are very common on old alignments of US 395 in Oregon -- rather than use a proper wide US shield, ODOT simply shrunk down the digits. Even the directional banner is wider. All these last three photographs were at the same T-intersection. The newer signs, however, are MUTCD-standard.

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Wide valley beyond the Rim and some of the other basalt mesa formations; I hope you're getting an appreciation for how lonely this road is. Compare this view with this Jervie Eastman 1948 photograph of the then-Lakeview-Burns Highway.

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Mile 57.

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Alkali Lake, named for the ... alkali lake to the north, which we will cross. It's not much more than an ODOT depot.

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Distance signage leaving Alkali Lake.

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Mile 45 into the Oregon high desert.

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As mentioned, the alkali lake, unimaginatively also called Alkali Lake officially. Most of it is dry, which this stretch of US 395 crosses in almost a causeway-like fashion. There is some small quantity of water remaining on the southwest side, subject to rainfall, as there appears to be no feeder source for the lake otherwise.

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Mile 34.

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Advance signage for the Christmas Valley turnoff, the only junction of consequence between Valley Falls and Burns.

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This is a county road and based on the weatherbeaten sign, I wouldn't have too much hope of getting to Christmas Valley, let alone the phone, gas and food, if you were desperate enough to need them.

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On the other hand, it's a lot more miles anywhere else.

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Entering Harney county (to be discussed in the next Part). This is nearly the lip of the Harney Basin rim, formed approximately 32,000 years ago when lava floes separated the watershed of the basin from the Malheur River (Part 20) which once fed it. Although there is ample evidence that it was a much wetter and greener environment in antiquity, once the so-called Malheur Gap closed, the basin became isolated and arid and its previously lusher landscape withered under the abruptly drier conditions. Although inhabited by the Paiutes, its climate made it unattractive to white settlers until a nearby gold discovery and range-land pressure forced the Indians out (even though they had their own reservation as early as 1872). After their reservation was repossessed by the federal government in 1876, the local Paiute band would remain a people without a home until given a new reservation near Burns in 1935.

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Wagontire, as night falls. Traditionally, Wagontire and the nearby Wagontire Mountain got their names from a discarded wagon wheel found along the mountainside's trail. First established as Egli, named for an early settler of the region named Amel Egli, the present name was adopted in 1919. Egli Ridge (on the northeast side of Wagontire Mtn) keeps the former name.

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Wagontire boasts a population of two on one of the nearby billboard signs (this shot taken SB to show the buildings). It has some provisions and a little place to stop to eat. The lone post office here, which dated back to the town's name as Egli, closed long ago in 1943.

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Wagontire a little earlier on the day, on a later trip.

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By this time in 2007, it was up to three people. Congestion signs, stat!~

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Distance signage leaving Wagontire.

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Mile 20, as night falls fully. The landscape here is flat, dry scrub as we scoot through the Harney Basin.

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Mile 8.

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Originally this was the first advance signage for US 26. US 26 is not for a great many more miles (Part 20 and 21), but because there aren't many alternates, we have this sign here. For some reason, ODOT obliterated the US 26 on this sign and the succeeding signs near the US 26 junction far to the north, so I have kept this 2005 picture in the sequence. In the darkness, we also cross the Silver Creek on its way southeast to the Silver and Harney Lakes.

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This is the alternate route. We'll come back here in the morning.

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Days Inn in Burns (next Part). For a small town motel, I was very impressed with it (even keeping in mind that it's part of a chain); it had reliable WiFi, a clean if unspectacular room (but they are remodeling, so this will likely improve too), a mini-fridge and microwave, a heater that worked fast!, and a continental breakfast. The proprietess was also very nice and attentive, and on the return trip when I rolled in at 4am, kindly let me sleep in past checkout time so that I could get a good drive in the next day. I highly recommend them if you're needing to stay in the area.

Continue to Part 19

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