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US 395, Part 23: Umatilla County (OR 37/US 730/Old US 395 and US 395/I-84/US 30 to Washington State Line)

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Go to: Part 22 | Main 395 page | Part 24

As mentioned in Part 22, modern US 395 travels almost entirely on Interstate asphalt between Pendleton and Kennewick, WA, except for a small piece between Stanfield and Umatilla. The first of these Interstate alignments is modern-day Interstate 84, along OH #6 which is actually officially the Old Oregon Trail, to which US 395 was re-routed in 1975 when it was completed in the form of Interstate 80N (refer to the maps from Part 22 for the former and intermediate alignments). By 1980, as part of AASHTO's elimination of suffixed routes, I-80N was renumbered to I-84. US 30 is also carried by this particular Interstate alignment and Oregon highway number. For the trivia buffs, there is an eastern I-84.

The second alignment is along Interstate 82, a violation in Interstate numbering as it runs north of I-84, just south of the Columbia River to the state line as OH #70 (McNary Hwy) and thence on to west of Kennewick, WA. In reality, I-84 was the misnumbered route, as I-82 had its number first. When I-82 was completed in 1987, as we previously noted, US 395 was shifted to it. We will travel both these alignments in this Part in Division 2, as well as the conclusion of OR 37 and US 730 to the Washington state line in Division 1 for the former non-Interstate routing (see Part 22 for this routing as well).

It is impossible to give the length and breadth of American pioneer history carried on the Oregon Trail, of which I-84 is the inheritor in Oregon; nevertheless, I present a brief summary for background. Although known in antiquity to Indian tribes, it was not until 1804 when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made their seminal expedition west that white men discovered the overland routes used by the Native Americans for generations. Lewis and Clark did not travel the Oregon Trail (US 395 does also run along what is now signed the Lewis and Clark Trail in Part 24, so we will talk about them there), but they laid the groundwork for others to follow into what was then termed the Great Desert. Most of this first generation over the next several decades were fur trappers, including a young Kit Carson (Part 11), Jim Beckwourth (Part 13), Jedidiah Smith and Manuel Lisa, and many of these "mountain men" would come to know more about the terrain of the West than anyone alive, even many Indians; their Mountain Men Rendezvous at the Green River, starting in 1825, became legendary spots to trade goods and trail secrets alike until the last meeting in 1840.

[John Jacob Astor] Much of the fur sales the earliest trappers generated were made to the British, who were exerting territorial pressure southward from British Columbia, often through their Hudson's Bay Company. American corporate and political interests also became attracted to this growing trade in fur, and a friend of Thomas Jefferson's named John Jacob Astor (right) founded the Pacific Fur Company in New York at Jefferson's request in 1810. To establish a base of operations, Astor sent the ship Tonquin, captained by the ruthless Jonathan Thorn, on a brutal and almost mutinous voyage around the tip of South America to establish Fort Astor (later Astoria) on the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811 -- very near, as it happens, where Lewis and Clark had established Fort Clatsop in 1805 (see Part 24). The miserable but ultimately successful mission of the Tonquin is related in this article; after establishing the fort, however, the cruel Thorn pushed further north and there his evil ways caught up with him as his viciousness with the local Indians provoked them to attack the ship and massacre the crew. In desperation, a wounded sailor named Thomas Lewis set fire to the ship's powder magazine and detonated it in a massive explosion, sending the ship, himself and several hundred Salish Indians to the bottom of the Pacific.

In parallel, Astor had hedged his bets by sending an overland survey team out simultaneously. This was the Astor-Hunt party we mentioned in Part 20 and its experience was nearly as rough as the Tonquin; Astor's lieutenant Wilson Price Hunt, starting in 1811, was able to follow Lewis and Clark's route as far west as the modern Dakotas but adopted an overland route across the Union Pass instead near what is now Jackson Hole, WY. This turned out to be tremendously ill-advised and the party barely struggled into Fort Astor by the spring of 1812.

From Astor's base, Robert Stuart set out in the winter of 1812 to return to St. Louis and consult with his superiors over these matters and encroachment by British trappers. (In his absence, the British North West Company arrived during the spring of 1813 and convinced the remaining inhabitants of Fort Astor to sell out in the aftermath of the War of 1812. With the Royal Navy on the way to take the fort by force, the inhabitants decided getting paid to be Fort George wasn't so bad after all.) Stuart, likely acting on the tale of woe the Astor-Hunt party related, took a route further south of Lewis and Clark's back to Missouri instead and in doing so established the South Pass (approximately 7,550') in what would become the state of Wyoming across the Continental Divide; thus was the prototype of the Oregon Trail first traversed, but done so west to east. The South Pass is still in use today, now by WY 28 between US 191 and US 287. Not some little cliff gorge, the Pass is actually almost twenty miles wide! From the South Pass, the Oregon Trail (and in fact most of the resulting overland routes) primarily followed the course of the Platte River east. There was no specific routing for any of the various trails that would follow, but Stuart's discovery was the key to all of them.

The return trip was harsh -- one of Stuart's men went insane along the trek -- but Astor was delighted by the discovery of this potentially profitable route and kept it secret as a trade advantage. (Astor was so successful at keeping the South Pass private that when Jedidiah Smith discovered it on his own in the 1820s, he was incorrectly credited as the first man to walk the route.) However, other interests were also exploring possible overland approaches. One such exploration also occurred in the 1820s when Hudson's Bay Company contractor Peter Skene Ogden -- the one who 'cursed' the Malheur in Part 20 -- was banished to British Columbia in 1824 after he attempted to lead a mutiny in an HBC outpost, among other indelicate acts. Ogden's temper was even worse on the west coast, and the senior official at Fort Vancouver decided he would be better off as a solitary explorer. This proved to be exactly right. Ogden's discoveries in the region were significant and voluminous, and promptly and proudly reported back to his superiors who then relayed them to the United Kingdom. Ironically, they rapidly wound up in American hands, who would use these new detailed maps to displace the British presence over the next few decades.

Enhanced by a growing number of scouts familiar with the territory (especially as landmarks such as Chimney Rock could only be recognized by experience) and increasingly better cartography thanks to the efforts of Ogden and others, wagon trains first started to use parts of this route by the early 1830s. One such expedition was led by Joseph Walker and B. L. E. de Bonneville (as mentioned in Part 9), who used the South Pass to admit wagons into the West in 1833; Joseph Walker even used his own Walker Pass (now traversed by CA 178) for wagon trains after its establishment. However, the first real use of the Oregon Trail was in 1834 when Nathaniel Wyeth and Jason Lee led the first people over the true route to settle in Oregon Country. Their aim was heavenly -- that is, the conversion of the Indians to Christianity -- and the Wyeth-Lee party, with the full backing of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, conducted its first sermon in the Oregon Country on 27 July. Lee's missionary operations in the Willamette Valley, unfortunately, failed to achieve any immediate results practically or spiritually. (However, the Oregon Institute he established at Mission Hill would become today's Willamette University.) He died in 1845, discharged by his organization for failing to justify the expense of maintaining his frontier mission.

Nevertheless, Lee's story did prove that the trail did go somewhere, and others stepped up to try their luck. In 1841, the Bidwell-Bartleson (or Bartleson-Bidwell, if you prefer) party set out along the trail, splitting along the way into the southern party we met in Part 9, and the northern party which remained in Oregon. Even John Fremont (Part 2) got into the act, exploring the trail as part of his western expeditions; just a few years later, five thousand emigrants made the trek in 1845, and Brigham Young led his Mormon Brigade over it to Utah in 1847. The floodgates opened, though, when James Marshall found gold at Sutter's mill in California and in 1849, 30,000 emigrants crammed the trail. A cholera epidemic only diminished it slightly, and the count rebounded sharply with a whopping 70,000 crossing between 1852 and 1853. Although slowed by Indian wars and the Civil War, the overland wagon trails remained voluminous well into the 1860s and alternate trails were frequently employed to bypass popular destinations. Finally, the Union Pacific Railroad Company came into existence in 1866 and the end of the wagon train era became visible at last.

When the transcontinental railroad was complete in 1869, traffic declined quickly. Some wagon trains still made the trek, particularly poorer emigrants who could not afford the train, but even this number dwindled; although there are some reports of wagon trains along the route as late as 1912, most authorities point to Ezra Meeker as the last wagon to officially brave the trail in 1906. Meeker's efforts were purely altruistic, as an early traveler of the trail who tried to raise awareness and preserve memories of the route before the automobile and locomotive erased the Oregon Trail from the American consciousness forever. It is through his efforts that the Oregon Trail remains famous today. The Oregon Trail History Library includes many exceptional and detailed treatises on the Oregon Trail, including The Road to Oregon in electronic format which is excellent reading for grownups and kids alike.

By the way, since I was a linguist in my former life (with a Bachelor's in general linguistics to prove it), I exhort you to check out this comprehensive dictionary on Chinook Jargon, a pidgin/creole spoken by early fur traders and Indians in the region as a business language. Fascinating!

Division 1, Cont'd: Old US 395 via Holdman (OR 37/US 730)

First, however, we continue on OR 37/old US 395 (OH #36), as we enter Holdman. Holdman is a small community in northeastern Oregon hunkered down in the claustrophobic gorge of the Cold Springs Canyon, named for the Holdman brothers who were local settlers. The local post office was established in 1900.

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There isn't very much to Holdman anymore, but it does seem to have been larger in the past as this ca. 1910 photograph demonstrates.

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The third and final major junction along OR 37 is this one, to Helix. This is not an Oregon Highway, but rather just a county road. Note that OR 37 is now signed "TO US 730."

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Curving around the grain elevator that dominates the landscape.

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Just playing around with the lens a little.

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Distance signage leaving Holdman. For some reason this uses the expected Umatilla and Pasco (Washington state) as control cities, as US 395 would have done, not the perfunctory "TO US 730" we saw at the county road junction.

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Continuing through the gorge.

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Looking down at the creek bed, which we follow tightly.

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Eventually the territory will start becoming more arid as we start to get to the north end of the hills.

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South fork of the Cold Springs Creek, the last of the three forks.

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Actually some water in this, it appears.

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Or maybe not.

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Mile 5, finally leaving the canyon.

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Resuming the rolling hill landscape as we cruise towards the Columbia River valley.

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The Columbia River is now visible for the first time. We will see a lot more of this river, and cross it several times on our various sorties.

The portion of the Columbia here is actually the southern end of Lake Wallula, the body of water formed in 1953 by the impoundment of the Columbia (and by extension the Snake River) by the McNary Dam, which we will get to see a little later from Interstate 82. It has a surface area of 38,800 acres. Wallula is a Walla Walla Indian name meaning "place of many waters" (a little more about the Walla Walla tribe in Part 24).

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Curving around for the final descent to US 730.

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Looking back at the rips and scarps in the landscape as we drop down into the river basin.

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An evacuation route sign at Mile 1 on the upgrade. Seems a strange route to evacuate by.

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END OR 37 at US 730, and the end of OH #36, at Cold Springs Junction. Despite the named junction, there are no settlements or services here.

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Split for WB and EB US 730. We curve to the right to join US 730 and continue as old US 395 on OH #2 (Columbia River Hwy).

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Lewis and Clark Trail signage at US 730. More about this in Part 24.

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Looking back at the OR 37 intersection.

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Distance signage on EB US 730/old US 395.

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First milepost on this alignment (Mile 194).

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The rocky shoreline of the Columbia River. The Columbia River Highway, as the name implies, rides parallel to the Columbia River splitting Oregon and Washington state to the north.

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The United States' second largest river, the Columbia flows 1,232 miles and drains 258,000 square miles; from its headwaters in the Canadian Rockies, it crosses through the Arrow Lakes to the United States border, then southwest through Washington state to form the Washington-Oregon border and finally drains into the Pacific Ocean north of Astoria, OR. Among its many tributaries are the Willamette River, the John Day River, the Snake River, the Spokane River and the Hood River. It is the largest river in the world without a delta (ending instead in the "Columbia Bar"), and America's largest river source of hydroelectric power (among them the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest in the country). Known to the local Indians as Ouragan, the modern name comes from the boat of Captain Robert Gray, who had traveled to the region on the Columbia to trade for fur, and in 1792 was the first white man to see the mighty river. This is a diagram of the Columbia River Basin, from the US Army Corps of Engineers (hosted on Wikipedia).

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During some portions, the road gets very narrow between the river and the unforgiving rock faces on the south side, analogous to the same situation with OR 37.

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EB US 730/old US 395.

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Some more of the unusual ripped rolls of terrain high above us.

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As we proceed further east, some of these start to take on the fractured basalt appearance of other places we have traveled, such as the Abert Rim back in Part 18.

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Mile 203, final milepost in Oregon.

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Leaving Oregon.

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No, really, I'm leaving Oregon.

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Can't you see I'm leaving Oregon? (The reverse of the previous sign.)

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Washington state line/Walla Walla county line and the end of OH #2. We will resume this Division in the next Part.

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Division 2: US 395 via Hermiston

Back to Pendleton, OR, we join Interstate 84 from the junction in Part 22, at Mile 209. This is OH #6 (Old Oregon Trail); we cross the Umatilla River very shortly after the merge.

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This is the western exit to US 30, not signed here.

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Our forks merge, now co-signed WB I-84/WB US 30/NB US 395.

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Distance signage leaving Pendleton.

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Pull-through signage for this triple-routed highway is very interesting. Note how I-84 gets prime real estate and directional signage, whereas US 30 and US 395 just get perfunctory smaller shields and "W" and "N".

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Mile 194. Most of I-84 between our two portions of US 395 is this kind of rolling dry grassland with some farming areas interposed.

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Advance signage for the US 395 separation north of Echo.

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Separation at Exit 188.

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Turning right to continue as NB US 395 routed on OH #54 (Umatilla-Stanfield Hwy). If we turn left, we enter the small town of Echo. Echo, a stop along the Oregon Trail, remained mostly a watering hole and campsite for settlers heading to points further west until the 1860s. In 1880, the modern town was platted by settlers J.H. Koontz and W. Brassfield, who named it for Koontz' daughter. With the arrival of the railroad, the town's presence was cemented and it was incorporated in 1904. The city's population is 650 [2000].

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100% pure gasoline, as opposed to the sewer water you get at other pumps (gas station south of Stanfield; yes, I know this applies to the ethanol content, I'm just being facetious). As a Californian, I was unnerved by the practice that the attendant must pump your gas -- there is no self-serve. In fact, there is a rather hefty fine for violations.

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Almost immediately leaving I-84 we come to Stanfield, population 1,979 [2000]. It is named for Senator Robert N. Stanfield (R-Oregon), who served in the Oregon state house of representatives from 1913-7 and the United States Senate from 1921-7, and was locally born in Umatilla. Stanfield purchased the land himself originally for the sheep and wool enterprises he operated with his brothers, which were at one time the largest sheep ranching operations in North America. Gradually, Stanfield diversified and subdivided his lands to create the town, donating parcels to the town for public buildings. He died in 1945.

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First milepost is Mile 12 as we enter Stanfield. This is a fairly short alignment, relatively speaking, but we will see even shorter ones in a moment.

The Umatilla-Stanfield Hwy was originally signed as part of OR 32. This is still reflected erroneously in Google Maps, as depicted in Part 22.

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Downtown, of a sort.

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Leaving Stanfield.

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Distance signage. Hermiston is not very far.

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In fact, not very far at all.

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South Hermiston, present population 15,780. Hermiston was founded as Six Mile House in the 1860s, then little more than a bar and hotel, but it did a brisk business due to the large travel traffic and the team freight industry. Once the railroad arrived, Hermiston re-invented itself into a railway junction spot and agricultural zone and formally incorporated in 1907. The name comes from The Weir of Hermiston by Robert Louis Stevenson, the author's unfinished masterpiece and final work. Agriculture was greatly facilitated by the filling of the Cold Springs Reservoir in 1908, allowing large-scale irrigation, and agriculture remains the big local industry today with some economic contribution from the World War II-era Umatilla Army Depot and the Union Pacific Railroad's Hinkle Terminal. The Depot is now largely scaled back, but still holds significant stocks of chemical weaponry.

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The watermelon watertower, the city's official symbol.

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Entering town, signed as Highway 395.

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Fourth Street.

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Mile 5 through town and advance signage for OR 207. Past Highland Ave, US 395 is now 1st St.

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Jct OR 207, here on OH #333 (Hermiston Hwy). OR 207 follows a complicated alignment between US 730, about 13 miles from the Washington state line, through Hermiston, down to Heppner, partially along the main John Day River, and then south to terminate at US 26 north of the Ochoco National Forest. Many of its routings are borrowed, and it has frequent shifts of road alignment.

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Leaving town.

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Power City. This is a small junction just south of Umatilla, named in honour of the tremendous hydroelectric power generated by the McNary Dam to the north.

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Advance signage for US 730 as we reach the end of our alignment.

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Graphical signage, showing the dam and highways.

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Umatilla (just shortly after Power City). The second county seat in Umatilla county, its first post office arrived in 1851 and it was formally incorporated as Umatilla Landing in 1864. Its 2000 population is 4,978.

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US 395/US 730 junction. This is where old US 395 turned right to join with US 730 for the Washington state line after I-84 was built, and joined our Division 1 at Cold Springs Junction. Today, US 395 and US 730 join to the left for a tiny stretch to Interstate 82. This is the end of OH #54 (Umatilla-Stanfield Hwy).

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Straight on is the McNary Dam -- we will get a much better view of it from I-82. The McNary Dam is a 7,365' long, 183' high concrete hydroelectric dam with a generating capacity of almost one megawatt. Construction started in 1947, named for Senator Charles L. McNary (R-Oregon) who served in the United States Senate from 1917 until his death in 1944, and is probably best known for co-sponsoring the McNary-Haugen Farm Relief Bill that while initially vetoed by Coolidge would become the ancestor of the agricultural New Deal. He was also an associate justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, and a vice presidential candidate in 1940. The dam was finished in 1954 and fully activated in 1957. It is operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

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Distance and junction signage facing west. US 395 and US 730 are signed "straight on" with US 395 signed left (south).

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Beside us is a marker for Lake Wallula, which we saw earlier, and the US Army Corps of Engineers logo.

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Finally, looking back south. Notice the small VMSes that were attached to all the traffic signal poles in these photos. The US 730 is a clearly different and older shield, because it dates from when US 730 was here by itself; the US 395 shields are necessarily newer. We turn west (right from this view) to join with OH #2 (Columbia River Hwy) as NB US 395/WB US 730.

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Note (possibly as a historical point) that our first reassurance shield does not show US 395. The end of the alignment is already visible (the overpass in the distance is the Interstate).

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Advance signage for I-82, which was already visible in the last shot.

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Junction I-82. US 730 continues as OH #2 (Columbia River Hwy) straight ahead. Note the signage for "I-82 EAST TO I-84" -- this is very close to I-82's southern terminus. We exit right for our last Oregon highway alignment, OH #70 (McNary Hwy), as NB I-82/NB US 395. We can see at an angle that US 395 is cosigned with US 730 going back east (look at the extremely rotated sign to the right).

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The twin Columbia River bridges, or the Umatilla Bridges. The first river crossing along this point was the one on the left, built in the 1950s as a local toll crossing by Umatilla county and does not seem to have had an Oregon Route or Highway number during that time (see the small map inset to the right from 1966). A cantilevered two-lane steel span, it carried modest traffic volumes during those days; it was variously referred to as the Umatilla Bridge or the Plymouth-Umatilla Bridge depending on which source you read. When I-82 was allocated, the original Umatilla Bridge was added to the state highway system as part of OH #70 and became I-82's crossing in 1985 (along which US 395 was routed in 1986). The second bridge was opened in 1987, a concrete crossing with two main spans. Upon its construction, the old steel bridge was closed for renovation and alteration of the approach spans, including running the freeway over the railroad tracks on the Washington side.

The advance signage for the first Washington exit was erected by Washington State DOT (WSDOT).

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Crossing NB over the newer span to show the McNary Dam, as promised. I think this shot does some justice to its enormity.

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Down the NB concrete span. To the right, the bicycle and pedestrian sidewalk is partially visible.

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Northern shore of the Columbia River. We will cross the Columbia River again in the next Part, and a third time in Part 29.

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Welcome to Washington state. Hiya, Dr. Morgan!

This is the end of OH #70 (McNary Hwy).

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Just to look a bit at the steel span, we'll turn around at our first exit and head back. Here's the Columbia's southern shore this time.

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Looking at the Columbia off to the west.

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Crossing through the span (shot through the windshield, sorry).

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Back into Oregon.

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US 395/US 730 leaving as Exit 1. Note how the pull-through signage is I-84 despite this being I-82 (because of I-82's close southern terminus). The designation as Exit 1 is a bit misleading (there are a couple others), but if true would have been one of the few instances where an Interstate has only a single exit within an entire state.

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Eisenhower Interstate System signage on I-82 as we exit down to US 395/US 730 to turn back around and head north into Washington.

Continue to Part 24

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