March and April are on their way, which is pretty exciting because here at Guaranty RV, we know spring is the beginning of prime camping season. Everything will be in bloom, and a lot of campgrounds will have openings that won’t be available later in the summer, so we look for some of our favorite campsites where we can appreciate the natural Oregon beauty. For example, if you love rhododendrons, late April is a great time to get a campsite on the Oregon Coast. Also, the gray whales will be well into their northward migration by the end of March and into April, so you can appreciate nature galore without the press of the summer crowds. (Quick hint: one of our favorite campgrounds that’s full of rhododendrons and isn’t far from Junction City or the beach, is Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park, just three miles south of Florence on Highway 101.
This year, though, we’ve decided to add a historical theme to our spring RV trips, and see some of what Oregon was like in the early days. In this two-part blog, we’re going to share with you a couple of our best “theme” RV trips. This week we’re exploring Oregon’s Old West, ghost towns and Native American history. Next week we’re going to look at the Lewis & Clark trail, along with some of the old wagon roads that are still accessible.
Oregon’s Wild West is Actually in the East: The Columbia Gorge and Eastern Oregon
If you’re interested in the Old West and Native American culture, Eastern Oregon is where you’re going to want to be this spring. We suggest that you start your RV trip in The Dalles at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum/. This will give you a good base for understanding the geological origins of the area and the many cultures that came together in our state.
From The Dalles, steer your RV toward Pendleton. Along the way, you’ll get the opportunity to appreciate the Gorge, which is at its best in the spring, and to experience both the history of the Native Americans and the settlers who travelled enormous distances to make their homes here. In Pendleton, be sure to take in the Umatilla County Heritage Station. Umatilla County was the hub of multiple transportation routes for Native Americans, early explorers and pioneers, so it has a history that is unique to Oregon.
More than fifty Native American tribes once lived in the area that is now Oregon. Today, our state is home to nine federally recognized Native American tribes, and if you really want to understand the history of this place, you need to spend some time learning about our indigenous people. In Pendleton, with a visit to the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the history and culture of peoples who have lived here for more than 10,000 years.
There’s a lot more “wild west” to see in Pendleton, too, since it has been home to the famous Pendleton Round Up since 1910. And for another history lesson, you should definitely visit the Pendleton Woolen Mills, which has been in operation for more than 150 years.
From Pendleton, stay on Highway 84 toward La Grande (home of one of our favorite RV manufacturers, Northwood) and Baker City. Now you’re in Chief Joseph Country, ancestral home of the Nez Perce tribe. In Baker City, be sure to stop at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center for living history demonstrations, interpretive programs, exhibits, multimedia presentations and more. This is also a good place to get out of the RV and go for a walk on any of the four miles of interpretive trails. Here, you can literally walk in the wagon ruts left behind by thousands of 19th century settlers.
For a great RV park to act as your home base for this trip, take a look at Farewell Bend State Recreation Area, located near the Oregon/Idaho border on the banks of the Snake River’s Brownlee Reservoir.
Ghost Towns of Oregon
Pioneering was a tough business and some old Oregon towns didn’t make it, which means there are some pretty wonderful ghost towns left behind for us to explore, and RVing is one of the best ways to get to these out-of-the-way sites. Some people have said Oregon has more ghost towns per capita than any other state. We don’t know if that’s true, but we do know there are more than 80 ghost towns on the National Register and we’re making it our goal this spring to see some of the best while we’re out in Eastern Oregon checking out the history of the West (well, East).
From Chief Joseph Country and Baker City, head back west toward John Day where you’ll find the ghost towns of Canyon City and Maryville. Or, if you go a little further south into Harney County and follow Hwy. 205, you’ll find yourself near the old towns of Narrows, Blitzen and Andrews. Want to explore some other ghost towns while you’re east of the Cascades? Here’s an interactive map for you to plan your routes.
Oregon is perfect for RVing in the spring, and finding a “theme” for your spring road trip is a great way to take in some of the natural treasures, historical sites and blue highways that others never see. Next week we’re coming west of the Cascades again, and we’ll tell you about some of our favorite sites that bring Oregon history and the RV lifestyle together perfectly.
If you’re coming through Junction City, be sure to stop in and say hi. And don’t hesitate to give us a call if you have any questions.
Be sure to check out part 2 of our blog.
Photo: Baker County Tourism