|Exploring the Blue Mountains of
Exploring old gold mines and ghost towns of Eastern Oregon
|Last update: February 18, 2005
|John and I had explored this area of Oregon many times before. But this would be our first fully
documented trip specifically for the website. Despite our many trips before, we would also explore
a few areas that we had never seen. Eastern Oregon is full of history, but the Blue Mountains of
Eastern Oregon is perhaps one of the most rich in gold rush artifacts of any area of the Northwest.
|Day Three - July 20, 2003
|Maps of the area
|Sumpter and surrounding mines
|After getting up the next morning, we headed back down the road. This was the road to the Argonaut mine. A mine
that the USGS maps showed had buildings, but the road was blocked where a creek had washed it out and the
Forest Service had come in and dug a large berm to prevent people from crossing the creek. We turned around with
the intention of exploring several other mines. We never could locate the Silver Dick mines. They appear to be
gone now. From the road we noticed tailings piles for the Mt. Bellevue mine and Brooklyn mines. Because of our
past failures in locating any open shafts or buildings in the area, we didn't bother to explore those mines. The area
has several newer houses and we figured that much of the old mine claims in area were either sanitized cleared out
or are still active with modern equipment. We attempted to gain access to a very large mine area NW of Sumpter
that included the Belle of Baker, Bald Mtn, Ibex, and
Grand Trunk mines. Unfortunately, we were stopped about halfway up the rocky road by a very large sign that said
no trespassing. Hmmmm. This was not turning out to be a good start for today. There was no gate this time, but
we've learned that it's always best to respect no trespassing signs, especially when you can hear large equipment on
the other side of that sign at work. So, once again, we were foiled.
|Leaving our camping in
an attempt to explore
more near by mining
|Our next stop was the town of Sumpter. I outlined the town the previous day. Sumpter is not a large town, but it
did have plenty of gas, food and even restaurants. It's the largest town in this area of the Blue Mountains east of
Baker City. Here we stopped for fuel and examines the very large gold dredge that has been on display for several
years. On a trip to this area about 2 years ago, we noticed they appeared to be hard at work restoring the dredge
to its original condition. Today, it almost looks as though they dropped the tools, the day after we left and never
picked them back up again. But nonetheless, the restoration, while not complete, is very impressive and the dredge
is in very good condition and worth a visit.
Many years ago, there were three large dredges that dug out the local creeks and rivers around the town of
Sumpter. They were called the Sumpter # 1, Sumpter # 2 and the Sumpter # 3. Sumpter # 3 was built in 1935 and
was the largest of the three dredges. It remained operational almost year round from then until 1954. It was,
however, shut down from October 1942 to May 1945 during World War Two as gold mining during the war was
After visiting the dredge we walked among several displays of old mining equipment around the town. Much of this
equipment was removed from some of the mine sites we visited. I have mixed feelings about this. I'd much prefer
to discover this equipment at the site where it was originally used. However, looters and the ravages of time and
weather usually take their toll on equipment that is left behind. At least here, they can be seen by more people,
including those that are not equipped to drive up to the harder to reach mines. We discovered the answer to one of
our questions. Remember that large round red piece of wood we found at the Bellevue mine? Here in Sumpter, the
exact same type of object was attached to a nearly intact set of stamps for a stamp mill. We could easily tell that
what we were looking at was in fact a flywheel for the crankshaft of the stamp mechanism!
On our way out of town, we were lucky enough to catch of glimpse of the Sumpter Valley Railroad. This is a local
steam engine tourist railroad that is only a shadow of the former glory of the old Sumpter Railroad that ran through
here until 1947. But it's a very interesting railroad nonetheless. We didn't take the time to visit the rail yards on
this trip as have on prior trips and I unfortunately regret that. We could have gotten some better pictures, but
maybe on another visit next year.
|The Sumpter Dredge # 3 as it looks today after partial restoration
|This picture, taken in 1978
shows the dredge in a much
decaying state, long before
restoration began in 1994.
|Some pictures of the internals of the dredge. While some critical equipment is
missing, much of it remains or was put back into place for static display.
|A close up of the dredging
buckets. Each bucket weighes
|A very large gear about 2
feet in diameter. But
what makes this one so
interesting is the gear
teeth. They are made out
|Remember this very large mysterious wood structure
found at the La Bellvue mine on day one? In the
picture on the right you can see what it used to be.
A flywheel for the stamps at the mill.
|An old oil cart dating to
the late 1800s.
|A parting shot of the Sumpter Valley tourist railroad as it leaves Sumpter for it's railyard a few miles away. The
original Sumpter Valley railroad was abandoned in 1947. Today, most of the tracks are long gone, but much of the
old grade remains. Today, a short several mile section is now active as steam engine tourist railroad. We visited the
railyard several years ago and found lots of very interesting railroad equipment including very old cars, lots of steam
boilers and an old steam engine on static display. It's worth a visit for any railroad buff. Check out my
Sumpter Velley Railroad Page for more info.
|Maps of the area
|Whitney and Susanville Ghostowns and surround areas.
|From Sumpter we headed southeast. This time our destination would be the ghost towns of Whitney and Susanville.
Whitney is located southeast of Sumpter off of highway 7. It was a major railroad town of the old Sumpter Valley
Railroad. From Whitney several logging railroads branched off in different directions, but today there is little or no
evidence of this. The town died when the railroad closed in 1947. In its heyday about 150 people lived here.
Today there are many old cabins and buildings. However it's not clear if the buildings sit where they were
originally built or were later moved into the fields on either side of the road that passes through Whitney. There
was one very interesting structure that did still stand in Whitney. The original saw mill of the town, built in 1911.
Today it is a decaying building that is threatening to collapse. It appears to be perched over a creek that it may
have once used for power. Unfortunately, we were once again met with no trespassing signs and could only take
pictures from a distance.
|What's left of the ghost town of Whitney. All of the buildings you see here are abandoned.
We did notice a cabin or two further down the road that appeared to be occupied.
|This is the old Nibley Lumber mill, built in 1911 just outside
of Whitney. Today it stands out in a private field surounded
by no trespassing signs.
|From Whitney we continued down highway 7 until the town site of Bates. Today, nothing remains of Bates except a
modern ranch. At Bates we turned onto Highway 20. Our destination was the ghostown of Susanville and
surrounding mines. Along the way, we noticed a lone mine site up in the mountains not too many miles off the
highway. It was called the Stithum mine on the USGS maps and it indicated a building. After several failed
attempts to access the area, we finally found the correct road. The road did not require 4-wheel drive, but a high
clearance vehicle is recommended and a GPS is almost mandatory to find your way through the maze of uncharted
roads. After many miles, we finally located the mine site off of a short overgrown spur road. Without a GPS or
knowledge of where it was, you would likely not find it. I can only imagine that the site gets rarely visited if ever.
What we found were several collapsing buildings and an old homestead. The buildings appear to include a garage,
a small mill and several log cabins as well as a house that appears to be the newest building on the property,
perhaps dating to the 1940s or 1950s. Today it is all completely abandoned. We found what was left of the mine,
which was not much. Only a collapsed adit remains.
|The garage on site. This
appeared to be a vehicle
garage at one time.
|The cabin appeared to be
in decent condition
although the inside was
|I couldn't tell you what
this is, but it appeared
|The only real remains of
the collasped mill is this
very large gear set up.
|Our next stop was the ghostown of Susanville. We would not be too disappointed. It was certainly a ghosttown, but
not too many buildings remain today. Access is along a narrow dirt road off of Hwy 20. In the summer of 2002, the
mill in town was standing although is a serious state of decay from a picture I had seen. Today, the mill was totally
collapsed. It had not survived the winter and this was a huge disappointment. The USGS maps indicated several
mine shafts in the area, but we could only locate one. A partly collapsed adit above the old mill site. The road
through Susanville continues to some other possible mine sites. Past Susanville the road requires 4-wheel drive and
high clearance. We were going to attempt it, but it was our last day and we were running out of time.
|The only remaining mine
in the town was this adit
located above the mill site.
|The dirt road leading to
|A couple of the few remaining buildings in the town of
Susanville. These were long abandoned and there were
no occupied buildings anywhere near the townsite, except
for the turn off of Hwy 20.
|Crossing a creek in the
town after we explored the
mine above the mill.
|The mill as it was seen
when visited in the spring
of 2002. I found this
picture on web.
|What's left of the mill
today, in 2003.
|Bob Benton was kind
enough to send me this
photo of Susanville from
the very early years.
|Maps of the area
|Indian Rock Fire Lookout
|Parked below the tower at
the trailhead to the
|From the truck we had to
hike up this very steep
trail to reach the tower.
|The road leading up to
|The view from the road.
|Pictures of the lookout itself. This lookout is active as we watched the operator leave the site after we arrived. We're not
sure when it was built, but it appears to be typical of other lookouts in the area.
|A view of inside the lookout. All
the comforts of home. It's
amazing to think that someone
or some animal had to pack all
that stuff up that very steep
loose rock trail we just walked
|The increadible view from the lookout tower.
|From Indian Rock, we were about 5 hours from home and it was getting late. We left the lookout around 7pm and
had at least 5 hours to drive, if not more. We were debating the quickest route home. From where we were we
decided to head north on Hwy 20 and meet up with Hwy 395, which we would follow to Pendleton and then home via
Interstate. We made only a few stops along the way. One was for an old farm homestead off of
Highway 20 about 8 miles east of Hwy 395. The scene was just beautiful. An old homestead farm nestled in a very
cool canyon. In this late summer hour, the picture was perfect and I would have loved to stay longer just to enjoy
the scene, but were running late.
|The view coming back down
from Indian Rock Lookout.
|The old homestead off of Highway 20. Pictures don't do the beauty of the area justice.
We have no idea when the place was abandoned, but note the age of the equipment that
remains on site.
|Our final stop of any significance was when we almost ran over this Rattle Snake on Hwy 20. Note that it is very
small, but small Rattlers are just as deadly if not more so. When we first found the snake it was coiled up. As I
preparing to take a picture, John, without warning started jumping up and down to startle the snake. Apparently he
wanted a better view of it and I got the view I didn't want. It heading for me! I stepped out of the way, and he and I
were both barely able to snap a few pictures before it disappeared into the brush.
Now, of the three most deadly animals in Oregon to see close up, Bears, Rattle Snakes and Cougers, I only need to
see a Couger up close to round out the experience.
|This concludes our visit to the Blue Mountains in 2003. Although John and I have visited this area many times, on
each visit we bring with us better maps, better navigation equipment and better understanding of what's out there
worth exploring. This trip was among the better and we got to see quite a few mines and ghosttowns. The area is
well worth the visit and I recommend it to anyone. Mid to late summer is the best time to visit as the snow in the
higher elevations will have melted by then, but be prepared for very hot days. And be prepared with extra food and
gas. The area is not extremely remote, but there are few towns out here and Sumpter and Granite are the only gas
stations east of Baker City.
|Copyright © 2004 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
Note about the photos on this site:
Most photos were taken by me, except for those that are otherwise indicated. I usually allow people to use my photos for personal use or websites. Simply
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effort has been made not to include other's photos without the proper permission and credits, however, if you see any photos which belong to you and that I
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|This would be our last major stop of the trip. Indian rock is about 12 miles off of highway 10 up a long well graded,
but steep road into the mountains. The lookout is located at 7350 feet. It offers a very scenic 360-degree view of
the area and well worth the drive up to it. When we arrived we noticed that the lookout operate was just leaving, so
no one was at the tower itself. You have to park several hundred feet lower than the tower and hike up an
extremely steep trail with very loose rock to reach the tower.