The Blue Mountains
Back through pioneer history. Up through incredible scenery. An alternative
to I-84 for east-west travelers between Arlington and Baker City. Charming
towns dot the route, and outdoor recreational opportunities abound along
the eastern leg.
A. The Lowlands
out from the Byway's western portal at Heppner Junction off I-84 between
Arlington and Hermiston and prepare for a history lesson. Willow Creek,
near the town of Cecil, was a popular stopping place along the Oregon
Oregon Route 74 continues southeast along the creek, through bountiful
wheat and canola fields and ranches, to the agricultural communities of
Ione and Lexington. These towns, which began as sheep stations, still
maintain classic examples of frontier architecture.
Nine miles beyond Lexington, Heppner is a commercial and recreational
gateway to the Blue Mountains. Visit the Morrow County Museum, which hosts
one of the finest collections of artifacts of pioneer, homestead, and
rural history in the Northwest; it also chronicles the great flood of
1903. A historic walking tour features a number of turn-of-the-century
buildings, including the blue-stone courthouse. Willow Creek Lake offers
boating and fishing a mile from downtown.
Into the Woods
From Heppner, the Byway follows Willow Creek Road, then Forest Service
Road 53 as it climbs into the Umatilla National Forest. This 1.4 million-acre
expanse of pine and fir trees offers plenty of terrain for hikers and
horseback riders to explore. As you travel, notice how the forest is recovering
from a wildfire and an insect epidemic. You'll pass Cutsforth Park, a
popular camping and picnic spot, and the Coalmine Hill day-use area provides
access to several hiking and horseback trails. Farther along the Byway,
Potamus Point provides a panoramic view of the "Wild and Scenic"
North Fork John Day River. In the winter, herds of deer and elk can sometimes
D. On the Ukiah
The Byway emerges from the forest and descends into an ancient lake basin
that - according to Indian legend - was permanently emptied by a "great
rumbling" that happened "many moons ago." The basin is
the site of the small town of Ukiah. Bright blue camas flowers abound
in the spring; native people relied on the camas root as a food source.
E. Back into the Woods
After crossing U.S. Route 395 and the Camas River, the Byway continues
southeast on Forest Service Road 53, climbing quickly into the forest
again. Soon, you'll reach the Bridge Creek Wildlife Area, which serves
as a wintering ground for one of the largest herds of Rocky Mountain elk
in the nation. A short trail provides a good vantage point of the wintering
grounds; the best time to see elk is from December through May. About
nine miles east, the North Fork John Day Overlook presents a spectacular
view of the John Day Wilderness to the north and the Strawberry Mountain
Wilderness Area to the south. You may be able to spot elk at Bridge Creek
Flats. There are an abundance of campgrounds and hiking trails along the
North Fork John Day and Camas rivers. Anglers focus on these waters for
rainbow trout and steelhead.
F. End on the John Day
The Byway's east portal is located at the North Fork John Day Campground,
another popular fishing spot. From here, the Byway overlaps with the Elkhorn
Drive Scenic Byway; if you're heading farther east, it's a relaxing alternative
to I-84. Take Forest Service Road 73 east through Anthony Lakes to Haines,
or south through the mining towns of Granite and Sumpter toward Baker
City. You may also return to I-84 by heading north on Forest Service Road
51 and following the Grande Ronde River to La Grande.