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Scenic Oregon State Route 7

 

Stretching from I-84 and US 30 in Baker City, Oregon to US 26 in Austin Junction, Oregon is Oregon Route 7. A scenic highway boasting sections of both the Elkhorn Scenic Byway and the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, OR 7 runs along the scenic Blue Mountains and wide open ranchlands along its journey through eastern Oregon. Along OR 7, there's also gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, gold mining and even a ghost town or two.

We start our journey in Baker City, the Queen City of the Mines as gold had been discovered there in 1862. Both Baker City and the surrounding Baker County were named to honor Edward Dickinson Baker (1811–1861), who was Oregon’s first senator and the only sitting member of Congress to be killed in the Civil War. The Oregon Trail passed through Baker City as emigrants traveled to settle on the rich farmlands west of the Cascades in the Willamette Valley. Baker City is also notable for the Geiser Grand Hotel, which first opened in 1889 and has quite the history. The hotel had the third elevator ever built west of the Mississippi River, is said to be haunted and had tunnels that led to illegal alcohol, brothels and passage to Chinese immigrants who were not allowed on the streets at night.

Starting our OR 7 journey at the exit from I-84 with the usual smattering of truck stops, hotels and fast food restaurants that you find alongside the highway at Interstate Oases.

Heading into downtown Baker City on OR 7 southbound.

Geiser Grand Hotel

Baker County Courthouse

World's Largest Map of the Oregon Trail. It's a fun yet glorified mural to me.

Making our way through downtown Baker City, there's a way back to I-84. While the scenery around the Interstate is scenic in northeastern Oregon, the two lane highway through the hills is just as scenic. We're going that way.


At this point, the Elkhorn and Journey Through Time scenic byways join OR 7 as they travese through grasslands and stands of juniper trees and eventually towards forewsts of ponderosa pines, turning west along the Powder River. The highway runs through the basalt Blue Canyon and enters the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, where the grasslands and juniper hills give way to ponderosa pine forest. The Powder River’s Mason Dam forms the 2,235 acre Phillips Lake, which is a popular spot for boating, fishing and camping, along with hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Starting our departure from Baker City.

It's roughly 50 miles to OR 7's end at US 26 from Baker City, but none of these towns on the mileage sign are on OR 7 proper. Sumpter comes close (and we'll make a detour into Sumpter later), but Hereford and Unity can be reached via OR 245.

It was a beautiful fall morning along OR 7.

Elkhorn Scenic Byway signage. The Elkhorn Scenic Byway is named after the Elkhorn Mountains section of the Blue Mountains that are found in Baker County, Oregon.

Entering the Blue Canyon. Nearby, just a few miles west is the ghost town of Auburn, which was a gold mining town and once was home to about 6,000 residents. During the 1860s, it was the county seat of Baker County for a short while. The town site that was Auburn is now deserted.

Into the Blue Canyon.

It is a nice scenic view through the canyon.

OR 245 intersects with OR 7 coming up. OR 245 goes south towards the towns of Unity and Hereford.

Passing by OR 245, I get stuck behind another driver for a while until it was safe to pass. The scenery made up for the slower speeds.

The Powder River is following alongside to the south of OR 7 at this point.

Ponderosa pines being more prominent along the highway and will be the case for quite a while.

Nice view from the side of the rock wall.

The rising steam or fog to your left is from the Phillips Lake. It was a cold morning!

Cruising through the Powder River Recreation Area of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.


Cows on the ranch.
At this point, we'll make a quick detour into Sumpter. The Elkhorn Scenic Byway also makes a right here, while OR 7 remains ahead.

Welcome to Sumpter! Sumpter was named after Fort Sumter in South Carolina and was a gold mining boomtown during the early years of the 20th Century. However, in 1917, there was a devastating fire that took out most of the town. A few buildings remained after the fired.

Including the Sumpter Store, which is now a museum and public library.


Sumpter Train Station. There was once a narrow gauge railway called the Sumpter Valley Railway that went through Sumpter on its path between Baker City and Prairie City. These days, there is a tourist railroad called the Sumpter Valley Railroad.

Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge, which was in operation between 1935 and 1954 and was quite profitable in its heyday. The dredge is now an Oregon state historic site. Since the only other gold mining dredge I've seen was Tony Beets' dredge on the TV show Gold Rush, I decided to take a closer look at the dredge.



Back on OR 7 southbound.

It's another 25 miles to US 26, and 53 miles to John Day, but there are some scenic miles ahead.

I happened to hit the road during a nice day of fall foliage. It's not quite what I'm used to seeing back home in Upstate New York, but the fall color was popping this morning on OR 7.

Hay is not just for horses. I passed this hay truck on the first opportunity I had.

I passed the hay truck, but I'm still descending up the Larch Summit.

After going past Larch Summit, it's pretty nice up the horizon.


To our left is the Whitney ghost town. Founded in 1900, Whitney was a logging town along the Burnt River and featured the first sawmill in the area, but the town devastated by fire in 1918. A few buildings remain from the days of yore. Let's take a look, shall we?

Maybe I want to look at the cattle instead. On second thought...

Learning about Whitney. The Sumpter Valley Railroad also made it to this old town.

An old barn from Whitney.

An old house. It was a frosty morning, so I felt like that added to the roof.

Looking west towards the Strawberry Mountains.

Ol' downtown Whitney.



Back on OR 7. Sweeping curves, going up and down hills and scenic views rule the roughly 13 mile section between Whitney and Austin Junction. I'll let the photos do most of the talking for me here.



Remember that hay truck I passed earlier? It's back. The slow moving truck passed by as I was checking out the Whitney ghost town. Once again, I'll pass at my first opportunity.

There's not much to say except to enjoy the view. This was an enjoyable part of OR 7 to drive.


A rather pedestrian, yet photogenic view.

Rounding the corner to what I feel is the best view along OR 7.

What a beauty! Between the sweeping curves of OR 7, the barn, the light dusting of snow, colorful larch trees, a few cattle and the mountain backdrop, this speaks to the beauty of northeastern Oregon. This looks even better in pictures than it does in person, and it was wonderful to see in person, too.

A nice view of the mountains.

The Journey Through Time Scenic Byway is getting ready to make a right hand turn. This means US 26 is fast approaching and our journey along OR 7 is drawing to a close.

END! OR 7 at US 26. Going east will take you to Unity, Vale and eventually to Idaho. Going west will take you through some scenic countryside out to Prineville and beyond.

Sources and Links:
Travel Oregon - Scenic Drives
ORoads - Oregon Route 7

Comments

OR-7 used to travel along what is now OR-245 until May 20, 1980, when it was moved onto the current alignment once a new road between Sumpter and Austin was completed. The portion of current OR-7 between Salisbury and Sumpter was OR-220 until that time as well. The old portion of OR-7 became OR-245 on January 19, 1982 as approved by the Oregon Transportation Commission. The nub of old OR-220 from current OR-7 into Sumpter was given the hidden OR-410 designation on February 12, 2003, numbered after its ODOT highway, the Sumpter Valley Highway #410.

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