Exploring North Central Oregon

April 5, 2008

Today was one of knowledge, seeing and experience: the kind of day I hold as the highest value in my esteem.

We are staying in the Hotel Condon, built in 1920 and recently restored–carefully, tastefully. There is a pervasive obsession with the Rat Pack here. Most of the time the public areas are bathed with Frank Sinatra tunes. Paintings of Sammy Davis, Jr. That kind of thing.

Main Street, Condon, Oregon
There are vintage mid-1940s Life magazines scattered around. In one that David was reading, there was a multi-photo series of an ornery “Jap” being burned alive. Everything urging you to buy war bonds. Times have changed. I thought a lot of my grandmother Pearl*.

This morning was cloudless and perfect after so long in the dimness of Portland. There were birds singing. We went across the street to a gift shop in an old storefront that has a tiny outpost of Powell’s Books in it. Peculiar. David bought a three-foot tall Cymbidium orchid.

We drove east to Heppner, where 250 of the town’s inhabitants died in a freakish and tragic flood in a single day in the early 20th century. You can still feel how it defines the town. We wandered around an outdoor display of farming equipment and rail paraphernalia.

Lunch was in a diner where I got grilled cheese on their homemade white bread. Perfect: greasy, with no pretension, American cheese straight from the plastic wrapper. We read real estate advertisements and got too many warm-ups on our coffee. Across the street at the Shell station, teenage boys fueled ATVs and made fun of each other.

Heppner, Boxcar

Morrow County Courthouse, Heppner, Oregon

Back west, then south towards Spray, through peculiar Hardman, Oregon. Hardman, it seems, is a ghost town. Except not. People still live there. Mixed into the blistering and bent and broken ghost houses. Some of the ghost-looking houses are still occupied. Even a newer, corrugated steel shed has a “ghost front” tacked onto it. In another context, it might sound like a gimmick. But there’s no reason for it here: the town has no services, no possible tourist implications. It’s all alone out there, and ghosty. And eerie. This article has some more details.

Strange Hardman, Oregon

Time for the learning part of the day. We visited the Cant Ranch, a sheeping operation from 1920. We hiked the brief “Island of Time” trail in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Sheep Rock unit). I wanted to spot a fossil so badly but, of course, did not. I did find one interesting rock. Alas, not a fossil (I don’t think).

Curious Rock

David in the Blue Basin



Since this afternoon, I keep randomly ejaculating “Consider the oreodont!” It’s my new thing. It’ll get old fast, all right.

On to the Thomas Condon Interpretive Center where we spent an awful long time gawking and bothering the rangers about things. I sat down and studied minerals and their cleaving angles for a while. David and I pondered a complex and comprehensive (and very large) geological map of Oregon. We discussed the fossilized mammals: “miohippus” (a.k.a. “middle horse”), mice-sized deer, “bear dogs”, rhino things, elephant things, and something identified as a “skunk-badger-weasel”. And, of course, oreodonts. I CONSIDERED THEM.

And then there’s this silly picture. We’re not exactly sure what the goal was here.

* Pearl was a nurse, in Liverpool, England, during World War II.

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