Wednesday, July 1, 1981

10. Baker, Oregon

Day 10:  Wednesday, July 1, 1981

Prairie City to Baker:  69 miles

As we were leaving the campground this morning, we met two men who know a little of the history of the Sumpter Valley Railroad.  It had been built around 1890 to haul Ponderosa pine out of the Sumpter Valley and to carry mining supplies for the gold miners in the valley and around Greenhorn.  By 1910, it had worked its way westward to Prairie City.   The depot in the park marked its western terminus.

Our route took us north toward Sumpter, then east along the Sumpter Valley to the road which enters Baker from the south.  It was one long steep hill after another, and we almost ran out of water.

For lunch, I dragged Jack half a mile off the road to a picnic table on the shore of Cougar (?) Reservoir [Google Maps shows only Phillips Lake].  He was rather put out, since we were tired anyway, and it was a long climb back to the main road.

The last 20 miles north into Baker were downhill, but we couldn't tell it - there was a terrific headwind, and Jack and I took turns drafting each other.

Tailings from the Sumpter dredge
Tailings from the Sumpter dredge

Coming through the Sumpter Valley, we saw that its center was filled with mounds of gravel to a height of about ten feet.  We thought this was a natural formation, left by retreating glaciers, but we found out later that they were tailings left over from gold dredging operations many years ago.  Some railroad buffs had resurrected the Sumpter Valley Railroad in the middle of these tailings.  They had built a depot, laid about a mile of track on the old roadbed, and acquired some rolling stock.  They apparently operate on weekends - unfortunately, everything was quiet when we passed through.  They have restored an old Heisler engine, original SV stock, and they have two old Mallets from the White Pass & Yukon, an original SV caboose that was built in 1926, and various other odds and ends.  We didn't get to see the Heisler - it was locked up.

The Sumpter Valley Railroad
The Sumpter Valley Railroad  

WP&Y Mallet
One of the White Pass &  Yukon Mallets

We found later that the dredge that had created all the tailings was on display in Sumpter - a town we had elected to pass up because it was three miles off our route.

We stayed this evening behind the Y in Baker.  A Bikecentennial group was also at the Y:  four women and three men.  One of the girls was from Holland.  She had changed her gearing when she came over, but it still wasn't very low.  However, she said she was a strong rider.

The pitcher of beer we had with our pizza disappeared in a hurry - we had put in a hard day.  In all, I imagine we climbed at least a mile.  In spite of the beer, I managed to do some grocery shopping, and Rick and I did our laundry and read popular mining journals before finally getting to bed at 11:00.

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