Golden Boomtowns. When prospectors first discovered gold near the Powder River in 1861, the gold rush of eastern Oregon was on! Boomtowns like Sumpter, Bourne, and Granite sprang up almost instantly. In fact, about 10,000 mining claims were filed in Baker County during the gold rush. Many private claims still exist, but recreational gold prospectors can still try their luck in certain rivers and streams along the Byway. Check with the Oregon Bureau of Land Management to determine which streams and rivers are open to the public.
Bourne (7 miles outside Sumpter on Cracker Creek). Although not much remains, Bourne is still worth a stop. At the end of the dusty, 6-mile gravel road that follows along Cracker Creek, you’ll find abandoned homesteads mixed in with a few newer summer cabins. A highlight is an old mine in the side of the cliff. Take a peek if you don’t mind a short dusty walk uphill. Although the shaft that once led deep into the hillside is sealed, remnants of rusty rails and a mining operation is still evident. Resist the urge to gold pan here, though, because federal mining claims are clearly posted.
Granite (15 miles northwest of Sumpter). Quite by coincidence, the town of Granite has a very patriotic history. On July 4, 1862, Albert Tabor first discovered gold here and to honor the day, he called his claim Independence. Upon applying for a post office, however, residents discovered that another small Oregon town was already called Independence, so the name was changed to Granite. The new name was quite appropriate because of the quartz mining boom also occurring in the area. By the turn of the century, the town was prospering and 15 businesses served the needs of the locals. But just as easily as it flourished, by the 1930s, the mines began to fail and residents moved elsewhere to find a new livelihood. Granite then became a ghost town. Beautiful ironwork marks the entrance to the tiny town now, and you’ll find several well-preserved buildings and a combination gas station/store/café. There’s also an old, well-cared-for cemetery in town with a commanding view of 5,863-foot Blue Spring Summit (a popular snowmobiling area in the winter). Drive slowly through the streets of Granite, and notice the signage on many of the buildings and homes. These plaques tell about the structure’s original purpose, owner, and history. Most year-round residents live right in town, but a grand total of about 25 people also live within an 8-mile radius. If you crave privacy, Granite is the place to live today!
The journey concludes next week with part 4…Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com