| Because of the snow, it was necessary early one morning to hurriedly leave my campsite in the Joaquin Miller Horse Camp in the Malheur National Forest and head toward the community of John Day. This was not a good start to my day as I had to forgo my usual morning routine. |
My usual morning routine is to make coffee in my percolator and then stroll around the camp area, coffee cup in hand, greeting the sun, checking out the morning and watching the day come alive. If in a campground, sometimes other early morning people are about and we will talk. I have met some interesting people this way. Other boondocking times, on occasion, animals such as birds, foxes, deer, and very occasionally a coyote would be observed. I have never seen larger predators such as bears or mountain lions around my camping area but I have seen bear scat. The scenery and views are always interesting and new. After walking around, I return to my beloved Oliver to perform my morning ablutions and then make breakfast.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, coffee and food were large on my mind and not much else upon arrival to the community of John Day. After breakfast, I sat curbside in front of the restaurant looking at maps and debating which direction to go next. The weather was supposed to be more snow for the mountains over this late May weekend. While mountain camping has high appeal, camping in snow and cold has little appeal. Thus my quandary as to which direction to point my nose, as all directions were having snowy weather. It had been a long wet winter. Spring had been mostly wet and cold all over the intermountain west including eastern Oregon.
Eastern Oregon is very different than coastal or central Oregon. It is a big place with little population and small towns with few places of employment. Except for ranching and some tourism, little else in the way of legal economic activity is available for employment. Distances between population centers are large. In some places, one would have to drive a hundred miles over steep, winding, mountain roads to find a box store. It has wooded mountains interspersed with grass valleys, far less rainfall than west of the Cascades - deserts in some places and has large amounts of government owned land.
The federal government owns approximately 28% of the lands of the US, most of it in the western states. It owns 52% of the land in Oregon, nearly 85% in Nevada, 61 % in Idaho, nearly 65% in Utah, nearly 46% in California and more - altogether 47% of the west. By comparison, eastern states’ lands have little Federal ownership, most land is in private ownership. As a part of the federal government, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rules over an area the size of France, Germany and Italy combined. It controls one-eighth of the land mass in the US, about the size of South Africa. Its holdings are in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. BLM land holdings do not include land in the eastern part of the US, so many people back east are not familiar with this federal agency. In companion to BLM, the US Forest Service also owns large tracts of land, mostly timbered mountain land.
This level of ownership by the Federal government effectively prevents private ownership and thus private economic activity that could provide employment for people in a large part of the west, including eastern Oregon. The lands of the Federal government contain a large amount of timber land which once was selectively harvested by private contractors in response to bid requests initiated by the USFS. This was effectively stopped during the Clinton administration. Twenty years on, this is why many small communities in the west look hollowed out. This long article in the New York Times will help to understand some of the economics and people’s viewpoints and circumstances, if you care to read it here: Click
Before the timber industry was effectively eliminated by federal rules, people were able to make a living working in the forests or the mills. The county that I live in, twenty plus years ago had nearly two dozen mills providing thousands of jobs from timber harvested from federal lands. Now, there are three. Similar tales can be had in other places like eastern Oregon.
The massive federal ownership of land does have a benefit to people like me who can find places to camp at little or no cost. This gives me many choices for travel and camping which can sometimes be a quandary; thus my study of which direction to proceed from John Day. East could have taken me to US 95 which could then lead north to Idaho or south to Nevada. While Idaho was tempting, it was fairly certain that it would have more cold and snow than my current location so that would have to wait until another time. Heading south to Nevada was the best bet for finding some sunshine and warmth. Going west to coastal Oregon was not considered because the snow-laden Cascades would have to be crossed and snow chains would likely be needed. Plus, I have visited the spectacular Oregon coast many times - my interest was new places.
Because it was close by, my decision was to head north on US 395 and go to Ukiah, Oregon. Ukiah, California is my place of residence. Ukiah, Oregon was named after Ukiah, California so this seemed an opportunity to visit and compare the two communities. Ukiah, Oregon is a small community maybe as large as 300-400 people - located a mile or so east of US 395 along State 244. I drove through the three blocks or so of downtown and then turned around - there did not seem to be much going on. Surprisingly, there was no vehicle traffic. The place seemed hollowed out. There were vestiges of better times past as evidenced by empty store fronts and a few unused industrial buildings on locations that were probably lumber mills at one time.
Houses were spread within walking distance of the town center. Most looked to have been built individually (no subdivisions) on lots spacious by modern subdivision standards. It appeared that there was ample room for a garden and fruit trees on most lots; some were large enough to have grazing horses. Many homes were in a cottage style common to pre-WWII with painted wood siding of the double ogee type. Wood smoke poured from most house chimneys. As one might expect for a town this small in an isolated area, there were no chain supermarkets or formula fast food restaurants. Any such was a two hour drive away. Living here would be more like the 1950’s than in urban areas today. I would like it, my wife not so much.
There was no one about the streets - not one walking person was seen. On a cold, rainy, gloomy day even the town sign seemed reticent to be seen.