Sumpter Trip 2011

What follows is an account of our 3-day camping trip to Sumpter, OR. It was the maiden voyage for my camper, as well as my first camping trip as a single Dad.



The trip was to start on Wednesday in the hopes of finding the choicest of spots for an extended stay. However, my the kids’ mother had tickets for the big rodeo that night, so I put it off. This worked towards my advantage, though, as I spent 3 hours realizing and resolving the fact that my truck was not providing a right turn signal at the wiring harness.

I also went to the land fill and got my rig weighed. According to my calculations, my camper (fully loaded) adds about 1,600 lbs. to my truck. I also strapped on my cheap U-haul extended mirrors I got online.

DAY ONE: Okay, so Thursday morning we eat a nice breakfast and head out about 9:20 AM with a full tank. I figure I still have a shot at some good spots before the “Friday” crowd moves in. IMG_0373

For those of you that don’t know where I live, it’s about an hour and a half from the nearest stop light or department store. When you live in a remote area, as I do, you never waste a trip to ‘the big town.’

We stopped at Walmart and got some necessities. Shopping with my kids is like herding cats, so by the time we were done, it was lunch. My kids never go to La Grande without requesting a trip to McDonald’s. I let them play while we waited, then we headed south on I-84.

IMG_0372We stopped off at the last gas station in Baker City to pickup ice and top off the tank. Like a typical guy, I wanted to compute my mileage which was 14.6 mpg! {Insert happy dance.} Only to find out when I got inside that they do not carry ice… Huh? What?! Seriously? What mini-mart gas station DOESN’T carry ice? Great! Thanks for the 1/4 tank! I wasn’t going to whip my hump-backed whale around, so I took off for Sumpter, where ice was plentiful.IMG_0376

After all that, I wanted to do something fun before picking out our site, so we hit the Cracker Creek Mining Museum. It’s an unstaffed yard of old mining equipment. Each thing was tagged with a number, but all the signposts were empty and no other markings denoted what anything was. Never-the-less, it was very cool to explore. I left a donation, hoping they’ll restore the signs.IMG_0381

I headed over to Miller’s Lane campground (which is supposed to be low use) only to find the half with a toilet full with a family reunion. The other half had some space, but the distance would likely induce a potty accident, so we went to South Shore instead. On a Thursday afternoon, we got one of the two remaining spots. Not much shade, but a gorgeous view.IMG_0442

I soon realized the beauty of setting up camp with an RV. It took no time, I parked ‘n’ threw out a few things clogging the walkway. (Wood, chainsaw, inner tube, etc.) It was pretty hot, so after blowing up the remaining flotation devices, we went to check out the local swimming hole.

IMG_0395Now I’m used to pretty places, with Wallowa Lake at my fingertips, but Phillips Lake / Reservoir had another advantage. It was WARM! (At least in our silty, shallow cove) the kids were in love and soaked in no time. I joined right in, and my son made a new friend.IMG_0399

His new friend turned out to be our neighbor and they all played until dinner, which he joined us for. We had grass-fed beef burgers with my concoction of ‘secret ingredients’ that make it taste so good. (Kids don’t want vegies in their burger for some reason.) Some coleslaw, fruit cups, and juice toIMG_0401pped it off. Realizing there was NO wood to scavenge, I didn’t light a fire, but opted for card games and cookies inside. I tried reading the new book I started with the kids, but they were snoring within a few pages Winking smile. IMG_0403

DAY TWO: Friday Morning I awoke to a gorgeous sunrise over a steamy lake. That (along with blueberry pancakes, coffee, & hot cocoa) really started the day off well.

IMG_0409The day’s agenda was Geocaching and swimming. HOWEVER, since I had left my carefully researched 3-page, cache-by-cache guide to Sumpter at HOME, I was desperate to find an open WiFi connection. My first try was a success at the local library. I didn’t bother testing the speed, but it was sad. After jotting down coordinates for the ones I could remember, we set off.IMG_0413

The first one was near the dam and had a nice view of the lake from the trail. I found it, the kids traded stuff, and we moved on.

IMG_0420The next two were within the Powder River Interpretive Trail system. This is a nice, paved set near a river, with quaint bridges, signs, and parking lots. As usual, the caches were always just a little out of the way, so as not to be disturbed. With improved skill, my daughter found them both quite easily.IMG_0427

IMG_0431The last cache was at ‘The Dump Station.’ See picture to the right for an explanation. I parked in the shade and was grateful to have my camper with me. The kids and I then enjoyed a nice lunch and game of Loot.

When we got back to camp, we noticed many sites had exchanged old occupants for new. I was now surrounded by TC’s (Truck Campers) which were all much newer and fancier than my ‘68 classic. I felt a little out-classed, but proud at the same time.IMG_0432IMG_0433IMG_0421

With a full sweat worked up from geocaching, we geared up for an afternoon at the lake. Waterpistols, tube, chair, sunscreen, etc. It was just as good as the day before.


Thoroughly exhausted, my daughter passed out while I made spaghetti for dinner, then peach cobbler in the dutch oven, over the fire.



DAY THREE: Saturday morning commenced with our usual hot drinks as well as scrambled eggs w/cheese, and another beautiful sunrise.


Today was the day to ride the Sumpter Valley Railway. I wanted to catch the first ride of the day to maximize ‘the surprise’ and amount of time for other stuff. On the way over, though, I just had to take pictures of old stuff…


The depot in McEwen was awesome. It had bathrooms, a giftshop, and playground for the kids. On the way ‘up’ it pulls the cars backwards…


We enjoyed a slow, lovely, 45 minute ride to Sumpter, except for this ONE complication at the end of the trip…


You see, there were Sheriff’s men on that train guarding “precious cargo,” and we got attacked by bandits! Shots were exchanged, but we were outnumbered and they stopped the train. They boarded the train, found the lockbox, and took off with the gold, never to be seen from again…


That is until they met us at the station and let us ride their horses, give us their blank bullets, and ride their horses. Had to make some pennies, too.


We let the train make another trip while we explored Sumpter. We started off with a few snacks I stashed in my pack, then headed down to the Dredge State Park. The Forest Service was giving lessons on gold panning where we each panned out 3 flakes of gold, a piece of pyrite, and 2 garnets from their ‘special slurry.’ My daughter subsequently caught ‘the fever.’


The kids were really nervous that we’d miss the train, so we went back to the depot without touring the dredge. We were told they’d sound 4 blasts before taking off at noon, so we did some more exploring. This took us to the museum / library, followed by an ice cream cone.


With cool dairy treats cooling our innards, we boarded the train for a final ride. There were no bandits on the return trip, but the conductor did give the kids special punches on their tickets…


After some more snacks, I headed BACK to Sumpter. I couldn’t leave without seeing the dredge. My son passed out on the way there, so I was able to acquire ice, pans, and a prospecting permit with little effort. When he woke, we checked out the gold dredge which mined over 4 million in gold when it was still $35 an ounce!


The park staff showed us which panning location had the best swimming hole, and off we went in search of our fortune, admiring old mining relics along the trail…


At this point we were all exhausted and decided it was time to call it a trip. We packed up camp in record time (using the throw ‘n’ go method) and headed for the nearest McDonalds.


I stopped in La Grande to find I averaged 12.6 mpg the last couple days. Then I hit my first deer without a scratch to my rig.  (The spike didn’t make it.) We were home not too late, with a buck in our yard, and hit the beds like sacks of raw vegetables.

As loaded as this post is, I know some folks will want even more pictures, so here’s a gallery for your gazing pleasure…


2 responses to “Sumpter Trip 2011

  1. So awesome! I love reading your blogs kiddo, keep them up. That trip looked like it was alot of fun!

  2. Pingback: Steaming Up Sumpter | Josh 'n' More

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