John Day: the town - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

April 4, 2020

John Day: the town

The weather looks marginal today so I decide it’s the perfect time to finally walk around and take a good look at this little town we’re living in for a month.  My main concern is to not get my healing injury wet, so I think it’s prudent to stay close to home in case the weather breaks badly.

Rachael doesn’t have this issue though and opts for a longer, brisker walk.  She heads south across the highway and up to the low plateau that the airport sits upon.  Ten miles later (10.3 miles, she corrects me), she’s back home and almost giddy with excitement on what a fine hike she’s had.  The views from the top are magnificent, she doesn’t get blocked by any barricaded private roads, but she’s especially excited that she saw 19 deer.  19!   Can you believe it?  I’m unsure myself until she pulls out her phone and starts flipping through her evidence.

The Aldrich Mountains.
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Merely 3 here, but Rocky convincingly insists she saw 19.
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Jen GrumbyThose ears are fabulous.

Mule deer?
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYup, surely. Also, my reference says that mule deer are gregarious, forming groups of up to 24. I wonder what happens if a 25th shows up and tries to join a maxed out group? Is it like musical chairs?
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4 months ago
Ron SuchanekThey look delicious. Too bad she didn't have a gun or a big knife.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekThat’s terrible! You should be ashamed of yourself. Go back to your boob fetish and leave Bambi alone.
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4 months ago
Ron SuchanekTo Scott AndersonWell, in these dark times, one has to hoard the necessities; venison, Cheetos, beer and TP.
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4 months ago

Before looking around town, let’s pause for a brief geography lesson.  The town of John Day lies near the eastern end of a nearly fifty mile long straight east-west stretch of the John Day River.  It begins this section at Prairie City, about 15 miles east of here; and it ends 35 miles to the west when the river enters Picture Gorge.  It flows nearly flat for the entire way, dropping steadily but losing only 1,300 feet in those fifty miles.  If I’m getting the math right, that’s an average grade of about 0.5%.  Pretty remarkable for a river that’s flowing down a narrow valley bordered by mountains on either side.

The town of John Day lies at the confluence of the main branch of the John Day River and Canyon Creek, merging in from the south by way of Canyon City.  John Day is still a very young river at this point, having originated about 35 miles upstream to the southeast on the south flank of Lookout Mountain.  Canyon Creek, originating 35 miles to the south from beneath Strawberry Mountain, is the first significant tributary and nearly as large at this point as the John Day itself.  The river essentially doubles in size when it absorbs Canyon Creek.

The John Day (on the right) and Canyon Creek (merging from the south) converge at John Day.
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My exploration of the town begins with trying to find the confluence of these two streams.  I know where it is of course, because I can see it on the map; but it takes some trial and error until I find an approach that lets me actually see it without crossing private property or barricaded roads.  I’m about to give up in frustration when I finally stumble across it’s only public access.

The John Day River, just upstream from its junction with Canyon Creek.
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Canyon Creek, its bank sandbagged as it flows through John Day.
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The confluence.
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While I’m looking at the merging creeks, I hear some activity in the trees and look up.  Two small woodpeckers, obviously a couple, are chasing each other from tree to tree, acting like spring has sprung.

This is a good country for woodpeckers, it looks like.  Plenty of dead and dying snags for them to feast at.  Yesterday I saw a woodpecker that I thought it was a Downy until I researched it and concluded it was actually a Hairy.  Today, I see two that I think are Hairys (maybe one of them is even the same bird from yesterday, because I’m just across the stream from that spot yesterday) but in fact they’re Downys.

So, let’s pause for a moment for woodpecker class.  In our part of the country, the Hairy and Downy woodpeckers are the most commonly seen woodpeckers after flickers.  As I said earlier, they’re tricky to tell apart.  There are three key indicators.  One is size: the Hairy is about a third larger than a downy, but they’re close enough that it’s hard to be sure without seeing them next to each other.  The easiest indicator is bill shape and size.  The Hairy’s bill is longer and sharper, roughly a half the length of its head.  The third difference, which I would never be able to discern without binoculars or a good camera, is the tail feathers.  The Downy has white outer tail feathers, with black spotting.

Here they are side by side. Which is which?
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Bill ShaneyfeltA bit of image searching, and my vote is hairy on the right and downy on the left.

Hairy has more of a mask-like eyestripe and more spots on upper wing.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltPerhaps, but m thinking it’s the other way around. Bill length. Spots on the outer tail feathers. I added another photo to compare against also.
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4 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltYou are probably right. The bill does look bigger, and the black spots...

Reminds me of discussions among rattlesnake guys in AZ between Mojaves and western diamondbacks... Turns out there were some crossbreeds!
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4 months ago
Jen GrumbyI vote Hairy-left, Downy-right.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyCorrect. In my opinion. I’m not surprised, either. I’d expect nothing less from someone who knows their immature antelope jackrabbits from their cottontails.
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4 months ago
Still not sure? Here’s another reference that might help.
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There’s more up above than just woodpeckers. A pair of Douglas squirrels are chasing each other from tree to tree also. They’re pretty common here, although we’re near the eastern edge of their range. We’ve seen one sitting atop the fence outside our window on each of the last two mornings.
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John Day sprang to life at about the same time as nearly Canyon City, in response to the gold rush of 1862.  It doesn’t have many surviving historical buildings of significance, so we may as well look at all of them.

John Day’s landmark buildings are honored by banners lining Highway 395 as it enters town. This one honors the Johnson Brothers Building. I first saw this banner when returning from our hike to Canyon City. I wondered where the building was, and then looked down and in the distance.
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The Romanesque Johnson Brothers Building, built in 1902, originally contained a hardware store, a dry goods store, a bank, and a spacious hall on the second floor. When the two brothers later had a falling out a wall was erected to split the building and each brother retained a half.
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The Johnson Brothers Building.
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The Adventist Church, to my mind the most striking building in town.
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The Adventist Church, completed in 1900, is on the national register of historic places.
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The Adventist Church is a blend of Gothic Revival and Victorian styles.
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The historic John Day Bank Building.
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Jacquie GaudetI find it interesting that it just says "Bank". Old bank buildings in small-town BC generally say "Bank of Montreal" or whatever rather than the generic "Bank".
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jacquie GaudetIt’s odd, alright. I researched this building and couldn’t find anything more descriptive. It’s just the John Day Bank Building.
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4 months ago
This building has obviously been around a good long while, but I couldn’t find any indication of what it was.
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Probably the best known feature in town was the Kam Wah Chung House, the cultural center for the large, thriving Chinese community that existed during the town’s early years. However, I can’t find it now. There’s just the museum and interpretive center, now closed due to COVID-19. Is the building itself now gone, or is it inside the museum? I’ll check back before we leave to see if the interpretive center has reopened yet.
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Jen GrumbyWe really wanted to visit this place when we rode through, but it was too early in the morning.

Thanks for including this photo .. good reminder to go back.
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4 months ago
Ron SuchanekFacing the building, you turn left, northwest, and follow the road (Ing hay way) a short distance, maybe 200 or 250 feet. It'll be on your left.
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4 months ago
On Main Street/Highway 26, honoring the Kam Wah Chung house.
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I guess this is a bit of history too. A slice of a huge willow tree that had grown into the fence was preserved when the tree was cut down. Beneath it is a sawn-off stump about three feet across.
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Another colorful stone chimney, John Day.
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You have to love small towns. While I was admiring the Adventist Church, this pickup pulled to a stop in front of me. The window rolled down, and James (the ER nurse) asked how my recovery was coming along.
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Jen GrumbyThat's wonderful.

We see someone we know almost every time we go out in Silverton. And we don't know that many people!

It's comforting during this odd time.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyIt is comforting. I think as long as we turn a blind eye to politics, I could feel quite at home here. I think it wouldn’t take that long to find a community - especially once 1188 Brewing Company and a breakfast or coffee shop opens their doors again.
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4 months ago
An appealing block on Main Street. The Ugly Truth makes the best takeout pizza in town; 1188 Brewing Company fills growlers, if you can catch them open; and at the end of the block is the Johnson Brothers Building.
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Note to The Last Dude in Minnesota: there’s an Axe Grinder IPA waiting for you if you ever make it out this way.
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Gregory GarceauIt looks nice and hazy. I'm on my way.
-The Dude
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4 months ago
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Kathleen ClassenKeith and I think of cycling as slow travel, and it is. You see so much on a bike that you would miss in a vehicle. However, when we walk or hike, we feel we see so much we would miss on a bike! Slow travel, however you do it, is the best. Keep healing and keep writing you two.
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4 months ago
Jen GrumbyYes! What Kathleen said.

Your posts are always a great reminder of how much there is to appreciate out there.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Kathleen ClassenThank you, Kathleen. I’m finding that slower is better too, and I don’t think it’s only because I’m getting too old to go faster. I’m really enjoying hiking but I’ll definitely be ready to get back on the bike again soon.
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4 months ago
Bruce LellmanI like that you both can go with the flow. If a dog changes your plans you adapt. There are always interesting things everywhere you look and you two are great examples of people who know this. Thank you for today's lesson - distinguishing between hairy and downy and showing us exactly where the confluence is.
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4 months ago
Jacquie GaudetTo Kathleen ClassenI agree. Walking a route I often cycle, I found a heron rookery. I'd heard there was one in the area, but never saw it until I walked past and then I wondered how I could have missed it. Narrow road uphill is my excuse.
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4 months ago