Gold Mining History
Gold and other mineable minerals have been a part of the history of northeast Oregon since 1861 when Henry Griffin discovered a gold nugget in Griffin Gulch located south of Baker City. Since a majority of gold production in Oregon has come from a 50-100 mile wide 'gold belt' located in Baker and Grant Counties in the Blue Mountains, the area abounds in the local mining history. Visitors to the area today can learn more about how this industry influenced the local communities by touring dredge areas, Chinese mining sites, and local museums. To make a half or full-day tour of these areas, the following self-discovery Iiineraries are recommended.
Half-Day Tour in Baker City of local museum and displays
Baker Heritage Museum
Start your day by visiting the Baker Heritage Museum located at 2480 Grove Street near the Geiser-Pollman Park. The Museum has exhibits of mineral collections, historic photos, and other displays. Check the museum's website or call 541-523-9308 for operating hours and entrance fees.
Next stroll down Main Street to the US Bank to view the Armstrong Nugget. This 80.4 troy ounce nugget is on display during week-day business hours at the US Bank in Baker City, Oregon at 2000 Main Street. The Armstrong Nugget is the largest gold nugget from Oregon still in existence today. It was found by George Armstrong and Dick Stewart on June 19, 1913 as they were placer mining in Buck Gulch, near Susanville in Grant County.
Full-Day Adventure near Sumpter and Granite of Gold Mining Operations
Sumpter Valley Dredge Tailings
Let's begin this adventure by heading south from Baker City on State Highway 7. Be sure and take a good lunch, lots of water and top off the gas tank as there are not many gas stations along the way. Drive south from Baker City on Highway 7 along Phillips Reservoir for about 21.5 miles. On the south-side of the highway at the upper end of the reservoir is the small roadside interpretive site for the Sumpter Valley Dredge Tailings. It is also located about 2.5 miles past the Union Creek Campground turnoff. Three gold dredges mined this valley from 1913 to 1954 and dug up about 2,500 acres of farmland. The dredging operations were influenced by fluctuating gold prices, the Great Depression, World War II, and equipment breakdowns.
Sumpter Valley Railroad
As you leave the Sumpter Valley Dredge Tailings interpretive site continue on for anothers 2 miles to the Huckeberry Loop road. Turn left (south) and follow the signs to the Sumpter Valley Railroad which operates a depot near the small town of McEwen. The train travels along the Sumpter Valley and ends up in Sumpter. You can find information about their weekend summer rides, special events and fares of the historic steam narrow gauge railroad on their railroad's website.
Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area
The Sumpter Valley Dredge Heritage Area is operated by the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department. The main feature of the the area is the YUBA-style Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge which operated from 1912 to 1954 and made over 4.5 million dollars. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The Heritage Area is located in Sumpter, Oregon about 30 miles south and west of Baker City on State Highway 7 then turn off towwards Sumpter on Highway 410. While you are visiting the town of Sumpter , enjoy the cool mountain setting and wander around the old mining equipment and buildings.
Ah Hee Diggins Interpretive Site
Next it is time to head out and continue of Highway 410 (turns into Forest road 73) towards Granite. Feel free to stop in and look around in this historic mining town, which is still home to local residents. From Granite travel on Forest Road 73 for 1.5 miles to Ah Hee Diggings Interpretive Site. The Ah Hee Diggings Interpretive Site displays the mining efforts of Chinese miners in the late 1800s and the resulting hand-stacked rock tailings that can be seen from the Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway.
What's Next on this Self-Discovery Tour?
From here you can either continue on the Elkhorn Scenic Byway for 58 miles to Baker City on Forest Road 73 (Advisory: There are no services for the next 50 miles and this road is closed in the winter months to Anthony Lakes), or you can turn around and head back 47 miles to Baker City the way you came.