Wednesday, July 15, 2015

An Anniversary Escape

July 12-14
Fremont Cabins: Miner’s Retreat

Freemont Power Plant
          Rick and I originally planned to drive to Prineville today, spend the night with Habitat friends, and then work Monday at the Prineville build site.  A CAV build is underway and we wanted to help out.  Then a stop enroute home on Monday at the Fish House Inn in Dayville for an anniversary celebration.  But….we discovered that Prineville wasn’t building on Monday!  Change of plans!  Call to cancel at Fish House.  With a little internet research, we found the Freemont complex of cabin rentals from the forest service.  One had an opening for our dates.  Reservation made.
Miner's Retreat Cabin
            So following church and as the first raindrops of the day began to fall, we left Baker City in the truck and headed southwest toward Sumpter and the town of Granite 15 miles further west.  We drove through heavy rain at times, winding up to a nearly 6000’ summit between the two towns.  As we neared Granite, the telltale rock piles of dredge mining came into view along Bull Run Creek.  Granite has a yearly population of probably 30 residents.  At 5000’ elevation it has a good layer of snow in the winter.  But snowmobilers are discovering the beauty of the region and Olive Lake draws summer recreation. 
The wood pipe that brought water
down from Olive Lake
            It is another five miles on FS R

oad 10 to the Freemont Power Plant and the four cabins that mark this turn of the century piece of Oregon history.  The powerplant itself is formidable, built of hewed stone, Romanesque windows and what looks like a Rose window in the end.  Two Pelton wheels can be see through the viewing windows.  The plant generated power from water brought down a redwood pipe from Olive Lake.  The power was for the mine operations in Granite and clear over to areas near Sumpter. 
Gotta love a porch rocker!
            We have rented the Miner’s Retreat, the middle of three cabins on a hill just above the plant.  The last one, Hilltop Hideaway, is not in operation currently due to an oil leak problem.  Renters are occupying the other two cabins, one a set of cyclists and the other some Washington license plates.  We think ours has the best porch for sitting and watching the activities of the complex – a log love-seat rocker set in place is just perfect!
Living room interior
            The cabin has two bedrooms, and while the out-of-date internet post says a limit of 6, there are sleeping spaces for 11 in this tiny spot!  One bedroom has double mattress bunk beds (4) plus a single twin (1) and the other has two regular bunk beds (4 more!)  And then the futon in the living room could sleep 2 more!  The futon and one big log chair in the living room and a total of 6 table chairs between small tables in the living room and kitchen.  The kitchen is fully stocked with dishes, pots and pans, microwave, coffee pot, etc.  Everything is electric and in the summer months you have indoor plumbing and shower and potable water.  Yes, it is luxury camping….glamping??
            As we are getting set up, surprised to find the Defrees family below us reading one of the signs by the power plant. All but Tyler and Max!  They had spent the day hiking at Olive Lake and gotten caught in one of the downpours!  Hence the dog was dirty and they were all damp!  But a short catch-up time and they saw what the cabins looked like on the inside. 
            Quiet evening.  We enjoyed our traditional fine dining of fake crab, Gouda cheese, and fancy bread while sitting out on the porch of the cabin.  A bottle of wine for Rick and one for me.  (No….we didn’t drink the whole bottle!  Gotta save some for tomorrow night!)  Topped off our glamorous meal with one big fat strawberry each.  And then we sat and rocked and talked. 
Complex of the three upper cabins
           Time to stretch our legs abit, so we wandered down to the powerplant with intentions of checking out some of the roads leading away from the cabins.  However, JUST as we stepped off the deck the sprinkles started coming again, and within 5-10 minutes it was a pretty steady rain once more.  Rick headed back to cabin, but I wandered up to Hilltop and found a beautiful stand of trees behind it and a trail leading somewhere. 
            Reading, drawing, etc. to round out the evening….in bed shortly after 10pm.

            I am up at 6:20a to make coffee and write.  There are patches of blue sky.  Today is forecast for another one of morning clearing and afternoon storms.  By tomorrow this week of thunderstorms should be nearing an end.  We decide to risk a hike today and at 9am head on up the road toward Olive Lake.  We are going to attempt the Saddle Camp Trail, a 6 mile round trip that takes you up past Upper Olive ‘Lake’ (now a meadow and small tarn) to Saddle Ridge.  It is a climb of about a 1000’ feet. 

Raindrops cling to the lupine leaves
            I forget how much you climb in the additional 7 miles to the lake.  Olive Lake sits at an elevation of about 6000’.  It was formed by glaciers and early in the 1900’s the lake was dammed at the terminal moraine to further enlarge the lake and make it suitable for hydro power.  An 8 mile wooden pipeline was constructed to carry the gravity fed water down to the powerplant.  Electricity was produced here from 1907 until 1967, much of which fed the power thirsty mining industry in the surrounding hills.  (So ends today’s history lesson!)
Carpet of dwarf lupine lines the trail
            We parked at the end of the road and headed up the trail.  I was hoping for a variety of wildflowers, especially in the upper meadow.  We saw very few in the meadow, but the hillsides above as we headed up to the saddle were abundant.  Even found a couple new species that I have been working to identify.  The trail is open in places, especially in the first mile below the upper meadows, due to an old burn that removed most of the lodgepole pines, but left towering stands of larch.  The trail was carpeted on both sides by a dwarf species of lupine, the silvery mat of leaves nestling the raindrops of last night’s storm.  So pretty. 
Fireweed blooms!
     We came to the tarn (a view through the trees) and the beginning of the large meadow of Upper Olive Lake.  It looks like we were too late for the abundance of dead elephant’s head flowers we saw throughout.  A short walk out into the meadow at the far western end revealed a different type of gentian (later identified as possible Simple Gentian or Hiker’s gentian), and a few stalks of bog orchid.  I expected more flowers, but the early season and very dry June may have accelerated the blooming season. 
A new find!
Chocolate coneflower!

Upper Olive Meadow
        However, June might have been dry, but the past several days have NOT been arid, and the hillside is damp and the flowers abundant.  We finally spy some columbine and monkeyflowers.  The forest is open in places, but we never are able to get a good glimpse of our destination.  The trail is laced with deadfall and we spend a good deal of time walking around trees, over, under, etc.  A challenge at times. 
The deadfall that ended our path...amidst the thunder roar!
            The grade was moderate.  While uphill, it was never tedious until the final half mile section leading up to the saddle itself.  However, we stopped just short of the summit.  We could see our intended destination through the trees, but we came to a massive deadfall area just as thunderclaps rolled and echoed through the area for long seconds.  The storm was right up on the ridge and it seemed prudent in our minds to NOT be up on top of the ridge during the lightning storm.  So…we turned back and as we did the first few light drops of rain began to fall. 
            It rained pretty steady and continuously for the two miles back down to the tarn.  At that point the rain seemed to taper off, which was nice because we were fairly well soaked by then and getting a little chilled.  Just as we got back to the truck sprinkles started to come once again. 

Anniversary cuddling on the rocker!
     We drove around through the campground area.  Olive Lake is a fee campground, $12 a night (or $6 with Senior Pass!) but we never found a water spigot.  Seems a little high for a campground without water.  But there were several sites in which a trailer would fit nicely and the lake is beautiful with Saddle Ridge in the background (on a clearer day probably!). 
These aspens were beautiful
'quaking' in the breeze!
            Back to the cabin for some warm soup and a very relaxing afternoon.  We read, we snoozed, we took a long hot shower!  Dinner was a repeat of last night’s menu – the rest of the bread, crab, and cheese!  After dinner we wandered some more around the area, talking briefly with the Seattle gentleman whose family is renting the Congo Gulch cabin down below.  There isn’t anyone in Caretaker’s tonight, our guests from last night having left this morning. 
            I am hoping the skies will have cleared enough tonight that I will get a chance to see some stars! 

            Ah, rats!  I crawled in bed last night around 10p, was warm and cuddly and reading when Rick came in about a half hour later, and THEN remembered I hadn’t gone out to look at the stars!  So be it!  And now, this morning, the air is heavy with a morning mist and the little glen is filled with fog.  (I guess our wet clothes out on the porch aren’t very dry either!)  But I did see a little rabbit feeding in the meadow area! 
           A leisurely morning....we weren't in any big hurry to leave, but shortly after 9 we cleared our stuff out of the cabin and started cleaning.  Not a big job, but the people before us hadn't overdone the effort, so we wanted to leave things better than we found them!  We left around 10a.  
Welcome to Greenhorn!

     Decision time!  How to drive home??  We figured we were this close, now was the time to visit the novel community of Greenhorn, the highest elevation incorporated town in Oregon (just over 6100').  About 2 miles down the road heading back to Granite, we turned off on FS Road 1035 and wound our way south along first Beaver Creek (LOTS of dredge work here!) and then Olive Creek.  Toward Greenhorn we climbed more steeply and finally arrived at this tiny settlement.  
Typical Greenhorn abode
          There are more cabins than I expected, but most are for summer use only.  I think Greenhorn has a year-round population of 3!  A range of buildings, some quite old, some newer.  
Greenhorn 'facilities'
There is one phone booth in the center of town (along with a FS outhouse!)  We drove around the side streets (which didn't take long!) and then headed down the less traveled exit back to Hwy 7. 

Views heading down from 'town'
          This was the HIGH road (the other one backtracks 3 miles and then follows the North Fork of the Burnt River down to the highway.) and traveled down the spine of a ridge for aways.  We had great views south over the spread of mountain ridges.  Lush green grasses below Ponderosa and lodgepole forests.  The area has been selectively logged and looked healthy.  
          Further down we passed huge meadows before arriving at Highway 7 at Tipton Summit, elevation 5100'.  A pleasant drive on home to Baker City, arriving shortly after noon.  
          A good get away!  Fun cabins to visit....more hiking to explore in the area.  

Pano of Upper Olive Meadow BEFORE the storm hit!

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