Wheeler County is known for the John Day Fossil Beds, and the associated, spectacular landscapes. But there’s a lot more here than fossil beds, though you have to explore some paved, well-maintained back-roads to find them!
Here are a few of our favorite, out-of-the-way, off-the beaten-track, publicly-accessible, non-geological places in Wheeler County and the surrounding area. We’ll add to the list periodically.
Please let us know if YOU have any favorite spots here, too. Contact us on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seaquest Wind Farm, west of Condon on Oregon Hwy 19.You can stop in generous roadside viewpoints and watch giant windmills turn so close that you can hear their whump-whump-whump as they transform wind energy (and hence, solar energy!) into electric power. And you’ll also get a spectacular view of the Pacific Northwest. From the windmill viewpoints, on a clear day you can spot Mt. Rainier, the North Cascades, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Jefferson, as well as the canyons and peaks of Wheeler County.
Pine Creek Ranch
In 1999, The Conferedated Tribes of the Warm Springs, with Bonneville Power Administration funding, purchased the 24,304-acre Pine Creek Ranch 12 miles south of Fossil. The Tribes have embarked on an ambitious restoration program, including riparian planting, and controlled burning. The area covers much of the Pine Creek Watershed, an area of about 42,000 acres. The area is home to 36 animal and plant species listed as threatened or endangered, and provides spawning and rearing habitat for one of the few native steelhead populations in the John Day River. You can explore this area afoot to your heart’s content. (No vehicles (including bicycles) or horses are permitted.) Pine Creek manager’s house is located across the road from the Clarno Unit, John Day Fossil Beds, and a convenient registration kiosk is located approximately 3/4 miles to the west along the highway.
Established in 1903, the Julia Henderson Pioneer Park is today a restful place for a picnic or stroll (but not to camp—camping is not permitted here.) But this spot has an interesting history. In 1899 — the year Wheeler County was established — long-time residents gathered at a Fourth of July celebration at Kelsay’s Grove outside the town of Fossil and formed the Wheeler County Pioneer Association. Typical of the period, the day’s events included patriotic speeches, entertainment by the Fossil Brass Band, and a grand dinner at the Donaldson Hotel.The organization evolved to become the Eastern Oregon Pioneer Association. In 1903, the group selected forty acres at a centrally located site on Sarvis Creek. From that time on, the traditional picnic was held at what is now known as Julia Henderson Pioneer Park on SR 19 between Fossil and Service Creek. (Data from NPS website)
Richmond, in the center of Wheeler County, was once the business center for all of the Shoofly country. It had a store, hotel, livery stable, school and a number of residences. It’s name reflects the southern heritage of its residents. In 1889, the Shoofly area was inhabited by Gilliam, Donnelly, Keyes, and Walters families, the first in the area. After they had decided to establish a town, they set out to build a school. Where to place the school, however, became a major question. In fact, William Walters rebelled vehemently at all suggestions made by R.N. Donnelly. Donnelly called Walters ‘Jeff Davis’ because of his rebellious attitude. Donnelly said, “We’re all just a bunch of johny rebels, why don’t we name it Richmond.” So because of Donnelly’s suggestion, and Walters attitude, the town was dubbed Richmond. The old Methodist Church at Richmond has been renovated and is used in marriage ceremonies and special occasions; It provides an added attraction to this popular ‘ghost town’.