A fall road trip in Grant County will provide promise, peace, and excitement enough to make you want to take up a paint brush and save your memories for posterity, even if you have never painted before. It can be an extraordinary day trip that transpires at your pace and schedule. The traffic will be sparce by car, motorcycle or bicycle, the miles will pass by in the grandeur of the season.
The sun sets early in this season of preparation and drawing close, but from any direction it’s easy to cross Grant County in a day and enjoy the magic of a gorgeous fall ride. Stop at one of many food establishments for a tasty homemade breakfast, burger, or a wide variety of sandwiches and salads. Every town has several eateries and residents are happy to make a recommendation as to where to find a cold brew, a hot coffee, or a piece of perfect pie, as good as your grandmother’s or better.
From the west a good place to start is in Kimberly at the junction of Hwy 19 and Hwy 26, the road winds east through the John Day National Fossil Beds Sheep Rock Unit. Here you can picnic at Foree or Blue Basin or take a hike along either of the trails. Visit the Thomas Condon Visitor Center or the Historic Cant Ranch. Stop at one of the many pull outs and watch the John Day River flow by. This is not the raging water of spring runoff, but a slow meander toward the Pacific.
Coming in from the northwest, you meet Grant County at the edges of ranch country stacked up against the Umatilla and Malheur National Forests. And just before you get to Mt. Vernon, there’s Beech Creek where big game migrates every fall to higher ground. It’s a sight of a lifetime to see 100 head of majestic elk cross the highway at sunrise blowing plumes of steam into the cold fall air.
At Austin Junction you head into the county from the northeast. In this forest of Ponderosa pine, the tamarack sways in bright saffron gold catching the last of the late summer light slanting between the trees. As you crest Dixie Butte, the sight of Strawberry Mountain, the panoramic view of the fall colors and the exquisite farmland below will take your breath away.
Maybe you want to commence your expedition in John Day, the middle of the County. The day is yours to unfold like a many faceted origami box of surprises in the people you meet, the winding roads you travel, the invigorating air you breathe, the rich brilliant colors from ruby red to suede brown to musky green. Visit Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site or take an afternoon stroll along the walking path at 7th Street Complex.
It’s easy from here to head south and follow Hwy 395 south through Canyon City, one of the oldest towns in Oregon and over Starr Ridge covered with deep forests to Seneca and then across the vastness of Silvies Valley. The valley is filled with antelope, migrating birds, the pungent smells of sagebrush, and a badger or two.
A fall drive through Grant County offers every traveler the chance to reflect, relax and reconnect. It’s a place to enjoy the wild scenic river, dense forests, or the peace of open spaces. And just like the generations of families who thrive in these long valleys of solitude and beauty and in the small towns that offer tranquility and community, it’s a place to come home to or visit often, but especially in the fall.