Oregon “Mist” & Chinese History – John Day, OR

A relaxing spot near the John Day River
The waters of the John Day River

We’ve made it back one of our favorite places on earth, a land where the waters flow, the rugged coast enthralls and the trees are so intensely green they luminesce in the sun. Interestingly enough this was a place we never originally intended to visit when we started RVing. Back in our naive first year Oregon wasn’t even on the map, at least not the one we were planning from. Oregon? That little thing ontop of California ? What could that place possibly have to offer?? It took a broken slide that couldn’t be fixed to force a 1,000 mile unplanned drive to bring us here…but my oh my….once we got here we were gripped.

And I mean Gone. Mesmerized. Dazed. Never to recover.

Sun filtering through trees & cloud...love it!
Sun filtering through trees & dark cloud…love it!

There’s not a year since that day that we haven’t been back here. This was the state we originally learned about lighthouse hosting, the state where the rugged coast blew us away and a place we dream of every single spring. We may revel in the gorgeousness of the desert all winter, but once the seasons turn we start to think of our beloved Oregon. Moist, temperamental, green and varied Oregon. Despite the rain (can you say 100% chance of precipitation?), despite the occasional chill there is no place I’d rather be right now.

How can one person long for such different things? Well, it’s elementary my dear Watson. We are not one person, not just a single brew, but a delicious mix of many varying flavors. When the spring flowers burst through the earth I feel a yearning for green, trees, miles of beach and moist wooden trails. When the sun drops and the earth cools my body yearns for wide desert vistas with stunning sunsets and stark, stunning landscapes. I want both, I want all of it and it is all part of me. Like so many of our Canadian & US snow-bird friends we enjoy both places for different times. That’s exactly why we live on wheels -> to have the freedom to go where our hearts yearn to be.

Oh here I go again getting all philosophical. Must be the changing seasons.

Wet, but spectacular drive. This is a portion of the John Day Burns section. Wet, but spectacular drive. This is a portion of the John Day Burns section.
Wet, but spectacular drive. This is a portion of the John Day Burns Highway.
Can you say greeeeeeen?
Can you say greeeeeeen? This is HDR enhanced of course, but you get the idea.

Suffice to say we’re now happily parked in a lush, green State Park alongside the amazing John Day river (the third longest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States no less) just outside of John Day, OR.  Our drive north on 395 was long but peacefully quiet and remote taking us through the “desert” outback of Eastern Oregon, past the majestic Abert Rim (one of the highest fault scarps in North America) and through the gorgeous John Day Burns Highway.

The drive was spectacular and we only saw  a handful of cars the whole day, but the famous Oregon rain teased us for company the whole way…and this is the “dry” side of Oregon!! The Cascade Mountains cast a massive rain shadow which keeps the East side of the state relatively dry compared to the West. Coming from the coast this would be considered the wild west and yet it’s miles greener than anything we’ve seen all winter.

Within the space of 2 days we’ve already had our first few sprinklings of “Oregon mist” (well OK, our first 10 or so sprinklings), but it’s been intermixed with brilliant sunshine and the intense aroma of fresh grass and blooming flowers. And I tell ya…the flowers are blooming wonderful! Right around our site we’ve got cherry blossoms, lilacs and all kinds of other sensuous blooms that I don’t know the name of. Stepping out of our rig is like stepping into a botanical garden. The aroma alone is worth the sock-in-flop-and-fleece look that I’m being forced to wear at the moment.

The fascinating Kum Wah Chung Heritage Site
The fascinating Kam Wah Chung Heritage Site

We’ve also had the opportunity to discover the cute little town of John Day, and more specifically the amazing Chinese history of this place. Yup, you heard me right. In the late 1800’s this area of Oregon was in the midst of a massive Gold Boom and the Chinese Immigrants were an integral part of the history. Thousands came from Guangdong to escape the famine in China and seek the ability for a better life. The Chinese did back-breaking work in horrendous conditions and were marginalized by the local population, but they were essential to the mining and railroad industry of the day. In John Day there were over 2000 Chinese (more than the entire population today!), yet only two are buried in the local cemetery and only one place exists to tell their story. It’s the Kam Wah Chung Heritage Site and if you come to this area you cannot miss this!

Nothing has been touched since the place was shuttered in 1940
Almost nothing has been touched since the place was shuttered around 1940

Kam Wah Chung was a Chinese medical clinic, general store and community center set-up in the 1870’s by two enterprising Chinese gentlemen Ing “Doc” Hay and Lung On. They started this unassuming place for the local Chinese population, but over the years became an integral part of the entire town. Ing Hay was the caring medical practitioner while Lung On became a “godfather” of sorts while . They prospered even after the gold rush died, and became so locally respected they were even invited to join the Masons!

Their little stone house served the community for over 60 years after which it was shuttered up and forgotten. Many years later it was re-opened, but everything (and I mean everything) has been meticulously preserved and that is what makes this place totally unique. Old cans of food, unopened crates, original papers, cooking equipment, herbs, even bits of fruit….all left exactly the way it was! Stepping into this place is like being transported directly back to the early 1900’s and the tour is fabulous. I don’t know of anywhere else you can physically reach into the Chinese history of the US better than this little house in John Day. Don’t miss it!

We’ve got one more afternoon of “mist” and then we’ve got a very special set of places we’re going to visit which have been on my “list” for years. We’ll see if the famous Oregon weather cooperates :)

P.S. Admission and tours of the Kum Wah Chung Heritage Site are free (donations accepted). Museum is open 9-5 and tours are given on the hour every hour from May 1st through Oct 31st. Last tour at 4PM.

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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

    • libertatemamo says

      That “may” (and I say may) be the spot I’ve teased about that I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Not giving anything away now….:)

  1. says

    I was also going to suggest the Painted Hills — pure magic. We visited for the first time the day after we embarked on our full-time journey almost a year ago. It was a wonderful way to start our new life. (We love Oregon, too — it’s our home state.) Gorgeous opening photo!

    • libertatemamo says

      Wouldn’t miss it for the world…been wanting to see them for years. Glad you like the pic. I’m still trying to get the hang of this HDR stuff.


  2. Rowanova says

    Beautiful photos, Nina. I really like the one with the sun shining thru the tree with the dark cloud background. Not often that opportunity comes along.
    John Day and surrounding area is a fun and interesting destination to spend a little time. Plenty to see and do, and so scenic. I really enjoyed the drive from south from John Day to Burns, Even tho it’s been a few years.
    I don’t recall the name of the small town a ways to the east of John Day, but I recall it an enjoyable drive of scenery, near no other vehicles, and the little town rather picturesque. If you have the time….
    Welcome back to the PNW!

    • libertatemamo says

      It’s a gorgeous area around here. We got to do some more driving/exploring today and really like what we’re seeing. Lots of lovely hills, pasture, river…and the mountains still have snow on them.


      • Rowanova says

        That sounds awesome, Nina. I read another reply that mentioned Prairie City to the east of John Day. I’m sure that is the town I attempted to recall in my post above. Just an FYI of you’re able to take time to explore… :)
        Have fun!

        • libertatemamo says

          Found it! It’s a little far from here for us this time around, but now I know where it is.

  3. says

    Hi Nina,
    You are parked in our spot….just kidding. That is one of our favorite campgrounds. I wanted to say hi and thank you for your blog and all of the advice you have provided us through your blog. We have now been on the road full-time since last August and sold our house and car and personal belongings and are happier than ever. We spend a lot of our time volunteering for wildlife refuges and TNC and love it. We are now in Malheur NWR for 2 months. Our paths keep coming close to passing- you were in Benson right before we were earlier this spring. Anyways- just wanted to say thanks for all of your sharing:)

    • libertatemamo says

      You know we were so close to stopping by to visit Malheur NWR. I saw it on the map as we passed and the place looked so intriguing. Hope our paths get to cross properly at some point. I would love to hear more about all your Wildlife Refuge hosting.


  4. Mel "trailerboy" says

    Love your blog, but I don’t like people misspelling Oregon place names, it should be spelled Abert Rim.
    I still love your writing.

    • libertatemamo says

      Whoops! Sometimes my dyslexic eyes see stuff that isn’t there. I’ve corrected it now. Cheers.

  5. Susan Clift says

    Nina, I have heard that there is an great under ground tour that takes place in Pendleton just north of where you are now. Haven’t taken it, but do plan to in the future. My husband got me hooked on your posts, love them. We enjoyed meeting you and Paul last summer when we camped at Bullard Beach. We are retiring this summer and plan to start full timing in the fall. Maybe our paths will cross again. Happy and safe travels to you both.

    • libertatemamo says

      Interesting tip! We may be moving on tomorrow so we may not have time to check this one out, but it’ll be yet another thing to add to the list.

      By the way lovely to see ya still following the blog & congrats on the upcoming fulltiming. Exciting stuff!


    • libertatemamo says

      It’s definitely our favorite summer state! I’m looking forward to spending the next 5 months in the Pacific Northwest. We’ll be seeing alot of new stuff this year.


  6. says

    Oregon has been on my list since a business trip many years ago. All I recalled was it rained most of the time except when I flew out and it was clear and sun on the coast. Your post and pictures have confirmed this looks like a great place to explore.

    • libertatemamo says

      Well if it’s Oregon there’s gonna be rain, but wait a few minutes and you might see the sun. Summer is a fabulous time to be here.


  7. Janet Lukehart says

    Reading you post made me long for the gorgeous greenery of Oregon! We too “happened upon” Oregon last summer (4 months into full-timing)to have some upgrades done to our coach…and fell in LOVE. We wound-up spending 3 months in the Eugene area, and definitely look forward to returning. I suspect if we ever settle down in a S&B, it will be in Oregon! Thanks again for your wonderful blog and sharing your adventures!

    • libertatemamo says

      I’m with you. Out of all the states we’ve visited Oregon speaks to us the most. That may change one day, of course, but for now it’s top of our list.


  8. Pete Olson says

    Ooooh…I hate being a corrector! (But I can’t help myself!) I think you mean ‘mesmerized’, i.e.: fascinated, enthralled, hypnotized; rather than ‘memorized’. And I, too, love your writing… (and I grew up on the Oregon Coast – until I was 18 and got the itch to travel – in Lincoln City.

    • libertatemamo says

      Yup, my dyslexia hits yet again. Most of the time I just don’t “see” the error. I need a volunteer editor for the blog LOL. I’ve corrected it now.


  9. Jim Niemann says

    Your descriptions and writing always enthrall me, but none so much as when you describe my beloved Oregon. Having traveled most of the lower 48 and Canada, Oregon is still the best for my temperament. When I finally settle somewhere, Oregon is definately where I will plant at least some roots. My wife and I will definately have to visit the place in your story.

    • libertatemamo says

      I have to admit I can’t help but get carried away when we come here. So far in our travels, only Colorado and Oregon have moved me so deeply as to write poetry. It’s a special spot!

  10. says

    We have a very informal blog at TalesfromTurtleandHawk.blogspot.com that shares some of our experiences. I know you guys love the Oregon coast- have you ever ventured into NE Oregon ( Joseph – the Wallowas- Eagle Cap Wilderness) Our next volunteer gig is for TNC at their Zumwalt Prairie Preserve for July/August for the second time:) check it out sometime.

    • libertatemamo says

      Sweet. I will check out your blog. And no, haven’t been to that corner of Oregon yet. So much we haven’t seen!

  11. says

    It’s hard NOT to change plans and head straight for Oregon. The picture of the John Day River looks like a beautiful watercolor painting!

    • libertatemamo says

      I can’t tell you how nice it is to see so much WATER after a winter in the desert. We’re like little kids around all this moisture. I’m sure the novelty will wear off before long, but for now we’re lovin’ it :)


  12. says

    What gorgeous photos Nina! I had no idea that there was Chinese history swirling about in Oregon. This will be a must to visit when we return west. I suspect I am going to be desperately homesick for the west by the time I finish reading your posts this summer. :)

    • libertatemamo says

      I was surprised too! Apparently this little stone house is actually the largest collection of Chinese herbal medicine in the US..that’s how well it’s preserved!

  13. Doug H says

    there is a ghost town near John Day called Sumpter, supposed to be a great visit. you made it to Oregon just in time, supposed to get nice and warm this week. enjoy your stay. stop in Mitchell if you head down that way.

    • libertatemamo says

      Indeed, the forecast calls for mid 80’s and sun by the end of next week. Whoo hoo!

  14. Rattlesnake Joe says

    Doggie gonna get wet paws you betcha. Oregon this time of year is magical and there is no sales tax :)

    • libertatemamo says

      Yup we already have a nice solid wet dog smell in the rig. She’s loving the outdoor smells too. Everything is so aromatic with the rain.

  15. morninghill says

    Hi, there. It’s Molly, with Mike and the poodles, your neighbors at Sam’s this past winter. Enjoyed your post so much. Last time we stayed at Clyde Holiday SP was for a family get-together centering on spreading mg sister’s ashes at Cathedral Rock. My mom was born in John Day and Doc Hay was the family’s doctor. Mosier was her maiden name; Mosier’s Home Furnishings is still owned by family. My grandfather broke horses there. My dad’s family owned the Blue Mountain Lumber Mill in John Day. I was born in Prairie City, the only hospital in Grant County at the time and now a nursing home. Lots more family history there, but I’ve gone on too long already! Oh, on the hill above the museum is a beautiful cemetery that’s got a special little place fenced off for the ladies who worked at the John Day brothel back when. We always pay them a visit when we go up there to “see” my folks. It was good to be reminded about some special memories, thanks again.

    • libertatemamo says

      Now that is some interesting history! The ranger told us Doc Hay was pretty much the de facto local doctor in the area…everyone used him! Now, I actually know someone who’s family did. Amazing how small the world is sometimes. Thanks so much for sharing your history Molly & Mike. Kisses to your gorgeous poodles (from Polly too)!


  16. Russ Krecklow says

    We enjoyed Clyde Holiday SP very much when we were over there a few short years ago. That area is very interesting and there is so much to see and enjoy. Lucky for you, the weather this next week in our area is calling for lots of sunshine, and very little chance of rain. Hope it’s the same for you. Enjoy your time there, and take lots of great photos, like you always do. We will be anxiously waiting to see them. Our best to the three of you.

    • libertatemamo says

      The weather forecast is looking puuurfect! We just did an amazing hike today (in gorgeous temps) so the good times are starting. Hope to maybe see ya and meet your doggies when we pass thro’ Eugene later this year.


  17. says

    Bravo! A great blog article. After 30 years living in Oregon (with time off for working overseas or RVing in the Southwest), I couldn’t agree more. It’s a wonderful plot of land with only 3.8 million people and so,so different from California to the south and its many population density problems. One can still call the DMV here and get a real person on the phone. Amazing! Of course, you have to put up with the rain…lots of rain in western Oregon, but the secret is out that global warming is slowly (over the next ten years) changing the climate to make it sunnier and warmer. The wine industry is already changing its focus from Pinot Noir to planting for Sirah. We leave on
    Wednesday for Camp Hosting at Camp Sherman for the summer (Smiling River CG in a Lazy Daze Motorhome with two kayaks on top. Hope to see you there.)

    • libertatemamo says

      Paul and I said the same thing about Global Warming. Give it a few years and Oregon will be a tropical paradise LOL. Interesting that the wine makers are already changing the type of grapes they’re growing. Just goes to show how the local climate is altering, even here.


  18. Dolores Tanner says

    a part of ‘my’ Oregon!!! love going to this little gem of a museum, the ladies there are so kind and knowledgable. Yes, the painted hills and that drive into Prineville is wonderful!! Look out for loose cows tho :)

    • libertatemamo says

      We saw the first part of John Day Fossil Beds today (around the Blue Basin). WOW!! I’m totally blown away. Can’t wait to see the painted hills next.


  19. keepinontruckin says

    We’ll be doing an auto tour of eastern Oregon next week, Painted Hills, John Day, Joseph, Pendleton. Already have Chinese museum on itinerary, but will be watching your blog for further updates and suggestions. You’re quite a resource, even for OR residents! We “discovered” Nehalem Bay SP recently thanks to your recommendation.

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh excellent! Weather should be perfect by the time you get out here. I’ll complete a full update on the area over the next 3-4 posts, but in case I don’t get it out before you leave I highly recommend BOTH Painted Hills AND Sheep Rock units of the John Day Fossil Beds (both are just off Hwy 26). They are each unique in their own way. The Painted Hills are more famous, but Sheep Rock has some amazing blue-green claystone formations as well as the Visitor & Paleontology Center. Enjoy your trip!


  20. Jil says

    You will love…love the painted hills…it will blow you away…it blew us away…
    we also enjoyed the Chinese Pharmacy and the fact that it was left the way it was for so long…how close are you to Steens Mountain..that might be another place you would love…the whole area around there…and like you Oregon is very special to us…totally under appreciated IMO…

    • libertatemamo says

      We just saw the Sheep Rock portion of the hills today and we WERE blown away. Wow! Going to the Painted section next. We’re not close enough to Steens Mountain to make it out there this time around, but I’ve had it recommended to me many, many times. It is on the “list”!


  21. Bear Tracks Blog says

    Ahhhhh! Beautiful Oregon! We look forward to all the wonderful posts and pictures coming these next few months!

  22. says

    we have been following your blog for many months and are now taking our first RV trip to the NW (from Green Valley, AZ). We have used your great info and planned our stays on the OR coast – arriving in 3 more days.

    • libertatemamo says

      It sure is…and I never expected to find anything like it here. Noticed the sign as we were driving past and I am SO glad we went back to see it.


  23. Tamara/SoCal says

    You summed up the constant winds of change so beautifully. We love so many parts of this country, oftentimes specific to a particular time of year. And yet, I still get the urge to ‘move on’ after a few days, no matter how much I might have enjoyed a given area, or how excited I might have been when we arrived. The change into a new unknown is so exciting, and it never seems to get old.

  24. says

    You’d best not visit the Canadian rockies then 😉 or it just might become a required portion of your annual travels! I’ve melted most of the snow for you now, so it should be safe in a month or two!

    • libertatemamo says

      I know…I’ve been avoiding the area for exactly that reason. What if I get hooked LOL? Glad to hear the snow is finally melting.

  25. Christine says

    Wonderful stories and great info. We are preparing to full-timing and your info helps a lot. Husband being a software architect we’re looking into what will be a good match. We are transplants from Europe moved to the PNW, we love our adopted State and couldn’t be prouder living here. This summer and especially the fall we will be on the road but in our own State. Testing the waters with 2 pups and a cat. I especially love Oregon fall when the leaves start to change, schools are in session again and the weather is still gorgeous.
    Did you know that ‘we Oregonians’ call the rain liquid sunshine? :-) And in Portland we can tell who’s a tourist? Tourists have umbrellas, real Portlanders don’t carry one. :-)

    Thanks for sharing all the wonderful info.

    • libertatemamo says

      Liquid sunshine…I love it!! Congrats on the upcoming travels. You’re in a great place to test the waters.


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