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