By: Verna (Cook) Weatherly
Dixie Summit, elevation 5,280 feet above sea level, in the Blue Mountains, northeast of Prairie City, Oregon on highway 26. It is an old pass and part of an early pioneer road used during the mining days of the 1860's, on Dixie Creek, above Prairie City. Supplies were carried by pack train and wagons from Umatilla along this road, en route to Sumpter, and other mining camps west of Baker.
We remember these early travelers and their dreams and sorrows. It took great faith to lives their lives, and some even lived them on this summit. According to the April 16, 1910 Census Bureau, our great grandparents, James Robert and Mary Mirinda Cook were living at the Dixie Station in Grant County, Oregon. Our great Grandfather, 53, was a section foreman. His son, our grandfather, William Earl Cook, Sr., 21, was also a section foreman. They owned their own home and our great grandmother, 42, was a landlady. The Census also lists other members of the family: Elmer Raymond, 19, section foreman; Ernest Elda, 16, railroad labor; Evaline, 14; Ivaline, 10; James Robert, 6; John, 3.
East from Dixie Summit, highway 26 follows portions of the old Pioneer Road. On both sides of the highway are forested slopes consisting of "Grand Fir, Western Larch and Lodgepole. North of the highway is Ponderosa Pine mixed in because of increased solar radiation that comes from southern aspect." The understory is mostly pine grass and huckleberry.
A short distance from the summit on your left is the old road into Dixie Campground. Our family and friends visited this site many times during the 1940's and 1950's. As you turn left into the campgrounds, it feels as though you are entering a sanctuary. Tall conifers shield the entrance, making it dark and secluded. In the center of the campground is a wooden footbridge which crosses a small mountain stream. The stream sustains roots of foliage growing along its route. The radiant sun touches the leaves and moves up a bank into a large circle of campsites under the tall ancient pine trees.
After we leave Dixie Campground, we turn left on Highway 26 with Bridge Creek on our right, where "alders, cottonwood and red osier dogwood grow along the creek water." It is along Bridge Creek where our mother would take us "huckleberrying" when we were very young. She would tie buckets around our waists and lead us carefully up the steep hillside to her secret berry patch. This worked very well, until we would come across an old dead log, with our buckets about one-third full and struggling to wrap our short legs over the dead logs to get to the other side. Without exception we would hang up someplace, and huckleberries would roll, disappearing beneath the layers of pine needles. With empty buckets we would soon tire, but Mom always picked and canned two or three quarts with some left over for a "feast" of huckleberry dumplings.
Highway 26 continues on this same route for a couple of miles to Bridge Creek, crossing under the highway. Bridge Creek makes a turn away from the highway and ends up at the upper mill pond in Bates. As we turn north at Austin Junction onto and old dirt and gravel road, we pass on our left a small clearing of lodgepole pine, standing in pine grass. To our right are a few tamarack trees.
(I do not know the age of the grove of trees. "313 million years ago, the conifer trees came into existence, along with the reptiles." Brian Swimme, Ph.D., physicist, Canticle to the Cosmos, p.26).
Within a couple hundred yards we join Clear Creek, a jubilant high mountain spring creek of clear cold waters. willows grow plentiful along this creek as it winds along the small meadow, in front of mountain homes. Eventually, the creek traverses under the highway at a rocky point and enters a narrow deepening meadow and more houses on the left. The spring house on the right is just south of Knuteville, the home of many of our friends, and an important part of Bates.
The Old Road and Dry Fork Road cross at this location. Turning left down a steep grade which crosses Clear Creek, you come to a long narrow foothill. We make our final turn, to the right, along the road between this foothill and Clear Creek into Bates. Clear Creek runs an even course through Bates, forming a ninety degree angle as it flows into the Middle Fork of the John Day River.
Mountain springs and snowmelt from higher elevations in the Blue Mountains, make the john Day River possible. Bates is located on the Middle Fork, one of the three forks of the John Day River.