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Exploring Oregon's wild, historic Elkhorn Mountains | Grant's Getaways

Discover a historic railroad ride, a Wild West train robbery, plus off-roading adventures for an up-close view of the fall scenery.

SUMPTER, Ore. — This week, we enjoy a unique trip into the Elkhorn Mountains and discover a historic railroad ride, a Wild West train robbery, plus off-roading adventures for an up-close view where the hills are alive with color.

The Powder River is a small, cool, quiet and refreshing stream, but on fall weekends that silence is broken by the unmistakable train whistle of the Sumpter Valley Railroad.

At the McEwen Depot, a growing crowd is eager to experience the golden days of the Sumpter Valley Railroad.

“Last call! Train Number One to Sumpter departing in five minutes!” called railroad conductor Jim Ross. “It’s a special run, a special event — we’re running folks up to the dredge, close to 140, 150 people. So, it’s all good.”

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Tourists have replaced the cattle and timber that were transported down the rail line a century ago. It’s a chance for folks to escape city hubbub for a slower pace and learn more about Baker County‘s past.

“The railway was very important to the economic development of Eastern Oregon,” added Ross. “It was critically, really important and little Sumpter Valley tied it all together.”

At this time of year, the railroad offers something different — a ride with kids and parents through a special performance. The Sumpter Valley Railroad robbery begins when a half-dozen train robbers on horseback fire blank shots at the train guards.

“Now, don’t be reachin’ for no pistols. Where’s the gold?” asked one of the robbers.

The robbers and the train guards are all volunteers who give guests some extra excitement that’s all in good fun.

“We’re an all-volunteer organization and just love doing this,” said Ross. “We meet all kinds of great people who come up here to ride — come from all over the state and the world. It’s really a pleasure to show off Eastern Oregon.”

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But the railroad and the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area are just the start!

Local resident Gary Olsen said that when you leave the rails behind and go aboard ATVs, you can see the gorgeous countryside along hundreds of miles of designated off-road trails that give the riders access into Oregon’s Elkhorn Mountains.

Olsen added that fall is a fine time to explore the area, because the tamarack trees are changing: “First they turn yellow, a yellow-orange, and then the needles fall and turn the ground all around a pumpkin-colored orange.”

Tamarack is a member of the pine family, but it's a deciduous conifer species that drops its needles each fall.

The mix of colors offers a dramatic seasonal transition that really lights up the scenery. Fall is the right time for exploration!

“It is a blast,” said Olson. “It can be a little cold, so dress warm! The ATVs allow you to slow down and enjoy our special countryside.”

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Be sure to watch the weekly half hour program of Grant’s Getaways. The show airs each Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m. on KGW.

For something different, you can follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways Podcast. Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

The book collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

You can reach me: Gmcomie@kgw.com

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