Some days on a road trip are mostly about the road. Day 3 was one of those!
Day 3: Montana to Oregon
Our Day 3 itinerary had a major change when we discovered that the Northwest Museum of Vintage Snowmobiles in Spokane Valley, Washington, was no longer open as the owner of this private collection had passed away.
So, we did a quick tour around St. Ignatius, where we were staying, to take a look at the 1890s St. Ignatius Mission Church, which unfortunately was still locked when we arrived.That was somewhat disappointing as we’d already heard a lot about the 58 historic paintings inside. Here, however, is a picture from WikiMedia Commons.
St. Ignatius is also just a few miles from the National Bison Range, established in 1908. Of course, in addition to buffalo, deer, elk, and pronghorns also live there. A visitor center is at the park entrance, and it takes a couple of hours to drive through the range.
Since I’ve already visited a number of ranges, we decided to hit the highway instead of touring. Pulling out my smartphone, I loaded my new favorite website, the Atlas Obscura. It took awhile, but I soon found some new off the beaten path places to stop.
The day, however, was still mostly miles on the Interstates, as we ended up in four states: Montana, Idaho, Washington, and finally, Oregon. But that’s a road trip!
The Umatilla Chemical Depot near Hermiston was our first stop from the list I’d turned up on Atlas Obscura. What’s that? Well, a storage site for rockets, bombs, and 7.4 million pounds of Cold War-era chemical agents like mustard gas and sarin.
While the directions I found on the Web said the site was at the junction of I82 and I84, my car GPS had a listing for the Umatilla Army Depot, which took us right there.
And, as promised, the bunkers were impossible to miss!
The depot was built in 1941 as a storage site for bombs, rockets, and ammunition, and in 1962 the army began trucking in chemical weapons and mustard agents. In 1997, the army started building a 1,400-degree natural gas incinerator to destroy the inventory, and destruction started in 2004. Today, everything is gone, but the bunkers remain.
As we drove, we stared out at the 19,728-acre military installation that had housed the row after row of 1001 munitions storage bunkers, called igloos. The larger igloos are 30 by 80 feet, and the smaller ones are 24 by 61 feet. The ends and sides are ten inches of reinforced concrete, covered with two feet of dirt. The concrete tops were constructed so that the force would be directed upward if an explosion occurred. (from: Oregon Encyclopedia)
Now, the dirt has been moved on many of the bunkers, so they look like blackened giant covered loaf pans in the sagebrush. The guard we talked to at the Depot said they weren’t being removed, although the land is being divided and repurposed.
It was well worth the trip!
From there it was further into Oregon, where we found mile after mile of wind turbines. Wind power, I learned, is big in this state.
And finally, as we were nearing the 450 mile marker on the day’s road trip, we headed out on the John Day Highway at its Western terminus in Arlington. It twists and turns, with lots of curves rated down at 35 mph or even less–but is a scenic, fun road nevertheless. For a glance at rural Oregon, it’s pretty amazing.
Our stop for the night was the Condon Motel, which was certainly comfortable and reasonably priced. And the bed, thank goodness, was soft!