'We're still waiting'
By JAYSON JACOBY
In Baker County a blizzard sometimes opens more highways than it shuts.
A peculiar concept, to be sure and particularly so for anyone who ever drove a car on a snow-slathered road more suited for hockey than for travel by wheeled vehicles.
But some vehicles lack wheels.
Snowmobiles, to get straight to the point.
To say Baker County is a prime place to ride the sleek snow machines is an understatement akin to calling a Siberian winter a trifle chilly.
Fact is, during the height of snow season you can cover considerably more miles in Baker County on highways of snow than on ones paved with asphalt or concrete.
There's about 300 miles of state and federal highways within Baker County's borders.
Snowmobilers can choose from 1,000 miles.
The Sumpter Valley Blue Mountain Snowmobile Club alone grooms 342 miles of icy byways, said Glen Ferguson, a Sumpter resident and the club's president.
At least the club does so when there's enough snow.
"We're still waiting," Ferguson said on Wednesday. "We need about a foot more."
The aptly named Whitey Bloom also eagerly anticipates the wintry weather that's forecast to invade Eastern Oregon starting as soon as this weekend.
Bloom, of Halfway, is president of the Panhandle Snowmobilers Club.
The Panhandle Club regularly grooms about 150 miles of trails in the Halfway area, and another 130 miles on a less-frequent basis, Bloom said.
Although the snow isn't deep enough to warrant grooming in either Ferguson's or Bloom's territory, both said there's plenty of snow for smooth riding on higher-elevation routes.
Bloom said the last he heard the snow was about 3 feet deep at Fish Lake, in the Wallowa Mountains north of Halfway.
Forest Service Road 66 from the Clear Creek Sno-Park to Fish Lake is an easy ride, Bloom said and easily the most popular snowmobiling trip in the Panhandle Club's territory.
From Fish Lake, skilled riders on powerful sleds climb into the ungroomed powder-coated slopes around Sugarloaf Mountain, he said.
Baker County's network of snowmobile trails hasn't changed from last winter, with one notable exception.
Riders can opt this year for a different route to get to Greenhorn, the mining-era ghost town at the far western tip of Baker County, said Elden Doser, the Sumpter Valley club's grooming chairman.
The new route follows Forest Service Road 1044, which runs near Geiser Creek west to the Pyx Mine, Doser said.
Alhough the route is new to the club's grooming list, in point of chronological fact it's the old way, he said.
The main road to Greenhorn, Road 1035, starts at Highway 7 where the highway crosses the North Fork of Burnt River.
Before the Forest Service built Road 1035, the direct way to Greenhorn was Road 1044, Doser said.
Road 1044 connects with Road 1035 several miles west of Highway 7, a couple miles from Greenhorn.
Greenhorn is a snowmobiling hub, one of many places in and near Baker County from which several groomed routes extend like white spokes on a wheel.
o Sumpter. It's one of just two Oregon cities (Halfway is the other) where it's legal to ride snowmobiles on some city streets, provided you follow certain rules.
From Sumpter, popular groomed trails lead north and east into the high, untrammeled slopes of the Elkhorn Mountains, northwest to Granite, southwest to Greenhorn and south to the Whitney and Skyline Road riding areas.
o Anthony Lakes. It's better known for the downhill ski area and cross-country ski trails, but there's also an Oregon sno-park here (permits required) that's popular with snowmobilers.
Trails run north to connect with the Ladd Creek Road and Interstate 84, and west to Ukiah and the North Fork John Day country.
o Forshey Meadows. Near Sparta, northeast of Baker City. Popular trails from here parallel Eagle Creek.
o Catherine Creek Summit. This trailhead, along Highway 203 between Medical Springs and Union, actually is in Union County. It's the departure point for the Flagstaff Butte, a favorite destination for snowmobilers who revel in expansive views.