A History of Good Bear Ranch, the Elkhorn Mountains, + Eastern Oregon

Northeast Oregon is considered Oregon’s oldest land having been shaped by a violent geologic past. Many of the older rocks that form the core of the Elkhorn Mountains, are exotic; fragments of islands and oceans that were formed several hundred million years ago in the ancestral South Pacific. These fragments, which once marked the westernmost boundary of the American continent were transported by the process of plate tectonics over the course of 200 million years. Fragments of the old ocean floor can be seen in the bold peaks of the Elkhorn Ridge that rises up from its base at Good Bear Ranch.

Many geologists hold that parts of Baker County were once under an enormous Lake, which overflowed through Baker Valley and into the Grande Ronde River and thus to the lower Snake River. The present course of the Snake River through nearby Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America, developed as water from the lake followed broad faults and began to cut through along the fracture lines resulting from the crushing as the fault edges moved against each other.

Native Americans have lived in the area surrounding Good Bear Ranch for millenia. They belonged to the tribes of the Umatilla, Cayuse, Walla Walla, Nez Perce and Northern Piute. The Elkhorn Mountains were sacred to Native Americans and were often used for vision quests because of their high ridges and peaks (8-9000 Ft.). You can access the trail directly above the house at Good Bear Ranch via Marble Creek Road and the Marble Pass trail terminus.

If you hike the Elkhorn Crest Trail you will be in “Tayat Kimolikam” or high country. It was  hunting and root digging ground of the Cayuse and Umatilla. This word was also used in connection with “weyekin” or “guardian spirit” quests. “Atway Wahtustiis” explained that the “high country” refers to the Elkhorn Mountains where “children lived in peaks, West of Baker City, for days without eating, until they got a spirit” The name also refers to “Highest peaks” or “power”.

The Elkhorn Crest trail, today, is part of the Blue Mountains Trail, a 530 mile,  through hiking  Trail System.  Travel brochures call it an  “alpine paradise” . The Cayuse and Nez Perce refer to this ancient trail as “trail thrown on top” or “Iskit Tuulikeecin” The Elkhorn mountains themselves are referred to as “thrown down to stand up place” or “Tamapatuktpa”Stand outside at night, look up to the stars and you will understand their reverence to this beautiful place.

Native Americans called the area around present day Baker City “Hiuumepiinwees” or “Grizzly Bear coming out”. You won’t find Grizzly Bears these days. The local black bears are shy and mostly nocturnal maintaining their distance in most cases. Also present in the Good Bear Ranch vicinity are cougars, occasionally wolves, coyotes, fox, elk ,deer, turkeys and many fascinating species of wild birds. We like to watch Kestrals hunting in the field in front of the house. They hover at eye level to the high deck and then dive with incredibly swift precision to catch mice or gophers.  The larger mammals keep to themselves but will reveal their presence to a sharp eye trained on the ground for tracks.

When white Americans were flocking to the area for the gold buried in the mountains and rivers , Baker City was referred to as “Queen City of the Mines” During the mid-19th century the area was settled by miners, farmers and ranchers looking for a new life.  One of the original settlements of “Pocahontas” was just a mile  down slope from Good Bear Ranch at the intersection of Pocahontas Road and Marble Creek Road. You can still see the chimney standing where their school house used to be.

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