Workamping in Sumpter Oregon at the Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge was my favorite workamping experience to date. I enjoyed the work, the people, where I parked, the weather and the entire area.

The picture highlights from the two months I spent there follow.

Outside the Dredge

It’s funny. Have you ever done this? I would take photos of the dredge. It’s an entirely static thing and while the greenery that surrounded it changed with the season during my time, the dredge itself never did. Still, I’d see it anew each day and feel the need to snap another picture. In other words, even though I only kept the best photos of it, I still ended up with a lot. These are my favorites.

A gold dredge sitting in a pond showing the reflection.
I heard the dredge described as looking like a praying mantis which I thought was a pretty good description. It operates much like a potato digger in farming but instead of digging up potatoes, it digs up gold-bearing earth. Then the earth is run from the front to the back, through processes that separate the mineral. Finally, everything unused is spit out the back.
Front a a gold dredge in a pond. Walkways to the door and along the side.
The path visitors take between the Visitors Center and the gold dredge. The dredge is not as boat-like as it looks or as people think. It’s more like a covered piece of machinery that floats because it is built on pontoons. As the machine digs into the earth, it creates its own pond. The upper floor with the windows is the winch room.
Gold dredge from the front.
Looking at the dredge straight on.
Close up of the bucket line of a gold dredge.
The bucket line. Each of the 72 buckets grabbed a scope of earth and hauled it into the dredge for processing. It processed 25 buckets per minute. This meant, daily, one-third of an acre was dredged.
A gold dredge from a distance so you can see the full length of the conveyor off the back.
The tail off the back of the dredge is called the conveyor. Inside the fabric is a conveyor belt where the unused earthy material (read: non-gold) got expelled from the dredge. It’s also called a stacker. Presumably because it stacks the processed rocks.

Inside the Dredge

So, what magic happens inside the dredge’s 125-foot hull? How is gold separated from the earth? Rather than me trying to explain it (badly, I might add), let me quote a paragraph from the orientation material the ranger gave me to study.

Powered by an electric motor, the bucket line scooped up the earth and dumped it into a hopper which directed it into a trommel, a long tube that rotates with perforations in its entire shell. Here, the gold and small materials were to sift through the 3/4 inch holes and fall into the sluice boxes. Gold bearing sand and water was flushed over a series of riffles where the gold settled and was trapped. The coarser material was carried up the stackers on a conveyor belt and deposited behind the dredge leaving mountains of rock known as “tailings.”

Except for the bathroom door, I took all the photos on the upper floors where visitors were not allowed.

An old wooden door with with "Quick Freeze Dept" painted on it.
It reads Quick Freeze Dept. This is the bathroom door. The bathroom was an outhouse where the hole dropped down to the water. When men went in, others would drop stones nearby so the splash of the water would hit the worker’s backside. Maybe not terrible in the summer, but no fun in the winter. You know….the things we do to amuse ourselves at work.
Upper level inside a wooden dredge. Lot of uneven and broken boards.
Can you see why visitors couldn’t explore the upper levels? But, I admit, I loved that as a workamper, I could. Pretend you don’t notice the Halloween decorations below.
Old rusted barrels stacked on one another to serve as a stove.
Heating barrels helped keep the men a bit warm in the frigid winter months.
A room with glass windows all around and metal gears coming through the floor.
Winch room where the winchman steered the bucket line. A workamper took this photo a few years before I arrived. I found it in a binder on displayed in the Visitors Center.

Bone Yard

The Bone Yard was an area near the dredge where pieces and parts of a wide array of equipment used over the last hundred or so years gathered. The items are not specific to the dredge. More, they are specific to the period and just something that added flavor to the experience

Rusted old machinery and parts with pine trees in the background.
Most of it has nothing to do with the dredge itself but it’s fun to wander through.
Wooden wage with a drum that reads "Union."

Natural Trails

In Sumpter Oregon for 61 days, I think I walked on the nature trails 58 of those. One I missed was my arrival day. And, in October, I rolled my ankle when I stepped on a rock wrong (I decided to spare you the photos of the black ankle and foot) so I skipped a couple days in an effort to speed healing. Unfortunately, it continues to bother me. Meaning, it may not have been necessary to skip those walking days. Oh well.

A walking trail lined with rocks, a pond, lots of greenery and a dredge in the background.
The dredge from one of the trails.
A gravel path lined with large stones with pine trees and a blue sky.
I saw this, and every other inch of the 1.5 miles of nature trails, at the Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge State Park.
Wild grasses against a blue sky.
Do you know what these are? I don’t. But I loved them against the blue sky. I found them trailside in my early days at the dredge.

The Town of Sumpter Oregon

A large dilapidated gray house with a gravel road going by. In the background are other structures.
In its heyday, the house on the left was the dredge master’s house. If you follow the alley straight back to the tiny house, that is the cabin I told you I had access to. To the left of it is the maintenance shop. And peeking above the fence…see Quill?
Brick structure with iron bars on the door.
Any guesses what this might be? It’s all that remains of a bank. It’s the vault. In 1917, most of the town including the bank burned down. The vault survived. If you look inside you find gold bars. Okay, maybe they are bricks painted gold. But gold bars sounds so much more thrilling, doesn’t it?
A small wood building with the Oregon State Park seal. A white pickup truck parked next to it.
The Oregon State Park office at Sumpter Oregon. It is on the main street as you enter town. But visitors continue on by and drive down to the dredge’s parking lot.

A Few More

Wheels and other mechanical parts displayed along a road at sunrise.
One of the last days. On my walk. Understand that in two months, I only saw a beautiful pinky-orange sky at sunset and at sunrise once. This was the one at sunrise. Sumpter Oregon’s version of a heartfelt goodbye. That’s how it felt anyway. I was moved and a little sad all at the same time. It was a hard place to leave.
A wooden Adirondack chair with a purple cup on one arm and a purple journal on the other.
I adore Adirondack chairs. And Sumpter Valley Dredge provided one. On one of my last days, with practically no visitors, I dragged it out and positioned it in front of the dredge. I enjoyed the moment, scenery, the dredge, soaking up every last moment of my time as a workamper with my coffee and my journal.

Travel Adventures Pictorials & Photo Essays

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