Two weeks before Thanksgiving a local radio station began
playing Christmas Music. All day, every day. I wasn’t ready
for The Chipmunks so soon this year (sorry, Alvin). Then I
started thinking about Christmas stories, too, and I soon had
reindeer names spinning round my head alongside chipmunk
choruses. Oh What Fun It Is!
Rudolph was easy, Prancer and Dancer came next…but then I
ran out of names. Has it really been fifty years since I sang those
verses? Suddenly I remembered…Donner and Blitzen!
Thunder and Lightning! And also…because I’ve been there a
time or two…rainbow trout and ghost town.
The short story is, the headwaters of the Donner and Blitzen River
are on Steens Mountain, in southeastern Oregon’s High Desert,
the waters so named by Captain George Curry in 1864 as he
crossed the stream during a violent thunderstorm. One of several
settlements that sprang up in the Catlow Valley below Steens
Mountain was, naturally, called Blitzen. Many of its settlers came
west after receiving glowing (and erroneous) reports about the area’s
fertile soil from friends and relatives who’d migrated and compared
this new land to the Midwest.
As the harsh truths of living at altitude became apparent (fierce
weather extremes, poor soil, and loneliness being at the top of
the list), people began to seek their dreams elsewhere and Blitzen
drifted toward ghost town status. Where two general stores, a
school, a saloon, a scattering of residences, and a post office once
stood…the post office finally closed in 1943…today you’ll find
piles of weathering wood and bits of old machinery. The saloon/hotel,
the subject of this photograph, was the last structure standing.