Tuesday, May 28, 2013

ON THE OLD ION HIGHWAY


On the Cedarville, Burns, Winnemucca Tour
Fourth in a series…

The old Idaho Oregon Nevada route, known as the ION Highway directed frustrated California 49ers to the greener (or more golden) pastures (goldfields) of Idaho and Montana which opened up in the mid-60s.  I suspect California’s Yuba-Sierra County Henness Pass Route was an extension of the ION.

A night-before’s glance at the map informed us that the ION would be an interesting diversion from US 95 passing through Rome to Arock to Danner – in search of the final resting place of Jean Baptiste “Pomp” Charbonneau, son of Sacajawea.  

But, as with many Church of the Open Road adventures, we shoulda known something was up when John's 2012 4-Runner's skid plates began cutting the tops off sage and bouncing over boulders amid the "highway's" ruts.


US 95 heads east-northeast from Burns Junction toward Jordan Valley.  It would be easy to fly by the unpaved Rome Road that connects to the historic and remote ION route across the plateau. 

Paralleling the Owyhee River, the Rome Road turns and becomes the route we’re looking for, according the GPS in John’s 2012 4-Runner.  It crosses the Owyhee on a vintage 1906 steel structure.

A filigreed placard immortalizing those visionaries who planned and built the bridge rusts atop the span.

Up stream, a small dam diverts water into an irrigation flume, which courses along the base of the sandstone bluffs.

Nearby, the bulldozer perhaps once used to maintain this “highway” rests in a state of perpetual unemployment.

The GPS unit is spot on.  It directs us through a weary looking farmstead and up a chiseled grade and across some high, gently rolling terrain. 

The road looks as if it hasn’t seen a grading blade since the old boy down the hill retired, but the Toyota’s high ground clearance and rugged body-on-frame engineering makes light work of the tough climb.

Miles on, a primitive gate bars further access toward Arock.  Sans any type of lock, we utilize the cleverly provided wooden lever to unbind the stay from the wire loop and pass through.

 Returning the gate to its closed position takes more torque than I can muster, but close and secure it we finally do.

We know we are nearing an outpost as we encounter more and more derelict equipment slowly melting into the sage.


Arock – the halfway point to Danner – sports a Community Center, a church, a Post Office, and a crisp looking little grammar school.  A substantial route leads south back to US 95.  But we scoff at this.

A home built from quarried lava cap stands across from the Community Center.

The GPS leads us eastward out of town.  At a point not much further on, the unit tells us the ION Highway courses northerly.

But, being smarter than any electronic gizmo, we stick with the rutted route that appears more heavily frequented.

As things would turn out, we are proven not to be smarter than the GPS nor are we particularly Frostian in our choices about which road not to take.

A gorge carved by a tiny stream that was dammed in 1903 blocks our route.

We would not make Danner this way.

We return to Arock, find the road south to US 95 and hope that none of the locals – peeking through their curtains – catch us backtracking.  After all, we’re geographers. 

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press

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