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Spray: A journey through time 

A pastoral view of the John Day River. Below left is the River Bend Motel and the Spray Pioneer Museum at right. - BLM
  • BLM
  • A pastoral view of the John Day River. Below left is the River Bend Motel and the Spray Pioneer Museum at right.

My wife's family has been camping in Spray since before she was born. She's run the half marathon during the town's big Memorial Day fiesta, trained to chase a greased pig in the rodeo, and has watched an outhouse get tipped over to remove a large rattlesnake coiled up in the corner. If this vignette of small town life appeals to you, Spray may be worth your while.

Who This Trip is For:

Those looking for a "rustic" experience

What to Do:

In the summer, cyclists who ride the 161-mile Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway can stop in Spray and enjoy a break from riding, watching the John Day River flow past. Rafters can float the river and fishermen can cast most of the year for smallmouth bass, or for the two native steelhead runs. Over Memorial Day weekend, there's the Spray Rodeo and the East Oregon Half Marathon that starts in Service Creek, follows the John Day and ends in Spray. During elk and deer seasons, Spray gets many hunters, although most of the lands surrounding the town are private.

Where to Stay:

Spray has one motel—the River Bend Motel—that has seven rooms plus a small house for rent. The motel is bike and pet friendly, and is located across the street from the Lone Elk Market/gas station/restaurant. The room we rented was also kid friendly, with a bunk bed that had stuffed animals for kids to cuddle. How many kids have cuddled those pets? Who knows. ...

Rates for the hotel run from about $62 per night to $140 for the house. There's also the campground at the Spray Riverfront Park for a thrifty $12 a night.

Where to Eat:

As far as eating in Spray... well, in the summertime the Lone Elk has a grill that cooks burgers, hot dogs and other stuff. In the winter—when I went there—bring your own food. We ended up dining on popcorn and beef jerky, with ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

Spray was named for the community's founder and first postmaster, John Freemont Spray. It was formed in 1900, when John Spray established a post office, ferry, a school and a store at the turn of the century. The town was the last in Wheeler County to incorporate, doing so in 1958. Two sawmills used to provide economic stability to the town, but they're long since gone. Now, ranching and farming provide much of the town's income. In 2017 there were 55 students K-12. All seven high school seniors graduated.

The Spray Rodeo has been dubbed "The Best Small-Town Rodeo in the West." Kids used to be able to chase a greased pig around the arena, and the kid that caught it could keep the piglet.

Bend to Spray takes about two and a half hours. Like many other road trips, getting there is half the fun. My son stared out the window at the colored buttes that crop up from the sage and juniper-treed landscape, looking for wildlife. I was lost in thought, staring at the zig-zagging, free-flowing river until the sound of him saying, "Daddy," crashed through my mind. I pulled over and saw what the fuss was about: a herd of what we thought were big-horned sheep (later learning they were mouflons, released years ago for hunting) was sauntering up the craggy hillside.

Population: 150

TIME from Bend: 3 hrs. 

Fun Facts:

The Spray Pioneer Museum, built in 1912 as the Spray Baptist Church, became a museum in 1993.

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