Six Special Places That Tell Oregon’s Story


Celebrating Oregon Archaeology Month

SALEM — Every October, Oregon celebrates the state’s archaeology, cultural heritage and history. Protecting that history is a cornerstone of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department mission. This fall, we challenge you to learn something new about the people and places that formed our state. Below, you’ll find six parks, each with its own story to tell about Oregon’s past. A list of Oregon Archaeology Month events is listed at the Oregon Heritage Exchange blog.

As you explore these sites, remember they are our country’s legacy. You can help that legacy endure by leaving sites undisturbed. Please do not dig, and if you find an artifact, take a picture and let park staff know the location of the find. Thank you for taking care of Oregon’s special places.

Fort Yamhill

Fort Yamhill State Heritage Site commemorates a military fort built in 1856 to be a buffer between settlers and Native Americans living on the Grand Ronde Reservation. A self-guided ½ mile walking tour tells the story of life at the fort from the perspectives of Native Americans and soldiers.

Willamette Mission

Willamette Mission State Park

Willamette Mission State Park near Salem marks the location of the first Methodist mission on the west coast, designed to convert Oregon Country’s Native Americans to Christianity. The mission operated from 1834 until 1841, when the Willamette River flooded the site and destroyed its buildings. Oregon State Parks installed a ghost structure that depicts the mission house. It’s visible from a viewpoint along the Mission Trail. Want to know more? Visit the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem for a full exhibit on the missionaries who settled western Oregon.


Near Grants Pass is the ghost town of Golden, an “old west” style mining town established in 1890 by dreamers hoping to get rich on gold.  At its height in 1892, over 150 people lived here. But when its gold disappeared, so did the town. A church, former residence, shed and a structure that once housed the post office and store are still standing at this State Heritage Site. Across the street, take a loop through the restored wetland to see where the miners worked.

Arch Rock

Dozens of offshore rocks characterize the views from Sam Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a narrow 18-mile stretch of land that borders the ocean just north of the California border. Arch Rock marks the northern boundary of the park.

According to Native American legend, Coyote — a frequent character who teaches ingenuity and explains the inexplicable — was left to starve on the rock after playing a prank on the other animals and people. Undeterred, he cleverly made his way back to land by gathering a basket of mussels and throwing them into the water. Each mussel magically grew into a small island, creating “stepping stones” to shore.


Set amidst the stunning backdrop of the Wallowa Mountains in the northeast corner of the state, Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site is part of the ancestral homeland of the Nez Perce tribe. Interpretive panels along the short trail tell the story of the site’s significance and history. While you’re here, expand your knowledge of the Nez Perce by visiting the adjacent Old Chief Joseph Gravesite and the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland Visitor Center in nearby Wallowa.

Smith Rock

Learn more about Oregon’s rich cultural history at Smith Rock State Park’s Oregon Archaeology lecture series, every Friday evening in October. The presentations take place 7 – 8:30 p.m. at the park’s Welcome Center.

Oct. 4: Life and Art on the Columbia Plateau

Oct. 11: The Rock Art of Washington State

Oct. 18: “The Tribal History of the Oregon Paiutes

Oct. 25: Obscure Oregon: The Columbia Southern Railroad

About Author

Diane Navarrete is a Communications Specialist for Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

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