Back in March, feeling pretty vitamin D deficient after a couple solid months of dreary weather, and feeling pretty cooped-up to boot, I got myself a 3-day weekend of outdoor freedom in the sun on the lower Deschutes.
I'd been spending too much time reading velodirt.com, and the Deschutes Mountain 60 had just taken place the past weekend. So I was craving a long gravel grinder of my own. Rolling out from my campsite at Deschutes State park, I rode up Old Moody Road (also part of the DM60 route) into Wasco County farm country. The first few miles climbed steeply but offered great views of the Columbia:
Then a few more miles on paved 15mile road, but I took the first chance to hit gravel, angling back eastward on Fulton Road. Which then turns into Kloan Road -- no gravel, just dirt -- at this sweet junction:
After a bit of climbing, views in all directions, including down into the Deschutes Canyon.
Just beyond this point is a junction with Freebridge Road, which you could ride down to the river (I didn't). I've heard you wouldn't want to do this road in a car lest you find yourself unable to climb back out of the canyon. The Deschutes was one of the hardest river crossings on the Oregon Trail, and in 1873 a toll bridge was built at this site, which became known as "free bridge" when the county bought it and made it free. The bridge collapsed in 1914, but if you ride the Deschutes Rail-Trail (see below) you can still see the pilings in the middle of the river.
Quite a few miles of gradual climbing through country like this:
Finally, with hundreds of wind turbines in view (though, sorry, none in this particular pic), I finally reached the high point of my ride. And more importantly, my reward: a miles-long 30mph descent down gravel Wrentham Market Road:
Cool old schoolhouse. Nice view of Mt. Adams and the snow-covered Simcoes in the distance:
All in all, a 53 mile day, with about 60% of the distance on gravel. (And one of the best parts was that after I finished I got to use the nice new showers at the state park, which had just opened for the season). Wasco county is one of the best places there is for road riding -- both paved AND gravel -- and I shall return.
Next adventure was one I've done many times: camping on the Deschutes Rail-Trail. Haven't been on it in a few years, but HERE and HERE are some writeups of previous trips I've done there. Nothing challenging about it, but I always love it: beautiful canyon scenery, and if you go in spring or late fall you have it to yourself.
A little history: the canyon of the lower Deschutes was the last big wild-west battle in the great railroad wars. James J. Hill's Great Northern and E. H. Harriman's Union Pacific, building simultaneously on both sides of the river, sought to build the first rail line into Central Oregon. The competing railroads' crews blew up each other's explosives, timed their own blasting to shower the camps on the other side of the river with debris, rolled boulders onto each other's work, and got into gunfights. A few men were killed. Further upriver, where the Warm Springs Reservation wouldn't allow railbuilding on one side of the river, it took an Act of Congress to force the railroads to build parallel tracks on the same side.
Before long, both railroads were operating, but as I understand it Southern Pacific's route on the east bank was less well constructed and had a lot more problems with washouts and landslides. Eventually JJ Hill won the war and Union Pacific shut down their side. Today the lower 18 miles of this route are the Deschutes Rail-Trail, and there's still plenty of rail history evident:
I don't even know whether this is railroad or farming equipment, but it's interesting:
Like I said I've ridden here quite a few times, and previously I didn't think there was any access into and out of the canyon from the east side. But I had just recently read of an old jeep road called "Rattlesnake Grade", about 7 miles in, that climbs up the side of the canyon. Apparently this was part of the emigrant route that crossed a little ways downriver at Freebridge. I found it, and decided to see how far up it I could ride:
As it turns out, you can ride it all the way up out of the canyon, hooking up with Gordon Ridge Road and Sherman County's extensive system of quiet farm roads, both paved and gravel. Access is a bit (but only a bit) tricky from the top, and it opens up lots of loop possibilities. This will definitely be part of my next adventure here. Here's the view from the top:
Right at the bottom of Rattlesnake Grade lies my favorite campsite. It's only about 7 miles in but it has flat ground and a very nice outhouse, the fancy kind with a concrete floor. Camping luxury. All you hear while you sleep is the relaxing sounds of the Deschutes just a few feet away. Oh, and these. James J. Hill's empire rolls on as the BNSF:
Despite the wilderness quality of camping alone on the Deschutes, you will be awakened at least a couple times by the rumble of a train in the middle of the night. No horns because there are no RR crossings for miles, but you'll still hear them. Peek outside your tent and you'll see the train's headlight sweeping across the canyon walls. Personally, I think it's the coolest thing about camping there, and I get chills down my spine just thinking about it.
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