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  1. #1
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    Sun and gravel in Deschutes country [o]

    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.
    Last edited by GlowBoy; 04-30-2012 at 03:01 PM.
    "People like GloyBoy are deaf. They are partisan, intellectually lazy & usually very angry." -Jaybo

  2. #2
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    Excellent writeup!!!

  3. #3
    Nat
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    Nice.

  4. #4
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    I've driven that road and seen those sights many, many times. It never gets stale. I really need to take a bike up there sometime.

    I love when you crest the highest point of Moody road, and get the sweeping vista view.

    And you're spot on about the nightime trains.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. #5
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    I had an interesting encounter on Old Moody Road, at that spot I'd just snapped the 2nd and 3rd pics above. As I was enjoying the view and a snack, a very beat-up looking Cherokee with two locals and a well-equipped gun rack stopped by:
    Locals: "You lost or something?"
    Me (thinking "yeah, like anyone's ever going to wind up here on a bike by mistake"): "Nope, just taking a break and enjoying the view."
    Locals: "There some kind of bike race today?"
    Me: "No, I'm just out here having fun."
    Locals: no response ... apparently I just said something so incomprehensible I might as well have said it in Urdu.
    Me: "It's a lot of fun ... you oughta try it some time."
    Locals: (mumbling something along the lines of) "well, I don't think that's gonna happen."
    Last edited by GlowBoy; 05-09-2012 at 12:02 AM. Reason: fixed typo
    "People like GloyBoy are deaf. They are partisan, intellectually lazy & usually very angry." -Jaybo

  6. #6
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    Update: 3 weeks ago I managed to get myself some more sun, a couple hundred miles to the north.

    Trip report: Drying out in central Washington.

    Here's a sample:
    "People like GloyBoy are deaf. They are partisan, intellectually lazy & usually very angry." -Jaybo

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    Inspirational! Great post... I am fortunate to benefit from your anger.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by poppa#1 View Post
    Inspirational! Great post... I am fortunate to benefit from your anger.
    Thanks ... but don't thank me, thank Jaybo.
    "People like GloyBoy are deaf. They are partisan, intellectually lazy & usually very angry." -Jaybo

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    Sweet. I know that area very well. The road down to freebridge is wild. Ive run into another vehicle once or twice on the way in meaning one person has to back up for close to a half mile.

  10. #10
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    I do an annual campout about 20 miles upriver in the national recreation area in April with former coworkers. I always take my bike and north to Mack's Canyon and have been known to hike my bike down a gully to the former rail grade on hte east side of the Deschuttes. Love the area.
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  11. #11
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    Great report and pics! I love the rugged, open landscape of eastern Oregon.

    I've only recently discovered the wonderful world of dirt road riding. Sort of a "I like the dirt road to the trail better than the trail" kind of thing. Haven't done any touring, but hope to at least get some rides in this summer.

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    GB thanks for the pics and the great ride report. I really needed some inspiration to get back in the saddle. Makes me want to throw the bike in the van and head east!!!

  13. #13
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    Nice! Great to see folks out riding these roads. Obviously I love that area of Oregon, given how many rides we've posted out that way. Thanks for the heads up on several of those roads - I've suspected that Rattlesnake went down to the river, but you confirmed it. Can't wait to link that up on a ride!

    Donnie

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