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HCMR-13I’m talking about the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally in Baker City, Oregon.

The king of the curve!  And it all happens on July 12-15th.

The U.S. Government named Hells Canyon a national wilderness area which protects the canyon into the future, but the real essence of the area is in its native American past.  It’s home to the Nez Perce and for hundreds of years the area belong to a proud people.  Today their spirit lives on as you ride in the area.

I’ve been to the Hells Canyon a number of times and it seems like I uncover more motorcycle riding treasures on each trip.  There is fantastic scenery, friendly people and wonderful roads.  I have not, but many riders have ridden all of the motorcycle rally routes and yet they still return looking for more.

The Little Dragon (188 corners in 14 miles) demands it, but all the roads require that you bring your “A” game, because the challenging twisty roads offer up a great experience to those who conquer them.

The best news is that the rally was pushed out a month or so last year after having a couple years of questionable weather.  Hey, I like rain as much as the next guy, but standing around the tent heaters was the last straw for me and I for one am thankful they moved the date to a timeframe when you can count on the weather being awesome.

It will be nice to walk around in shorts in downtown Baker City and check out main street, the Corner Brick, The Geiser Saloon and old town cafes.  I hope to see you there.

I’ve previously blogged about the “June-uary” rally HERE and a list of HCMR posts HERE.

Photo courtesy of HCMR

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HCMR – “Showers” in downtown Baker City

I’ll get right to the point. 

This year the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR) was hit hard with the “Gore Effect.”

Huh?  You may remember this as the phenomenon that whenever Al Gore discusses Global warming it leads to unseasonably wicked cold temperatures, driving rain, hail, or snow mix whenever he visits an area.  I’m not exactly sure where Mr. Gore was located last weekend, but I’m darn sure he had to be thinking about the northwest, because Baker City, Oregon got slapped hard with a cold wet rag right to the face!

If you’re unfamiliar with the rally, it’s located on the border of Oregon and Idaho and Hells Canyon is the deepest canyon in North America.  Motorcycle riders come from all over to ride the Devil’s Tail, visit Historic Baker City, Oregon and then travel along the various Hells Canyon Scenic Byways.

So, here is the ASK of Steve and Eric Folkestad, (organizers of the HCMR rally):  Send Al Gore a letter asking that he never think about the northwest or better yet, after attending this rally 4 previous years and having some portion of it significantly disrupted by poor/bad weather let’s move the date! 

HCMR – Temperature kept going down, and down!

This past weekend was the straw that pushed me over the edge.  Unless the date of this event moves out to later in the month/year, I don’t plan to return!   And if the random survey I took with several other riders was any indicator,  there are a number of motorcycle enthusiasts who plan to remove HCMR from their list of early summer (“June-ary”) rides. 

Hey we’re a hardy bunch, but clearly riders would like to guarantee improve the odds of better weather for this great event.  And just because the Sunridge Hotel had the largest crowds in the city huddled around two patio warmers don’t think I’m railing against Global warming. 

Nothing could be more fun in my book – sarcasm alert – than holding a cold refreshment in 40 degree rain while standing six people deep around a patio warmer trying to catch a little bit of  heat.

Don’t make us start a Facebook petition to move the date!

Photos taken by author

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Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Baker City, OR

On Friday we were up early to grab coffee and breakfast before making our way out to the ‘Devils Tail’ and Hells Canyon Dam.

It was rather obvious while eating my scrambled eggs and looking out across the vendor parking lot that there were some hard-living characters who had run wild the night earlier.  They weren’t totally burned out, but obviously moving a little slower.  It got me to thinking about how Harley like virtually every other motorcycle manufacture, is facing a huge, looming crisis; the ageing of its core clientele.  Like every other market they touch Boomers dominate the motorcycle industry, especially for those expensive touring cruisers that generate so much profit for the corporate coffers.

Depending on whose data you reference; AMA states the average age of its members is 48, the American Motorcycle Industry Council’s most recent survey (2008) has the average pegged at 43 years old (up 5 years from 1998) and a JD Power and H-D survey has the average at 49 years old.  It would seem that motorcycling is no longer a young man’s sport.   Based on my observation this morning I would concur and while I didn’t see anyone trading their favorite ride in on an RV, I did see a lot of interest in the Boss Hog trikes and customers lining up for demo rides.  Most were intrigued with how to navigate the parking lot in reverse gear.

Hells Canyon Dam

I’m not sure about you, but I’m the kind of person who gets satisfaction when my mechanical stuff is humming.  It puts a smile upon my face and makes me feel glad all over.  I felt that way on the ride out to the Hells Canyon Dam.  The departure temperature hung in the mid-60’s – cool for eastern Oregon — and looking around the horizon it was clear there was going to be a mix of rain showers and blue sky.  Yeah, we were going to be dancing between the rain drops all day long on this ride.

We traveled out on Baker-Copperfield Hwy (Hwy 86) toward Richland, through Halfway with a brief pit stop at the Scotty’s Outdoor Store just prior to Oxbow as we headed back to the bottom of the canyon.  Hells Canyon is on the border of Idaho and Oregon, and the ride is deep in the valley alongside the Snake River.  Yeah that one — the one where Evel Knievel attempted his X-1 Skycycle jump over the canyon, unsuccessfully, back in 1974.   Many people will disagree when you remind them that the Hell’s Canyon is North American’s deepest river gorge at almost 8,000 feet, 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, but it’s true.

Posse On Devil's Tail

And as a bonus it has one of the most famous rides in the area — the Devil’s Tail — a 22 mile route from Oxbow, Oregon to Hell’s Canyon Dam. There are hundreds of S-curves and twisty’s with picturesque views.  The Devil’s Tail is not for the novice, and requires attention to riding. Last year we talked to a motorcyclist who misjudge the road and dump his bike.  Fortunately they had only minor injuries.

Baker City "Rain Out"

Back in the day this road was used to deliver workers and supplies to the site of the dam construction when it was being built in 1966. Today Idaho Power employees use it to access the dam and outdoor hobbyist use it for recreational access.  At the end of the road the dam and water were nearly level with the road.  As you drive across the dam we were greeted with a loud “whooshing” sound and at the visitor’s center which is a short, but steep ride below the dam we took pictures of the large volume of water flowing through to make hydro electrical power.  It’s a spectacular sight and the close proximity means you literally feel natures power.

Interstate 84 North - Departing HCMR

We reversed directions and headed back to the Sunridge Best Western where we met up with some other riders who arrived late-afternoon.

On Saturday the weather was a mixed bag.  The morning started out partly cloudy with the occasional sun burst, but the Whitman National Forest was socked in with storm/rain clouds which is where the posse planned to ride for a ghost town tour.  We downed some breakfast and remained optimistic the day would bring something better.  It turned out that optimism was sorely misplaced!

Hwy 14 - West of Umatilla

Thinking it would clear later in the day we elected to hang out in the vendor booths in downtown Baker City and wait it out… but, rain is a life metaphor – into every ride a little rain must fall, right?   Well it did.  I know the Folkestad’s like to state that the HCMR has never been “rained out” and I’m not sure what criteria they use, but it started raining around 1pm with showers at first and then turned to a steady hard rain from 2pm through most of the night.  We graced the downtown area refreshment centers and talked shop with the High Desert H-D folks from Meridian, ID.  Downtown was jammed and by the time we returned to the motel restaurant/bar it was packed with wet riders who called the day a total bust.  Good for Baker City businesses, but it seemed the weather conditions were conspiring against us.

Near Maryhill Winery - Goldendale, WA

On Sunday morning you could smell the cool breath of mother nature as we wiped off the previous night rain soaked seats.  Unlike Western Oregon, the majority of the landscape in Eastern Oregon is wide open which allows riders to see the lay of the land and it provides plenty of time to take it all in.  For me I enjoy Eastern Oregon because it’s different.  The people are different (in a positive/good way), the weather is different, it looks different and the roads are different.  It seems that people have a habit of never appreciating a place until you’re about to leave it.   I had some regrets that I didn’t get time to explore the ghost towns, but we were about to point the bikes north hoping for a dry day!

We rode out of Baker City on I-84 and encountered cooler temperatures as we traversed the Wallowa Mountains.  The sun shined brightly and by the time we stopped to re-fuel in Pendleton is was actually warm.  We cut over to Umatilla and rode Hwy 14 on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  The pull toward home and returning to “normal” life was getting stronger as the pace quickened back to Portland.  We dodged some rain drops near “The Couve” and got home in time to learn that yes, the self-proclaimed “King” — Lebron James — was still not a NBA champion and that my friends means the only place celebrating more than Dallas that night was Cleveland!

In spite of the ‘rain out’ on Saturday the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally was a great experience.  If you have not attended it should be something on your bucket list!

Postcard From Hells Canyon – Part 1 HERE.

Photos taken by editor. Previous HCMR posts: 2010 HERE, 2009 HERE

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Devils Tower

STURGIS to ASHLAND – We spent some of the previous couple days riding the Black Hills with stunning canyons, small towns and historical landmarks at every S-turn.  It wasn’t all about the Sturgis vendor booths!  As a quick side-bar I want to do a shout out to the owners (Matt) of the Recreational Springs Resort which is a campground and motel and was within a short walking distance of the cabin we stayed.  We ate food at the resort and the hospitality was top notch.  I highly recommend the place.

Posse at Devils Tower

Back to the ride – If memory serves me correctly this was our seventh day on the road as we departed the 70th Sturgis rally around noon.  We wanted to get a couple hundred miles under our belt after doing a brief drive-by tour of Devils Tower and Hulett, WY.   Getting a couple hundred miles west would be a reasonable jumpstart for our return trip home.

The ride out to Devils Tower has a number of long sweeping curves and some beautiful canyons and high plains.  Located in the northwestern northeastern corner of Wyoming the tower rises 1267 above the Belle Fourche River.  Initially known as Bears Lodge, the park has 1347 acres covered in pine forest and grasslands.

Ah, Looks Like Rain?

It is a sacred site for many American Indians (Kiowa, Cheyenne and Lakota).  Reportedly President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument in 1906.  There are over 7 miles of hiking trails of which we did maybe 300 feet in the summer heat and most notable is the 200 climbing routes to the summit.  I’ve been here two other times and there are always climbers trying to summit.  And yes, it was the landmark filmed in the 1977 movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Lightning Storm In Ashland, MT

After a few tourist photos in and around the tower we rode into Hulett for lunch and refreshments to cool down.  With a rest stop completed we headed northeast on Hwy 112 (Hulett-Alzada Hwy).  We hit a couple of rain clouds that “spit” a little on us prior to reaching Alzada at the Hwy 212 junction, but thus far the trip didn’t require us to pull out the rain gear.  Amazing!

That was short lived as we soon witnessed the western sky fill with menacing storm clouds.  The day prior we made motel reservations in the small town of Ashland, Montana.  Not even a two horse town, but it turned out to be a brilliant move.

Ashland, MT - Rain Storm

About two hours prior to our arrival in Ashland the weather situation turn nasty.  Not to let a little rain intimidate us we continued riding only to find ourselves in a drenching downpour, complete with hail, thunder and lightning.  A true gully washer!  The lightning was problematic and on more than one occasion the thunder “booms” had us thinking about the odds of getting struck.  Even more lightning became visible on Horne Creek Butte as we traversed the southern tip of Custer National Forest.  Being from the west coast it’s rare to have/see lightning let alone be concerned about getting hit on a moving vehicle.  [Post Ride: evidently there are a number of motorcycle survival lightning strike stories… who knew?!]   Eventually we made it to the motel as the sky open up with more rain and lightning.  We caught some of the storm action by way of the iPhone video HERE and watched as the gravel parking lot flooded.

Ashland, MT Sunset

In the room we stripped rain gear off and started working to get it dried out for the next day adventure.  AT&T continued to deliver no phone service so the option of working out an alternative ride plan was a challenge.  It was fortunate that a gal from the motel offered to shag us some to-go burgers in her automobile and we didn’t get further drenched seeking out some dinner.  Bikers streamed into the motel only to find it full.

ASHLAND to MISSOULA – It’s often said that a clean bike runs better, but after the previous days drenching downpour and “road foam” we dismissed that rationalization as being one for the vain and continued on with the grime laden motorcycles.

The weather looked questionable so we kept the rain gear handy and put on some extra clothing to fight off the colder temps as we rode though Big Sky country.  We continued west on Hwy 212 and re-fueled near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  This area memorializes the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indian’s last armed efforts to preserve their way of life.  Having been there a couple times in the past we rolled on by and made our way onto I-90.

Eastern Montana is a typical high plains environment which means the area is generally treeless, semi arid and low humidity.  We hit some rain showers which required rain gear between Billings and Bozeman, but by the time we grabbed a late lunch in Butte the daytime temps and summer sunshine returned to the typical August norms.

At Lolo Pass

After a 468 mile day we decided Ruby’s Inn and walking across the street for chicken wings and refreshments at Hooter’s was the only way to go.

MISSOULA to CLARKSTON – This is the link between the Missouri River and the Columbia River through the Rocky Mountains.  From Missoula we headed south toward Lolo and traversed U.S. 12 to the Idaho – Montana border. This 99-mile S-turn filled byway, stretches across north-central Montana and Idaho.  It follows the Lewis & Clark explorers’ route through the ancestral homeland of the Nez Perce people. It’s a winding two-lane road through the Clearwater River Canyon, and passes through the Nez Perce National Historical Park.

We stopped at Lolo Pass for a photo op and water break.  Later in the afternoon we grab some lunch at the “Cougar Canyon” station.

More than a few riders have been surprised at just how much fun riding a Harley touring model can be.  While no one would claim the touring models as sportbikes, they certainly can be ridden in a sporting manner.  The key is finding a comfortable pace that carries your speed through the turns with minimal braking.  The combination of excellent two-lane pavement with a multitude of twists and turns made this route a joy to ride.

It was a relatively short day in overall miles, but with the summer temperatures stuck in the mid-90’s most of the day it felt (at least my body did) like a 500+ mile day.  We rolled into Lewiston, crossed the river into Washington state and overnighted at a Best Western.  A nice place and after a long cooling off session in the motel swimming pool the group headed to Paraiso Vallarta for some Mexican dinner specials.

CLARKSTON to PORTLAND – Early in the morning we motored out of town to put some significant miles on the scooters before the summer heat took its toll.  We continued on Hwy 12 to Dayton then through Umatillia, crossed back into Oregon and headed west on I-84.  There was a short stop for lunch to slam down a “Bozo Burger” near Boardman, but it was the only luxury stop otherwise it was gas and go and back on the road.  It was 2,947 cumulative miles later that I pulled into the driveway of home.

Near Hood River

Motorcycling teases us with the freedom to be on the road.  We stop when and where we wanted too, slowed down and experienced the country firsthand.  We breezed through the towering mountains and blue skies and traveled across the plains.  Sturgis for a third-time was a charm!  I hope this travelogue makes you want to get out and ride to new places.

70th Sturgis Rally Travelogue – Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.

Photos taken during the trip.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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PORTLAND to BOISE – The outbound ride route was about getting miles under our tires as we looked for the fastest and most direct route (I-84) to Boise, ID.

The day started off with a heavy coastal cloud layer, but the futher we rode through the gorge the sunny weather was clearly present in the distant east.  By mid-morning the clouds burned off and as we rode up the gorge we stopped at a rest area prior to Boardman and met up with another group of riders/friends who were taking the northern route to the rally.

We continued on along a more southern route and headed toward Pendleton and over the Blue Mountains of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.  The crest of the range sits at 4193 feet just prior to La Grande and then we dropped down into the southeastern flank of the range and Baker City, home of the Hells Canyon Rally.

We arrived in Idaho, the coast-less, semi-arid, mountainous state to near triple digit temps and stopped at a rest area where the Snake River meandered along the interstate to cool off.  We made our way into the downtown Hampton Inn having to navigate around road blocks for a 3-on-3 basketball street tournament running over the weekend.

As a side-bar, the Hampton Inn experience (price/quality/service) was the best we experienced on the entire trip.  Major shout-out to Phil Cordell (GM) and team!

"The Posse"

We needed something to do and luckily for the group it was Friday night!  We grabbed some “Boise Caviar” (at: Bar Gernika) i.e. some spicy lamb grinder and a drink mixture of cola and red wine.  No thanks, I stuck to a local hops.

Bar Gernika is a dark little corner joint, but a fav for Basque food.  Some in the posse decided to doubled down on the croquetas and ask for extra spice because let’s face it – is there any better drunk food than spicy lamb?!  The joint had a sidewalk patio and was in close proximity to “Alive After Five” and the “cougar” deck at the Reef “Tiki” Restaurant where we finished off the evening.

BOISE to IDAHO FALLS – We departed Boise fairly early and continued our route to the “Craters of the Moon National Monument.”   About an hour outside of Boise we headed east on Hwy 20 and traveled through the semi-arid rolling hills landscape.  About 18 miles from Arco, ID on Hwy 20/26/93 is the National Monument and we pulled into the visitor center to cool off.  Even though we were at 5900 feet, the temperature remained in the 90’s.  The Craters of the Moon is a geologic wonder.  It’s a preserved volcanic landscape with craters, cinder coves, lava tubes and large fields on the Snake River plain.  It’s quite the contrast in colors.

Craters of the Moon

After leaving the monument we continue east toward Arco and rode through part of the nearly 1000 sq mile Idaho National Laboratory (INL) complex located in the high-desert.  For as far as the eye can see (~20 miles) there was nothing but sage brush and then a small industrial complex comes into view. INL manufactures highly radioactive plutonium-238 for classified national security purposes.

According to the reports there have been more than 50 one-of-a-kind nuclear reactors built at the INL facility yet all but three are shut down now.

"Middle Butte"

More important from a tourist viewpoint is that we passed by the now famous EBR-1 (Experimental Breeder Reactor) which first produced electricity back in 1951 and was the design test-bed for a nuclear military.  It’s on public display.

We continued heading east on Hwy 20/26/93 and rolled past “Middle Butte” which is this large cinder cone shaped mountain in the high-desert with every conceivable antenna tower on the flat top to broadcast or capture an electronic signal.  Undoubtedly it provides the 4000+ workers at INL cell phone coverage so they can check their email.

Idaho Falls

Evidently AT&T has yet to learn about this mountain as I had no service.

Finally after some road construction delay’s we arrived literally at Idaho Falls and the Best Western hotel.  Dinner was great at the Brownstone Restaurant and by moonlight and a small flashlight we made some late night foot peg adjustments before calling it a day.

IDAHO FALLS to CODY —

Grand Teton National Park

(via southern Yellowstone National Park entrance) – This day took us through northwestern Wyoming, via Jackson Hole and the Grand Teton National Park.  We were most fortunate to have sunny weather to view a spectacular landscape rich with majestic mountains and blue clear lakes.

The jagged Teton Range provides an incredible contrast to the sage-covered valley which Hwy 191 runs through on our way north to Yellowstone.

The Teton's

Yellowstone National Park is always inspiring with waterfalls, Lodgepole pine and the thermal areas. The south road entrance passes the Continental Divide three times and the route passes five geyser basins.  We drove by Lewis Lake and over Craig Pass (8262 ft) and then west to Old Faithful.  It’s the world’s best known geyser and erupts at intervals from 40 to 120 minutes.

We watch it do its thing and back tracked toward the East entrance through Lake Village and the Fishing Bridge where we were rewarded with panorama views of Yellowstone Lake.

Lewis Lake - Yellowstone

The lake is North Americas largest mountain lake at 20 miles long, 14 miles wide and 430 ft deep with average August surface temp of 60 degrees.

We traveled around what seemed like the entire lake then progressed over Sylvan Pass (8530 ft) and finished out the riding day with about 50 miles to Cody, WY.

The last hour of this route took us on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway which is a two-lane road in the rugged canyon carved by the North Fork of Shoshone River.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir - Cody, WY

Just prior to arriving in Cody are a couple of interesting tunnels and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir which provides recreational activity for locals as well as some limited hydropower from the dam.

With the sun setting behind us the scene made for some great photo’s.

CODY to STURGIS/LEAD – It was our 4th day of adventure and Cody is a transition point between the forested mountains of northwest Wyoming and the plains of the Bighorn Basin.

At Shell Falls Trail

There is spectacular scenery in all directions from Cody, the Beartooth Mountains to the north, the Absaroka Range to the west and Wapiti Valley to the south.  Our posse headed east on Hwy 20 to Greybull and picked up Hwy 14 which traverses the Bighorn National Forest.

We all have our favorite roads and one that I really like riding is the Bighorn Scenic Byway (US 14) which connects the cities of Greybull and Sheridan and includes 45 miles of scenic mountain driving.

Posse rolling across SD Plains

Within the National Forest area, you’ll encounter grass prairies, evergreen forests, mountain meadows, rugged alpine peaks, dramatic canyons, arid desert lands and cascading waterfalls — all within a couple hours journey.  The Cloud Peak Wilderness area, is quite unique and diverse.  I’d like to spend more time exploring the area rather than quickly rolling through on a motorcycle.

The Deadwood Cabin

We connected onto I-90 and headed east toward Sturgis.  Although the interstate is fast it’s somewhat of a boring ride until you get near Spearfish and the US 85 junction which routes riders south into Deadwood/Lead.  We had a cabin south of Lead, located near Recreational Springs.   Although it was a bit of drive into Sturgis it turned out to be a really sweet setup!

70th Sturgis Rally Travelogue – Part 2 HERE.

Photos taken along the route.

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Screen Shot From Site - Bend Area (Cascade Lakes)

Whatever kind of motorcyclist you are — day tripper or world explorer — mapping software can help start your next adventure in the right direction.

Fortunately FX Development, Inc., a Seattle-based early stage startup recently launched myscenicdrives.com.  It’s a new website to help motorcyclists find that cool scenic drive.  The site offers cleaver features that will help riders find new things to explore. Each scenic drive provides an overview, interactive map, recommended stops, weather forecast, and GPS directions.

Initially the company was focused on the Pacific Northwest, but recently listed rides for Idaho and California as it expands.  The site provides both a rich, user-friendly web interface for PCs as well as a mobile web version which is great for smartphones like the iPhone.  Once the user selects a drive, phones with GPS capabilities and software (such as Google Maps) will easily get you on the road.

The website currently features more 40 scenic drives in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho with more States coming.

An item I would find useful is something like what the “Directory Assistance” service does today for convenience by sending an SMS text-message to the rider.  If I’m on the road mobile users are eager to get information and directions on the go especially if there is limited web access in a remote area.  A text message of the route along with pertinent details saved via a text message would provide me the extra convenience and functionality that I like.  With virtually 100% of handsets in the US capable of text messaging, it would be smart to leverage this channel and deliver additional value.

One word of caution for the site builders… I’ve seen a number of these type sites fall victim of having a preoccupation and interest in $$, not riding, and therefore have put the focus on advertising at the expense of the consumer experience.  Don’t do it!!

Photo courtesy of myscenicdrives.com

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At this point it seems everywhere you look America looks almost the same.

The interstate leads you to identical fast food joints, mini-mart gas stations and cookie-cutter Wal-Marts.  However, when riding to the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR) it’s easy to notice there is a vast difference between the metropolis and the hinterlands.

Due to marathon rains and cold weather leading up to HCMR we didn’t “call-the-ball” until the last possible minute.   We finally departed at noon and as a result we rode directly to Baker City via I-84 to maximize our time in eastern Oregon.  Fortunately the wind was behind our back.  It was peaceful and we barely made a ripple in the air stream while enjoying the mechanical sounds of the V-Twin.

That evening we graced the downtown area refreshment centers to witness the Baker City welcome mat. Indeed they have a way of thanking motorcyclists who choose to spend their time and money in the small town and for that I thank you!

The next day we woke to pure blue skies and perfect riding temperatures!  We opted to travel to Oxbow and the Hells Canyon Dams.  The Hells Canyon is the deepest canyon on the North American continent, and the Hells Canyon Dam is located at one of the narrowest points in that canyon.

It’s a couple hundred miles round trip.

We departed on Highway 86 out of Baker City where traffic is non-existent and sweepers cut alongside the Powder River toward the Snake River.  The previous month of heavy rain left the country-side greener than normal and was most noticeable on the Powder River with water flow very high this year.  We passed by the town of Halfway, which is halfway between the gold mines of Cornucopia and the town of Pine Creek.  Just past Cooperfield we crossed the Snake River, near Oxbow Dam and entered Idaho to continue north on  “The Devils Tail” which was affectionately named so by the motorcycle riders who attend the rally every June.  On street maps it’s know only as the Hells Canyon Dam Road.  The 22-mile narrow stretch provides long sweepers and tight switchbacks along the roads edge.  The Road King is a proficient cruiser, but after an hour or so of these twisties a person couldn’t help but notice how agile the sport bikes looked as they throttled on around corners with ease.  We crossed over the Hells Canyon Dam and stopped at various locations for the obligatory tourist photo.

On the return route – isn’t it odd how the scenery changes when reversing directions on the same road? – the scene turned more toward scorched rock and weeds, but that might have been the result of the sun getting lower in the sky.  We had to watch out for gravel and mud washed onto the road surfaces, but in all the roads were in good shape.  The only road closed that was on the HCMR recommended ride routes was Road Rash Pass (FS 39) from Pine Creek to Joseph. It has been closed for a few weeks due to torrential rains washing out approximately a ½ mile of road.  In addition the steep road edge led to water so the attention needed to navigate the twisties seemed more intense on the return.  We made our way back out of Highway 86 up Pine Creek and stopped at Scotty’s Hells Canyon Outdoor Supply.  A lot of riders were roaming around the store where folks were relaxing with refreshments.   Temperatures were approaching 80 degrees and we listened to an oldster tell his story of dumping his motorcycle in the rocks vs. going for a swim.

Hells Canyon Dam

Interestingly that after the city fixed up the downtown area and spend all the time, energy and money they chose to NOT close off Main Street this year during the motorcycle rally due to safety concerns.  It wasn’t a big impact, as there were motorcycles all over the place along with a number of vendors, but it did take away from the quaint social street scene of years past.  I hope they rethink this in the future.

Departing the rally we elected to ride the Pendleton (Hwy 395), Heppner (Hwy 74) and Arlington loop to take in miles of nothing.  As the view atop Franklin Summit (3,456 ft) is just that… a land that is remarkably uneven, no trees and barren hills sculpted by the winds of time.  On a motorcycle it seems like an endless maze of hilltops and valley bottoms.  The sweepers are smooth and lend themselves so well that nothing is forced and you can almost close your eyes.  It’s a real contrast to the braking hairpin turns of The Devils Tail.

We descended down into Heppner and grabbed lunch at the one open diner.  It was good grub, but time was passing and we needed to get home before dark.  The road was a good experience until we opened up into the Gorge.  We should have anticipated the change when the large array of wind farms came into view. These 10-story high towers may represent the future in renewable energy, but they clearly have a visual environmental impact.  Needless to say the steady head winds mixed with even larger gusts meant we could watch the gas gauge decrement with every wind burst.

It’s been stated in the past that the best gifts are the ones you don’t expect.  HCMR is a great gift/experience and the ride is highly recommended.  Especially if you’re looking to get off the beaten path.

UPDATE: June 17, 2010 – Rob Green the editor of http://www.road-quest.com has provided some excellent video coverage of HCMR.  This year he brought out the HD video gear to capture the true essence of riding “The Devils Tail.”  Check it out HERE.

Note: The 2009 HCMR blog posts for Day 1 HERE, Day 2 HERE, Day 3 HERE and a tent camping postscript HERE.

Photos taken during HCMR.

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