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Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Oregon’

Old McKenzie Pass Highway (OR 242)

The Old McKenzie Pass Highway (OR 242) will officially open to all traffic on Monday, June 19, 2017.

The narrow, twisting roadway and high elevation (5,325 feet) make the highway too difficult to maintain and keep clear during the winter months.

Many of us look forward to the annual opening and to traverse lava fields, snowcapped peaks and cruise along rushing rivers which highlight this scenic highway to central Oregon’s Cascade Mountain passes.

Heading east-bound, OR 242 travels through Lane, Linn, and Deschutes counties, beginning at the junction with OR 126 near McKenzie Bridge and ending at the junction with US Highway 20 and OR 126 at the City of Sisters.  From Sisters, Oregon heading west, the route travels past hay meadows and ascends 2,000 feet through ponderosa pine forests.  The road follows an old wagon route, emerging from the forest at Windy Point and provides a dramatic view of Mt. Washington and a 2,000-year-old lava flow.  The 25 mile, 4,000 foot descent snakes down switchbacks to the dense Cascadian forests and ends near the McKenzie River.

Few realize that the McKenzie Pass is also known as the Craig’s McKenzie Salt Springs/Deschutes Wagon Road.

The backstory — in 1862, John Craig was was one of 50 men hired by Captain Felix Scott to build a trail from Eugene over the Cascades. By then the rush of westward-bound Oregon Trail pioneers had slowed, but the discovery of gold in Eastern Oregon prompted a flood of people heading eastward. Scott’s plan was to sell Willamette cattle to the hungry miners east of the Cascades.

As Scott’s road-building crew neared the lowest route across the mountains they encountered miles of snow and jagged lava fields at McKenzie Pass. Craig favored chipping out a road through the lava fields, but Scott decided to skirt the lava fields in favor of a notch at Scott’s Pass on the shoulder of North Sister that was 1000 foot higher, steeper and crossed more snow. Scott’s route was later abandoned and is known today as the Scott Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness.

After working for Scott, Craig spent the next 15 years working for himself while championing his vision of a lower crossing through McKenzie Pass. In 1871 he formed the McKenzie, Salt Springs and Deschutes Wagon Road Company and began to build his toll road. He cut trees, chipped and chiseled a roadbed out of the jagged lava fields just north of North Sister to form a McKenzie Pass crossing lower than what was available at the time.  By the Fall of 1872 his road open and began collecting tolls of $2 for a wagon, $1 for a horseback rider, 10¢ for cattle and 5¢ for sheep. After its completion he won a federal contract to deliver mail from the Willamette Valley to Camp Polk in Central Oregon over the road. In summer, the mail was carried on horseback. In winter it was carried on John Craig’s back. To accommodate the mail carrier, a small cabin was built about half way across, in which he could spend the night.

For many years John Craig carried mail from the Willamette Valley to Eastern Oregon, by horseback in the summer and on his own back in the winter.  After attempting to ski Christmas mail over McKenzie Pass in the winter of 1877, he was found frozen beside his mail pouch in his shack atop McKenzie Pass.  Mystery still shrouds the details of his death.

The U.S. Forest Service decided in 1920 to make the highway a tourist-friendly route over the mountains, so engineers took care to align it for sightseeing, with spectacular views of volcanic peaks, including the Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, Broken Top and even the more distant Mount Jefferson to the north.  The road became a seasonal scenic highway in 1962 with the completion of the Clear Lake-Belknap Springs section of OR 126.

The highway is a local favorite and should be on everyone’s Oregon highway bucket list.

References:

The John Craig Story
McKenzie Pass
John Craig – A Pioneer Mail Carrier, by Ruth E. Richardson – 1963

OR 242 map/photo courtesy of Google.

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Red Rocks

Red Rock Canyon In Route To Laughlin

Year-end stories are always interesting to me.

Publications around the world rate stories, detail online traffic numbers, select the best leaders and generally give readers a special year in review.

On the national stage here are a few of my more notables:

We had what I’d call the best supporting furniture award…that went to the empty chair that actor Clint Eastwood spoke to throughout his speech at the Republican National Convention.  We narrowly re-elected a president.  John Edwards and Roger Clemens, both escaped conviction.  There was the epic fall of Lance Armstrong.  There was the Korean pop singer, Psy and that Gangnam Style video which skyrocketed a catchy tune into YouTube superstardom.  We bought more than 48 million iPads, weathered a couple of hurricanes, and cheered for the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner who, broke the sound barrier from 24 miles up.

Baker City at HCMR

Baker City at HCMR

When I look back on the motorcycle rides there was:

LAUGHLIN RIVER RUN – in April the Road Glide was shipped to the Las Vegas desert.  Then it’s a short 100 mile jaunt through the desert to Laughlin, NV and it’s a great way to escape the Oregon monsoon rain to enjoy the heat of the canyons.  And being close to the Colorado River and between two mountain ranges in the Mojave Desert there are a lot of scenic rides with panoramic views to enjoy.  Not to mention the motorcycle rally itself.

HELLS CANYON MOTORCYCLE RALLY – in June, some riding buddies took off on 3-days of enjoying nature’s perfume – the sweet smell of rain showers on the cedar and pine forest – into the Cuprum-Sheep Rock country.  At times, the cold rain made us wish for a fishing lure and then there were other times the motorcycle tires were inches from the edge of a 1,000-foot drop-off while in the next instant the left-view mirror came pretty close to scraping a craggy rock wall on the grade coming up from Hells Canyon Reservoir into the mountains…  it’s always an exciting adventure in Baker City!  But hey, that rain is a “summer” adventure in Oregon.

On top of Bear Tooth Pass

On top of Bear Tooth Pass

FOUR-CORNERS MOTORCYCLE LOOP – in late August the posse set out for the mystical 4-corners.  It turned into a 4000-miles epic journey over a couple weeks that led us through Eastern Oregon, Southern Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota/Sturgis, Montana, Northern Idaho, Washington and then back home.  Moab, the 4-corners and Bear Tooth Pass were the highlights.  It was amazing scenery and viewing it all from back-roads on a motorcycle made it all the more fun.  The trip was much more than just a motorcycle ride.  We were exposed to searing heat, dodged wildfires and rode through mud-flows so deep on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway that we could have caught trout with the right fishing gear!  The gist of the ride was exploring Moab and 4-corners, but the searing summer heat kept us from really getting to know the area well, and it gave me lots of ideas for future trips.

STREET VIBRATIONS –  One of my favorite ways to end the Northwest riding year is this late September trip to Reno.  The drive is pretty quick and it always guarantee’s the heat of the valley inter-mixed with cool mountain meadows and panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The crux of the ride is of course the rally and wide assortment of builders and vendor booths along with coming back with a to-do laundry list of possible winter projects for the motorcycle.  It’s not like we’re going to be loafing around on the couch this winter, right?!

Street Vibrations 2012

Street Vibrations 2012

That was my look back and it helps to motivate me to plan for 2013.  A couple of rides already blocked out on the calendar are the Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary in Milwaukee and “Shark Week” in Utah.

In looking back on 2012, we also need to keep in our thoughts and prayers those who were met with tragedy this year, whether from storms or gunfire here at home, or on a battlefield on foreign soil.  May 2013 be safer, healthier and happier for all of us.

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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“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name; it felt good to be out of the rain.”  –America (1972)

Next week I’m planning to get out of town for a few days and attend the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR) in historic Baker City, OR.   I’m not sure about that “get out of the rain” statement though.  In May we’ve received 2.5 inches of rain, witnessed the Columbia River hit flood stage and most distressing is that 23 of the last 31 days were below normal average temperatures.  Somewhere in the 20 degree cooler range.  It’s made Portland colder than Fairbanks Alaska.  Yes, I said Alaska!  That one to the north.  Sad but true.  Of course we’ve had nothing like the tornado’s that the poor folks in Missouri have had to endure.

Back to HCMR.

Along with several buddies, I plan to take the northwest weather in stride and join hundreds of other riders at the annual rally in Eastern Oregon.  Along the way we’ll transition from blogger, salesman, Dentist or other career-minded individuals, into an increasingly tight group of riders hurtling down – hopefully – sun-drenched desert roads. My buddies come from all walks of life.  We all share a common bond of depressed housing prices, kids, ex-wives, friendship and a passion for motorcycles, in particular, Harley Davidson.  Some in the posse fall into that middle-aged guy demographic that the motor company likes to reference.  We’ll hit the road where the weather can be frigid or burning, the wind sideways or in your face; it is a constant and exhausting companion, but rally’s like this have the power to replenish you.

HCMR is open to all riders.  Despite the differences between riders–weekend warriors and the motorcycle clubs, BMW off-roaders and the youth group on sport bikes – the common experience of riding a motorcycle carries an irrepressible sense of kinship.  To experience HCMR is a paradox of discomfort and adrenalin rush, desolation and breathtaking scenery mixed in with the freedom of the road.

I’ve blogged about HCMR previously in 2009 HERE and 2010 HERE.  The payoff is huge, especially amid the stunning visual of canyons and jagged mountains that make up the landscape of eastern Oregon.  Add some of the best motorcycling roads and refreshments at the Geiser Grand Hotel and you’ve got a winner –duh!

See you there.

Photo courtesy of visit Oregon web site.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Butt Rider Award

Butt Rider Award

Before the final rider had packed up the saddlebags and rumbled out of Hells Canyon a couple weeks ago the local press were reporting on the arrests and accident stats.

Fortunately there were no fatalities, but several riders were severely injured and a few have a long recovery ahead of them.  I hope for the best!

As background, there were about 5,000 riders who converged on the surrounding area of Baker City.  I’ve already reported how there were widespread thunderstorms with heavy rain alternated with sunshine throughout the weekend.  There were two rally-related arrests which resulted from an intoxicated rider trying to move his motorcycle from the street lineup and crashed into 3 other motorcycles.  Yeah, that would aggravate me too!  George Twardus (Portland) was arrested for drunk driving.  Compounding that situation was one of his new friends from Baker City who decided to sneak off with the motorcycle and was arrested for unlawful use of a motorcycle and tampering with evidence. According to the reports police showed significant restraint as the riding group with Mr. Tawardus were acting out and expressing their freedom of speech.  I have dedicated a “Butt Rider” award to them!  In addition, there were a couple of other local residents arrested over the weekend for fighting outside a bar, but it was described by Police Chief Lohner as just part of a typical Saturday night in Baker City, and had nothing to do with the rally.

Baker City had 13 calls related to the rally, including eight motorcycle crashes.  The weather likely contributed to some of the motorcycle crashes, but rider skills certainly had a part too.  Four of the injured were flown out either by helicopter or plane.  In addition, there were a couple of motorcycle accidents reported in the Richland area including the hit and run accident with Rick Meigs which I reported on previously.  It turns out that this year’s rally was comparable to the number of accidents in 2007, but much worse than 2008.

And speaking of “Butt Rider” awards… as a visitor to eastern Oregon, I have a couple observations to pass along:

  1. Uninvited Guests — If a group of 4-6 riders are clearly in a group together then other riders not part of that group shouldn’t cut in to ride as if you’ve found your long lost riding buddies.  Often without warning we saw people dart/cut into our group vs. go on around – even with plenty of passing space.  Sure some riders were looking to pass and wanted to make sure there was clearance, but others cut in and behaved as if they planned to join the group?!  I know the skills of our riding group, but I wouldn’t know if the “cutter” has been riding motorcycles for 30 years, or 13 minutes — who knows and that concerns me.  I’m more than okay in sharing the roadways, but there was some stupidity being displayed and on several occasions we were forced to brake heavy to make way.
  2. Secret Motorcycle Wave — To me it is amazing to see folks waving or trying to wave at all the fellow riders when there is a big rally in an area.  And I’m not talking about the two-finger flip or the helmet nod, but the left hand high in the air “Hi Mom, I’m so excited to be out here and one of the gang” type waves!  Great way to avoid accidents on wet S-curves with 100’s of participants on the road.  Not!
  3. Hunting Season – is it me or is it you?  It must have been the time of year as I observed several riders (namely Idaho plates) displaying holstered firearms for all to see.  Sure, Oregon has a rich hunting heritage, but packing “heat” at a motorcycle rally should not be encouraged and certainly does nothing to promote conversation or relationship building.  I’m not anti-gun and own firearms like many of you.  I treat all firearms as if they are loaded and these guys were twitchy.  I don’t know these characters or what the potential target was and felt as though I should put on a blaze orange vest so as to not be confused with any live animal!

I’m of the viewpoint that a motorcycle rally has a couple of purposes beyond vendor booths and the camaraderie of enjoying wind in your face with friends  I’m sure there are others, but one is to raise awareness with the general public, that they are sharing the roadways with motorcycles.  Another might be to promote motorcycle safe riding practices and that as a large loosely aligned group of motorcycle enthusiasts, we can and are well behaved.  Some more than others I suppose…

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