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Posts Tagged ‘Hells Canyon Dam’

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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The Devil's Tail

It’s about 90 days out until HCMR, but if you wait much longer to ride the dream in historic Baker City be prepared to camp out on the High School football field.  Not that there is anything wrong with that as the posse tried this a couple years back.

There’s truly something about Baker City, Oregon.

It’s a city that rolls out the red carpet for bikers and welcomes them like they are veterans returning home from a war.  Local residents volunteer their homes and when ask provide updates on what’s new in their fine city.  It’s a friendly atmosphere, warm outgoing residents, great food with refreshments, and this year a Main Street that will be closed to traffic where the vendors will hawk their wares in the street along with the motorcycle show.

And that’s just Baker City. Add to this the awesome motorcycle roads that intersect at Baker, I-84, Hwy 30, Hwy 7, Hwy 203, Hwy 245 and Hwy 86. Also nearby are Hwy 244, Hwy 237, Hwy 26 Hwy 82 and the Hells Canyon, Blue Mountain and Elkhorn Scenic Byways. And don’t forget the more important road — The Devil’s Tail — a 22 mile road from Oxbow to Hells Canyon Dam is the signature ride of the rally. It could be the most inspiring 44 miles you’ve ridden on a motorcycle!

There’s a lot more and if you’re looking for a narrative taste I’ve blogged about previous trips HERE, 2010 HERE and 2009 HERE.

You wake up in the morning and the beauty surrounds bikers on all sides. The Blue Mountains, the Elkhorn Ridge, the Seven Devils, the Wallowa Mountains and the Strawberry Mountains. More natural landscape in your first breath than many people get to experience in a lifetime.

I’ll see you there.

Photo 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

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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.

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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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The Devil's Tail

I’m talking about the 22-mile road from Oxbow to Hells Canyon Dam called The Devil’s Tail and the 11th annual Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR).

The rally starts in three days.  My one wish is for the weather to improve and provide us rain-beaten riders some sunny blue skies to enjoy this awesome motorcycle rally!

Last year I participated in the enjoyment of pulling off the tarmac to overnight under the stars and camped at the high school.  I learned a lot about storage because you need a good tent, a better sleeping bag, an air-mat and a “butt buddy” i.e. chair!  Most importantly I learned to make a motel reservation early and avoid the entire space is a premium issue.

The Hells Canyon Wilderness is an area located on the Idaho/Oregon border. It has some of the most spectacular views of the Snake River as it winds its way through Hells Canyon, one of the deepest gorges on the planet. The gateway is Baker City which is uniquely located as the connecting point of more great motorcycle roads than just about anywhere. I-84, Hwy 30, Hwy 7, Hwy 203, Hwy 245 and Hwy 86. Also close by are the Hells Canyon, Blue Mountain and Elkhorn Scenic Byways to discover.

I hope to see you there.

Last year’s blog posts for Day 1 HERE, Day 2 HERE, Day 3 HERE and a tent camping postscript HERE.

Photo courtesy of Steve & Eric Folkestad (Event Organizers).

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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