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Posts Tagged ‘Oregon Trail’

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.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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The rumbling to life of a half-dozen V-Twins brings a collective smile.

We’ll pull out in formation, heading 300 miles East to the first night’s destination in famous Baker City.  You’ll understand why when you begin the adventure and travel the colorful history of the Oregon Trail and through the majestic Wallowa Mountains of Northeast Oregon. As always, it’ll be good to be on the road.

We call it the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR). A two-wheeled tour with friends from various walks of American life with the single mission of enjoying the ride to a gold mine of geology, scenery, plants and wildlife.  Home of several scenic byways including the Elkhorn Drive National Scenic Byway that’s a dream to put your bike on one of the greatest motorcycle roads anywhere.

Our journey will begin in just a few days.  It’s a long enough ride for everyone to find their groove, yet sprinkled in with a few stops where conversations recount who we are, where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. That’s how road trips work.

It also gives this ever-fashionable blog editor a chance to swap the wingtips for a more suitable form of footgear.  Along the way we’ll find motorcycle friendly businesses that speak “two-wheel” and once we end at the “Queen City of the Mines” (Baker City) the Folkestad motorcycle rally ambience will take hold.

I’ve blogged about previous trips HERE for 2011, HERE for 2010 and in 2009 HERE.

Don’t miss this rally!

Photo courtesy of Baker City Chamber of Commerce

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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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Highway 97

There was fun, sun, cerveza’s and of course a dash of rain.  Mixed in along the way was some imperfect weather, but what can a person expect living in the northwest in June?!  It’s an imperfect world and besides, many riders revel in the glory of making it through adversity.  Not me… I like perfect weather versus keeping track of the number times I had to dawn on rain gear.  But that’s me.

At any rate, the opening sentence pretty much describes the high level summary of the ride situation to Baker City for the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR), but if you’re the kind of person who reads the manual, ferrets out all the details and amazes friends with all your product knowledge then read on…

The posse started this ride on Interstate 84 to pick up a buddy in “Googleville” (aka The Dalles) then at Biggs Junction we rode south on Hwy 97 to Wasco.  From there we traversed Hwy 206(Wasco-Heppner Hwy) to Condon.  This stretch of road offers up a lot of sweepers and depending on which type of bike you ride it could be fast or a mental exercise to stay alert.  You’ll never get lonely on this stretch of road, not because of the number of RVs or automobiles – there are none – but because squirrels frequently run out across the road to challenge your dodging skills and if you’re real lucky you’ll get the occasional mule deer to snap you back to reality.

Clarno Unit -- John Day Fossil Beds

From Condon we rode Hwy 19 to Fossil where we took a detour on Hwy 218 to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  The Clarno Unit is located 18 miles west of Fossil and is just under a couple thousand acres in size.  It’s a remote area and Hwy 218 is a real joy to ride.  There is nothing which explains the exhilaration of roaring out of tight corners and setting up for the next hairpin.  There is an odd trend in this area of marking an entire set of 6+ curves with one single sign marked with the speed of the slowest and tightest of the entire bunch of curves.  The first 5 corners are truly 45MPH then the last one is a 20MPH right angle with gravel on the apex.  Good to see the state saving money on road signs!  The views of Central Oregon’s near-desert environment are astounding and this highway was nearly empty of anything other than a variety of grasses, sagebrush and juniper.  The cliffs of the Palisades are the most prominent landform in the Clarno Unit and the trip wouldn’t have be complete without a photo op.

We back tracked the 18 miles to the junction of Washington Street and Seventh Street (Hwy 19)… street names in Fossil make it seem like a big town – it’s not.  We then proceeded south to Service Creek then to Mitchell and picked up Hwy 26 east (essentially follows the Oregon Trail) to John Day, Prairie City and then we veered off at Bates onto Hwy 7 (Whitney Tipton Hwy) toward Sumpter.

Prairie City

Along this area we unfortunately came upon a motorcycle accident between Sumpter and Baker City just after Philips Lake.  The rider failed to negotiate a sweeper and laid the bike down.  The footboard and engine guard made deep grooves into the asphalt as the motorcycle and rider slid off the right shoulder of the road down an embankment onto some soft brush.  The rider narrowly missed hitting a guard rail and survived with only minor injuries.  Very fortunate.  The motorcycle was towed away.  Traveling this route was basically going from one mountain pass to another separated by valleys, small towns and river valleys.  The passes were over 5000’ and the changes in temperature were notable until we arrived in Baker City.

After 400+ miles we arrived at the Best Western Motel and were greeted with smiling employees who got us checked in and on our way to dinner at Arceo’s Family Mexican Restaurant.  It was awesome!

And speaking earlier of accidents… the following day (Friday) we learned and responded to voicemail’s from people who were concerned about a motorcycle accident on I-84 which happened around noon and whether it involved other members of the posse who were in route to the rally.  It didn’t, but sadly a 63-year-old Albany man was killed and a 50-year-old Lebanon man was seriously injured about four miles east of Troutdale.   The two were part of a group of 12 people, aboard 10 motorcycles, heading for the HCMR rally.  Michael Pamplin, 63, was riding a H-D in the middle of the group when he lost control and crashed to the pavement.  Even worse was the fact that he was run over by another motorcyclist in the group, 50-year-old Keith Corbett, and died at the scene. Corbett was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with serious injuries.  It’s unclear what was the main precursor to causing this wreck…

Postcard From Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally – Part 2 HERE.

Photos taken by editor.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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