Arrival - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

March 25, 2020

Arrival

It’s a fairly long drive from The Dalles to John Day - roughly two hundred miles, nearly all on minor two lane highways.  It will take us perhaps four hours road time, too long to want to take in one bite.  We  decide we’ll break the drive somewhere along the way with a walk (but not a bike ride - the bikes are buried under too much junk for it to make sense to unpack them before we arrive).

I look at the map for promising spots for a walk.  The Painted Hills would be a wonderful spot to break for an hour or more, but after checking the website I see that they’re closed due to the shutdown order.  As is the beautiful walking route up from the mouth of the Deschutes.  As is virtually every other public space in the region, regardless of how remote or depopulated.

That pretty much leaves us with roads.  I’ve long wondered what Old Moody Road is like.  This is the unpaved road, roughly seven miles long, that connects Fairbanks on paved Fifteen Mile Road with US 30 at the West Bank of the Deschutes.  If you’re in The Dalles with your bike and heading east up the gorge, this looks like it would be the best route.  It’s your only option east of The Dalles without hopping on the Interstate or crossing the river into Washington.  If I ever take that ride from home to the Palouse that I’ve often dreamed of, this is the route I’d like to take.

And I’d take Rachael with me, if the surface isn’t too bad.  This is a good chance to check it out.  We leave our motel at about ten, drive to the east end of Old Moody road, find a quiet pullout to leave the car, and start walking uphill.  The first mile is pretty steep, gaining about 600’.  I suspect we’d be walking this mile with the bikes, going either direction.  Once on top though it’s fairly level and the surface isn’t bad.  Very reasonable on any of our bikes.

And beautiful.  The walk follows the ridge crest, with inspiring views north across the gorge.  It makes for a beautiful outing this morning.  We don’t see a single other person or vehicle for the entire two hours - just a few horses, and a few birds struggling against a strong, cold west wind.

On Old Moody Road, with the world to ourselves.
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Climbing up from the east end of the road, we have a spectacular view up the Columbia. The mouth of the Deschutes is at the bend on the right. The bridge in the distance is the crossing for US highway 97.
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Looking across the gorge. There’s a sheer seven hundred foot drop down a columnar basalt cliff to the Columbia River on the other side of the horse. The bare rolling hills are on the Washington side.
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Another view across the gorge.
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Bruce LellmanOnce again, a beautiful photo! Looks like Maryhill Museum in the distance?
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanOh, for goodness sakes. Yes! I was focused on the horses and hills and didn’t notice.
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4 months ago
The ruin on the left is one of the only agricultural structures we’ll pass. Very empty country.
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Ensnared, blowing in the wind.
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This stand of old locusts is one of the only signs of human life along the road. There’s a small farm nearby and a few old ruins, but that’s it for the two miles we covered this morning.
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Ron SuchanekIt's beautiful up there. I rode Old Moody road to Dufur, through White River Tygh Valley, etc. a few years ago. The route is called the Oregon stampede. It was an adventure but incredibly hot and windy. June is not the best time.
http://www.oregonbikepacking.com/portfolio-posts/oregon-stampede/
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekThis is such great country over here. We’ve ridden most of the Oregon Stampede route In pieces, as part of one ride or another. Moody and Gordon’s Ridge are the only ones we haven’t tried so far.

And thanks for the link. I’ve never heard of this site before. We keep talking about getting different bikes and trying more gravel some day.
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4 months ago
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So that was a fine walk, but not a very strategic place to break up the drive.  It’s just past noon when we return to the car, and we’ve only lopped off about fifteen miles.  We want to arrive in John Day by about four so we resolve to pretty much drive straight through the rest of the way, stopping only for gas in Condon.  Also, the weather is on my mind.  We’re taking the lowest possible route, but we’ll still top out at 3,700’.  There’s a risk of snow in the forecast so the sooner we get through the high ground the better.

It’s a shame that we don’t have more time, and it’s also a shame that all of the parks along the way are closed because this is an incredibly beautiful ride.  After climbing through the stunning, open vistas of Sherman County and its vast wind farms, we pass through some very rugged country.  Our route climbs high, then plummets deep into a gorge to the John Day River; then out again.  Repeat.  If we hadn’t been in a hurry to get somewhere I would have driven Rachael mad by stopping every five or ten minutes to look at one breathtaking scene after another.

Our route, in case you’re looking for a dramatic road trip when you can escape your home again. It would be an amazing but tough bike ride, too. I know - I’ve ridden most of it over the years.
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After a long, dramatic drop we cross the John Day at the base of Cottonwood Canyon. The road drops about 1,100’ in six miles, and would be fantastic by bike. The ride out the other side looks just the same, but won’t feel like it.
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The skies to the south take a very menacing turn. We’ll be driving through a light snowfall before long.
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The route between Kimberly and Dayville follows the river through the John Day National Monument and Picture Gorge. One breathtaking scene follows another. We’ll definitely be back with the bikes for a slower pass.
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Jen GrumbyOh, to ride through Picture Gorge when when there is not a lot of tourist traffic.

That will be fabulous .. can't wait!
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4 months ago
Ron SuchanekIt's a beautiful ride. That whole area is great.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYou won’t have to wait long. We rode it today and had a brilliant 44 mile ride. Too bad it was 45 miles back to the car though.
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4 months ago
Sheep Rock seen from Route 19, In the John Day National Monument.
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It’s a good thing we kept our discipline and kept moving except for a few brief but essential stops to commune with nature.  By the time we started approaching the high country near Condon the skies ahead grew quite menacing.  We passed through a light snowfall at the first pass, and then another at the second.  After that weather improved when we dropped to Service Creek and followed the banks of the John Day the rest of the way in.  

The sky was broken when we arrived at our new lodging, with sun shining on the dazzling, snow-covered Strawberry Mountains a few miles to the southeast.  We quickly unloaded the car, spent about ten minutes to settle in, and then went back to the car to run to the grocery store.  When we opened the door, we were shocked to find that everything was white and a pellet-like snowfall was in progress.

It looks like we have a very interesting month ahead of us!  The place we’re staying looks perfect, but we’ll take a look around the estate later.

In John Day. The sun was out and the ground was bare fifteen minutes ago.
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The Blue Moon, our new home, seen from the back entrance. More to come.
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