Down the Silvies River - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

April 10, 2020

Down the Silvies River

Today’s ride begins again at the junction of Route 395 and the road to Izee - the same spot we began our ride up the Silvies River two days ago.  Today though we’re going to ride Highway 395 ‘down’ the Silvies to Seneca, Silvies and beyond.  ‘Down’ is in quotes because for the next 20 miles the river hardly descends at all: barely 200 feet, for an average descent of only ten feet per mile.  Pretty remarkable for a river flowing this high up in the mountains, at 4,700’.

It is so flat here that the river more resembles a river crossing a broad valley floodplain as it follows a kinky, densely meandering course most of the way from here to its destination at Malheur Lake.  Here’s a typical stretch of the river:

The Silvies River, a most unusual mountain waterway.
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 And, the Silvies is unusual in another way.  When researching this river, it took me awhile to find its final destination.  Just south of Burns, fifty miles to the south from here, the river splits into two distributaries - the East Fork and the West Fork.  The two forks squiggle crazily southward across a broad plain before emptying into Malheur Lake at a point about three miles from each other.

And, in case you wondered, this really is the final destination for the Silvies River.  Malheur Lake has no outlet, except in high water years when it will overflow into neighboring Mud Lake and Harney Lake, both of which likewise have no outlet.  These marsh-like lakes all sit at the bottom of Harney Basin, a giant enclosed depression larger than the state of Connecticut.

Anyway, back to today’s ride.  It’s a typical Team Anderson out and back, with Rachael striking out ahead of me while I take my time with the camera.  We’ll meet up down the road and then bike back to the car together.  For the record, I’ll bike 41 miles today, the most since my injury; and she’ll best me by eight miles.

Video sound track: Wintersong, by Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond

Looking across the broad, flat basin to the Strawberry Range.
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Shack and mountains.
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Kicking up some dust.
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A big job ahead. He’s just arrived with a flat bed trailer in tow, and is about to load it down.
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Another one, and even closer this time. This seems to be a really bold species. He really doesn’t seem much bothered by my presence at all.
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The Silvies River, the Aldrich Mountains.
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A wigwam burner, just outside Seneca. This is the best preserved one of these I’ve ever seen. Almost like it’s been restored as a museum piece.
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Jacquie GaudetI've never heard them called that before. In BC, I've always heard them called beehive burners.
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jacquie GaudetFrom Wikipedia: ‘ A wood waste burner, known as a teepee burner or wigwam burner in the United States and a beehive burner in Canada, is a free-standing conical steel structure usually ranging from 30 to 60 feet in height. They are named for their resemblance to beehives, teepees or wigwams.’.
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3 months ago
Jacquie GaudetTo Scott AndersonFunny how language can be so regional, even in North America!
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3 months ago
Kelly IniguezHave you been to the Orange Peel bike shop in Steamboat Springs, CO? Originally Moots Cyclery, it was built in an old burner and has been expanded on.

I'm happy to see you out and riding!
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Kelly IniguezNope. Never been to Steamboat Springs that I can recall. Should we go there?

It has been great to get as much riding in as we are. We’ve really landed in a good spot for the moment. How about yourself?
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3 months ago
We’re looking at downtown Seneca, in its entirety. Its commercial district consists of a store, a food cart, the post office, and an RV park with a few cabins. I’m surprised by the cabins - you could overnight here on a bike tour, using it as a break between the John Day valley and Burns.
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South of Seneca, the valley narrows for about two miles and the river and road both thread through a narrow, twisted throat.
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This small ski run south of Seneca reminds us of how high up we are here. We’re at roughly the same elevation as the summit of Santiam Pass.
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Along the Silvies River.
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I think this is the course of the river here, but I’m not sure. There are a lot of small oxbow lakes and cut off meanders too. I wonder what this all looks like in mid-summer, after the snow melt is done.
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Twenty miles into the ride, Rachael shows up far at the end of a long, straight stretch of the road.  We meet up and then head back to Silvies, where there’s a small park next to a one room schoolhouse.  And nothing else.  There’s no Silvies in Silvies.

What there is though is one gigantic ranch, which we’ve been biking through for roughly fifteen miles.  This is the Silvies Valley Ranch, and it’s surprisingly interesting and impressive.  It’s history goes back into the 1800’s when this valley was much more heavily populated - an information board by the schoolhouse informs us that at one point the valley included about seventy ranches and three schoolhouses.  Hard to imagine now.

Today though, Silvies Valley Ranch has new owners and is rebranding itself as an eco-resort.  They’re investing heavily in habitat restoration and look like quite an appealing place.  They’re a 140,000 acre working ranch with 30,000 head of cattle, 1,500 goats, a three star hotel with restaurant, and three golf courses.  This valley is so vast that the commercial aspect doesn’t make a dent and is invisible from the road.

I’ve never been a golfer, but this place almost makes it look appealing.  They boast having the world’s first goat golf caddies.

Now doesn’t this look fun?
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Jen GrumbyThat goat looks like it takes its job very seriously. I hope they tip it well!
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyI don’t know if that’s such a good idea, if goat tipping is anything like cow tipping. With all of that gear on their backs I think they’d have a hard time righting themselves.
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3 months ago
Jen GrumbyHa! Good point.

Well maybe at the end of the round they could drive the goat over to Evans Oaks to snack on our blackberry brambles and insidious ivy?
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3 months ago
Andrea BrownMy daughter and her husband (pre-babies) have stayed here and loved it.
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Andrea BrownNice to hear a nearly first hand report. It really does look like it would be a great stopover. Even better than the cabins and food cart in Burns.
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3 months ago

So back to the ride.  The return is just like the out, except that now we’re climbing at ten feet per mile.  Oof!  Oh, and biking into a 10-15 mph headwind for twenty miles.  Oh, and being passed by a few more large trucks than we’d care to see on this unshouldered two lane highway.  Oof, oof.

Here she comes, though I don’t think you can tell even zoomed in. She continued another four miles beyond me, to the point where the road leaves the river and climbs over a low ridge to the next basin.
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At Silvies.
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An interesting information board (one of several) at the roadside park.
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Silvies School, opened 1893 (approx). The school and the small roadside park next to it are maintained by Silvies Valley Ranch. A very welcoming place - picnic benches, some playground equipment, even an open restroom.
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The barn behind the school, where kids stabled their horses for the day while they were in class.
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Buckboard wagon, Silvies.
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Cranes! I was hoping I’d see these, after earlier having heard a large flock in the distance but out of sight north of Seneca.
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North of Silvies, approaching the low ridge between here and Seneca. We’ll follow the river through a narrow canyon.
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Through the gap.
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Approaching Seneca, with the Strawberry Range behind.
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