Prairie Summit Road - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

April 6, 2020

Prairie Summit Road

Our first day back on the bike, and for me more of an experiment than a real ride.  Rachael is fully back to normal and ready for her normal 42 miler, but I’m just out for a short, relaxing ride that doesn’t stress my wound.  Trying to satisfy such different goals without Rachael getting too far off on her own in a region with no cell coverage once we’re far out of town, I come up with a ride that begins in Prairie City, 13 miles east of here.  We drive to our starting point and begin with an out and back on Prairie Summit Road as it follows the John Day south toward its source in the mountains. 

As per plan, Rachael starts off on her own and I take my time, spinning easily and stopping for every interesting thing I come to.  I don’t get far - before even leaving town I come to the Prairie City Cemetery.  It’s a striking scene, with the snow covered Strawberry Range backing up its rows of gravestones.  I’m struck by the sight of a lichen-encrusted slab and decide I need to park the bike and wander around.

I’m not alone.  An elderly woman with a notebook is squatting in front of a gravestone.  We strike up a conversation, and she gives me a bit of background on this special place.  She’s from the town’s genealogy society and is updating their records for a book on the cemetery that they maintain.  She comments on how large the cemetery is, given that Prairie City (pop. 880) is such a small place.  She said the town used to be larger and more significant (it’s another gold rush community), and was formerly the site of the valley’s hospital before it was relocated to John Day sixty years ago.  Also, Prairie City was the western terminus of the Sumpter Valley Railway, a short-lived short line that delivered timber from the John Day Valley and Blue Mountains to mills in Baker City until it shut down about a century ago.

Leaving Prairie City on Prairie Summit Road.
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Hmm. Rain wasn’t in the forecast for the day, but the view northeast toward the Blue Mountains looks worrisome.
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The Prairie City Cemetery lies in a spectacular setting.
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Lichen encrusted stones in the Prairie City Cemetery.
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In the Prairie City Cemetery.
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This is a unique grave marker. At first I thought it was possibly an old pump for use by visitors to the cemetery, until I saw the faint engraving.
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Fifteen minutes later I finally break away from the cemetery and start pedaling out Prairie Summit Road.  I must be three miles behind Rachael at this point, so of course I won’t see her again until she’s coming back at me.

This is really a splendid cycling road.  I find myself stopping constantly, taking in one impressive view after another.  I make miserably slow progress, and am barely seven miles into the ride when Rachael comes into view, 21 miles into her own ride.  Which is fine - this was exactly the plan for the day.  It’s not enough of this road though - I’m sorry to be turning back with miles of great riding still waiting up ahead.  We’ll be back, definitely.

Now this does look serious. Fortunately the rain kept to the mountains on the north side of the valley and never strayed down our direction.
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Strawberry Mountain. We’re so fortunate to be here at such a spectacular time. We’re in for a prolonged warming spell, and I imagine all this snow will melt off fast.
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Southeast on Prairie Creek Road. We’re following the John Day, which runs perhaps a quarter mile to our left at this point.
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Well, now this is better. He’s even singing. I suspect this is the best shot I can hope for without a stronger zoom.
Heart 6 Comment 1
Jen GrumbyThis makes my morning! Every time I watch a bird sing, I get lost in the experience.

How lucky to see the call of a meadowlark!
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1 month ago
Strawberry Mountain again. If this is the best it’s ever going to look, I think we can afford multiple shots of It.
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Along Prairie Summit Road.
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Looking across the John Day to the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
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A bank swallow colony. It’s empty now, but I imagine they’ll show up any day now. We’ll have another look when we ride this road again.
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Here she comes, in a hurry. She’s been worried about me being so far behind her, and doesn’t like seeing me sprawling on the ground setting up the camera for a selfie when I come into view.
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I continue on a bit as Rachael passes, because I want to see the view just past the next rise.  This is an intoxicating ride that just keeps luring you further.  Soon I turn back though, and continue my leisurely pace back to the car.  Rachael is far gone, and bikes all the way back home.  This was always the plan.  Even without cell coverage I don’t mind her getting far ahead like this when I know I’ll be along soon enough with the car if she has a mechanical or flattens.

Prairie City looks like an interesting little place to explore.  I thought I would do it at the end of this ride, but when I get back to the car I decide the prudent thing is to start driving in case Rachael has run into issues.  We’ll be back, I’m sure.

The wounded warrior returns to duty.
Heart 7 Comment 4
Jen GrumbyWoohoo! Great to see you back in the saddle.
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanSo, I take it your leg did all right.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanYup. No problem. Ready for more!
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterGreat to see you back on the bike!
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1 month ago
Tilt!
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So how old is this little guy? He almost glistens. I was concerned when I first saw it, thinking it might be lifeless until I saw its ears wiggling.
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The old Prairie City train depot. Now a museum, it shut down in 1933. Closed now of course, but I’d like to take a look around inside.
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Jen GrumbyWe camped under the picnic shelter there .. nice little park!
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1 month ago
Rate this entry's writing Heart 11
Comment on this entry Comment 1
Jen GrumbyWhat a great ride! Such a beautiful area.

If you end up back in Prairie City, we recommend Chuck's Little Diner. And Oxbow Saloon has great pizza.

According to Google Maps, both places have takeout available (??)

I do remember when we were there the grocery store and the restaurants were only open certain days each week, so call ahead if you want to include foodstuffs in your next visit.
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1 month ago