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

April 27, 2020

Summit Prairie Summit

We’re likely down to our last three riding days here.  We leave for Pullman early Friday morning (it’s almost a six hour drive, and we’d like to arrive in time for an afternoon ride to get the drive out of our systems), and it’s supposed to rain all day Thursday.  So, we’re prioritizing a short ride list.

One of my priorities is to bike back out Summit Prairie Road to see if the bank swallows have returned.  Rachael isn’t quite as moved by swallows as I am, and we’ve biked this road twice before anyway; so she begs off and decides to do her own thing today.  Her top priority is her sore foot - specifically, one of the toes on her right foot is sore enough to make it painful to walk.  She’s going to take it easy by staying close to home and biking back and forth on the highways.   Also, showers are forecast for midafternoon, and she wants to make sure she gets her ride in before then.  If we go out together, she’d have to wait until after I return from my 10 o’clock date with my wound nurse. 

‘Easy’ of course for Rachael still means a 42 mile ride, which is what she’ll accomplish by the time she’s done biking east toward Prairie City, west toward Mount Vernon, and south toward Canyon City in another inverted T.

I get a late start, not leaving home for the short drive to Prairie City until nearly noon.  I have my wound appointment (still recovering well, thanks), and then I spend some time calling clinics up in the Palouse to find someone that will pick me up for ongoing care after we relocate.  And, of course, I need another cup of coffee for the road.

Halfway to Prairie City I pull over when I see a familiar biker coming my way.  Rachael and I chat a minute, I confirm that she’s fine, and we continue our own way.  Not long afterwards I’m biking out south from Prairie City taking in another last look at the great mountain, looking a bit moody today with shadows from the broken clouds above scattered across its face.

Hmm. I’ve seen this face before.
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I’m not really sure how far I’m going to bike today.  It depends on the weather and the will.  I’ve only got two fixed goals - to check out the bank colony, and to look for traces of the hot springs that Bruce said he visited decades ago.  Beyond that, we’ll see.  It’s a steady, gradual twenty mile climb to the summit before the road drops again on the other side of the divide to Summit Prairie, so maybe I’ll make it up that far.  Or maybe not.

We’ve seen this road now, twice, so I don’t stop for much.  There are the usual interesting birds that I keep getting tricked into stopping for a photo, only to have them immediately fly off - we’re looking at you, Mr. Kingfisher and Mr. Magpie.  Instead, I settle for a pair of Brewers Blackbirds.

A female Brewer’s Blackbird, I think. At the time I thought it was a female cowbird because it was next to a male cowbird that flew off before I could shoot it, but the beak isn’t right.
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A male Brewer’s Blackbird. Interesting that the eye coloring is different between the sexes in this species.
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Six miles into the ride I come to the roadside cut drilled with holes that look like bank swallow nests. I’m encouraged when a bird flies out from one of the holes as I approach, but it’s just another of those frustratingly camera shy kingfishers.  Other than that the bank is unoccupied.  I wonder if it’s still too early, or it’s no longer in use.

Still empty.
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Oh, well.  Moving on, I continue southeast toward the spot where I think Bruce’s hot spring must be.   I didn’t see anything like that on our previous rides, but after he asked about it I did some research.  I found this description from an article posted about five years ago:

Blue Mountain Hot Springs Near John Day in Oregon

A private hot springs steeped in history. From carnivals to holistic center and known as the former home of famed Winchester Firearms owner, Blue Mountain Hot Springs may or may not be available for a soak.

You’ll have to contact the current owners, Eugene and Helen Ricco, to find out. Rumor has it they have been officially closed since 2002.

Little is currently known about the status of the once famed hotel and dance hall.

And, with the help of Google Maps, I was able to locate it: 

It’s down there at the bottom, at the hot springs icon.
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So, it’s at the end of Green Haven Road, just before the National Forest boundary.  Still another five miles off.  I bike on, seeing nothing particularly new or photo-worthy except for an attractive horse, until I come to a small cattle roundup working its way my direction down the middle of the road.  I spot the cattle silhouettes far ahead, and start biking faster to get closer before they turn off.  Then, when I see they’re coming my way, running fast and sounding quite agitated, I quickly backpedal the other way and look for a spot to get off the road.

A nice horse.
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Round-up!
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Jen GrumbyIt's just not the same without the Singing Cycling Cowboy and his Cow Whistling sidekick ..
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4 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYes, that’s exactly what I was thinking at the time. And why wasn’t Rachael along to provide some video?
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4 weeks ago
Coming my way, and fast.
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Gregory GarceauI wonder what's worse . . . getting bit by a dog or getting trampled by cows.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Gregory GarceauGood question. I didn’t feel the urge to try both and compare results though.
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1 month ago
Ron SuchanekIt's hard to tell, but I think them ain't cows...
One time, a farmer asked me if I wanted to milk his bull.
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3 weeks ago
Looks like they’ve been out gathering a few strays. It looks like fun, but would be much more colorful if they were on horseback.
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Jen GrumbyIt really surprised me the first time I saw someone herding cattle on an ATV. They're probably a lot easier/ less costly to maintain than a horse, but it just doesn't look right!
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4 weeks ago

A few miles later, just before the forest boundary, I come to the turnoff for Green Haven Road.  At the time I was working from memory and hadn’t done fresh research so I didn’t know this was what I was looking for, but I figured it must be the place.  Right location, a private road, with large, prominent no trespassing signs.  Not much is visible from the road, but there’s a cluster of buildings down by the river.  Definitely something down there, but not accessible to the public now either.  Probably nothing remains from forty years ago that Bruce would recognize now, other than perhaps the lay of the land.

The old Blue Mountain Hot Springs must have been down there.
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Bruce LellmanYes, that's how I remember the buildings in about 1990 although they are in much better shape now. The hot spring was basically a big swimming pool to the right of these buildings along with a great old locker room. Very old style. It was snowing when I was in the pool which made it magical. No one else was there which was maybe the case too often and why they called it quits. Maybe someday it will reopen.
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1 month ago

A few hundred yards later I cross a cattle guard and enter the National Forest.  The ride steepens a bit, but it’s a pleasant climb - not raining, yet.  I’ve got time, and I’m nagged by the idea that there may be a summit sign waiting for me at the top.  Every time I’m tempted to turn back I think of this possibility and it keeps me on task - even when it starts lightly raining.  Shoot, I’m under two miles, I think as I bury the camera into the bottom of the pannier for safe keeping.  I can’t stop now!

In a few hundred yards the rain stops again, the sun breaks through, and soon I’m at the top.  And there is a sign!  I prop up Rodriguez for a summit shot in front of the sign and the snow bank, and sit opposite to munch on some trail mix and bask in my accomplishment.

This is the last I’ll see of the diminished John Day. It disappears into the trees not far from here, but I think we’re only about a mile from it’s source at this point.
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Above 5,000’ I start seeing snow along the edge of the road.
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And, at 5,500’ a brief shower that fortunately doesn’t amount to anything.
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The Summit Prairie Summit.
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So then, it’s time to head back.  But I don’t.  On the odometer, I’m only 20 miles into the ride.  I cringe at the thought of getting home and having Rachael mock me for taking such a puny ride, so I soldier on for another mile, dropping off the other side to see if I’ll get much of a view.  I don’t, and even though each bend in the road teases me to wonder what’s just around the corner, I don’t bite any longer.  I stop at 21 miles exactly and turn to climb back up to the summit.

The sky is darkening ahead and I’m 20 miles from the car, so I keep a fast pace the whole way back.  It’s a good thing I do too, because there’s serious rain on the hills around, and even some sprinkles on the road - oddly enough, at the same time that I’m biking in sunshine.  I stay basically dry though, get back to the car in about an hour, and drive home.  When I arrive, I ask how Rachael’s ride was and barely suppress a smirk when she tells me how little climbing she did today.

On the far side of the summit. This will have to count as the view shot.
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Racing off the mountain, I stop for a quick shot of Dixie Butte.
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Sometimes we get lucky. Dark on the surrounding hills, dry on the road.
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Ride stats today: Scott, 42 miles, 2,700’; Rachael, 42 miles, 1,200’

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Gregory GarceauYour posts from John Day have been most enjoyable. I look forward to your time in Pullman -- especially seeing the Palouse in the springtime compared to how I saw it on my tour in September.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Gregory GarceauThanks, Greg. It’s as good a way to wait out the plague that we could have hoped for, but we’re excited to move on to the Palouse. I’ll have to go back and reread your journal to get in the mood.
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1 month ago