Through the National Monument - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

March 26, 2020

Through the National Monument

It’s just above freezing this morning, but once it warms up it looks like it should be a gorgeous cycling day.  We relax around our new home for a few hours, a spacious place that we’ll show you around when we come to a stand-still, either through adverse weather or more restrictive constraints on movement.

For now though, know that we’re feeling really fortunate.  We’re in a very comfortable small house in a very quiet part of the state, we’re still permitted to go outside for exercise as long as we keep a healthy distance, and above all we feel well.  Not knowing how long any of these blessings will hold out, we’re going to make the most of things and ride.  

We debate at length where we should go today.  John Day sits at the T-junction of two significant highways.  US Highway 26 runs east/west and is a major cross-state connector, running all the way from the coast to the Idaho border and beyond.  Here, for about 50 miles it follows the main branch of the John Day through a spectacular valley.  It’s got a decent shoulder and a light traffic load and will provide days of great cycling for us, as long as cycling isn’t banned.  In fact, this stretch of Highway is part of the Trans America Trail and sees plenty of touring cyclists.

Running south of the town is US 395, gradually climbing up Canyon Creek through the gap between the Aldrich and Strawberry Mountains.  You can ride it as far as you want - it continues on for 70 miles, all the way to Burns.We haven’t seen what that road looks like, but from Google Maps it looks promising too.

Other than the highways though, you have to get in the car to get to a paved road of any length.  There are some very attractive ones close enough for a day ride that we’ll check out, but most of them are at a higher elevation and likely to be too cold or even snowy today.  We decide to head for the lowlands, driving east past Dayville to Route 19, the gorgeous road through the John Day National Monument that we drove on the way here yesterday.  It’s over a thousand feet lower elevation than we are here, and will continue dropping as we ride north and follow the John Day downriver, so it should be fine.  We’ll save the high country for the warmer days we hope are just ahead.

After a 40 mile drive east on US 26 we finally come to Dayville.  A few miles later we enter the very narrow, steep-walled, unshouldered, somewhat scary Picture Gorge, and then park the car just past the intersection with Route 19.

On Route 19, just north of the entrance to Picture Gorge.
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Our planned ride today follows the river north to Kimberly, about 18 miles away.  It follows the John Day the entire way, gently rising and falling.  The road surface is decent; the road is unshouldered but doesn’t really need one because there is so little traffic.  The scenery is an unbroken series of jaw-dropping views.  If there’s a better, more exciting 20 mile stretch of easy riding in Oregon, I don’t know where it is.  If you ever get the chance, you should go out of your way to come here and ride this road.  I’m pretty sure we’ll be back here again ourselves before we leave the region.

Before we look at the photo gallery, I have some exciting news: we have video!  Rachael brought the GoPro along, and we have our first video since the climb of Mount Lemmon back in Tucson, before the world fell apart around us all.  Let’s start there.

Video sound track: Agua de Bieber, by Lee Ritenour

Northbound on Route 19. Just to the right, off frame, is the river; and beyond that is Sheep Rock, one of the landmark formations of the National Monument. Take a good look at Rachael - as usual, we won’t see her again for a couple of hours when we’re on the way back.
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The John Day is really beautiful right now. The water volume is high, the banks lined with colorful willows and reeds.
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Another angle on Sheep Rock, the same formation we saw yesterday driving in.
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The lower slopes of Sheep Rock.
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Some of the formations here remind us of the colors in Death Valley, around Artists Drive.
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The mammoth formation ahead at the bend in the river is Goose Rock.
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In the John Day National Monument.
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I’m not sure if we’re still on monument grounds here, but we might as well be - the scenery continues to be spectacular all the way north.
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Cathedral Rock, another stunning formation.
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Cathedral Rock.
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Just another roadside scene. The road is perfect for enjoying this land, gently climbing over low shoulders to give you some perspective and then dropping to the river again.
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Further north, we’re away from the monument and start passing through publicly owned ranch land. A few houses, and many cattle.
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Looking at scenes like this, I feel less guilty about being a carnivore. I chose to believe my meals come from animals living out their lives in idyllic settings like this.
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Yes, this looks like it would be a very nice spot to live. Nice view out your kitchen window, I’d imagine.
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Along the John Day, I think somewhere near Fossil Creek.
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Uprights.
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We’ve put our ride into a time box today, as usual for out and backs.  Since we won’t see each other for a couple of hours we set a time for Rachael to turn back: 3:30.  Sometime around 4, I see her coming around the mountain - she’s put in eight miles more than I have, which doesn’t surprise me.  I’ve easily stopped a half an hour or more with the camera, looking at cattle and waiting for the sun to pass across a colorful formation.

We ride to the car together, and then drive the 40 miles back to town.  We don’t mind the drive - it’s beautiful the whole way, with the snow-capped Aldrich and Strawberry Mountains backstopping a steady procession of picture book ranching scenes - the glistening river, herds of cattle strung out along a line of bright yellow hay, weathered barns.

Thinking of you, hoping you’re all well and able to get out in the real world for a bit today.  Wish you were here.

On the way back, passing Goose Rock again.
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A last look (for now at least) at Sheep Rock.
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Comment on this entry Comment 12
david alstonWe love to see you enjoying a relatively flat ride, doubly so when it is of just the right distance and close enough that we could conceivably do it as well.

David and Maun
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4 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltJust looking at that makes me want to go hunt fossils... But I already have too many,
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltBetter to have one than be one. Oh, well.
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4 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTo Scott AndersonI have been so called...

But then, I've got a whole litany of not so nice nicknames I've had which are much worse in my book.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo david alstonI’m sure you’d love this ride, but there are some other really attractive, generally flat roads we’re anxious to try out near here. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to test them out before we’re ordered to stay indoors, even for exercise.
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4 months ago
Suzanne GibsonLooks like beautiful riding, you lucky ducks!
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonWe’re feeling pretty fortunate, alright. One great thing about Oregon is that it has some vast expanses that are sparsely populated. Who knows how long it will last though. We keep waiting for the day that the governor tells us all to exercise indoors instead.
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4 months ago
Jen GrumbyWonderful to see the video and photos. And to read the tales of a pretty normal bike ride!

This gives "adversity-free day" a whole new dimension.
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4 months ago
Ron SuchanekIf you want a nice 41 mile ride, the stretch of highway 20 between 395 and Austin Junction is low traffic and scenic.
Also, you are right on the Old West Scenic Bikeway, so you can do that as day rides.
https://traveloregon.com/things-to-do/outdoor-recreation/bicycling/old-west-scenic-bikeway/
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekThanks, Ron. That’s just what we’re doing, lopping off the nearby chunks of 26 20 miles at a time. We’re starting at the west end because it’s lower elevation. It’s still pretty cold up here, so we’re saving the higher elevation rides until things heat up.
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4 months ago
Ron SuchanekTo Scott AndersonIn better circumstances we would drive out and ride with you guys. But it's not in the cards for the foreseeable future. We're grateful that the HAC was able to get together earlier this month. Looking forward to the next one, whenever it might be.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekA shame you can’t join us. We even have a third bedroom in a second cabin out back.
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4 months ago