The last days of May, 2006, my friends Mark Morrissey and Phil & Debb Kopp and I did a dual-sport ride in southeastern Oregon — the so-called "Oregon Outback". Mark drew up the original plan, and made the reservations. During the course of the event we kept saying to each other variations of: "This doesn't suck!" Thus a name presented itself (The "Doesn't Suck" Dual Sport Ride), which we shortened to DS2R and added a version 1.0 tag as we're all geeks. It worked for us. Maybe next year we'll do t-shirts.
We all met in Heppner, OR for lunch on Sunday. Then it was the Blue Mountain Scenic route, on which we encountered 3-4" of snow at about 5300' elevation. Recent rains made everything unusually green. The above shot is of the intersection of the Blue Mt. highway with US-395. The town of Ukiah, OR ("Haiku" in reverse) is just visible in the background.
The next stop was John Day, where we spent the first night. Here's a map of approximately our loop out of John Day, Oregon.
On Monday, we took some backroads south which paralleled US-395 about 25 miles to the west. Great roads, mostly paved, though there were some narrow and twisty one-lane, all-dirt parts through the tall timber. That was neat. The above shot was taken about half way to Burns, where the road met the paved road to Izee, OR.
For bikes, we had an XR650L (me), and two Wee-Stroms (aka Suzuki DL-650), with Phil & Debb riding two-up. They started out from Seattle on two KLR650s (which would have been ideal for this ride), but one quit before they left the house, so they substituted the DL. The other KLR wouldn't restart after an ATM stop in Yakima, WA, so they pared down the luggage to fit in a tank bag and a tail box, and continued two-up.
Real motorcyclists never quit.
Our route bypassed Izee, OR, by a few miles but we rode there anyway to see what was there. Just a few old buildings with "Keep Out" signs posted. This was the coldest we got for the whole trip, but we lucked out and never had to ride in the rain once we left John Day.
After a nice lunch and warming up in Burns, we headed out on 20/395 to Sage Hen Hill summit, where we turned south on "OO" road towards Harney lake. The photo above was taken just north of the lake where we turned back west to pick up OR-205 into Frenchglen. We lowered our tire pressure several times, and mostly all ran about 25psi on both ends.
I could have lowered my tire pressure a lot more, but didn't find it necessary. My friend Paul Winslow runs as low as 12/15psi on his street-licensed KTM 300, even when booking down the pavement. He's never had a problem, and he's been off-road riding longer than I have. I frequently checked my tire temperature, and they never got hot, even after the few long stretches of pavement at 55-60mph (by the GPS).
The hotel at Frenchglen has a new section called the "Drover's Inn" a hundred meters behind on the hillside. New construction, with 5 rooms each with its own bath, and a huge covered porch with a gorgeous view of the Steens and the abundant wild birds that visit the property.
The hotel concessionnaire (John) and his wife live in the house next to the Drover's Inn. They fixed wonderful family style dinners for us and the other guests both nights.
Here's Mark, Phil and Debb relaxing with a beer and a smoke Monday evening. The hotel even had a nice selection of micro-brews, but I bought the first round and I prefer the taste of Bud. I don't like Starbucks, and I hate chocolate, so it probably figures, eh?
One of the prettier clouds we watched moving across the sky. This and the next shot were taken from the deck of our motel.
The snow-covered Steens Mountains in the distance. We tried to take the Steens Loop road, but it was closed a few miles in. It's the highest road in Oregon, at 9700'. The mountains don't look nearly as spectacular from the west, as the slope is pretty gentle from the 4500' of Frenchglen to the 10000' of the summit. The eastern side is very abrupt, and thus photographs better.
Mark and a poodle he befriended, who would have thought? BTW -- Mark's cell phone (Cingular) got two bars and we used it from Frenchglen to make a few calls. Phil's Verizon phone had no service. I left my phone at home.
We made a lot of stops for photos. Here's one Tuesday morning on the road towards Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. Yes, we did see a lot of antelope. No close calls though.
Mark (I think) heading west on the Hart Mt. road, with the Steens visible in the background (but foreshortened due to the telephoto effect).
Phil and Debb, also heading west, but now inside the Refuge where the road turned to dirt, with occasional deep dried mud-ruts.
Mark at Hart Mt. Hot Springs. This is the "improved" one, which was recently more improved by the addition of some nice natural slate to the construction brick walls. It's still kinda institutional, but we jumped in and enjoyed it anyway.
Here's Debb walking towards the "natural" hot springs, which was quite a bit hotter. A couple was there when we first arrived and the guy found it too hot, though his female companion was in up to her neck.
The town of Plush lies in the Warner valley, about 1500' below Hart Mt. Refuge, and the road down the escarpment yields some spectacular vistas. Here's the first view you get.
On the way to refuel at Plush, I passed a large Great Basin gopher snake
(thanks to herpetologist John Smith for the id) on the road,
and circled back to take this photo.
Later I got a shot of a rattlesnake, but it had been run over and someone
claimed its rattle.
The general store at Plush, OR. 87 octane fuel available. We seemed to average about 50mpg on both the XR650 and the DL-650s. With the Clarke 4.7 gallon tank on my XR, that gave us a 200+ mile range between fill-ups.
The view on OR-205 dropping down into Frenchglen from the south (after returning from Hart Mt.). Rain a few days ago left the higher elevations of the Steens covered in snow. This part of Oregon is one of the most sparsely populated places in the Lower 48.
Good (87 octane) fuel is available at Field Station, too. Plus there's a motel, a nice little cafe, a tiny OLCC (state liquor) store, and a grocery store. Run by some very nice ladies. Highly recommended.
Just north of Fields, a gravel road runs up the east side of the Steens, with the Alvord Desert (and when we passed by, Alvord Lake, which is normally dry) on our right. There was a bit of road construction going on, which was odd, as there wasn't anything wrong with the gravel road. It did make it a bit squirrelly for the DL-650s...
My favorite shot of the trip — looking roughly north towards the Steens from the "Alvord Desert road". My XR650L in the foreground. This was my first real trip on the XR, and aside from some initial hard-starting, ran perfectly the whole trip (Thanks to Bob Taylor for selling it to me!).
I mounted my Garmin 276C on the crossbar, and it was invaluable for routing, finding gas, and general route planning for the next day. It was particularly useful when on dirt roads in the mountains when picking the right road at intersections is highly important.
The popular hot springs between the road and Alvord Lake (or most of the year, presumably, the playa). Half the springs is open, with a boardwalk around it. The other half is enclosed in beat-up corrugated metal sheets. Not very appealing. We passed on it.
A typical view of the Steens from the road on the east side.
Phil and Debb at the turn-off for Mickey Hot Springs. The camera is pointing West Southwest.
Mickey Hot Springs. This is the main springs, at the highest point. A big sign warned that the water was near boiling, and that serious injury and deaths had occured in the past. I stuck a finger in it and it was too damn hot for me!
There was a lot of hot springs type action here, including a mud hole with the sound of boiling water underneath it, small steaming pools, etc. A beautiful spot, but probably too hot to enjoy in the summertime when the air temps hover near 100F.
Wednesday night we spent in scenic Diamond, OR. Population 5.
Apparently named after the diamond-shaped brand used by the nearby McCoy ranch
in the late 1800's.
The Hotel Diamond. Here we had perhaps the best dinner of the trip. Or maybe it was all the whiskey, beer and wine. Whatever, it was awesome!
While we were sitting on the screened-in porch about 6pm waiting for the dinner bell, a woman said "There's a cougar walking across the hillside". We all jumped up, and sure enough, there about 100-150' above the parking lot was a mountain lion, just cruising along in the tall grass through the rocks, sage and brush. It probably walked just about right over the spot from which I took this telephoto shot.
I grabbed my digital point and shoot, and ran outside. I lost it for awhile as only the upper 1/3 was visible, and it was perfectly colored to disappear in the vegetation. I saw it again, then tried to get the camera set for the fading light (we were on the shadow side of the hill) and by the time I got it together, I lost it again. Then someone pointed it out to me, and I tried to get some shots, but by then it was almost out of sight, and none turned out. Damnit!
Thursday morning Mark headed directly back to Portland, while Phil and Debb and I tried to ride up to the Kiger Mustang viewing area. The Kiger herd (50-80 horses) is believed to be the last remaining breeding population of wild horses descended directly from the original horses brought by the Spanish invaders.
The dirt road had been driven by some vehicles earlier when it was wet and muddy, and was so deeply rutted and rough that it wasn't practical for a DL-650 two-up, so we backtracked and headed north on another gravel road where I took this shot looking south towards the northern end of the Steens.
We arrived home that same evening, after riding some more gravel roads north through the Malheur National Forest.
Copyright © 2006, by H. Marc Lewis. All rights reserved.