Cycle Oregon Blog
“Field of Dreams” 22/49/74 miles
The overnight site in Monmouth is on the campus of Western Oregon University, with acres of green grass and shade trees. WOU is a liberal arts university established in 1856, with an enrollment of approximately 6,000, and incorporates both a College of Education and a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As with all Cycle Oregon weekend rides, there are three options (short, mid and long), to choose from. All ride options are based on the long option.
All three routes travel together to the first rest stop at a county park on the banks of the Willamette River in Buena Vista. The roads used are generally lightly traveled, but everyone needs to use caution with crossing Highway 99W, two miles from the start. After the rest stop, the long and mid routes cross the river on the Buena Vista Ferry and travel on county roads to the community of Jefferson.
The Short Route leaves Buena Vista and makes a loop back to campus, again crossing Highway 99W, before traveling north on a county road and arriving at the university. This option has some hills that are short, and moderate in grade.
The Mid Route leaves the main route in Jefferson and travels two and a half miles on a county road to the lunch site in Marion. After lunch, the mid route and long route use the same roads to return to Monmouth.
The Long Route leaves Jefferson and travels east on county roads to the small community of Scio. Just before, and just after Scio, the route travels over a covered bridge (Gilkey and Shimanek). Up to this point, the roads have been fairly flat. After crossing the second covered bridge, the one big hill of the day will loom large. It is fairly steep near the top (about 9%), but only a half-mile long. Riders on this option will travel on county roads with very light traffic, making a loop almost back to Jefferson before making a turn to arrive in Marion for lunch, and join mid route riders.
After lunch, both long and mid route riders climb a mile-long hill before descending back into the Willamette Valley and crossing the interstate freeway before riding onto the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge (2,800 acres of land near the confluence of the Santiam and Willamette rivers protected for geese, ducks, raptors and other wildlife). After traveling through the refuge for about seven miles, the last rest stop of the day is at Ankeny Winery and Vineyard, with an option for tasting and purchasing. After leaving the winery, there are just less than ten miles left, with some rolling terrain and huge blueberry fields, before crossing the Willamette River again and riding through Independence before returning to Monmouth.
Day 1 – Exotic Terranes
We start Day 1 in a broad green valley hemmed in by Elkhorn Ridge, which rises to over 9000 feet to the west. Elkhorn Ridge, and most of the rocks we will ride through today are part of an exotic terrane, a slice of an ancient landscape that originated far from its current location. These scraps of the earth’s crust may have originated as a volcanic island chain like Japan, located as far away as the tropics. Over millions of years of plate tectonic movement, these rocks traveled to their current location, where they collided with the western edge of the North American continent and were scraped off and welded into place. Several different slices arrived about 150 million years ago and now underlie most of Eastern Oregon.
We will begin to see the exotic terranes up close when we get on to Interstate 84 at the Ash Grove cement plant. This facility mines high purity limestone from a quarry above the plant, then roasts the crushed rock in the long rotating cylinder you can see from the road. This drives off carbon dioxide, leaving behind calcium oxide, or lime, which is the essential ingredient in cement.
As we descend Burnt River Canyon on the freeway, we will see sedimentary and volcanic rocks of the exotic terrane, sheared by the violence of their arrival and metamorphosed by deep burial into a range of bright colors and interesting textures. We will see them again in Hells Canyon.
Just before we turn off to Huntington, we pass a derelict cement plant at Lime, and you can see the surrounding landscape stained white by years of limestone dust. As we leave Huntington, we will pass by a large landslide on the left, and you will see cracks in the hillside, evidence of recent movement. The day ends in Farewell Bend State Park – a popular stop for pioneers heading further west.
Day 2 – Columbia River Basalt
On Day 2 we leave Farewell Bend and head north along the Snake River towards Weiser. The road leaves the Snake River for a short climb across low hills carved in soft claystone and sandstone that were deposited in a huge lake several million years ago. Lake Idaho filled a 200 mile-long swath of Southwest Idaho, leaving distinctive white and tan lake beds. As we descend back to the Snake River plain, we cross a big landslide where the river has undermined the slope, causing the soft rocks to slump.
The peaceful valley of the Snake that we are riding through was the site of an incredible catastrophe 14,500 years ago. At that time, the last ice age was starting to fade, and the basin now occupied by the Great Salt Lake was an inland sea called Lake Bonneville. Melting ice raised the level of this enormous lake until it spilled over a low divide into the drainage of the Snake River. The soft earth at the divide eroded quickly, and a huge flood ensued, as 1200 cubic miles of water swept down the Snake, an amount equal to the volume of Lake Michigan. The great Bonneville flood lasted weeks, and the water at Weiser was hundreds of feet deep and moving 70 mph.
Leaving Weiser, we begin a long steady climb towards Cambridge, and start riding through low hills made of dark grey, black or reddish brown basalt lava. These lava flows are part of the Columbia River Basalt, the result of a cataclysmic series of eruptions that occurred about 16 million years ago. Highly fluid basalt lava erupted from miles-long fissures along the Oregon-Idaho-Washington border at a rate sufficient to cover most of eastern Oregon and Washington with a lava sea 50 to 100 feet deep. This happened dozens of times, building up lava layers that are 10,000 feet thick in places. Some of the larger flows traveled hundreds of miles following the ancestral Columbia River until they entered the sea, where they burrowed into soft seafloor sediment and traveled nearly 100 miles underground before erupting again near Newport, on Oregon the coast. You may see some of the distinctive six-sided columns that often formed as the lava cooled. Shortly after we leave Mann Creek Road and start climbing on Highway 95, you will see colorful layers of basalt and sedimentary rock in the roadcut on your right.
Day 3 – Hells Canyon
Day 3 starts with an incredible descent into Hells Canyon through layer after layer of Columbia River Basalt. Each layer represents a single enormous lava flow, and you can see the layering in the terrain as a series of benches and cliffs. We reach the bottom of Hells Canyon along the shores of Brownlee Reservoir, and proceed downstream to Brownlee Dam which is 420 feet high and generates almost 600 MW of hydroelectric power. After riding on past Oxbow Reservoir and Dam, you reach the community of Oxbow, where you can decide to go straight to Halfway, or take the trip to Hells Canyon Dam and back. The ride to Hells Canyon dam is truly worth it, as the canyon just gets steeper and deeper the further you go (Note: Riders must begin the option by noon). Hells Canyon is said to be the deepest Gorge in North America, with an elevation difference of 6800 feet between the summit of the Seven Devils mountains in Idaho and the river below. The gorge is deep and steep because it is only a few million years old, and the Snake River is still aggressively cutting down through the rock. As you ride along the shores you may hear the faint echoes of rapids that once rivaled the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, now silent beneath the still waters of Hells Canyon Reservoir. The rocks here are ancient seafloor and volcanic islands, part of the exotic terranes, and as you approach Hells Canyon Dam, you will see a band of grey limestone on the opposite canyon wall, folded into a great arch when the terrane docked with North America.
Below the dam, the Snake runs free for over 100 miles to Lewiston, Washington and Clarkston Idaho. If you are up for the additional 330 foot climb, ride down to the boat ramp at the end of the road and walk back up the narrow creek that enters there.
Above the dam, the Columbia River Basalt that we saw at Oxbow caps the very top of the canyon wall, which means that when the basalt erupted, it encountered a canyon here nearly as deep as the one we see today, and the lava flows eventually buried that ancient gorge without a trace.
After returning to Oxbow (hopefully with a tailwind!), we will climb up Pine Creek through more Columbia River Basalt into the beautiful Pine Valley and the town of Halfway. Rising behind the town you will see the Wallowa Mountains, our goal for the next day.
An interesting tidbit: we enter the Mountain Time Zone 0.3 miles from the park. But, don’t stop in the middle of the road to set your watches ahead an hour, we’ll stay on Pacific Time, and the friendly folks in Idaho will have to adjust their time schedules to accommodate ours.
Once again everyone gets to enjoy riding on the I-84 shoulder, but only for about two and a half miles. Then the route follows Highway 201 along the Snake River with a few whoop de doos (short little hills) before turning onto a Spur of U.S. Highway 95 to travel through Annex and across the Snake River into Idaho to the community of Weiser (Wee-zer). Fiddling contests have been held in Weiser since 1914, and the city bills itself as the “Fiddling Capital of the World,” with the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest held here each year in June since 1953. In addition to fiddling, the city has a wonderful park with green grass that is the site for our first stop of the day.
After leaving town, we travel east for a few miles, and then turn north on Mann Creek Road. This route allows us to avoid riding on Highway 95 for fifteen miles, and wends its way through agricultural fields, past a picturesque abandoned schoolhouse, with a gentle, but unrelenting grade, to our lunch site at the junction of Highway 95. After lunch, there is only one paved road that leads to Cambridge, so everyone must remain on the shoulder of the highway and yield to motorists. Traffic is not terrible, but just be aware.
The start of our sojourn on Highway 95 begins with a climb of a little over two miles, followed by a great descent of about the same length, leading to the fourth stop of the day in Midvale. After fueling at the rest stop it’s less than nine miles to the finish. Most of Highway 95 has excellent shoulders for cycling, but a few miles after Midvale, the shoulder narrows for four miles. The only option to avoid this section of narrow shoulder involves adding extra miles – on gravel roads (yep, we looked hard for options). Be sure to “Share the Road” with motorists by riding single file to allow faster traffic to pass.
Cambridge (population about 350) is the second largest city in Washington County after Weiser. The community will welcome everyone with green grass for our camp at the local school, just a couple blocks off Main Street, with shops and restaurants, and a local watering hole or two.
DAY 1 – Sunday, September 13 Baker City to Farewell Bend 51/66 Mi
It is always advantageous to design a first day route that is not too difficult, allowing riders to “warm up” for the week ahead. This is an almost perfect example of that theory, as the day is short, without much climbing. In fact, with the exception of the little “bump” a few miles before the finish, the day is almost all downhill! Okay – Okay, so there is a gradual climb from Baker City for about eight miles, with a grade that maxes out at about 2%, and THEN it is all downhill.
There are only two roads traveling from Baker City to Farewell Bend, and our route uses both of them. We avoid the freeway for the majority of the day by riding on Old Highway 30. This two-lane road parallels and crosses Interstate 84 for thirty miles before ending at the Durkee Cement Plant, and then riders must use I-84 for four miles. We exit the freeway for lunch at the Weatherby Rest Area (think grass and trees), at the beginning of the Burnt River Canyon, and then ride on the freeway shoulder again for another 6.5 miles until exiting at the abandoned community of Lime.
The cement plant in Lime closed in 1980 when the local limestone supply was depleted. The current plant near Durkee (the only cement plant in Oregon) was built in 1979, and obtains the necessary limestone, shale and clay at the plant. The current owner, Ash Grove Cement Company, merged with the Oregon Portland Cement Company in 1983.
After leaving Lime, the route continues on Old Highway 30 to Huntington, the Catfish Capitol of Oregon (the 30th annual catfish derby is Memorial Day Weekend – winning fish last year was 35 pounds). The final stop of the day is in the city park, and then its time to climb the “big hill” of the day, a whopping mile and a half or so, followed by a fast downhill for two miles to Farewell Bend State Park, on the banks of the Snake River.
Farewell Bend was the last stop on the Oregon Trail along the Snake River where travelers could rest and water and graze their animals before the trail turned north through more rugged country to follow the Burnt River towards Baker City.
For those who think 51 miles on the first day just isn’t enough, a 15-mile loop option is being offered at the beginning of the day. This option travels north of Baker City, and then makes a loop on flat roads through agricultural fields to return to the starting point for a water stop. Then, riders will be at the very back of the pack to start riding the main route.
Cycle Oregon, state officials and community stakeholders share a vision for the Salmonberry, an overgrown, unmaintained and decommissioned railroad track stretching 86 miles between Banks in the Willamette Valley to Tillamook along the Oregon Coast.
This vision seeks to restore the Salmonberry to its storied and significant place in state history, showcasing the historical, cultural and natural attributes known to families and communities for millennia, from the first native peoples gracing the land at least 6,000 years ago to the EuroAmerican farmers who followed in the mid-1800s to the opening of Pacific Railway and Navigation Company (PR&N) railroad in 1911. With the advent of the PR&N railroad came the economic prosperity of a thriving timber and logging market, which lasted for about 75 years, until regulations, international markets, new technologies and storm damage began to slow the economic engine, eventually earning PR&N the nickname of Punk, Rotten & Nasty. In 2007 the final blow to the line came in a devastating set of rainstorms, which caused significant damage to the line, as well as the small towns that had grown up around it.
In 2008, the idea for the Salmonberry was born in the intersections between Oregon State Forestry, Oregon Parks & Recreation Department and Cycle Oregon. Our relationships with leadership on Forestry and Parks commissions helped us to identify and act on this audacious idea to find a future in the forest, turning Punk, Rotten & Nasty into a world-class multi-use trail along the scenic Salmonberry River.
In In 2012 Cycle Oregon made an initial investment, the first step in turning the vision to reality with a $100,000 Cycle Oregon Signature grant. This effort resulted in the Salmonberry Corridor Concept Plan. The good news from this report, released in the fall of 2014, confirmed that our vision was indeed, possible.
Early this year, the Cycle Oregon board made another major investment in this vision. A $50,000 Signature Grant to fund a staff position to perform community outreach and hone the technical designs in the plan into a feasible implementation working in tandem with a capital campaign.
The dual impacts of projects like the Salmonberry are that it helps introduce Oregonians to Oregon while driving economic development throughout the state. This meshes well with the overarching mission of Cycle Oregon.
Cycle Oregon is a part of new financial engines, contributing much-needed fiscal support to the postcard-worthy towns it visits. In 2014 Cycle Oregon infused nearly $1.8 million into the communities and businesses that support our events.
- Civic and school groups earned more than $180,000 by providing services during Cycle Oregon
- Local businesses earned $300,000 in food, lodging, activities and gifts
- Cycle Oregon vendors, all homegrown Pacific Northwest businesses and nonprofits, earned more than $1.3 million
Cycle Oregon’s financial impact extends beyond the events, too. Since 1996, our Cycle Oregon Fund, makes strategic investments to preserve special places in Oregon, promote bicycle safety and tourism and support community-driven projects. With more than $2 million in the fund, Cycle O gives between $50,000 – $100,000 each year in grants that spotlight the kind of endeavors that frequently lack statewide attention but often mean everything to the people in the small towns who welcome us on our tours.
We look forward to the day when we’ll announce our first Salmonberry tour. We know that day will come, but we also know that projects like this take patience and persistence. They also take commitment and investments.
We hope you will join us in supporting the Salmonberry and other projects like it around the state with an contribution to the Cycle Oregon Fund. The fund is held at the Oregon Community Foundation and is tax deductible. Contributions can be made online here, or via payable to:
The Oregon Community Foundation for the benefit of the Cycle Oregon Fund
Oregon Community Foundation
1221 SW Yamhill St. Suite 100
Portland, OR 97205