You’ve planned, you’ve trained, you’ve dreamed – and now it’s finally time to ride! A journey of a thousand memories starts with a single pedal stroke and today is the day to clip and get rolling. We’ve said this is the “choose your own adventure” Classic and the choice is yours right from mile zero at base camp in John Day, Oregon.
Main Route: 59.3 miles / 3,756’ elevation
Pavement enthusiasts will ride west towards Mount Vernon, Oregon and then head Northwest to our finish 59.3 miles later in Monument, Oregon. The route follows the valley along the John Day River and gives your legs a little time to get warmed up before the big climb of the day arrives. Keep an eye along the north side of the road about two miles from town for a small, stone stable inside a rustic wooden fence. This was the home of a beautiful black stallion named Mount Vernon for whom the city is now named. Enjoy our first rest stop in Mount Vernon city park and then get rolling, the climb into the Malheur National Forest awaits! As you approach the summit near Long Creek you’ll enjoy sweeping vistas and look toward the fast-rolling descent to Monument.
Main Route with Gravel Option: 64.2 miles / 4,587’ elevation
Gravel riders like their roads less traveled and they’ll get one in the glorious 13.2-mile ribbon that is Keeny Forks Road. Our gravel route for Day 1 heads east along the John Day River valley with a warm up on pavement before turning north into the big climb through Malheur National Forest along Grub Creek. Keeny Forks Road is what some might call “luxury gravel” – not too chunky and nicely compacted. Tree-lined curves come along like music notes in a great jazz song. You’re climbing in parallel to our paved route and top out near Long Creek and connect with our paved Main Route for the gravity-assisted ride to Monument.
About Monument, Oregon
This small farming community is located at the confluence of Cotton Creek and North Fork John Day River in a quiet valley surrounded by rim rocks and juniper trees. Situated at an even 2000’, Monument is located in what is considered a desert area though there are many farms and orchards along the river that grow hay and a large variety of fruits. The city marks the midpoint for cyclists on the Old West Scenic Bikeway though we’re off on an adventure of our own. But make note and come back soon!
Geology Rocks! by Ian Madin
Ian Madin worked as a geologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries for 32 years and has ridden with Cycle Oregon for over a decade now. Here, he gives us a look at the the cool and sometimes hidden geology of the regions through which we ride. His nightly presentations at Classic are always fun and informative so grab a cold beverage or dessert (maybe both!) and grab a seat when we get him on the mic.
Be sure to read Ian’s Classic XXXII Geology Rocks! preview feature first. You can find it on our blog here.
Our first day has it all, passing through four of the five major geologic groups before lunch. Those sticking to the pavement along Highway 395 will pass a low cliff of reddish-brown rock on the left, just after leaving Mt. Vernon. This Is the Rattlesnake ash-flow tuff. 7 million years ago a huge pool of thick magma lay close to the surface of the earth near present day Burns, Oregon. The molten rock was full of dissolved gas under extreme pressure, and as the hot mass slowly rose towards the surface, some event, perhaps an earthquake, cracked the layer of solid rock that held in the pressure. As the pressure was released, the dissolved gas expanded rapidly, turning the magma in a foam of red hot glass, or pumice. The foaming caused the volume of the magma to increase tremendously, and the whole mass exploded through the overlying rock and into the stratosphere. The explosion sent a tower of incandescent gas, ash, and pumice miles into the sky for hours, or possibly days, and as the column of erupting material fell back to earth, it spread out and flowed across the landscape as a glowing avalanche, a tsunami of red-hot death moving at highway speed, obliterating and burying everything in its path. The hot ash traveled as much as 100 miles from the source, and when it came to rest, the remaining heat caused the ash and pumice fragments to weld together to form a hard volcanic tuff that covered an area of 18,000 square miles (11 million acres), nearly one fifth of the area of Oregon today.
The Rattlesnake Tuff is one of the youngest rocks we will encounter, but just three miles up the road are some of the oldest. The Baker Terrane is one of several exotic terranes that make up the deep basement rocks of Oregon. The exotic terranes are blocks of rock as much as 100 miles long and 50 wide, that traveled hundreds of miles across the Pacific Ocean floor on a plate tectonic conveyor belt before being violently plastered onto the western edge of the North American continent. This process produced large areas of completely crushed and mixed rock called melange. Mixed in with the melange one commonly finds serpentine, a soft blue-green rock with origins deep in the earth. You will see the bright green serpentine on the hillsides for several miles along the road.
After leaving the serpentine slopes, we will start to climb towards Fox Valley and pass into a steep valley cut through the lava flows of the Columbia River Basalt. We will see much more of the basalt in future days, but one of the notable things here is the characteristic bench and cliff topography. There are dozens of these massive lava flows stacked one on top of another, ranging from 30 ft to 300 ft thick. Each flow typically is mostly dense lava with a zone of broken and rubbly rock at the top. As the lava erodes, the dense parts tend to form cliffs, and the softer tops form benches, much as alternating hard and soft sedimentary layers make cliffs and benches in the Grand Canyon. In this dry country, this characteristic makes for some interesting patterns on the land. At higher elevations, there is enough precipitation to support a healthy forest, while at lower elevations, the trees give way to sagebrush and grassland. In the transition zone, the trees tend to grow on the flow top benches, because the softer, broken rock holds more water and is easier to root in. Although it may be hard to see from the saddle, on the google earth image below, you can clearly see these tree bands wrapping around ridges and valleys like the contour lines on a topographic map.
After crossing the pass over Long Creek Mountain and joining up with the gravel riders in the town of Long Creek, we will turn west on Highway 402. About 2 miles from Long Creek, we begin a climb that will bring us out on a flat, barren plateau. Along the climb we will cross an active fault, though it will not be apparent from the road. This is a place where a fault line slipped during an earthquake several hundred or thousand years ago. The land surface actually broke, and the uphill side of the fault rose about 3 feet above the downhill side. When a fault scarp like this is still visible, it is good evidence that more earthquakes are likely. To break the ground like this, this earthquake must have been at least Magnitude 6. Each earthquake makes the climb a little higher, so pedal quickly!
Once we reach the top we will cross the plain for several miles past some of the most beautiful Mima mounds in Oregon. Mima mounds are enigmatic circular mounds that are common in sage and grasslands in eastern Oregon. Typically 10-15 feet across and a foot or two high, they often have vegetation that contrasts with the surrounding plain. Geologists continue to argue about their origin, but one popular hypothesis is that they are the work of ground squirrels. You may be able to see them from the road, but they are really spectacular when viewed from above, as shown in the lidar image below.
After we cross the plateau, we begin a descent into Cottonwood Creek, headed towards its confluence with the North Fork of the John Day at Monument. At the same time we are going deeper into the Columbia River basalt, till we eventually cross the boundary between the basalt and the underling John Day formation. The white, red and pink ash layers of the John Day will be readily apparent, as new areas of colorful badlands appear around each bend. The majority of this material is volcanic ash laid down in dozens of catastrophic volcanic explosions like the Rattlesnake tuff. In the thousands or tens of thousands of years between eruptions, the ash at the surface weathered and developed into a soil horizon, causing iron in the ash to oxidize and stain the ancient soil (called a paleosol) red. These alternating layers of ash and red paleosols give the Painted Hills their name.