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About the Route – Classic XXXII Day 6

Day 6 is a study in scale. Everything you will see today is grand, dramatic, and majestic. The mountains loom large in the distance. The vistas stretch on forever. The wide-open expanses of the gravel option cannot be contained by gully nor by barbed wire. And around every corner, the John Day flows on, opposite The Painted Hills, just as it has for ages and ages. The enormity of this landscape can make you feel kind of small in comparison, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that’s kind of why we’re out here on bikes in the first place.

Day 6: Mitchell to Dayville

Main Route: 76.7 miles / 4,744’ elevation

GRAVEL Option: 74.9 miles / 4,536′ elevation

Day 6 of the the 32nd Cycle Oregon Classic covers the last remaining spur of the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway and continues on to one of the friendliest towns in the region, Dayville. You’ve likely heard of the famous pies at the town café but before you enjoy a slice or two you’ll ride an inverted horseshoe up to the John Day River once again, enjoy a scenic riverfront stop in Spray, Oregon and power on to one of our most charming camps.

Dayville, Oregon, (pop. 146), is located at the mid-point of the eastern edge of Grant County and sits at 2,369 feet above sea level. The city was incorporated in 1913 and traces its history to the mid 19th-century as a stop along a hastily built wagon road that would be renamed The Dalles Military Road between 1868 and 1870. This rugged road connected The Dalles and Canyon City with parts of the route eventually becoming U. S. Route 26 that now runs east-west through Dayville. 

Large cottonwood trees line Route 26 through Dayville which also serves as the city’s Main Street. At the east end of town you’ll find the Dayville Mercantile and Dayville Café, Bicycle Friendly Businesses, and to the west, the Dayville Community Church has been welcoming touring cyclists as a hostel since 1973 as part of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. 

The Main Route has two distinct personalities and is as beautiful as it is challenging. It’s a route worthy of the title, Classic. The first third of the day’s route is sharp climbs and descents and then upon turning east it’s a gradual accumulation of elevation, (from 1650′ to 2400′) over the final fifty miles. With the bulk of the day’s harder climbs behind you you’ll be able to enjoy the ride south along the John Day Highway which passes by the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument – Sheep Rock Unit, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, and one of many stunning geologic formations, Cathedral Rock.

Day 6’s GRAVEL Option has a similar route split as the Main Route though it’s more of a single climb to a plateau than the sawtooth profile of the paved route on the way to Spray. The route turns to gravel at the turn for Waterman Road where the profile levels out and you’ll cruise through tree-lined roads along Frog Hollow and Button Hollow. You’ll rejoin the Main Route just prior to the rest stop at Spray and then roll on the John Day Highway to Dayville.

View all Classic XXXII routes on Ride with GPS here


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.

About the Route Classic XXXII Day 1 is here.

About the Route Classic XXXII Day 2 is here.

About the Route Classic XXXII Day 3 is here.

About the Route Classic XXXII Day 4 is here.

About the Route Classic XXXII Day 5 is here.


A Geologic Feast for the Eyes – Today’s ride has it all. We will retrace our steps through the older unconformities and their ancient rocks, descend through cliffs of CRB, pass brightly colored John Day Badlands, thread a narrow basalt gorge and end in the wide gentle valley of the upper John Day.  Its a long day, with great views around every corner.

Leaving Mitchell, the climb up Meyers Canyon retraces our Day 4 route past the Hudspeth Mudstone, the hundred-year-old gully and 280 million-year-old blueschist, and the cones of Gable Creek Conglomerate.  You will be in new territory when you pass the turnoff leading back to Twickenham and Fossil and start to climb out of the Girds Creek basin towards the east, crossing the second unconformity back into the familiar rocks of the John Day and Clarno.  You will start to see brightly colored John Day ash in the roadcuts as you near the summit, and then as you start to descend towards Service Creek, a great panorama unfolds.  The long dark back of the Sutton Mountain block of Columbia River Basalt is visible on your left with patches of blue and green John Day ash peeking out below.

Descending from the pass out of Girds Creek, you will get a great vista along the edge of Sutton Mountain, and can clearly see the unconformity separating the dark cliffs of Columbia River Basalt above from the gentler terrain of the John Day below, with patches of blue-green ash visible in places. The Basalt and unconformity are both tilted to the northwest.

The route descends along a wide valley eroded out of the John Day for several miles, then turns sharply towards the west for the final descent to Service Creek.  Once again, you will cross the unconformity into Columbia River Basalt, but this time the basalt is downhill of the John Day.  Since the Basalt is much younger, it is typically found above and uphill of John Day, but at this site, the edge of the Sutton Mountain block is tilted strongly to the northwest, so riding towards the west is geologically “uphill”.

Turning west for the final descent through the Sutton Mountain block to Service Creek, the road takes you “uphill” through the geology because the layers are all strongly tilted to the northwest.

From Service Creek to Spray, you retrace your steps through dark terraced slopes of Columbia River Basalt and past Hoogie Doogie Mountain.  At Spray the route once again crosses the unconformity into the John Day and then plays tag with it, passing back into Columbia River Basalt periodically along the gentle climb up the river to Kimberly. Keep an eye out for the patch of white Mazama ash along the left side road just before you get to Kimberly.  At Kimberly you turn south into new territory, following the main John Day River upstream.  You will enter a broad valley carved in the John Day Formation, with the ridges on either side capped by thick layers of CRB showing their characteristic bench and cliff topography.  The John Day presents a colorful parade of badlands and smooth slopes, stained brick red, pink or turquoise.  Many of the layers along this stretch, including the Blue Basin unit of the JDFBNM display a distinctive blue-green color that results from the mineral celadonite.  Celadonite results from the weathering of the volcanic ash in the John Day layers. Celadon is also the name of a class of pottery developed in China, which was highly prized for its jade green color, which is similar to the color of celadonite.

You will pass dozens of awesome examples of the many colors and forms of the John Day along this stretch, and hopefully will have a moment to visit the excellent Thomas Condon Visitor Center of the JDFBNM.  Some of the more striking sites include Cathedral Rock, which combines both the celadon green and bright red of paleosols, and Sheep Rock, where celadon ash layers are capped by a small remnant of Columbia River Basalt.

The John Day at Cathedral Rock includes blue-green layers colored by celadonite and bright red layers stained with iron oxide.
Sheep Rock marks the entrance to Picture Gorge, and consists of a tilted set of colorful John Day ash layers capped with a pyramid of Columbia River Basalt. The southwards (towards the right) tilt of the John Day and Basalt is clearly visible.

Shortly after passing Sheep Rock, the valley narrows abruptly as it enters Picture Gorge.  The gorge is the result of passing across the unconformity once again into a large block of Columbia River Basalt that is  tilted strongly towards the south.  The hard basalt forces the river to cut a narrow path with steep basalt cliffs.  Emerging from the Gorge, you are now on top of the Columbia River Basalt, and the broad valley of the upper John Day River opens out in front of you. 

Looking south towards the upstream end of Picture Gorge, you can clearly see the tilted layers of Columbia River Basalt that form the gorge. Younger Mascall Formation sediments in the foreground were deposited on top of the Basalt. Sheep Rock is visible in the distance.

Once again, traversing a tilted block has allowed the route to travel geologically “uphill”, so that you will now see layers of tan and white sediment that are part of the Mascall Formation, deposited between 15 and 12 million years ago.  If you have energy left after this long day, there is a great view of the Mascall and Picture Gorge from the Mascall Overlook, a short ride off the Highway on your right.  It is only a few more miles along the gentle valley floor to Dayville!

Light colored layers of fine Mascall Formation sediment are visible looking west from the Mascall Overlook. They have the same tilt as the Picture Gorge block of basalt on which they were deposited.

For those choosing the gravel route from Mitchell to Spray, you will start by climbing up Highway 26 through Clarno lava flows and lahars.  There are several spectacular roadcuts along this stretch.  See if you can identify which are lahars, which are composed of blocks of lava of all shapes and sizes embedded in a muddy matrix.   When the route leaves the highway, you will climb across a broad plateau of Clarno and John Day rocks, and may see a few scattered outcrops of red, white or green ash.  You will reach the top of the climb a little past Waterman, and 2.5 miles beyond the pass you will once again cross the unconformity into Columbia River Basalt as you descend to Spray.


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