Thursday, October 8, 2020: Blackberries and Smoked Pork

Unity Lake to Frenchglen, Oregon

Woke up to the sun still behind the mountains east of the lake. The air quickly warmed up once the sun rose above them. Off in the distance a herd of cows was mooing loudly and geese honked on the waters of the lake. We took our time packing up and letting the sun dry our tents before heading out on Oregon Highway 245.

Highway 245 followed the Burnt River east from Unity Dam before climbing up into the Blue Mountains. The road was tight and twisty as it made its climb over one of the range’s ridges. We passed the scars of fires past near the ridge’s crest.

We dropped down into the valley carved by the Powder River and rode west on Highway 7. The road followed the river’s curves through scenes that looked like they came from a Bob Ross painting. We passed the nearly empty Phillips Lake where I could see former lake bed had turned into large meadows where cows were grazing. The area’s mining history was evident from the miles of tailings along the sides of the river between the lake and the turnoff to Sumpter.

We met back up with Highway 26 at the town of Bates. We stopped for a light breakfast at the Austin House Cafe. Greg told me about a previous visit to the cafe. He had been riding on Highway 26 and saw a handpainted sign on the side of the road that said “Fresh Blackberry Cobbler.” Greg had left a mile-long skidmark as he slammed on his brakes to stop.

The sign was not out today; the clerk said it hadn’t been put out in years. We ordered coffee and some of the cobbler. Greg made friends with a cat roaming the patio area while we enjoyed the delicious cobbler. Greg always seems to make friends with cats on road trips. Inside the cafe was an old bar, made in the 1800s. The bar’s arm rest was worn from years of elbows being placed against it. The pillars on the back side of the bar were carved images of nude women that would surely cause a quite a stir if made today.

While getting ready to get back on the road, we were approached by a couple in an RV who asked about our travels. Out of the blue, the man asked if we had taken Highway 27 toward Prineville a few days prior. Of course, we had. He said he recognized us, specifically me, as they had passed by while I was on the side of the road taking pictures. Small world!

Greg and I gassed up in Prairie City and then headed south on Grant County road 62 into the Strawberry Range. The road twisted its way into a small canyon with pines all around. We didn’t see any fires, but heavy smoke filled the air. We turned onto Forest Route 16 to head west. We were the only ones on the road for miles. The pavement was not the greatest, but the curves were long sweepers, which lent themselves to some spirited riding through the forest.

Forest Route 16 met up with Highway 395 at Seneca, where we stopped for stretch. We headed south on Highway 395 into the Divine Canyon. More volcanic rocks lined the road on all sides.

Before reaching Burns, we emerged from the canyon onto a large plain. Crosswinds picked up as we came out of the canyon. Normally crosswinds bother me, but not today. I dealt with it without any problems.

We stopped in Burns for a top-off and late lunch before the final push to Frenchglen. We stopped at the Steens Mountain Brewing Company. The restaurant was built out of an old auto repair garage and still had the original concrete floors and roll-up doors in front. We were the restaurant’s first customers for the day. I ordered a pulled rib sandwich that was quite good. The meat was tender and the seasonings and sauce had a great kick to them.

From Burns we rode south on Oregon Highway 205 toward Frenchglen. The road was ruler straight as it went through the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Suddenly we came to a ridge directly in our path. The road made a left turn and went up the side of the ridge.

The ridge, known as Wrights Point, was a remnant of eastern Oregon’s volcanic past. At one time, Wrights Point was a stream bed. During the Pliocene Epoch, between 5 million and 2.5 million years ago, the bed was covered by a lava flow. Over time the area surrounding the former stream eroded away, though the basalt that covered the stream was harder than the land around it. The erosion left the 200-foot-tall ridge we see today, which is essentially an inverse imprint of the stream bed.

We continued south as Highway 205 ran through lands that are part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The wide, flat plain and marshy areas around Malheur Lake are home to many more than 300 species of birds, a dozen species of fish, and nearly 60 species of mammals. The refuge is a stopover for migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway, and Canada geese were a common sight in the air at this time. As we passed through, we caught a glimpse of pronghorn antelope grazing in the refuge’s grassland.

As we got closer to Frenchglen, the highway was sandwiched between the sheer cliffs of Jackass Mountain and the marshy Blitzen Valley. The red orange rocks of the mountain and its flat top reminded me of scenery from a John Ford western. There’s something special about roads following the contours of the land instead of cutting right through it.

We arrived in Frenchglen in the late afternoon and took the 2-mile dirt road to Page Spring Campground. The campground sits in a little canyon on the bank of the Donner und Blitzen River. As soon as we rolled into the campground we got waved down by a man standing by his RV. The man, Rick, told us the campground was full, but offered to share his campsite with us since he was only using the parking pad of the 90-foot by 90-foot site. We wet up socially distanced on the far side of the grass across from the RV.

The camp host did not seem to be happy with our presence, or with Rick sharing his site. Apparently, Rick had offered up his grass on the previous night as well. The host complained about COVID and this and that. Rick told the host we were close friends of his and pointed out that we were on opposite sides of the site. Rick might have also told the host we were former co-workers of his wife, who had retired from a law enforcement career. The host wandered off grumbling, and we stayed put.

The sun set behind the canyon walls and the temperature quickly dropped and a breeze picked up. It felt like it was going to be a cold night.

We got our fifth straight visit from the ISS tonight. The has been our constant companion throughout the trip.

Day’s Mileage: 253.3, Total Mileage: 1045.9