Part 2: A Motorcycle Journey in
Northern California, Nevada & Southeastern Oregon
2446 miles / 3914 km. Two weeks.
Stefan & Jayne's September 2012 motorcycle trip throughout
Northern California, lots of Nevada & Southwestern Oregon.
you enjoy part
one of our epic 2012 motorcycle trip, where we came down from
Oregon and traveled through Northern California?
Hope you enjoy part two as much, where we head into Nevada and see a lot of
Southeastern Oregon. The photo at the top of this page is us in the Alvord
Desert, in Oregon, FYI.
All of the
photos are here.
Disclaimer: this is a personal essay. It's an observation and opinion
piece. It's a detailed journal entry I'm sharing with the world, and while
I'm writing from a place of sincerity and honesty, I have no expectation
that everyone will agree with everything I've said here. Another person's
experience, at all the same places, doing all the same things, encountering
all the same people, may be entirely different. Also, any activity
incurs risk, and the author assumes no responsibility for the use of
information contained within this document by others.
It was September 11, my grandmother's birthday, but since I knew she
couldn't hear me if I called, I didn't (she's in her 90s). It was also the
11the day of our motorcycle road trip. It was time to leave California. We
headed back onto US Highway 395, this time going North, and turned right
onto California state road 120, going East. It had already been an incredibly
full day, we'd already seen and experienced so much - and the
day wasn't over yet!
you go west on California state road 120, and you end up in Yosemite
National Park. Go East, and you go by the South
of Mono Lake (which is considered by many to be the most interesting
shore), and you see a lot of surreal volcanic landscapes which change with
every turn and hill. The scenery
was beautiful - this is a popular road for people road tripping
between Las Vegas and Highway 395. The road also has a section of gnarly
dips, so steep that, when you are coming up on a dip, you can't always see
the bottom! It was a gorgeous day at this point - hard
to believe looking at this photo that, later, we would encounter an
intense storm in Nevada.
On hindsight, we should have stopped for the night at the very
Hot Springs - there was a sign that they had camping, and since we've
been back, we've looked on the web site and seen just how lovely the grounds
are - but we were wanting to get to Tonopah, Nevada by the end of the day.
We stopped in Benton (different Benton Springs) for gas, talking with four
guys from down under (I think Tasmania) who were on their way from Vegas to
Yosemite, and obviously having the time of their lives (I was very happy
when they said they had found everyone in the USA super friendly). North of
crossed into Nevada - a new state for me on a motorcycle!
road made a wide turn into a valley - and there was the storm. It didn't
look so bad at first. There was even a
rainbow. But then we saw the lightening. Frequent lightening, every
few seconds, obviously striking the ground. And the tallest things around,
other than the mountains, were US. We pulled over to the abandoned gas
and hotel compound of what
was left of Coaldale,
to think about what to do next. The storm had passed over where we had been,
but was holding
tight over the road between us and Tonapah.
We weren't sure what to do. The storm was moving, slowing. It was 60 miles
to Tonopah. No way we could avoid the storm if we went there. I was scared -
I don't like riding in the rain, and I don't ever ride when there is
lightening unless I cannot avoid it. Stefan's map said there was a camp site
in the tiny town of Mina, in the opposite direction. So, we decided to go
for it, and try to get there before nightfall. There was another storm
coming up on our right hand side as we road, also with a lot of lightening -
I was beyond scared.
After an hour - and night had fallen - we were in in Mina. We passed a whore
house on the left side of the road, a camp site on the right that looked
like it was more for people to live in RVs than to camp, and came to a town
center consisting of a lot of closed down businesses, run down homes and
trailers. I was leading, and I pulled into the gravel parking lot for the
fire station - and we found ourselves in front of a large plot of dirt, with
two picnic tables and two grills, and a few trees on the outside of it. We
parked, turned off the bikes, took off our helmets, and I said, "I bet that
there is the camp site."
We needed to know if this really was the only place to camp. But there were
no humans anywhere at all, other than in passing cars and rumbling semi
trucks. The only place open was the Mina Club, so we drove the bikes over
and walked in. Right inside the door was a poker table, with five or six
people playing, including a man with an eye patch. An especially hairy
player said, "Bikers?! We love bikers! Front of the line!"
We walked over to the bar, and after a few minutes of not being seen by the
bartender, who was bent over doing something with something on a lower
shelf, I said, "Excuse me?" in my sweetest voice. I had to say it a couple
more times before he heard me. He popped up, and I asked if there was any
camping about. "Oh, yeah, those bicyclists that come through here camp over
across the street all the time!" I asked if anyone would bother us if we
camped there. "Well, state police might come by and, if they see ya, run
your plates." I assured him that wouldn't be a problem - we didn't have any
outstanding tickets. What about the RV site we'd seen as we came into town.
"Yeah, I'm not sure they allow that kind of camping. You know, you could
just put your tent out there on our stage, or under the awning." I decided
that wouldn't be a good idea - the blaring lights, the blaring music, the
drunk clientele just a few steps away - but just politely declined rather
than give my reasons. "You could just put a tent up out back." I asked if we
could see what he meant, and he was happy to oblige. He opened the back
door, and there was a fenced back yard you would expect at the back of a
remote bar in a run down town. "You can sleep on the floor of my trailer
right there. Or I got a guy sleeping on the couch in that RV van there - I
can throw him out and ya'll can stay there instead. Wouldn't charge ya
nothin'." We decided that the park across the street would be our best
option. He said we could use the bar bathroom if we needed it.
Note that the review on
Yelp for the Mina Club begins with, "Imagine walking into a place and
thinking. Wow, these people could stab me and sell me for meth and
spare car parts and no one would ever the wiser because I'm in the middle of
nowhere." Yeah, that's kinda how it feels to walk in.
With all that said, I want to add that, while all of the above is absolutely
true, while I was feeling rather intimidated by the scene before me, the
people of the Mina Club treated us with nothing but welcoming kindness. I'm
not sure that would have lasted had they seen my Obama 2012 sticker on my
KLR, true - but, regardless, I really did appreciate how they all treated
set up camp, and figured out the other building next to us was a substation
for the county sheriff. Which actually made me feel better. We sat out
on a picnic table we'd moved next to our tent, drank beer, watched cows
dodge across oh-so-busy Highway 95, watched a LOT of UPS trucks pass by (I
decided it was actually the same one just driving back and forth),
considered walking over to the Mina Club and playing pool, but ultimately
decided we'd try to get some sleep. It was HOT - we laid on top of our
sleeping bags for most of the night. I'm not sure I slept five full hours,
and I certainly didn't sleep one full hour without waking up - the semi
trucks weren't 10 meters from our heads. I should have put in earplugs, but
I did have a little worry of someone from the Mina Club walking over when
the club finally closed just to see what us out-of-towners might be up to.
Where did we pee? Behind the fire station (sorry, guys!).
Around 5 a.m., the truck traffic finally became sparse. At around 6:30 a.m.,
we both got up for good. I told Stefan we should forget cooking breakfast
and, instead treat ourselves to a restaurant breakfast - we'd camped for
free, barely gotten any sleep, we deserved it! While I was changing, I heard
a motorcycle nearby. I looked out of the tent and saw a couple on a BMW,
stopped on the side of 95, talking with Stefan. By the time I got over, the
woman had dismounted and was crossing the street to check out the Desert
Lobster Cafe. They were from Canada. The guy said they had camped in Mina
too - outside the whore house!
By the time we had packed up and were ready to head over to the Desert
Lobster, the Canadian couple had moved on. Stefan insisted on walking
into the restaurant through the large boat that doubles as the entrance.
So, what's the story behind the Desert Lobster Cafe? I did some online
research, and this is what I found: apparently, once upon a time, the owner
of the cafe, a lifelong Mina resident, decided to stop ranching cows and,
instead, raise Australian red claw crayfish - but he would call them desert
lobsters. He raised them in huge tanks with water in green houses, kept warm
from nearby hot springs. He garnered a LOT of press for his desert lobsters
and his restaurant, where he sold them. But he didn't research anything
related to permits or environmental impact. Government wildlife officials
worried his lobsters could find their way into Nevada’s water system and
wreak havoc on its wildlife, and needed detailed plans on how the owner
would prevent this from happening - apparently, he ignored the request. He
didn’t need a permit to raise his crustaceans, but people needed one to buy
them, or he needed a permit to sell the land crabs frozen (which required a
processing plant) or a permit to sell to restaurants. From what I've read
online, he ignored the law, or fought it, while he continued to sell the
desert lobsters on the side of the road. In 2003, government agents shut him
down, raiding his lobster ranch and pouring bleach on the desert lobsters
and removing them for disposal. The "lobster crossing" sign on his compound
on the side of the road remains - look for it if you come into town from the
South (heading North) or leave town heading South.
The cafe owner remains SUPER BITTER about the episode: his cafe has
anti-government propaganda all around inside. He also proudly wears an
anti-Obama hat, and has a lot of anti-Obama posters (and post-its) about.
I was worried what he might do if he saw the Obama 2012 sticker on my bike
- hoped we got our food first, and had finished eating, before that
We got our menus, and I almost fell off the chair when I saw that it
lists breakfast burritos and French toast under "foreign foods." Stefan
had bacon and eggs, and I had eggs and toast.
After breakfast, we left and Stefan road a bit out of town, to get a photo
of the Area 51 billboard, and then we headed back the way we came.
As we drove toward to Coaldale, I looked along the road at where we
possibly could have camped rough instead of Mina. The only place I think
we could have gotten away with it - meaning that we would have been far
from 95, hidden from passersby, and probably undisturbed - was the
historic sign that marks the former mining town of Candelaria. To get to
the historical marker, you have to drive a bit off of US Hwy 95. Maybe
there would have been a dirt road from there where we would have gotten
some privacy - or maybe not. We'll never know.
stopped again at Coaldale, which we decided would be a fantastic
location for a post-nuclear apocalypse film. The sky was clear now,
and we drove on towards Tonopah and saw a lot of puddles on the side of
the road. We came to Miller's
Rest Area, between Tonopah and Coaldale, where, apparently, you can
camp for free, and have access to water and flush toilets, which we didn't
have when we were in Mina. But given how many puddles we saw along the
way, as well as side roads closed because of high water, we decided that
we had made the right decision in camping in Mina. After fighting off a marauding
horde of angry pigeons, a guy from San Jose, California drove
up riding a new Triumph Tiger and wearing full rain gear. He'd been
rained on for hours since leaving Utah and driving across Nevada. We see a
lot of motorcycle travelers who are camping, like us, but we rarely get to
meet them - we pass each other and wave, but rarely stop at the same
place. It was great getting to talk to a fellow traveler. His experience
in the rain, plus the flash flooding signs we saw on side roads as we
headed to Tonapah, was further confirmation that we'd made the right
decision in not pushing on to Tonapah the night before. Also, given how
much time we'd saved in the morning by not cooking breakfast and having to
clean up afterwards, etc., we were not behind at all on our very loose
for Tonapah: if you are entering from the South, do NOT get gas at the
first gas station you see, on the edge of town; gas in the historic
downtown is WAY cheaper. I grooved on the 70s and 80s soundtrack in the
Burger King ("Joy to the World" had me dancing in my booth), we filled up
with gas, and then headed out of town on US Hwy 6 and 95 (same thing for a
while), then turned North on state road 376.
We discovered a lot about state maps on this part of the trip: they
really are no indication as to weather or not that place you are going
that's written in tiny, tiny fonts is a small town, or just a place name
where no one lives anymore. So many times, we would think we were coming
to a town, and get there and there would be NOTHING. But then we'd come to
a place like Kingston, Nevada, which we were absolutely convinced was just
a dot on the map, and there was a settlement there - maybe even a general
store, a campground, and a bed and
breakfast, if Google is to be believed - and that's not anything I
could have accessed on the road, since Tracfone got no signal out there.
road was oh-so-empty. I'm not sure I could enjoy Nevada riding day
after day - the roads are so straight, the landscape so empty - but after
the incredible amount of riding and touring stimulus the day before, that
Nevada emptiness was perfect. We got a few drops of rain from a storm
hanging out over the mountains, but that's it - still no need for rain
We dropped down into Austin, and I started looking for the ranger station
I remembered from 17 years ago. And it was gone! It's now a museum. So we
went to the city offices, in the historic county offices (Austin used to
be the county seat) - we needed to know what our camping options were.
Protip: parking is a CHALLENGE - Austin is very hilly, which is hard to
believe after that mostly flat ride. There are lots of brochures in the
lobby, but the chamber of commerce was closed, and none of the brochures
noted what camping was in the area. Stefan asked for advice from a woman
in the front office, but she had must moved from Seattle (and I think was
still going through severe cultural shock), so she sent him to the woman
down the hall, who worked in the water department, and she told us what
are options were down the road: (1) a primitive site called "Ravenswood"
about 23 miles out of town on State Road 305; (2) the rest stop between
here and Battle Mountain; and (3) any place along the road that wasn't
marked private property.
We filled up with gas, surrounded by Harley riders that had just finished
riding some of Highway 50, the "Loneliest Highway in the USA" - as usual,
none of them spoke to us. I've given up trying to initiate conversations.
Then we headed out on 305. The sign for "Ravenswood" is small and very
faded on the South side (we noticed all wooden signs on this road are very
faded on the South side, while the Northern sides - which you see if you
are heading South - are pristine). We turned off, and I stayed on the
highway side of the cattle guard while Stefan road off, over the hill, to
see what the camp site looked like. After a few minutes, he came back and
said, "It looks good. It's a cow pasture. But I think it's okay. If you
don't mind dead animals."
"Dead animals. There's just two. But they've been there for a really long
Um... Can you SEE them where we might set up a tent?
I love my husband. He's a matter-of-fact German. He told the truth. He
gave a very accurate description. And, therefore, could not understand why
I was laughing so hard I couldn't speak.
So... do you think we should camp there?
we road on to the camp site. The dirt/gravel road isn't too bad - somewhat
hilly, but not so twisty. It probably wasn't even a mile from the road to
the clearing where people camp. There haven't been cows there in many
months. Indeed, there was a dead animal - in two different places
- but it had been there for a very long time: there were no flies and no
smell. We think it might have been a fox, and our guess is that it was
killed by coyotes. We camped on the other side of the clearing, so that
small pile of fur just looked like a small bush in the distance.
The evidence that other people had camped there: tent stakes that were
stuck in the ground as though it was cement, and a beer bottle. Stefan was
determined to get at least one of those tent stakes out - and he was
successful. But he left the others for someone else to try to pull out
I mentioned earlier, we carry about four liters of drinkable water with us,
and with the ice in the cooler (we stop for ice and beer some time around 3
or later), we have plenty of water in primitive camping situations like this
for face washing, teeth brushing, dish washing for two meals and what not.
We put up the tent (difficult on that very hard ground - the tent stakes
didn't want to go in), and used our panniers (the ones
Stefan makes and sells) as our
table and chairs. State road 305 was far in the distance - not sure
they could even see us amid the brush in the distance. There were no houses,
no power lines - nothing. We watched a storm in the distance and various
clouds, worried that a storm was coming up, but it turned out to be going
away from us. We were giddy over the stars we were going to see that night.
cooked up a bit of supper, and we sat out looking at the sunset and emerging
stars. It was silent except for the occasional road traffic. SILENT. There
weren't even crickets! But then the silence would be broken now and again by
fighter jets. They were very hard to see - by the time you heard them, they
were already well beyond the sound in the sky. Night fell, and we got our
VERY starry night, complete with satellites and fighter jets. Stefan saw a
shooting star, but I never did. It really cooled off - we went from barely
wearing anything to wearing our warmest clothes, and me using my extra
sleeping sack in my sleeping bag. It got almost down to freezing during the
I went to bed at probably 9 p.m., and got one of the best nights of sleep on
the trip, except for that one moment when I woke up and was so cold my teeth
were chattering. But, then again, I was oh-so sleep deprived from the night
before, I'm surprised the cold woke me up. No question, it was the coldest
night of the entire trip - I had said yes to Stefan's idea of not putting
the rain fly on, and was deeply regretting it at that point - believe it or
not, it keeps the tent much warmer on nights like that. Had I not had that
extra sleep sack in my sleeping bag, I would have been much worse off. It
was silent except for the howling of distant coyotes at one point - I woke
up, heard them, and thought, wow, listen to those coyotes. And fell right
back asleep. But other than that moment of freezing, I got through the
night really well, and it felt great to get so much sleep. I think we slept
for 10 hours total, with a pee break or two in the night.
next morning, it was still cold. We sat around the camp site drinking
coffee, and I let Stefan take this photo of me as the anti-Paris Hilton. I'm
wearing about four shirts, my long underwear, and my Teva sandles. I don't
look it, but I felt amazing - so great to be so rested. Hard to believe
that, about an hour later, it turned so hot that we were walking around in
our underwear. I'm not kidding! We looked hilarious - we put our bike
clothes on the motorcycle and then packed everything up while wearing only
our underwear and motorcycle boots. Please tell me there are no satellite
photos anywhere. But it felt so comfortable! Needless to say, we did NOT do
this in Mina...
I couldn't figure out what day it was, so I started writing out a calendar
in my journal, and counting days, and when Stefan realized what I was doing,
he said, "why don't you just turn on your cell phone and check the date?"
I was nervous about getting out of the cow pasture - I hate pulling out of
anywhere and immediately having to make a sharp turn. So I cheated a bit,
making a huge, wide, turn in the pasture, much more than I needed to, so I
could pull up onto the dirt road going exactly the direction I wanted to go.
We had talked a bit about driving further down the dirt road, to get in a
bit of practice, but I was getting worried about time: we still had a lot we
wanted to do before we got home, and I wasn't sure we had an hour or two to
spare. I'd love to find a dirt road like that in Oregon to practice on:
not-at-all busy, relatively easy, hilly (but not TOO hilly) - it would teach
me so much.
We headed farther North on 305, stopping at the rest stop the Austin woman
had told us earlier we could camp at and being so happy we hadn't camped
there (much too close to the road). At some point on 305, the road turned
into a race course: every post on the side of the road was wrapped in bubble
wrap or tires. (NOTE: when we got home, I did some online searching and
found out there was a recumbent
time trials; cyclists from around the world raced "on what is arguably
the straightest, flattest, and smoothest road surface in the world. The
4,619ft /1,408m altitude road allows riders an acceleration zone of over 4
miles, enabling them to reach their maximum velocity before being timed over
a 200 meter distance. The section of the road used for this event was newly
refinished in 2009, with a smooth surface specially prepared for human
powered cycle." Sorry we missed it!).
We pulled into Battle Mountain and decided to stopped at a gas station to
hydrate, but not to eat - we wanted to push on to Winnemucca instead for
lunch. And to save a huge amount of time, we decided to take I-80 West for
about an hour. It was the first time we'd been on an interstate since the
first day of the trip. We avoid them like the plague - but sometimes, it
makes a huge difference in what great back roads and scenes we get to see
later if we'll take the interstate for a while - even half a day. With that
said - I was SO happy to get off it at Winnemucca! We had lunch at a local
joint - the Skillet - where I had some very delicious salmon patties over
spinach leaves, feta cheese, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, all in vinaigrette.
Yes, I was trying to eat healthy each time we stopped for lunch. But the
spinach leaves came back to haunt me... they aren't the best travel food...
We stopped for gas, and met some German girls at the gas station, going to
or coming from - where else? - Vegas.
We headed up US Hwy 95 north, then turned onto state road 140. The scenery
wasn't all that interesting, except
for some dunes the road went through, that Stefan stopped to get a
photo of and almost took a spill in. It was hot. Oppressively hot. There was
nothing fun about that part of the ride. I wasn't enjoying it. But there's
always a part of the ride that's this way - it can't be awesome all of the
time. Stefan had said earlier in the trip that he was worried I wasn't
drinking enough, so I was making a point of stopping in every town or rest
stop and drinking something, even if we'd stopped just 30 minutes before -
and trying to find shade every time we stopped (not easy).
Just before the border, you take 292 from 140, and as you cross into Oregon,
it becomes Oregon state road 205. I was stunned that there was no
welcome-to-Oregon sign. We stopped in Fields, Oregon for the world famous
milkshakes. They're good, and felt decadent on such a hot day, but in all
honesty, I've had better - they aren't the world's best. The place is a
diner, a gas station, a post office, a convenience store, a place to buy
hunting licenses and a hotel - and it's all for sale. The convenience store
is covered in photos of dead animals - very graphic photos, not for the
faint of heart. There were five guys from Intel in Portland there, on a road
trip, and I tried to network - I never pass up an opportunity to try to get
a consulting gig or job - but they were tight-lipped, and I gave up.
Stefan had two goals in mind for that day. One goal had been to have a
milkshake at Fields - done! The next was to camp in the Alvord Desert. I was
dreading camping rough yet again - I so yearned for running water and a
flush toilet. I was really needing it. But I knew how much it meant to him,
so I focused on being excited about seeing this very beautiful place.
10 miles of gravel to the Alvord Desert is as easy as a gravel road can be:
it's very wide, enough for four cars side-by-side, and on the day we did it,
it was at that perfect stage where a lot of people had driven over it just
after new gravel had been put down, which meant there were plenty of car
tracks to follow, and there were few potholes or places with deep gravel. I
got up over 25 MPH most of the time - my goal is to average 30. Then we came
to the dirt road that goes down to the desert floor, and I balked. It was
the hardest little road I had ever seen: dirt and gravel, very steep
incline, massive pot holes, ruts that made one tire track a half meter hire
than the other, and no shoulder - and several places where there was a big
drop off. I went down half way, heart in my mouth, and got to a place where
I could stop. I stared down the rest of the road and thought, I CANNOT DO
And then I did it.
Leave it to Stefan to tell me, in my moment of triumph, how I'd done it
wrong. IMO, the fact that I did it and didn't fall means I DID IT RIGHT.
There were three other groups of campers, all in RVs, including a group of
landboat sailors. Stefan wanted to camp out in the very middle of the
desert. I refused. I wanted to be near the shore, for some privacy. I also
had this image of us getting run over by a land sailboat. So we
drove to the right and found a place where were could retreat into
nearby shrubs when needed. As we were setting up our camp, an
airplane landed in the middle of the desert! It was a little plane,
and at first I thought it was a toy. It was another reason I was glad we
didn't camp in the middle of the desert! Just one more camper showed up -
people camping in the official car of Oregon, a Suburu Outback. They camped
far away from us - everyone
had quite a bit of privacy, which was really nice.
was time to wash underwear again. And, once again, we used our
panniers as a table and chairs. It was wonderfully quiet, though not as
quiet as the cow pasture in Nevada the night before, and once night fell,
the stars were lovely. It wasn't as chilly as other nights, though it did
cool down enough to have to put on a sweat shirt - but there was this
freakish warm breeze that would come in every now and again from the desert.
Weird. But the weirdest thing of all: I'd had no phone service on most of
this trip, including in several small towns, such as Bridgeport, California
(thanks, Tracfone!), yet, I had service in the Alvord Desert, and was able
to send and receive texts. WTH?!?
We walked out into the desert, enjoying the quiet and the sky. At one point,
we saw movement over our head, and looked up to see a white owl, swooping
down and trying to hover over us. He or she was checking us out, and maybe
even thought he or she could pick one of us up, before getting a good look
at us and realizing we're big, fat humans! The owl finally flew away in a
It was a great night of sleep yet again - 10 hours! I felt totally
comfortable all night, and slept soundly. Yes, I LOVE a good night's
sleep. I'm passionate about getting such - the amount of sleep I get hugely
affects my mood, my outlook, my reasoning abilities, my headaches (I get bad
ones if I don't get enough sleep), everything. I think lack of sleep is why
so many people in the USA are so angry, paranoid and easily frustrated, I
think it's why kids can't concentrate in school anymore, it's why the kids
next door scream ALL THE TIME, it's why so many people get sick... EVERYONE,
PLEASE, TAKE A NAP.
was the third time on the trip that we had camped completely rough - and by
that I mean that, once again, did we not have a water source other than what
we brought, we didn't even have a pit toilet. On such occasions, we dig out
his and hers holes with Stefan's hatchet (we don't bring a shovel). I do
just fine without running water and just a national forest pit toilet, but I
really don't like camping THIS rough. But I'll do it for a really worthwhile
location, and the Alvord Desert is, indeed, such a worthwhile place.
It was heating up, and we were feeling skanky from lack of a shower. So,
since there was no one around, we walked around almost nekkid. Yes, we did.
And no, there are no pictures. God, please don't let there be any photos. As
we did in Nevada, we took our motorcycle clothes out of tent and draped them
over the bikes, then packed everything up. The LAST thing we did was put on
our bike clothes, in an effort to stay cool. It worked.
We road out into the desert, taking
several photos and enjoying
the incredible scenery of the desert. It's amazing how few Oregonians
even know this
desert exists. Fall is a wonderful time to visit it. Only issue is
that, every few years, there IS water in it. Not this year, but it DOES
Why wasn't Star Wars shot here? It's a great location for a movie!
It was time to go
back up the scary road. And, again, I did it - not exactly the way
Stefan told me to do it, but I DID IT. All I was hoping, in addition to not
falling, was that no traffic was coming on the gravel road when I got up to
it - because if it's one thing I had learned on this trip, it was I am no
good stopping on a hill, then having to go up onto a road from a complete
stop and make an immediate sharp turn. Luckily, there wasn't any traffic,
and I didn't have to stop at all.
continued on the gravel road for about a quarter of a mile, and stopped, so
I could get some photos of the
awesome Stefan Dietz bein' all OffRoady.
As we drove back to Fields for breakfast, we
saw a LOT of antelope near the road. It looked like Africa!
at Fields again for gas and for breakfast. The owner was gracious
enough to make breakfast food for us, even though it was 11:30 - we were
oh-so-grateful. She told us that, indeed, as the sign says, the gas station,
convenience store, post office and small hotel are all for sale. It's a
place that stays busy, but to buy it would mean you and your family working
there, and there's a lot to be done: it needs a lot of cleanup (one of the
rooms is packed with stuff and can't be rented, which loses money every time
they are full), and they still don't have public flush toilets (which is
really shameful). You also have to put up with a
lot of anti-government wackos - Eastern Oregon is full of people who
believe all sorts of weird things and think you're a communist if you don't
too. I'm not sure anyone but a right winger would be welcomed by the locals
as owners of the place.
There was a site on Stefan's map that said "Diamond Craters Outstanding
Natural Area," and we immediately knew we had to head there. After a very
serious 17% grade drop (still not as steep as our driveway in Sinzig), we
stopped at French Glen. It's a historic hotel that's managed by the
Oregon State Parks agency, and I fell in love with it. The people working
there invited me to go upstairs and look at some of the empty rooms. I
so wanted to stay there! But we needed to push on, and I think they
were booked for the evening already. But I definitely want to go back just
to stay there. It's just so beautiful! While there, we met a guy who is on ADV
Rider, a forum for adventure motorcycle riders. He was up from
Oakland, California, on his way to Idaho.
Craters Outstanding Natural Area" is managed by the BLM and is made up
mostly of lava craters, and other than ancient rock circles and cairns,
there's just no better way to get our attention! We turned onto the road for
the area, and I saw something in the distance. Stefan was leading, because I
had been confused about where all the turnoffs were, and I honked so he
would stop. I realized that I had seen what was up ahead, but he hadn't. So
I said, "Schatz, get your camera out, because that there up ahead is a Wall
I was right. It
was a herd of cows coming right at us. The three cowboys and two dogs
moving this crowd along were remarkable. It was amazing to behold. Once we
finally got through the cow herd, we did find three cows together on the
side of the road - we dubbed them Rebel Cows. Of course, this isn't the
first time we've encountered cows on the road - we've encountered them in
Romania and Montana, to name but two other places. Later, however, Stefan
would remark, "We rode in a lot of cow shit on this trip. Even
in Romania, there was less cow shit." He's right.
The craters and lava beds were nice, and if you are in the area, its a site
worth visiting (and
there are even some dirt roads!) - but after Craters
of the Moon, I think all other lava beds are ruined for us. We pushed
on to the Round Barn
Visitor Center, and were really impressed: it has an AMAZING
bookstore, in terms of volume and diversity. I was expecting books only
about how great cowboys are, but there was a lot of books about Native
Americans, about women pioneers, even cookbooks! And the purses are adorable
- I so wanted one! We skipped the actual round barn, however...
Once again, here came the anti-government rhetoric from yet another old,
angry white guy. The mentality that the Government Is Against Us permeates
Eastern Oregon. The comments start for any reason. I had one guy start in on
anti-government rhetoric when I commented how nice National Forest pit
toilets are now, compared to 20 years ago. Mention forest fires? Get ready horrific
comments about the POTUS. Like national parks or national forests? Too
bad - time to turn your compliments into a rant about the government and
"entitlements." It just got SO OLD. I was doing everything I could to avoid
all talk about politics, but in Eastern Oregon, absolutely everything is
political - and far, far to the right. Even the weather! I kept waiting for
someone to hear Stefan was German and say, "We don't need your SOCIALISM!!"
In Burns, we stopped for gas, and asked the attendant about camping in the
area. He had no idea. It was getting super late. Stefan decided to head into
Ochoco National Forest, because there are always camp grounds in national
forests. But we couldn't find the road! Neither Stefan's GPS nor our state
map had the road name. The nearest BLM office on Highway 20 going West was
closed (NOTE: All BLM and Forest Service offices should have a bulletin
board outside that shows a map of public camp sites in the area). Somehow,
we figured out that the road was the Hines Logging Road in Hines. It's a
good road, but the sun was setting right in our eyes. I had to hold up my
hand sometimes to block the sun so I could see the road. I was so happy when
the sun finally set! The road got even prettier as far as the surrounding
scenery, with all sorts of massive boulders that, had we been in Europe, I
would have said were standing stones. But we had to be on our guard: we saw
horse poop, and then horses, entirely free range. We saw cows beside and on
the road, some of which would run if you honked, and some of which would
just stand there and stare. And there were a LOT of antelope and deer. At
one point, we reached a cattle guard that had "No trespassing" on it, and I
thought, dang, how do we get to the National Forest? We took it anyway,
coming to another cattle guard eventually and sign aimed at the other
direction. Dude, you didn't build that road!
When we finally saw the sign welcoming us to Malheur National Forest, I
could not have been happier - it meant that, eventually, we WOULD be coming
to camp grounds! The road had become National Forest Road 47, and we had
seen no traffic whatsoever since getting on the logging road. There was a
sign for Yellowjacket Lake Campground, and we made the turn off - and were
surprised to see two trucks passing us the other way. Eventually, we came
around a curve, and there
was a big encampment of RVs and teepees. We both thought the same
thing: tonight is going to be crowded. Luckily, that wasn't the campground -
it was on the other side of the lake. Given the teepees and the way some
people were dressed, this
was some kind of reenactor group, rather than a Powwow. Once we
reached the campground, it was too dark, and we were too tired, to schlep
over and see what was what.
The campground was almost empty - there was just one other campsite occupied
when we got there, and another family of campers showed up later. That's it.
We had our choice of most any campsite, so
we went with one near the pit toilet (no worries about people walking
through our site on the way there or back, something that REALLY annoys me).
I read the information board carefully and saw that there was NOT a campfire
ban at the Yellowjacket campground. I read it out loud to myself to make
sure I was reading it right. The long-gone camp host had left a lot of
firewood (thanks!), so I walked back and told Stefan. I actually got a
raised eyebrow in response, which means "OH MY GOD I'M SO EXCITED." Stefan
got his long-awaited campfire.
Yet again, there was no running water - at least that I could find. But
there was a pit toilet, a really nice pit toilet, and I was happy. Pit
toilets have changed SO MUCH in the last 20 years: they are huge inside, and
because of their design and maintenance, they rarely stink, so long as
everyone keeps the lid down after use and always keeps the door closed.
Without signs inside, telling people to please keep the lid closed and the
door closed, people don't understand this - and an open door and open lid
means stink and flies.
I thought about how lucky we had been with the weather on the entire trip.
We'd been rained on - really rained on - just once, our first day in Nevada,
and we'd been able to drive away and avoid that. We hadn't had to put on our
rain suits even once. That is AMAZING. I would have so hated to do so,
mostly because, with so few showers on this trip, I felt *disgusting*;
putting on a rain suit would have made me even more smelly.
I slept more comfortably and soundly that night, more than I had on any
other night - and I had had some really good nights already! This one was
the best. It got cold, but not too cold. And I only woke up once - to the
sound of yapping coyotes VERY close to our tent! I think our moving in our
sleeping bags scared them away. No reason to be scared of coyotes or wolves
- it's the mountain lions I'm scared of...
The next day, we met some of our fellow campers. I got my dog fix (I'm
always so happy when
other campers have dogs!). One of our fellow campers was the former
camp host. Very nice people - they used to live in Canby! But when the
anti-government comments started, I said it was time for us to pack up, nice
meeting you, bye.
We had one more night out. I wanted to be close enough to home to know that
we would get back to Canby by 7 p.m. Saturday night at the absolute latest,
but not so close that we would get home at, say, noon. We headed back to
National Forest Road 47, which became Izee Officer Ranch Road, which became
Izee-Paulina Lane, which became lots of other things, including the SE
Paulina Hwy/380... whatever it was, it was a terrific road! Even though,
just before you leave the National Forest, about
10 miles of gravel shows up. Ta da! It was easy - yes, I said easy. It
was well packed down, not many curves, and wide enough so that the one truck
that came our way on the road had plenty of room to avoid me. There was some
very thick gravel right at the end, but since I could see the pavement on
the other side, I breezed right over. We again found
a dead animal that was not road kill - our third of the trip.
We passed some incredibly huge and lovely ranches, and then got to Paulina.
It is a tiny town that you have to turn off the road a bit to get to, but there
is a convenience store (though incredibly sparsely-stocked when we
visited) and a bar. We stopped to hydrate and get a snack, and I did a
little work by dropping in on the Crook
County Mobile Computer Lab and getting a briefing on what it was, why
it was there, etc. I've
worked in digital divide efforts in other countries and the
USA since the 1990s, and I always love to find out efforts are still
being made to help people to be more "digitally literate." Back in the
store, I finally found out some details about the death of the overseas
ambassador - as I suspected all along, it was NOT Lebanon, as wacko
rightwing nutjob kept saying - it was Libya. Big difference. But as she had
Fox News on in the bar, I knew I'd hate to wait until we got back home to
find out the truth about the events.
We headed back out on state road 380, passing a restaurant on the way that
looked really enticing, but I was determined to reach Prineville for lunch.
And we did - and we had Stefan's favorite lunch: pizza. I also got to tweet
a bit about our trip so far - sorry, followers, to be silent so often! Here
was my tweet:
Now in Prineville, eating pizza, playing powerball. If we win, we'll
still go camping. @coyotetrips
Stefan was determined that we would go over McKenzie Pass. I was really
tired of all day rides where we were doing 200 miles or more a day, and said
that I wanted an out clause: if we got to Sisters, and I couldn't do the
pass that day and said so, he'd accept that.
into Sisters, we realized that huge rain cloud we were seeing was actually a
massive smoke cloud. It was the Pole Creek Fire. The entire town of
Sisters was under that cloud. My asthma didn't kick in - the cloud was way
high. We got gas, which is always a challenge, because making a left turn
back onto 20? Forgetaboutit. We somehow did it, heading over to the Forest
Ranger station to read the fire board. McKenzie Pass was open, and off we
went. As we headed west on 242, there were firefighters sitting on most of
the roads to the left, to turn anyone back. The climb was way more
challenging than I was expecting - it is a VERY winding road, and it is VERY
narrow - not Ebbetts Pass narrow, but still, narrow. We stopped near the top
of the pass, at the first scenic pull off, Windy Point, which is really,
really windy, and though this
is a fantastic photo of me, I actually wasn't happy. I was tired. I
was challenged. I felt like the wind was going to blow me over. My riding
skills after 4 p.m. just aren't like they are at 10 a.m., and we were REALLY
close to that time. I guess the best way to sum it up is like this: before 1
p.m., I love the ride, no matter what. Around 4, the ride is still good, but
it takes a LOT more work and concentration, to the point that it often feels
more like work than fun.
We reached the
top of McKenzie Pass, and I was ready for a long break. The
Pole Creek fire was on full display. It was mesmerizing. As Stefan
pointed out, if it came our way, no problem - the lava beds would stop it.
Still, I didn't want the smoke. Funny moment was when a guy mistook me for a
firefighter. I was wearing a Hoehr-Grenzhausen firefighter t-shirt, and it
had a small fire-like graphic on it, and that, with my reflective striping
on my pants and my naturally commanding kick-ass nature and incredible upper
body strength... yeah, I'm sooooo like a firefighter (not).
famous observatory at the top is made of lava stone and has viewing
window tubes cut to view specific Cascade peaks - and on the top it provides
a panoramic view of the Cascade Mountain Range. The observatory was built
during the Great Depression by my beloved Civilian
Conservation Corps and named for the construction crew’s foreman who
had died the previous year after serving 24 years as a Forest Service
Packer. I love you, CCC!!! What a legacy!
We started back down the pass, and Stefan took the lead, because he wanted
to go much faster around the curves than Ms.-Speed-Limit was going
to go. It was a lovely, lovely ride, I'm so glad I did it, but I would love
to do it earlier in the day, and not on a weekend (less traffic). Stefan was
waiting for me near the bottom of the mountain, and I pulled up behind him
to wait while he finished his cigarette. How slow of a rider am I? I passed
a guy getting on a bicycle near the top of the pass, and as I sat there with
Stefan, for just about two minutes, here he came behind me. I almost got
lapped by a freakin' BICYCLIST. Dammit.
The campgrounds at the bottom McKenzie Pass were all open, and we probably
should have camped in the very last one - we probably would have had the
entire campground to ourselves. But I thought we would be coming to more out
on 126. We were both so ready to stop, but it was several miles before we
finally came to
the Olallie campground, in the Willamette National Forest. We had camped
there before, in the upper loop - which is super loud, right next to the
highway. This time, there was a place in the lower loop, right next to the
river, and to me, that sounded divine. And it was. There are only six or
seven sites on the lower loop, and we
ended in one that is surrounded on three sides of thick brush, and is
right on the river. Oh, I was in heaven. It was warm enough that, once
again, we didn't need the rain fly on the tent, but cool enough for warm
clothes. It was just the last night I wanted: a great ending to the trip, so
much so that I didn't want it to end, except that I was missing my dog Albi
so very, very much.
In the morning, I
used the campsite water pump to fill our water bottle. It's NOT easy.
I felt like I was channeling my Mamaw.
We headed home, turning off in Detroit through the not-so-scenic Mt. Hood
National Forest, state road 224/National Forest Road 24. Sorry, but the
amount of trash on the road and number of people actually living in the
forest, not just vacationing there, makes it a little scary to me in places.
Great road though - great turns, lots of fun. We stopped for a break at an
intersection, and as we stood there talking, a small truck on the other road
slammed on its breaks, and came very close to careening out of control. He
got control of his car and was able to make the left turn, and he stopped
right next to us. He was a total stoner. "Hey, wow, totally zoned out to
tunes and almost missed the road!" And he sped off. I know, I should be
amused, but I was ticked off. Had we been on the road, traveling in the
opposite direction, he might have hit us. Sometimes, I really, really hate
We decided we'd have lunch in Estacada. We got into town, made the first
right, and saw that there was a big
event going on at the local fire house. Stefan's eyes dilated, so we
parked across the street. It turned out to be their annual open house. It's
focused on kids, but Stefan is so hungry to be a volunteer firefighter
again, and will take any opportunity to go into a fire station. And the
Estacada firefighters could NOT have been more welcoming - in such contrast
to Canby. One guy talked to us at length, showing exactly how they get into
their bagged firefighter gear (the bags help them to be able to store it on
shelves, saving room), and talking about the culture of the firehouse -
about how they are always looking for new ideas to try, and will adopt a
better way of doing things if it truly is better. He was proud to be a
volunteer for more than a decade. I wanted to cry, I really did. Stefan
wants to be a volunteer firefighter again SO BADLY. We're moving to Forest
Grove partly in hopes he will get to do that again, since the Canby
firefighters obviously doesn't want him. I'll never forgive myself for
causing Stefan to give up something he loves SO MUCH by moving to the USA.
We chowed on burgers at the open house, looked at the displays, and at last,
it was time to really, truly, head home. We got home at 5, way earlier than
I was expecting, and I was delighted, as was Albi.
Note: we didn't buy a National
Park access pass (explains why - and explains when you SHOULD buy
This trip was a big turning point for me as far as motorcycle riding and
travel: I feel more comfortable on the KLR than I ever have before, maybe as
comfortable as I was on the Nighthawk, maybe even more comfortable;
and as of this trip, I've ridden more than 100 miles of gravel, and on a
mostly flat, well packed gravel road, I can average 25 mph.
If you subscribed
to my Twitter feed or liked
me on Facebook (different from friending), you already got short
updates from the road for this trip - and will get such for future trips.
about our other trips in 2012, and upcoming trips, here.
Tips for Women: Getting Started as a
Motorcycle Rider (just to ride, not necessarily to travel as well)
Return to the broads abroad home page
For Women Who Travel By Motorcycle
(or want to)
Advice for Women
Motorcycle Travelers: Packing
Advice for Women Motorcycle
Travelers: Transportation and Accommodations Choices
Advice for Women Motorcycle
Travelers: Suggested Books and Web Sites
From Oregon to the "Lost Coast" of
Northern California (Horizons Unlimited 2010 California meeting) -
Oh, Canada...Two-Week Canada/USA Tour by
Motorcycles (Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta,
Montana, Idaho) - September 2010
Oregon, Idaho, Yellowstone, &
More, June 2011
Lake, Oregon 2011 (photos only)
camping trip in Eastern Oregon, May 2012 - through Sweet Home,
Sisters, Antelope, Shaniko, Fossil, Condon, Heppner, Ukiah, and back -
all in Oregon.
Pinchot National Forest / Southern Washington State, July 2012:
322 miles around Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens, and practice on gravel
RIDER! Rally in The Gorge, August 2012, along the Columbia River
between Portland and Goldendale in Stevenson, WA.
Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use
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