Over the Memorial Day Weekend, I had an opportunity to head down to Pendleton for the tenth annual Century Ride of the Centuries (aka “CROC”). This was my seventh visit in eight years — having skipped last year’s — and especially anticipated because the Bar M Ranch was reopened as a camping option.
After checking in at Hamley’s, I headed over to the Wildhorse Casino, CROC’s flagship sponsor, where we could set up tents in the field behind the RV park. Setting up my tent the first time each season is always an adventure, but after some creative pole tricks, It Was Done. While basking in my tent setting-up success, I went through the bag o’ information they offered us and decided that I’d forgo Day 1’s Despain Gulch route for the opportunity to head south and see the John Day Fossil Beds “Sheep Rock” unit. JDFB:SRU is really off the beaten track, but this is as close as I was going to get in the foreseeable future.
So the next morning, I got up at sunrise and drove and drove and drove, picking up most of the geocaches along the way. Eastern Oregon’s rolling hills are gorgeous in the morning.
The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center offers a variety of interesting interpretive material, including an awesome driving tour. For the first stop, I headed south to an earthcache at the Mascall Tuff:
What is arid, sagebrush steppe now was, 15 million years ago (mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum), a lush, wet area with swamps and hardwood forests. Looking to the north, I could see partly through Picture Gorge:
Each layer of the gorge is caused by a lava flow – and these are spaced apart roughly 8,000 years. The spot where the road goes through is about 1,000′ high and carved out (mostly) by the river.
The driving tour heads north from the center and calls out items every half mile or so. It’s a lot of fun, but because the mileage is relative to the previous waypoint – and the waypoints are close – it’s easy to blow past one and get confused. After pulling over several times to snap photos of various rocks, I just did so when there was a place to get out and hike. The first, lengthy hike was in the Blue Basin area. The parking lot was packed, but I managed to squeeze my geowagon into a 3/4-sized slot.
The colors are eerie. (I think the dark reddish rocks are basalt, blueish claystone, light pink ignimbrite.) Pools of water oozing down have a turquoise sheen. I overheard a ranger saying the summer temperatures inside the bowl are ~15 degrees warmer than the outside. Today, though, it was cool and very breezy.
Further north is the Foree Area, with a couple of loop trails with overlooks. This hiking area was much further off the main highway and had no other visitors while I was there. At the end of the trail was a bench to allow one to take in the scenery.
I continued up the winding road, occasionally stopping to take in the scenery, but glad I made the trip out. Mini-bucket list item: checked off.
For the day, I drove about 300 miles and picked up ~20 geocaches along the way. I would love it if Cycle Oregon (or any other organized ride) had a route along this area as that would be an awesome way to savor the views.
Back at camp, I was really looking forward to CROC’s second day climbing up Cabbage Hill. This year’s route was similar to the first year of CRoC in that we’d end up at Bar M Ranch for an overnight camp before heading back the next day to climb up Thorn Hollow Drive.
One advantage of the early start is I don’t have as many people calling me “On Your Left.” I was very slow going up the first and second halves of the hill – not unexpected considering how long I’ve been off the bike. The views… look, a field of foxgloves!
At the Deadman’s Pass rest stop, the CROC team was in character with their “White Trash” theme. The funniest this guy:
He was very in character, challenging people to speed tests on the stationary bike. After the unwitting victim tried to maintain more than 25mph, he would pedal backwards so the speedometer registered 40mph. Best of all was his simulated motivation of reaching for the Twinkie and beer on the stick ahead of the bike.
After topping off my water, I enjoyed the plunge downhill. In previous years, I had photos of sitting on the bike, doing 30mph on the straightaway. At the bottom, there’s a right turn to the slow climb back up to the Bar M Ranch, stop for the night.
As one of the early arrivals (only because I started early, not because of speed), I got my pick of camping spots near the water. White noise is a great sleeping aid! The ranch staff kept us well-fed.
The CRoC folks did another bang-up job for their 10th anniversary ride. I look forward to visiting again next year.