Explore some of the best Central Oregon outback that there is! The rolling Baldwin Hills. The majestic basalt cliffs. The historic Hay Creek Ranch. The ghost town of Ashwood. And the Polka Dot agate mine.
This ride is demanding with constant up/down terrain. Gravel Girl calls it “a solid intermediate ride, with no easy parts.”
Best ridden late Spring through Fall. Be careful, this route can be muddy on the dirt / gravel road into Ashwood. This is not a wintertime route, nor a route to do after it rains. You need dry conditions. In the spring the flowers are in bloom, the grass is green, and the young calves are wandering the fields. But … fall is not bad also! (See the pictures.)
At the intersection of US Highway 97 and NW Pony Butte Road. Look for the road maker to “Ashwood” and the red barn on the west side of the road. There is a dirt parking lot on the east side of the highway. About 15 miles northeast of Madras.
Lat / Long: 44.780166, -120.965655
The ride has 3 unique parts. The first third of the ride is the warmup – 5 miles of flat, then four “punchy”, short 100 to 300-foot climbs with gradients up to 10 % over the next 6 miles. The second third of the ride has longer climbs, 500 to 1000 feet, with gradients varying between 5 to 8 percent. The longest climb occurs as you leave Ashwood, 850 feet in 2.5 miles. The last third of the ride is mostly descending (through a really cool canyon!) but with a few “punchy” uphills that will keep you honest.
The roads are clay-based, hard-packed, and for the most part, fast rolling. There are several short sections of chunk. The descent into Ashwood can be rutted in the spring. It is a technically demanding 3-mile descent with pitches in excess of 10% and an average gradient of 7%.
The first time the Dirty Freehub gang did this ride on a Saturday, we did not see a car until mile 26. Total number of cars, maybe 5 to 10.
The terrain is rolling bald hills with scattered juniper and sage. Basalt cliffs. Painted hills. Ranchlands. Views of the Cascade Mountains, including Mt Jefferson and Mt Hood.
Across from the start there is a red barn and other buildings. They are part of the R2 Ranch complex. The ranch is 47 miles long and, in some places, 22 miles wide. The ranch is built around more than 4,000 acres of irrigated land, 81,000 acres of rangeland with 150 improved springs and 7 year around creeks and ponds, and a 35-acre lake.The ranch carries historical significance. The Cross Keys post office was established on July 8, 1879. at the mouth of Cow Canyon and the bank of Trout Creek (just north on Highway 97 at the beginning of the grade). It was also a stage and freight station in the early days.[R2 Ranch]
The Columbia River Basalt Group (map view) is the youngest, smallest and one of the best-preserved continental flood basalt provinces on Earth, covering over 81,000 sq miles, mainly in eastern Oregon and Washington, western Idaho, and part of northern Nevada. Basalt exposed on the vertical walls of canyons, coulees, and buttes is visible as a closely-packed array of rock fence posts [or palisades]. These columns formed when the lava cooled and crystallized into basalt rock. When lava cools, it shrinks. This created vertical polygons, usually five-sided, and separated from their neighbors by cracks. [Wikepedia, HugeFloods.com]
Juniper tree encroachment erodes the health of rangelands by reducing the amount of water available, diminishing soil health, and crowding out native perennial plants that feed wildlife and cattle. As trees become dense, they also fuel hotter and more severe wildfires. Learn more about how Juniper tree reduction programs restore range health and animal habitat.
Hay Creek Ranch and its headquarters will be to your right. For over a century, Hay Creek Ranch has been one of the largest ranch holdings in Oregon and has played a prominent role in the history of central Oregon. The ranch was established in 1873 as the Baldwin Sheep and Land Company. The Dalles-Prineville freight and stagecoach lines ran through the ranch headquarters until about 1912. [Oregon Encyclopedia]
The Ashwood area (originally named Ash Butte) was first used by the Native American Sahaptin and Northern Paiute people. After the Sahaptin were forced to move to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in the 1850s and the Northern Paiute were defeated in the 1870s, settlers moved into the area to raise cattle and sheep. Sheep ranching became an important local industry by 1900 because of the availability of the railroad in nearby Shaniko that facilitated the shipping of wool. Ashwood became a gold- and silver-mining boomtown in the 1910s. However, the minerals soon began to play out, and local residents turned back to ranching and agriculture as the mainstays of their economy.[Wikipedia]
Here you will find beautiful canyon rim thundereggs and polka dot agates. The polka dot agate is a semitransparent to semitranslucent agate with suspended round “dots” of contrasting colors with an orbital flat shape. A thunderegg is a nodule-like rock that is formed within volcanic ash layers. Thundereggs usually look like ordinary rocks on the outside, but slicing them in half and polishing them may reveal intricate patterns and colors.
Be aware that the outdoor water hydrants in the Ashwood area are not safe to drink from. Use the self-service store at the old post office to refuel.
We recommend a red blinky light with a rear-looking radar detector, like a Garmin Varia, for the paved sector.
There is one bailout point at ~ mile 26. Go left on Wilson Creek Road (gravel). Totals for route: 39 miles, 3400 feet of gain.