Explore some of the best outback in Central Oregon! You will see so much on this ride. You’ll pedal through the Crooked River National Grasslands, the only national grasslands in the Pacific Northwest. You’ll cycle past majestic cliffs, some of basalt and others painted an array of colors. You’ll ride through the gorgeous Baldwin Hills, location of the historic Hay Creek Ranch. You’ll get to visit the Polka Dot Agate Mine, too, where you might stumble across some beautiful polka dot agates and canyon rim thundereggs, Oregon’s state rock. All the while, you’ll have glorious views of the Cascade Mountains, including Mt Jefferson and Mt Hood.
The closest you’ll come to civilization is the ghost town of Ashwood.
Ashwood, Oregon is recognized as an early 1900s mining boom town, but it seems that most of the brief history of this town is exaggerated or untrue…Newspaper articles and historical photos indicate that if Ashwood had a boom period, it was in 1901 and 1902, apparently coinciding with expansion of the mining operations at the Oregon King…This “boom” was likely short-lived and speculative, however, as the Oregon King Mine was shut down from 1901 to 1903 because of litigation over the title to the mine property. During the short interval the mine actually operated from late 1903 to 1904, it was reported that the rich ore was thinning out…Evidence suggests that Ashwood was nothing more than the site of a small and brief excitement during 1901-1902, and that the town never amounted to much. A 1905 article mentions the newspaper “Ashwood Prospector,” but claims it is printed in the nearby town of Antelope. Another article in 1911 stated that Ashwood’s boom years were long over and that it was “barely on the map.” [Western Mining History]
There are some real, live folks who live in the area. These folks have created a little store of sorts at the old post office that offers an assortment of snacks for cyclists who pass through. They have also set up a picnic and tenting spot with pit toilets. How cool is that? No one operates the store; it is self-help (i.e. on the honor system). In the spirit of Ashwood’s spectral image, feel free to imagine that the proprietor is indeed a ghost. To thank the ghost for his kindness, consider leaving an extra donation in the collection box.
This ride is demanding, with constant up/down terrain of bald, rolling hills scattered with juniper and sage. Gravel Girl considers this to be “a solid intermediate ride, with no easy parts.” Know that if needed, there is a bailout option a little over halfway into the ride that will shave off 5 miles and 900 feet of climbing.
This route is best ridden late Spring through Fall. Be careful, as the 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 shabby either!
The start is about 15 miles northeast of Madras. At the intersection of US Highway 97 and NW Pony Butte Road, look for the road maker to “Ashwood.” On the west side of this road, there is a red barn. Park in the dirt parking lot on the east side of the highway. There are no permits or parking fees.
Lat / Long: 44.780166, -120.965655
This ride has three unique parts. The first third of the ride is the warmup — 5 miles of flat and four short, “punchy” 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 in height with gradients varying between 5 to 8 percent. The longest climb, 850 feet in 2.5 miles, occurs as you leave Ashwood. The last third of the ride is mostly descending (through a really cool canyon!) 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%.
On the weekends, traffic is minimal. You may not see a car for half the ride, and even then, you’d likely be able to count all the cars on both hands.
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). The ranch was also a stage and freight station in the early days. [R2 Ranch]
Homesteaders first settled the area in the 1880s, constructing more than 700 homes. By the 1930s, insufficient rainfall and unfavorable economic conditions led to farm failures and land abandonment. By 1935, about 35% of the homesteads were foreclosed upon by federal and private mortgage banks. The government repurchased the land from the remaining homesteaders. The Crooked River National Grassland was created by Congress in 1960 to improve range management and the forage resource. The grasslands, which cover 173,629 acres, include two National Wild and Scenic Rivers: the Deschutes and the Crooked. There are 20 national grasslands across the country, but Crooked River National Grassland is the only national grassland in the Pacific Northwest. [Ochoco National Forest]
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 the lava cooled, it shrank. This created vertical polygons, usually five-sided, that 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 polka dot agates and canyon rim thundereggs. 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. To shorten the route, turn left on Wilson Creek Road, which is gravel. Here is the GPX file for the bailout route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/42439025/.
The totals for the bailout route: 39 miles, 3400 feet of gain. Note that the bailout route does not go through Ashwood.
Have you ridden this route? Got a question? Join the discussion!