A desolate expanse of pale alkali lake-bed is an unlikely place to order burgers. But there we were, six hungry cyclists on a gravel road on the Alvord Desert, no one else in sight, passing a cell phone from one cyclist to the next.
Stopped on this road with barren peaks soaring alongside us, our minds were in a good place. We had nearly completed the second day of our five-day cycling journey around Steens Mountain. Now we had less than ten miles to go to reach Fields Station, a lonely outpost offering supplies.
With few reliable water sources, our mostly gravel route had passed the Andrews School House, where John Simpkins, the only resident in Andrews, had welcomed us and allowed us to fill our water bottles. John had converted the schoolhouse into an art studio, and it was his advice – If they say they stop taking orders by 3:30, then expect just that – that had us putting in our order before the Fields Station grill closed.
It’s the rugged terrain, he said, The rugged terrain changes people.
The Loop Road road tends to be open mid June through October. Confirm by calling the Burns District Office 541-573-4400. If you want to experience snow on the mountain, go early. If you want to avoid the mosquitoes in the wetlands, go after August. In all cases be prepared for large temperature changes in excess of 20 degrees F.
Drive to Crystal Crane Hot Springs.
Lat / Long: 43.439039, -118.639452
Ridden and Reviewed by: BenG / Team Dirty Freehub
Drive to Crystal Crane Hot Springs. Each tent location has access to the beautiful high desert views and individual fire pit. Showers, restroom, camp kitchen, and commons area just a short walk away.
A shorter day with the opportunity for all bike packers to adjust and tune their gear.
Pavement ends at mile 4 and picks back up again at mile 45. Expect amazing views. To the east is the Alvord Desert, used by wind-driven sail car enthusiasts. Pass Alvord Hot Springs (mile 35, $5 for gallon of water, $8 to soak).
A morning wake up to a climb after little warm up summiting in 7 miles, after which it is nice, paved, ride into Frenchglen. Roaring Springs is on the way, named after the peculiar noise made by the seeping waters you hear as you ride by.
With bike packs left behind, take a light-weight ride up and into the Steens. Summit the peak after a 17 mile climb, and then back downhill, with pavement picking up again by mile 60. Take in views several of the area’s almost perfect examples of glaciated U-valleys, including the breathtaking Kiger Gorge.
Beginning in Frenchglen, the Loop Road has something to offer for all abilities, from out-and-back rides up to Fish Lake and Jackman Park, to viewing the textbook U-shape glaciated Kiger Gorge, and to my favorite the East Rim Overlook. The full loop is a long day of serious gravel cycling with more than 7500 ft in elevation gain. An early start is recommended, and for us that meant sharing the road with surprised deer. The payback for the many miles of climbing is the steep downhill back to Frenchglen. Road apple hinted at another reward with wild horses appearing on the downside.
Not quite a recovery ride, but easier, all paved, a day after the toughest. Pass by Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the Diamond Craters volcanic field, and French’s Round Barn, constructed in the 1870s, where 300 – 1000 horses were tamed annually.
Contact John Eden (email@example.com, ODOT District 14 Access, 541-823-4016) for OR78 & OR205. For info on Diamond Lane, Diamond Crater Road, and Fields Denio, contact the Debbie Cronin (firstname.lastname@example.org, Harney County Road Master’s Office, Burns, 541-573-6232).