Friday, November 29, 2013

Falls City, Oregon - A Treasure Hunt

This has been a pretty darn good November for me, as far as Novembers go. I paid off a couple of major debts, work is going well both at my day job and at the studio, and the weather has been amazing. All this has lead up to a pretty damn positive state of mind. The cherry on top was the realization that several "warm" sunny days were lining up right on my weekend and what better way to celebrate than getting in a quality moto ride.

The guys at work are pretty into their gravel grinding adventure riding bicycle trips and have done a fair amount of exploring on Oregon backroads. I've found this usually leads to a lot of parallel interests when it comes to my dualsport riding. So when I mentioned wanting to go for a ride one of my coworkers presented me with a "treasure map" of sorts in the mountains just east of Falls City, Oregon. And in this case "Treasure" is more than a metaphor. There's something special buried in those hills...



The decision to go sort of came down to the wire. There isn't much daylight this time of year and I didn't have the desire to camp overnight this trip with as cold as it's been getting at night. I'd need to be able to get down to Salem from Portland, then over to Falls City, and from there successfully navigate the backroads both in and out and back up to Portland between sunrise and sunset. I did the math and decided my window was just big enough to pull it off. So I spent Saturday night packing the bike and tracking down all my winter riding gear (read: snowboarding gloves). I also packed my tent and sleeping bag just in case something went wrong and I did need to spend the night.


The weather truly was perfect. For it being this late in November I couldn't ask for anything better. Right at sunrise I took the pup for a frigid early morning walk, and then warmed the motorcycle up and got on the freeway towards Salem. I stopped for coffee in the small town of Dallas, Oregon. A nice quiet spot with as many churches as it has residents. Lots of friendly folks around. From there I rode 223 (an amazing little section of road by the way) further south and west into Falls City: the gateway to my treasure hunt.



Falls City is an obvious logging town (their "welcome to" sign boasts two axes). It's tucked nicely into the fringes of the Oregon Coastal Range. Nearly every driveway has a 4x4 of sorts and at least half have small fishing boats. A lot of folks who clearly enjoy the outdoors. Beyond lies a network of HEAVILY logged mountains, both private and BLM. I made sure to load up as many maps as I could into my phone's GPS to deal with the labyrinthine nature of spots like this. I even had two sets of differing but "definitive" routes planned towards the treasure I sought. I rode through Falls City and entered the first of many privately owned roads leading into the mountains.

There are a few things worth noting at this point:
  • I found out at this time of the year that there were few logging trucks on the roads but I have no doubt the area is being logged year round (I passed an active helicopter logging operation at one point) so it never hurts to be too careful.
  • Most of this area is completely closed during fire season. Plan accordingly.
  • Most of these roads are PRIVATE. There's plenty of signage to remind you. This also means any of the multitudes of gates in the area can be closed at any time for any reason (there is no planning, just acceptance).
  • Street legal dualsport motorcycles may or may not actually be allowed in this area. I didn't see any signage or run into issues with anyone, but I came across some research that suggested offroad motorcycles and ATVs are not allowed... So just in case you're wondering any time I use the words "motorcycle", "KLR", and "bike" from this point on in this post I actually mean "Ford F350 Truck" and substitute "driving" for the word "riding". Savy?


It's a bit of a catch 22 really. Many All of these roads made for amazing motorcycle riding. An awesome array of nearly every surface. Crushed gravel, hardpack dirt, soft sluff through soft grass, mud, and (because of the season) a handful of icy spots in the shadows all flanked by gorgeous Aspen trees and evergreens. The catch is that clear-cutting has completely devastated this region. I mean it has been completely stripped of its former glory in a gruesome way. That said, most of these roads wouldn't exist to be ridden without all that logging... The dualsport riders quandary.


At some point I got distracted by the amazing riding and must've gotten off course (like that ever happens). When I checked my GPS I was a valley south of where I wanted to be. Worried that I might not make it to my end spot I found a cluster of roads leading northbound over the ridgeline putting me back on track. So with a little detour I finally back on the main route. It was important I find the treasure because my coworkers tried to find it themselves earlier this summer but were foiled by rough roads and closed gates during fire season. So if I could just get there before them...

About two miles shy of my goal I found a closed gate. One I couldn't slip the bike around. The thought crossed my mind to try and slide it under the gate, but being that I had limited daylight and I was riding alone I opted out. My GPS indicated there were a few other possible ways in that I could always come back and try another day. So I was forced to turn back and take a lunch break. 

Obviously there are way worse things in life and more terrible places to eat lunch:


Things got a little convoluted when I tried to ride back out of the mountains. I had two options for exiting (aside from totally retracing my steps). A northern route and the road I was supposed to have come in on. I first opted for the northern route just to have the experience and variety. About 10 miles in I encountered another closed gate. The road beyond had obviously seen very little, if any use, in the last few years. Someone needs to update their route-finding service...

I turned around and backtracked to the road I should've kept riding in the first place. This time I only rode 8 miles before encountering another closed gate. Feeling a bit miffed, and running out of daylight I double checked my GPS. Yes, this was supposed to be the way in and out, but it was obviously closed. A little more searching on the GPS and I realized that the only way I had been able to get into the area at all was by getting sidetracked in the first place. The roads I took from the southern valley onto this other ridgeline were likely the only access point, and I didn't have the daylight or fuel to backtrack that far. So with a little ingenuity I dealt with the gate situation and continued on (badges? we dont need no stinkin... yadda yadda).


Ultimately, after yet another closed gate I had to "deal" with, and chasing daylight north on I-5 back to Portland I was able to pull into my driveway just after the last bits of light left the sky. Perfect timing.

I didn't find the treasure I was hoping for (and I'm not about to spoil it yet either) but I did have two interesting substitutions. At one point one of the roads I was on broke out into an amazing view and in the distance I could see Mt Hood, Mt Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and ever so faintly Mt. Jefferson and Mt. St. Helens were visible in the distance all at once. Spectacular.

The other happened just as I was rounding a corner towards a "Y" in the road. The road to the left was overgrown with tall grass and I was continuing to the right, but out of the corner of my eye I saw an animal stand up and start walking towards the trees. At first I registered it as a deer because of it's size, but when I turned and looked at it just as it disappeared into the trees I saw the back half of what looked to be a wolf. It had the coloring of a coyote, but was easily 30 lbs heavier, and stood just above the tall grass. I did some research when I got home and had a nice conversation with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. There are no known wolves in that region, but the likelyhood of a lone wolf, or a wolf hybrid, finding its way into that area is good. So be it wolf, or hybrid, it's the first time I've seen one in the wild and that coupled with the amazing riding conditions definitely made the whole trip worthwhile.

2 comments:

  1. Such great photos! Sounds like the best day.

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  2. Nice report! and glad there will have to be a second installment.. I've been encountering a lot of closed gates to, but I haven't had the ambition to go under one yet. I hope you take pictures of that if you ever do.

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