Camping in the Gorge…what a treat! We were “treated” to train horns throughout the night. The last one was especially slow moving, which meant we got to hear/feel it longer than the others! We finally got up, bright and early, except for the early part. Getting out of the tent at 9:00am was great. Wayne and I have figured out that we travel well together. We are both happy to just sleep until we feel like getting up, with the understanding that if either of us wants to, we can wake up the other to get going on the day.
My normal camping breakfast consists of bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns. Today is slightly different. We ate things like apples, granola bars, and crackers. This was our first camping experience and we are not ready to add cooking equipment to our packing list…yet. I do look forward to that addition someday!
After taking our time eating and packing, we finally left the park at 10.40am. Our destination tonight is a small town called North Powder, in the beautiful Baker Valley of Eastern Oregon. Along the way we will see the towns of Condon, Heppner, and Ukiah, before hitting one of the roads we look forward to the most. The 70 miles from Ukiah to North Powder cover National Forest District Roads and go up and over Anthony Lakes Ski Area and through much-anticipated twisties.
Fully into vacation mode, we pull out of the campground and are on our way…for about one quarter of a mile. I pull over and Wayne pulls in behind me and we decide that our first turn of the day was a wrong one. We promptly turn around and begin our day, correctly this time. I think it’s safe to assume that will be our ONLY wrong turn of the day, so it was good to get it out of the way!
The first five miles southeast on Highway 206 were an awesome way to start the day. Curves, good roads, and NO traffic. What else can one ask for? We continued on 206 for 5 miles until we reached Condon. Pulling into town was really a thrill for me. I was truly looking forward to seeing several small Oregon towns I had never been too before, and of course, there is no better way to see them than pulling over and getting off a bike!
Storefront in Condon, complete with older couple eating on the sidewalk. (Hidden by the beautiful bikes!)
Historic Hotel Condon
Just me-not historic at all
We walked the few blocks that make up “downtown” and grabbed a drink at the local grocery store. That is where I had my first thought that it may be true that everyone knows everyone in a small town. I’ll continue my research over the next few days!
We pulled away from Condon and traveled a short distance until…OOPS! This doesn’t feel right? Wayne, are going the right way? Nope! Wow, we are now two for two, going the wrong direction when leaving town.
Another 50 miles or so, in the right direction, would take us to Heppner, OR, where we would have lunch and join the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. When planning our trip, we had a general idea of where we wanted to go and how long we could be gone. We actually took an Oregon map and used a highlighter to highlight several scenic byways in the area we would be. We then connected the dots, considering mileage and accommodations, and were happy knowing we’d cover some great less-traveled roads.
Nice road, eh? (No comment on Wayne’s camera-topped helmet.)
Riding into Heppner, I was surprised to see more than a one-block town. There were several eating and drinking establishments, a large grocery, and many more businesses. Our first stop was the gas station, where I learned more of life in a rural area.
I was standing second in line to pay for gas, over hearing the clerk telling the person in front of me about her experience hitting a cougar with her car. As she told the story, a man behind me in line said, “I heard that was down by the Johnson’s place.” Nope. She corrected him and told him where it actually occurred. So, news travels quickly, if not entirely accurately, here. I smiled leaving the gas station and we headed toward the grocery store for a cheap meal. We grabbed chicken and jo-jo potatoes and headed to a small, treed park to eat.
Park with a view.
It may sound simple, but this was something I looked forward to doing. We took off our riding gear, ate our simple lunch, and then lounged on the grass for a while. We just relaxed and watch people, remaining in town for almost an hour and a half. Have I mentioned we were not in a hurry?
Rested and ready to go.
While I stood by my bike getting things sorted out, I heard someone called out, “Mr. Larson!” Working in education, I am blessed/cursed by running into people I know almost every place I go. Disneyland? Of course. Mexico City Airport? Sure. But Heppner? Well, I looked up and saw another administrator from my district. Ends up that he grew up here, part of the population of about 1,000 people, and was on vacation with his family. It seems ironic that he is now the principal of a high school nearly three times the size of his hometown!
Well, we were not going to make the mistake of heading out of town the wrong direction again this time. Finally! We did it correctly! Now we begin on the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, continuing another 50 miles until our next stop in Ukiah. The byway is beautiful! Very scenic, fun turns. The scenery varies here more than I thought it would. We lowered into a canyon for a while, riding the twisties in a forested area along a river, possibly Willow Creek, seeing as that was the name of the road.
It was nearly 3:00pm and I must describe the traffic we’d seen so far today. None! Sure, there were cars in the towns we had visited, but we had seen virtually NO other cars all day. It was ideal! Around 3:30pm we pulled in to Ukiah, a town of less than 300. We stopped at a small park and drank some water. The only sounds you could hear were from a family of three (1% of the town’s population) playing in the park. This town is quiet! From where we sat, we could see the bikes AND a sign pointing us on our way. At least this time, there was NO WAY we would go the wrong direction again.
See the sign?
Can’t get lost THIS time!
Wayne saw the sign at the Antler Inn and wants to check out the showers and cooler.
Hmmm…Is this the shower? Cooler? Both???
After our shortest stop of the day, we headed off, continuing on the Blue Mountains Scenic Byway. It was a beautiful beginning, but I had to laugh when we realized we had done it again!!! Yes, for the third time today we pointing ourselves in the wrong direction! The good news was that each time we had a sense right away it was not the direction we needed to go and had turned around in less than half a mile. How much for a good GPS?
The 70 miles between Ukiah and North Powder would be some of the most curvy road we would find this weekend. It also promised some great viewpoints as it climbed to nearly 9,000ft elevation. We stopped and took photos a handful of times, doing a good job of capturing nature, but not enough pictures of ribbons of pavement. More next time, I guess.
OK, but honestly, do you think it’s goofy to try to get your own hand waving in the picture?
After cresting at Anthony Lakes (deserted!) Ski Resort, we began going downhill. We were shocked in the change! Not the scenery. Not the temperature. The road condition! The road up to the ski area on the west side had been in great condition, but not descending on the east, as it was full of potholes and even areas of gravel. This had looked like one of the most fun sections of the trip, but we were disappointed as we just had to make it through until we back down to nicer pavement.
Before getting all the way down, we were treated to something nice. Oh, the road still left a lot to be desired, but we pulled over at the Baker Valley Outlook. What a view! It was hazy this day, but we could still look east and see the rugged Wallowa Mountains in the distance. We were still nearly 7,000ft up, looking down into and across the Baker Valley, and then up to the Wallowas. It was quite a sight! The pictures make it look more hazy than it really was.
Wallowa Mountains in the distance
Wayne and the hazy Baker Valley
We descended into the valley and encountered new scenery for this trip. We were now riding on a flat stretch, along a small river, through farm land. This continued much of the final 10 miles into North Powder.
We had meandered, virtually traffic free, for about 250 miles today. It was nice getting into town, but we both were curious (nervous?) to see our motel room. We had just booked it a few days ago after finding it online. We would have a room with two queen beds at the North Powder Motel for $45. That is almost as cheap as a night camping. We were a bit leery though, not sure what $45 would get us.
To prolong the anticipation, we stopped first at the diner in town. Remember, this is one of my favorite parts of motorcycling. Small town diners can be serve some of the best food anywhere. I admit, part of the “flavor” is becuase it means I am in a new place, on some type of adventure, but the food usually helps too! We relaxed and ate our burgers, hardly worried about our accommodations.
We pulled out of the diner and rode both blocks to the motel.
Excellent! We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our clean, cozy motel. We parked and unpacked and were just glad to be there after another fun day riding!
After unpacking, we walked back to the small store that shared a parking lot with the diner and bought a few things to eat for breakfast. The woman running it also makes homemade milkshakes. So, we walked back with our supplies, happily drinking a thick marionberry shake on a beautiful summer evening.