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I start a new job tomorrow, so I negotiated a couple extra days off so I could spend a 4-day weekend in one of my favorite places: Southeast Oregon.

My destination is Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. Here's Hart Mountain itself, viewed from the Warner Valley:



This is a pretty remote place. It's a 380 mile drive for me just to get here. It's also 160 miles from the nearest interstate highway - the greatest distance you can be from a freeway in the lower 48. Distances are pretty huge out here:



And there are NO towns along that 112 mile drive to Burns, although you will encounter two gas stations (now that someone has bought the settlement of Wagontire - pop. 2 - and reopened the store). At least the Lake County roads department has a sense of humor about all this:



Hart Mountain doesn't have singletrack, but it has a couple hundred miles of Jeep roads that are open to bikes. My first objective on Thursday afternoon is to ride down Poker Jim road a ways and explore. In some spots the road is OK, but in others it's not so good:



I ride a few miles in, but given the road surface I decide it might be more fun to hike over to the edge of Poker Jim Ridge and catch the view over the Warner Valley. Good call, because after a 45 minute hike I am treated to this:



Usually much of this valley is covered in shallow water, with several large lakes and hundreds of miles of little channels connecting them. Most of time it's an incredible wildlife refuge, the lakes filled with white pelicans by the hundreds. But this is late in the season and a dry year, so no surprise it's gone dry. Apparently the ecosystem here has adapted to the fact that the lakes dry up periodically - in fact, it's dependent on that happening. Dead grasses build up in the lakebeds over time, and they need to be exposed to oxygen so they can decompose and start the cycle of life over again. Nature sure is amazing.

Day 2. I leave the refuge and drive a ways south and east. Howdy pardner! Mind if a metal cowboy joins you out here on the range?



Notice the five water bottles on my bike. One thing about my trips to the desert is that I like to explore really remote areas where no one is going to just happen to pass by if something goes wrong. There's no water out here, so you'd better carry enough to survive for a day or two, just in case.

Also, today's ride is technically in the Nevada Desert, not the Oregon Desert - not that there's much difference. Much of the day's ride will be within 10 yards of Oregon, though, since about half of my route runs along the fenceline that marks the northern boundary of both the state of Nevada and the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge:



10 miles in, the view finally opens up across a huge valley (the photo below looks north into Oregon). This valley is pretty hard to get to from any direction, and chances are pretty good there is not a single human being within the territory covered by this photo. The Pueblo Mountains are on the far horizon on the right side of this pic. The dry lakebed just visible a little to the right of center in this photo is named (and I am not making this up): Hawksy Walksy. I must admit, I picked this ride partly because I wanted to see what a place called Hawksy Walksy looks like:



Here's the view to the south, looking into Nevada. I believe that's the Pine Forest Range (never heard of it, I'm willing to bet) on the horizon:



It's a little warmer than usual for this time of year, climbing into the mid 80s. Of course it feels much hotter, given the lack of shade and the intensity of the sun at this elevation (6000'). Given the absolute emptiness of this place - and the color of the rocks - you might almost think you were on Mars:



But spend some time out here and you will invariably encounter what passes for civilization. Afternoon, ladies!



Day 3. I decide to head down into the Warner Valley and ride past several of the "lakes." This is an easy, flat cruise. I encounter a couple of coyotes on the ride, cruising the edges of Campbell Lake in search of jackrabbit snacks:



Anyway, I ride past Stone Corral Lake, and soon find out why it is so named:



Later I come to the edge of Bluejoint Lake, which right now is an 8 mile long lake of grass. Someone once tried to levee off a section of this lake so they could farm it. Apparently they thought a 2 mile long rockpile would be able hold back an 8 mile lake indefinitely. Of course this unnatural act of agriculture was doomed to fail:



I spent yesterday afternoon doing absolutely nothing except hanging out in my lovely campsite among the aspens. Contrary to poplar belief, there are trees in the desert:



Later in the evening, I rode a short jeep trail to the shoulder of Hart Mountain just in time for sunset. Nice views to the east towards Beattys Butte:



and west over Warner Valley towards Juniper Mountain:



Day 4. I find myself awake at 5:45 this morning, having gotten to bed early. Still an hour before sunrise. I have an idea: ride up to Skyline Road (the best ride on the refuge, and the gateway to many an epic possibility) and catch the sunrise. I saddle up and ride out of the campground, headlamp blazing.

Partway up, I realize my idea is doomed to fail. No way will I make it up there in time. Instead I see a Jeep road heading the opposite way, right up the side of Hart Mountain. At least it gets me out of the valley and high enough to catch the sun rising over the south end of Steens Mountain:



Just as the sun peeks over Steens, I encounter a locked gate. No biking allowed beyond here. But the road keeps going up and up, so I continue on foot. Warner Peak is bathed in the warm glow of the sunrise:



The doubletrack keeps going up over a couple ridges, eventually reaching a wide summit plateau. Here's a nice stand of mountain mahogany:



By this point in the hike I've run into small herds of pronghorn antelope a couple of times (and scared up 3 chukars at close range, too) . Pronghorns are easily spooked and won't let you get very close ... I've never managed to get a photo where they look like much more than a tiny speck. But as I come over a small ridge I encounter this herd of 27 antelope, and they let me get within a hundred yards:



Click here for a low-quality video clip of these pronghorns on the run. They're capable of running 50-60 mph, far faster than they're running here. I can attest to this personally: I once saw a pair of prongers pass me - and then angle across the road in front of me - while I was driving at 40 mph. Incredible animals.

Eventually - 4 miles and more than an hour after ditching the bike - I finally get across the summit plateau and reach the edge. It was worth it:



Here's a view to the south:



All in all, not a bad weekend. Wish they could all be like this.

- Dan
 

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I'm bummed..................

Dan,

Next time you gotta give me more than two days notice... I am just about as jealous as an Oregon desert lover can get.

Your photos are great; they brought back fond memories. I grew up camping in that country. Never have taken a mountain bike back there, though.

Next time... next time... please!

--Sparty

P.S. Barbie for desert! Er, I mean dessert! :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Sparticus said:
Dan,

Next time you gotta give me more than two days notice...
--Sparty
Dave -

Hey, sorry about the short notice - didn't have a whole lot of notice myself. I know you love the desert almost as much as I do, so I wish you could have made it too. This won't happen again.

Let's just plan right now to go back there next fall, at least a 3 day weekend. (fall is better riding than spring there, because a lot of the refuge roads are closed in spring to protect the calving grounds). Email me when you're setting your vacation calendar for next year, which I know you'll have to do in a couple of months. We'll pick a September weekend and make it a plan. Anyone else who can make it out there will of course be welcome too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Drag. Seems like 200-some hits on half a MB of photos (still just 2MB even counting the video) shouldn't have triggered a bandwidth limit, but I'll check with my ISP and get this cleared up in the next day or 2.
 

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Road TRIP!

Your posts always make me want to go visit someplace remote!

glad yer back on yer bike!

bob
 

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Post revive! Any new beta on this area? I might be out there around the Guano Creek area in a little over a week. The OP states Skyline Rd. is the best ride. Any other ideas? Great post w/ pics, by the way!
 
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