Here we go again! Me and my steel steed! Orgasmically carving through the beautiful Ochoco pass!
For those of you who don’t ride … git yourself a damn bike, and ride! Believe me when I say, it will change your life!
The Ochoco pass is located a bit northeast of my home base of Bend, Oregon. It is often the gap through which one must pass, in order to get to the splendid riding located in the northern and eastern parts of Oregon.
Highway 26 is the state highway which cuts through the Ochoco. This riding season, I’ve ridden this fun strip of asphalt a number of times, and I can tell you, I never tire of riding this piece of road, which is chock full of curves, hills, wilderness, and great scenery.
This particular instance of riding the Ochoco is the start of a 3-day ride that will take me to Hells Canyon. Or, The Hells, as I like to call it.
The Hells is a deep, rugged canyon that was formed by the Snake River. The Snake defines part of the border between Oregon and Idaho. The Hells is also known as “The Little Grand Canyon.”. Although, as you will see in the photos, the Hells really doesn’t look much like The Grand Canyon. The Hells got its name for good reason … it reminds one of a hot, dusty hellscape. Actually, IT IS a hot, dusty hellscape. It also offers a superb riding experience.
Truth be told, the origin of the name “Hells Canyon” is a bit obscure. Like many place names, out here in the West, the origin often has to do with whatever the drunk miners and loggers thought up, as they were sitting around the camp fire.
Day one of this ride takes me to Baker City, which is situated about an hour west of The Hells.
Baker City, as I describe in this post – Shenanigans along the Oregon Trail – was one of the first towns founded by the Oregon Trail pioneers. It’s a typical small western town. The locals tend to be friendly and chatty, and don’t seem to mind the smelly motorcycle dudes that roll through. More important, the brew pub, Barley Brown’s, sits right in the center of town, and is within walking distance of the motels.
Day Two has me spending most of the day in The Hells. Blasting along the canyon walls. Hooting and hollering to myself with pure joy, as I ride my trusty Yamaha FJ-09 ( now known as the MT-09 Tracer ) in the way that it was designed to be ridden.
For Day Three, its a relaxing day of pleasant cruising, from Baker City back to Bend. For this ride, I decided to take the same route that I rode in on. But, in my “shenanigans” post, you can read about a different, and very fun, route.
Ok then, back to Day One … Upon getting spit out of the Ochoco, I reach the small town of Mitchell. I almost always will make a pit stop at the Bridge Creek Cafe. This little kitchen has all of the usual food items on the menu. Sandwiches, soup, salads, burgers, and so forth. It’s home cookin, done with loving care. Trust me, your belly will be happy.
After filling up with tasty grub, it’s back on the 26 east.
The next town of any substantial size is John Day. John Day is another small western mining town. These little towns are scattered all over the place, in eastern Oregon. These days, they make for great motorcycle pit stops.
Once of the things I most enjoy about riding is stopping at coffee shops, in little towns out in the middle of nowhere, and chatting it up with the locals, and other fellow travelers. There is so much to discover, and learn, out there. I think if more people escaped their bubbles, and took the time to hear the trials and tribulations of their fellow Earthlings, the world might be a better place.
But, I digress, this post is about riding The Hells, so lets git on with it!
After a kickstart of Joe, I’m back on the 26. From here, you have a few options for getting to Baker City.
The most relaxing is to take the 26 to the highway 7, and then on into Baker City. We’re talking gentle hills and corners, in remote, pristine wilderness, with very few cars, trucks, and RVs.
If you’re feeling up for something a bit more hairy, you can opt to take the highway 245. I also wrote about the highway 245 in my shenanigans post – Shenanigans along the Oregon Trial. Suffice to say, it will pucker you up real good!
For this ride, I chose the more relaxing route. I’ll get my fill of hairy, once I’m in The Hells!
Upon arriving to Baker City, I check into my motel, park the bike, and peel off the sweaty, grundgie riding gear. Did I ever tell you the story about the woman who busted a move on me because she loved my “all day riding smell”?
Yup. I’m one of those crazy dudes that wears full gear, even if it’s 100 degrees. Hey, I value my skin. What can I say.
About the only thing I have to say about Baker City in this post is, friendly people, it’s walkable, and has good beer. My “shenanigans” post includes more info on this lovely town, if you’re so interested.
Speaking of beer, I would recommend you check out Barley Brown’s, on Main street. The deep-fried green beans are tastAY!
The Hells is only about an hour’s ride from Baker City, so if you’re not an early riser, it’s no problem.
After my morning Joe, and donut, I head east out of Baker City, onto the highway 86.
The ride to Hells, via the 86, offers some great riding on a fun, hilly, twisty road. It will take you past some historical Oregon Trail landmarks. The road passes through a valley that the Oregon Trail pioneers would often travel through. While riding, if you close your eyes and think deeply, you can imagine yourself as one of those pioneers, slowly making your way to the “promised land”.
Well, maybe you shouldn’t close your eyes, but you get my meaning.
Upon reaching the entrance into The Hells, I make a pit stop at the Hells Canyon Outdoor Supply shop. Here, you have one last opportunity to gas up, and grab some grub and drink, which I do, indeed, partake of.
Ok, boys and girls, let the games begin! It’s time to enter THE HELLS!
Hells Canyon is a quite deep and craggy gorge. Actually, it’s the deepest gorge in North America. Deeper even than the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, as with many rivers, The Corps of Engineers went nuts, during the last few decades, and plugged the river up with numerous dams. Despite this, the road that runs along the canyon is still a hoot to ride, and will provide you many thrills, and hopefully, no spills.
From the Hells Canyon Outdoor Supply shop, to the Hells Canyon Dam, is about 30 miles, or so, if memory serves. You will first cross the Oxbow dam, which will put you on the Idaho side. Most of the ride along the gorge takes place on the Idaho side. Only until you arrive to the Hells Canyon dam, will you cross the dam and end up back on the Oregon side.
The sweet thing about this ride is, you shouldn’t encounter very many 4-wheeled vehicles. I did the ride on a Monday, during the early part of August, and encountered only a handful of cars. Except for the visitor center, at the end of the ride, there is no campground, or any attraction, that might attract the dreaded RVs. ( Did I tell you? I hate Freeken RVs! ).
For the most part, the road surface is smooth and well maintained. There are some sections where it gets a little crumbly, due to rock fall.
Speaking of rock fall, as you can see in the photo above, there are numerous blind corners that are overhung by rock. Yes. These rock walls tend to fall apart from time to time, as rock tends to do. Just a word of caution, slow it down a bit, and watch for bits of rock on the road. As we all know, motorcycles and rock bits tend not to go well together. Especially, when there is a rock wall on one side of the road, and a steep drop-off on the other. Have you ever nose-dived your bike into a river? Heh, heh.
After some very enjoyable, adventuresome, and scenic riding, you will find yourself at the Hells Canyon Dam. From the top of the dam, you can come to a stop, and peer over the edge, into the river canyon below.
Isn’t being on a motorcycle wonderful?
After crossing the Hells Canyon dam, I motor up to the visitor center, which is about a half mile away.
I would recommend you allocate some time to spend at this visitor center. It is a nice center, packed full of interesting information about all things having to do with The Hells. Make sure to watch the short video in the little theater. If anything, you will get a chuckle when you see the actors sporting hair styles from the 80s.
No, I wasn’t one of the actors, but I did have 80s hair, at one time. ( Damn, I miss my head of thick, red hair! ).
There is also a nice, little picnic area at the visitor center. Bring a sandwich and lovely beverage, relax, and enjoy the canyon.
Ok then, my motorcycle buddies. That’s about it for the meat of the trip. I will just add, you can ride The Hells and make it back to Baker City, in fairly short order. I arrived back at Baker around 3 pm, which gave me time to walk about, and work the cramps out of my buttocks.
I hope you found this ( rather rambling ) post a joy to read, and informative. Do try to ride The Hells at least once during your riding career. You will not regret it.
During the ride, I mounted an action cam on my handlebars. Check it out here, eh:
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Cheers, my riding friends! And remember …
Ride HARD … ride GOOD … ride like you know you SHOULD!