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Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Baker City, OR

On Friday we were up early to grab coffee and breakfast before making our way out to the ‘Devils Tail’ and Hells Canyon Dam.

It was rather obvious while eating my scrambled eggs and looking out across the vendor parking lot that there were some hard-living characters who had run wild the night earlier.  They weren’t totally burned out, but obviously moving a little slower.  It got me to thinking about how Harley like virtually every other motorcycle manufacture, is facing a huge, looming crisis; the ageing of its core clientele.  Like every other market they touch Boomers dominate the motorcycle industry, especially for those expensive touring cruisers that generate so much profit for the corporate coffers.

Depending on whose data you reference; AMA states the average age of its members is 48, the American Motorcycle Industry Council’s most recent survey (2008) has the average pegged at 43 years old (up 5 years from 1998) and a JD Power and H-D survey has the average at 49 years old.  It would seem that motorcycling is no longer a young man’s sport.   Based on my observation this morning I would concur and while I didn’t see anyone trading their favorite ride in on an RV, I did see a lot of interest in the Boss Hog trikes and customers lining up for demo rides.  Most were intrigued with how to navigate the parking lot in reverse gear.

Hells Canyon Dam

I’m not sure about you, but I’m the kind of person who gets satisfaction when my mechanical stuff is humming.  It puts a smile upon my face and makes me feel glad all over.  I felt that way on the ride out to the Hells Canyon Dam.  The departure temperature hung in the mid-60’s – cool for eastern Oregon — and looking around the horizon it was clear there was going to be a mix of rain showers and blue sky.  Yeah, we were going to be dancing between the rain drops all day long on this ride.

We traveled out on Baker-Copperfield Hwy (Hwy 86) toward Richland, through Halfway with a brief pit stop at the Scotty’s Outdoor Store just prior to Oxbow as we headed back to the bottom of the canyon.  Hells Canyon is on the border of Idaho and Oregon, and the ride is deep in the valley alongside the Snake River.  Yeah that one — the one where Evel Knievel attempted his X-1 Skycycle jump over the canyon, unsuccessfully, back in 1974.   Many people will disagree when you remind them that the Hell’s Canyon is North American’s deepest river gorge at almost 8,000 feet, 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, but it’s true.

Posse On Devil's Tail

And as a bonus it has one of the most famous rides in the area — the Devil’s Tail — a 22 mile route from Oxbow, Oregon to Hell’s Canyon Dam. There are hundreds of S-curves and twisty’s with picturesque views.  The Devil’s Tail is not for the novice, and requires attention to riding. Last year we talked to a motorcyclist who misjudge the road and dump his bike.  Fortunately they had only minor injuries.

Baker City "Rain Out"

Back in the day this road was used to deliver workers and supplies to the site of the dam construction when it was being built in 1966. Today Idaho Power employees use it to access the dam and outdoor hobbyist use it for recreational access.  At the end of the road the dam and water were nearly level with the road.  As you drive across the dam we were greeted with a loud “whooshing” sound and at the visitor’s center which is a short, but steep ride below the dam we took pictures of the large volume of water flowing through to make hydro electrical power.  It’s a spectacular sight and the close proximity means you literally feel natures power.

Interstate 84 North - Departing HCMR

We reversed directions and headed back to the Sunridge Best Western where we met up with some other riders who arrived late-afternoon.

On Saturday the weather was a mixed bag.  The morning started out partly cloudy with the occasional sun burst, but the Whitman National Forest was socked in with storm/rain clouds which is where the posse planned to ride for a ghost town tour.  We downed some breakfast and remained optimistic the day would bring something better.  It turned out that optimism was sorely misplaced!

Hwy 14 - West of Umatilla

Thinking it would clear later in the day we elected to hang out in the vendor booths in downtown Baker City and wait it out… but, rain is a life metaphor – into every ride a little rain must fall, right?   Well it did.  I know the Folkestad’s like to state that the HCMR has never been “rained out” and I’m not sure what criteria they use, but it started raining around 1pm with showers at first and then turned to a steady hard rain from 2pm through most of the night.  We graced the downtown area refreshment centers and talked shop with the High Desert H-D folks from Meridian, ID.  Downtown was jammed and by the time we returned to the motel restaurant/bar it was packed with wet riders who called the day a total bust.  Good for Baker City businesses, but it seemed the weather conditions were conspiring against us.

Near Maryhill Winery - Goldendale, WA

On Sunday morning you could smell the cool breath of mother nature as we wiped off the previous night rain soaked seats.  Unlike Western Oregon, the majority of the landscape in Eastern Oregon is wide open which allows riders to see the lay of the land and it provides plenty of time to take it all in.  For me I enjoy Eastern Oregon because it’s different.  The people are different (in a positive/good way), the weather is different, it looks different and the roads are different.  It seems that people have a habit of never appreciating a place until you’re about to leave it.   I had some regrets that I didn’t get time to explore the ghost towns, but we were about to point the bikes north hoping for a dry day!

We rode out of Baker City on I-84 and encountered cooler temperatures as we traversed the Wallowa Mountains.  The sun shined brightly and by the time we stopped to re-fuel in Pendleton is was actually warm.  We cut over to Umatilla and rode Hwy 14 on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  The pull toward home and returning to “normal” life was getting stronger as the pace quickened back to Portland.  We dodged some rain drops near “The Couve” and got home in time to learn that yes, the self-proclaimed “King” — Lebron James — was still not a NBA champion and that my friends means the only place celebrating more than Dallas that night was Cleveland!

In spite of the ‘rain out’ on Saturday the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally was a great experience.  If you have not attended it should be something on your bucket list!

Postcard From Hells Canyon – Part 1 HERE.

Photos taken by editor. Previous HCMR posts: 2010 HERE, 2009 HERE

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Highway 97

There was fun, sun, cerveza’s and of course a dash of rain.  Mixed in along the way was some imperfect weather, but what can a person expect living in the northwest in June?!  It’s an imperfect world and besides, many riders revel in the glory of making it through adversity.  Not me… I like perfect weather versus keeping track of the number times I had to dawn on rain gear.  But that’s me.

At any rate, the opening sentence pretty much describes the high level summary of the ride situation to Baker City for the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR), but if you’re the kind of person who reads the manual, ferrets out all the details and amazes friends with all your product knowledge then read on…

The posse started this ride on Interstate 84 to pick up a buddy in “Googleville” (aka The Dalles) then at Biggs Junction we rode south on Hwy 97 to Wasco.  From there we traversed Hwy 206(Wasco-Heppner Hwy) to Condon.  This stretch of road offers up a lot of sweepers and depending on which type of bike you ride it could be fast or a mental exercise to stay alert.  You’ll never get lonely on this stretch of road, not because of the number of RVs or automobiles – there are none – but because squirrels frequently run out across the road to challenge your dodging skills and if you’re real lucky you’ll get the occasional mule deer to snap you back to reality.

Clarno Unit -- John Day Fossil Beds

From Condon we rode Hwy 19 to Fossil where we took a detour on Hwy 218 to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  The Clarno Unit is located 18 miles west of Fossil and is just under a couple thousand acres in size.  It’s a remote area and Hwy 218 is a real joy to ride.  There is nothing which explains the exhilaration of roaring out of tight corners and setting up for the next hairpin.  There is an odd trend in this area of marking an entire set of 6+ curves with one single sign marked with the speed of the slowest and tightest of the entire bunch of curves.  The first 5 corners are truly 45MPH then the last one is a 20MPH right angle with gravel on the apex.  Good to see the state saving money on road signs!  The views of Central Oregon’s near-desert environment are astounding and this highway was nearly empty of anything other than a variety of grasses, sagebrush and juniper.  The cliffs of the Palisades are the most prominent landform in the Clarno Unit and the trip wouldn’t have be complete without a photo op.

We back tracked the 18 miles to the junction of Washington Street and Seventh Street (Hwy 19)… street names in Fossil make it seem like a big town – it’s not.  We then proceeded south to Service Creek then to Mitchell and picked up Hwy 26 east (essentially follows the Oregon Trail) to John Day, Prairie City and then we veered off at Bates onto Hwy 7 (Whitney Tipton Hwy) toward Sumpter.

Prairie City

Along this area we unfortunately came upon a motorcycle accident between Sumpter and Baker City just after Philips Lake.  The rider failed to negotiate a sweeper and laid the bike down.  The footboard and engine guard made deep grooves into the asphalt as the motorcycle and rider slid off the right shoulder of the road down an embankment onto some soft brush.  The rider narrowly missed hitting a guard rail and survived with only minor injuries.  Very fortunate.  The motorcycle was towed away.  Traveling this route was basically going from one mountain pass to another separated by valleys, small towns and river valleys.  The passes were over 5000’ and the changes in temperature were notable until we arrived in Baker City.

After 400+ miles we arrived at the Best Western Motel and were greeted with smiling employees who got us checked in and on our way to dinner at Arceo’s Family Mexican Restaurant.  It was awesome!

And speaking earlier of accidents… the following day (Friday) we learned and responded to voicemail’s from people who were concerned about a motorcycle accident on I-84 which happened around noon and whether it involved other members of the posse who were in route to the rally.  It didn’t, but sadly a 63-year-old Albany man was killed and a 50-year-old Lebanon man was seriously injured about four miles east of Troutdale.   The two were part of a group of 12 people, aboard 10 motorcycles, heading for the HCMR rally.  Michael Pamplin, 63, was riding a H-D in the middle of the group when he lost control and crashed to the pavement.  Even worse was the fact that he was run over by another motorcyclist in the group, 50-year-old Keith Corbett, and died at the scene. Corbett was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with serious injuries.  It’s unclear what was the main precursor to causing this wreck…

Postcard From Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally – Part 2 HERE.

Photos taken by editor.

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“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name; it felt good to be out of the rain.”  –America (1972)

Next week I’m planning to get out of town for a few days and attend the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR) in historic Baker City, OR.   I’m not sure about that “get out of the rain” statement though.  In May we’ve received 2.5 inches of rain, witnessed the Columbia River hit flood stage and most distressing is that 23 of the last 31 days were below normal average temperatures.  Somewhere in the 20 degree cooler range.  It’s made Portland colder than Fairbanks Alaska.  Yes, I said Alaska!  That one to the north.  Sad but true.  Of course we’ve had nothing like the tornado’s that the poor folks in Missouri have had to endure.

Back to HCMR.

Along with several buddies, I plan to take the northwest weather in stride and join hundreds of other riders at the annual rally in Eastern Oregon.  Along the way we’ll transition from blogger, salesman, Dentist or other career-minded individuals, into an increasingly tight group of riders hurtling down – hopefully – sun-drenched desert roads. My buddies come from all walks of life.  We all share a common bond of depressed housing prices, kids, ex-wives, friendship and a passion for motorcycles, in particular, Harley Davidson.  Some in the posse fall into that middle-aged guy demographic that the motor company likes to reference.  We’ll hit the road where the weather can be frigid or burning, the wind sideways or in your face; it is a constant and exhausting companion, but rally’s like this have the power to replenish you.

HCMR is open to all riders.  Despite the differences between riders–weekend warriors and the motorcycle clubs, BMW off-roaders and the youth group on sport bikes – the common experience of riding a motorcycle carries an irrepressible sense of kinship.  To experience HCMR is a paradox of discomfort and adrenalin rush, desolation and breathtaking scenery mixed in with the freedom of the road.

I’ve blogged about HCMR previously in 2009 HERE and 2010 HERE.  The payoff is huge, especially amid the stunning visual of canyons and jagged mountains that make up the landscape of eastern Oregon.  Add some of the best motorcycling roads and refreshments at the Geiser Grand Hotel and you’ve got a winner –duh!

See you there.

Photo courtesy of visit Oregon web site.

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At this point it seems everywhere you look America looks almost the same.

The interstate leads you to identical fast food joints, mini-mart gas stations and cookie-cutter Wal-Marts.  However, when riding to the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR) it’s easy to notice there is a vast difference between the metropolis and the hinterlands.

Due to marathon rains and cold weather leading up to HCMR we didn’t “call-the-ball” until the last possible minute.   We finally departed at noon and as a result we rode directly to Baker City via I-84 to maximize our time in eastern Oregon.  Fortunately the wind was behind our back.  It was peaceful and we barely made a ripple in the air stream while enjoying the mechanical sounds of the V-Twin.

That evening we graced the downtown area refreshment centers to witness the Baker City welcome mat. Indeed they have a way of thanking motorcyclists who choose to spend their time and money in the small town and for that I thank you!

The next day we woke to pure blue skies and perfect riding temperatures!  We opted to travel to Oxbow and the Hells Canyon Dams.  The Hells Canyon is the deepest canyon on the North American continent, and the Hells Canyon Dam is located at one of the narrowest points in that canyon.

It’s a couple hundred miles round trip.

We departed on Highway 86 out of Baker City where traffic is non-existent and sweepers cut alongside the Powder River toward the Snake River.  The previous month of heavy rain left the country-side greener than normal and was most noticeable on the Powder River with water flow very high this year.  We passed by the town of Halfway, which is halfway between the gold mines of Cornucopia and the town of Pine Creek.  Just past Cooperfield we crossed the Snake River, near Oxbow Dam and entered Idaho to continue north on  “The Devils Tail” which was affectionately named so by the motorcycle riders who attend the rally every June.  On street maps it’s know only as the Hells Canyon Dam Road.  The 22-mile narrow stretch provides long sweepers and tight switchbacks along the roads edge.  The Road King is a proficient cruiser, but after an hour or so of these twisties a person couldn’t help but notice how agile the sport bikes looked as they throttled on around corners with ease.  We crossed over the Hells Canyon Dam and stopped at various locations for the obligatory tourist photo.

On the return route – isn’t it odd how the scenery changes when reversing directions on the same road? – the scene turned more toward scorched rock and weeds, but that might have been the result of the sun getting lower in the sky.  We had to watch out for gravel and mud washed onto the road surfaces, but in all the roads were in good shape.  The only road closed that was on the HCMR recommended ride routes was Road Rash Pass (FS 39) from Pine Creek to Joseph. It has been closed for a few weeks due to torrential rains washing out approximately a ½ mile of road.  In addition the steep road edge led to water so the attention needed to navigate the twisties seemed more intense on the return.  We made our way back out of Highway 86 up Pine Creek and stopped at Scotty’s Hells Canyon Outdoor Supply.  A lot of riders were roaming around the store where folks were relaxing with refreshments.   Temperatures were approaching 80 degrees and we listened to an oldster tell his story of dumping his motorcycle in the rocks vs. going for a swim.

Hells Canyon Dam

Interestingly that after the city fixed up the downtown area and spend all the time, energy and money they chose to NOT close off Main Street this year during the motorcycle rally due to safety concerns.  It wasn’t a big impact, as there were motorcycles all over the place along with a number of vendors, but it did take away from the quaint social street scene of years past.  I hope they rethink this in the future.

Departing the rally we elected to ride the Pendleton (Hwy 395), Heppner (Hwy 74) and Arlington loop to take in miles of nothing.  As the view atop Franklin Summit (3,456 ft) is just that… a land that is remarkably uneven, no trees and barren hills sculpted by the winds of time.  On a motorcycle it seems like an endless maze of hilltops and valley bottoms.  The sweepers are smooth and lend themselves so well that nothing is forced and you can almost close your eyes.  It’s a real contrast to the braking hairpin turns of The Devils Tail.

We descended down into Heppner and grabbed lunch at the one open diner.  It was good grub, but time was passing and we needed to get home before dark.  The road was a good experience until we opened up into the Gorge.  We should have anticipated the change when the large array of wind farms came into view. These 10-story high towers may represent the future in renewable energy, but they clearly have a visual environmental impact.  Needless to say the steady head winds mixed with even larger gusts meant we could watch the gas gauge decrement with every wind burst.

It’s been stated in the past that the best gifts are the ones you don’t expect.  HCMR is a great gift/experience and the ride is highly recommended.  Especially if you’re looking to get off the beaten path.

UPDATE: June 17, 2010 – Rob Green the editor of http://www.road-quest.com has provided some excellent video coverage of HCMR.  This year he brought out the HD video gear to capture the true essence of riding “The Devils Tail.”  Check it out HERE.

Note: The 2009 HCMR blog posts for Day 1 HERE, Day 2 HERE, Day 3 HERE and a tent camping postscript HERE.

Photos taken during HCMR.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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The Devil's Tail

I’m talking about the 22-mile road from Oxbow to Hells Canyon Dam called The Devil’s Tail and the 11th annual Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR).

The rally starts in three days.  My one wish is for the weather to improve and provide us rain-beaten riders some sunny blue skies to enjoy this awesome motorcycle rally!

Last year I participated in the enjoyment of pulling off the tarmac to overnight under the stars and camped at the high school.  I learned a lot about storage because you need a good tent, a better sleeping bag, an air-mat and a “butt buddy” i.e. chair!  Most importantly I learned to make a motel reservation early and avoid the entire space is a premium issue.

The Hells Canyon Wilderness is an area located on the Idaho/Oregon border. It has some of the most spectacular views of the Snake River as it winds its way through Hells Canyon, one of the deepest gorges on the planet. The gateway is Baker City which is uniquely located as the connecting point of more great motorcycle roads than just about anywhere. I-84, Hwy 30, Hwy 7, Hwy 203, Hwy 245 and Hwy 86. Also close by are the Hells Canyon, Blue Mountain and Elkhorn Scenic Byways to discover.

I hope to see you there.

Last year’s blog posts for Day 1 HERE, Day 2 HERE, Day 3 HERE and a tent camping postscript HERE.

Photo courtesy of Steve & Eric Folkestad (Event Organizers).

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C&D Drive In

C&D Drive In

It was so easy to wake up this morning in LaGrande.

In the tent the night before inbetween the trains, the rain, the camp “traffic”, and general mummy bag discomfort I didn’t get a lot of sleep.  A couple times in the morning I just sat there in the tent, staring at the wall, not wanting to jump into the day, but today it was different.  Sure I obtained a very small taste of what those early pioneers had gone through to travel across this land, dealing with the weather and the harsh landscape, but today it was a shower followed with coffee in the motel lobby – sweet!

It wasn’t as cold this morning, but the rain followed us.  Over coffee we obtained guidance from the weather channel and called up some web sites on the iPhone.  It was dismal everywhere with large sections of intense rain.  We all agreed that riding most of day in rain was just not going to sit well so, we took our time departing with a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s.  Then with a gorge head wind in our face we drove toward the sunset for the most direct route back to Portland.

Big_HorseBy the time we arrived in Boardman the rain had stopped and the sun was making it quite humid.  We pulled off exit 164 at the C&D Drive In, on I-84 and gassed up.  The posse wasn’t hungry and passed on the famous blackberry milkshakes, Walla Walla sweet onion rings and famous BOZO Burgers.  It’s odd that the drive-in is linked to an espresso bar and pizza place, but little has changed since it opened in the 1950s.  We stored our rain gear and rode on to Hood River where we stopped for a late lunch.

Big Horse Brew Pub

Big Horse Brew Pub

Riding in the warm sunshine felt good after a couple days of riding in off/on rain.  In Hood River it was downright warm with temp gauge registering 80 degrees.  We decided to take in the Big Horse Brew Pub.  We were a group of thirsty visitors and made the steep climb up the steps to this brewpub and restaurant.  It overlooks most of Hood River and makes for a good non-participation windsurfing view point. Inside there are billiards and micro-brewed beverages of choice that are made in the building’s stone cellar. Lunch and service was excellent.   Thanks Holly!  We made our way down the stairs and headed to Portland.

All in all, the rally was a lot of fun.  The people/hosts in Baker City are terrific! The ride over and back as well as the rides and time in the canyons was incredible.  I certainly plan to return.  I’m on the fence about a re-do of camping and having now done it means I’ve worked it out of my system.  I’ll likely make plans earlier in the year to score a motel and then do more rides out of Baker City toward John Day and into Idaho.  Thus avoiding the larger crowds on the Hells Canyon byway and hopefully the rain too!  If you’ve yet to experience the Hells Canyon Rally I suggest you add it to  your list of to do’s.

Hells Canyon Rally Wrap Up – Day 1 HERE and Day 2 HERE.

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HellsCanyonOR_mapAfter what seemed like an endless night of chatting voices and the occasional AC/DC rocking through the school ground all was quiet and I settled into the two-man tent and mummy style sleeping bag.  With the rain showers and 45 degree temperatures everything was slimed with dew even with a rain fly.

I know my way around the outdoors, but I’m in no way a boy scout or survivalist camper.  Motorcycle camping is much more comparable to bicycle camping than car camping due to the limited storage capacity.  Often the same equipment as backpackers is used because of lighter weights and compact dimensions associated with the backpacking equipment.  I had one saddle bag allocated to tent, rain fly, mat, sleeping bag, torso air-mat, mini-chair and compression pillow.  The magic is called stuff sacks!

HalfwayMy plan was to be just comfortable enough and since I had previously purchased most of the items for other activities it wouldn’t be expensive to pull together this camping gig. I wasn’t traversing Mt. Everest, or hiking the 3 Sisters Trail and food/stove/cookware were left at home because in my simple world… coffee and food was picked up along the way. Because in the Northwest it tends to rain, a good tent is important. A sleeping bag that is comfortable below freezing is important too. However, the mummy bag was like a restraint.  I kept thinking would a sleeping bag that weighs 2 pounds vs. 3 really have mattered?  No!  Space was the key and I could have fit a square bag.  The old school Therm-a-rest air pad provided some comfort, but not nearly as cushy as the oversized Outdoor Research thick air mats.  The good news is that in today’s compression sack world everything is about twice as small as a few years ago.

Rick Meigs Accident

Rick Meigs Accident

Note to Steve and the HCMR planners… make sure next year there is coffee in the high school gym.  They could have paid for 3 teachers salary had they set up a coffee stand even with 3-day old donuts from Safeway!  Nothing worse than a karaoke hangover and no coffee for miles!  Okay enough on the camping adventure.

We broke camp, re-packed the bikes (interestingly after everything gets wet it doesn’t compress as well – go figure!) and headed toward the McCafe’ and official event booths at the Best Western.  Our plan was a casual ride on the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and overnight in LaGrande.  The ride follows Hwy 86 a national designated scenic byway. The route circles the Wallowa Mountains by way of Halfway and Joseph then north through the small towns of Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa.  There were thousands of curves and plenty of motorcycle traffic.

Hells Canyon Lookout

Hells Canyon Lookout

Between Hole-in-the-Wall-Slide and Richland there were two motorcycle accidents within a quarter mile of each other.  Neither of them related, but both made everyone take a moment of pause.  The first was a lady that failed to negotiate a curve and rode off the road and down into the ditch.  Not life threatening, but she was taken away by ambulance.  The second and much more serious was Rick Meigs getting clipped by a vehicle that “crossed the center line.”  It was a hit and run. He was taken by ambulance to Baker City where they performed emergency surgery to stabilize him then he was flown by Life Flight to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise Idaho, where he is now, in critical condition. I don’t know Rick and researched this accident on the web after coming up on the scene.  Nonetheless, send your prayers and/or follow updates on his progress HERE.

"Posse" at Hells Canyon Lookout

"Posse" at Hells Canyon Lookout

Beyond Halfway, the road becomes a paved Forest Service stretch as it climbs over a pass toward Joseph. This road has a lot of switchbacks and ‘over-the-cliff’ moments so you’ll want to be most alert through the area.  We took a break at the Hells Canyon Overlook, but was unable to pick out the Seven Devils on the horizon due to the approaching rain storm.  Within 15 minutes there was solid rain so, we moved on and continue toward Joseph in full rain gear.  It was wet and slow going in the canyons.  The big corner preceding Joseph is one of those turns you typically never forget as The Wallowas come into view behind Joseph like a movie scene out of the Swiss Alps.  We stopped for lunch and to dry out a bit.  After Joseph there is a great stretch of motorcycle road through the Wallowa Valley and the mountain towns of Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa. We finish the loop on I-84 in La Grande, Or., as the Historic Baker City bars were no longer calling our name.  Neither were the tents!  We checked into a motel and proceeded directly to the hot tub to warm up.

Hells Canyon Rally Wrap Up – Day 1 HERE and Day 3 HERE.

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