Leg 42 – Around the Sand Desert to Christmas Valley


I made 86 miles today in the lonesome desert to Christmas Valley, Oregon, including 6 miles of backtracking to Riley.

I woke at five and thought I could sneak another fifteen minutes of sleep, but didn’t reawaken until 5:45, so I got a later start than I wanted. At seven, I said goodbye to my erstwhile pedaling companion, and hit the road, after filling my two water bottles plus an empty 32 oz Gatorade bottle Dave gave me.

Google’s preferred route to Christmas Valley would send me west another 20 miles on 20, then “turn left” on an unnamed Jeep track. I had asked Randy, the BLM Campground caretaker, about the google route yesterday evening – Jena said it was well worn and would be spectacular, traveling past Obsidian Butte and the sand desert. But it would be soft sand. And I was wary of taking the chance of having an unfixable flat on an untraveled road in the desert 30 miles from any habitation, and with limited water.

The alternate route backtracked to Riley, then went south 35 miles on US 395. With an unusual dawn wind blowing from the west, it was an easy choice, and at least the backtracking was quick and easy pedaling.

I bought some coffee for the ride at Riley’s Market and Archery, and topped off my water bottle again. Although there was a place called Wagontire 28 miles down the road, the owner of the Riley store wasn’t sure I would be able to get water – I might find the “caretaker” there but I might not. On Google Maps, it shows something called the Wagontire International Airport.

The sign leaving Riley said “Next Gas 90 Miles.” I was immediately in empty sage desert, with some background buttes and cones. Although much of the road was fenced, few cattle were to be seen. The early morning riding was pleasant enough, cool and still for this stretch.

At 21 miles, I stopped for the 3pH: Pee, Pictures, Pump, hydrate. My rear tire, which had not been a problem until now, was also going soft, worse than the patched up front tire. So I pumped it up.

The sign at Wagontire advertises gas, a cafe, RV parking and groceries, but it was all boarded up, with no sign of an airport even. As I glided by, I saw a man in a sun hat tending a flower garden.

I was then on the lookout for the Wagontire-Christmas Valley Road. I did not know which mile it was at or whether it was paved. Fortunately, Google MPs saved the base map, so even with no cell service, I could tell where the turn was. It was indeed paved, with enough sporadic traffic that I knew I would not die out there in the desert no matter what.

I put off lunch as long as possible, since I wanted to make as many miles as possible before the west wind blew in earnest. At mile 60, I reached a ridge and noticed a plume rising skyward from the horizon. Was this a dust storm in the sand desert? As I rode on, the plume took the form of a line of rising smoke in the valley. I decided it must be a wildfire. But traffic passed in both directions without concern. I finally stopped for lunch on the full sun at mile 67 for the day, at a bend on the road by an open sand area. Just as I got there, a strong whirlwind stirred up a huge dust devil that almost stopped me in my tracks. Maybe the plumes were all dust storms after all.

After lunch I rode the remaining 20 miles to Christmas Valley, puzzling over the plumes. When I finally passed the plumes to the south, just a few miles east of town, they looked like steam vents or geysers, and I decided they must be geological activity of some sort.

I checked into the Christmas Valley Desert Inn at 5, but no tire package had arrived. The owner said UPS usually would have delivered by then, unless they were running late. In my room, I tracked the package, which was still out for delivery. I showered and researched the next few days plans – then came a knock on the door – my new tires had arrived! It was like Christmas Day in Christmas Valley!

I checked in with Robin, and mounted the new tires and tubes. I went to dinner at the Farmhouse Cafe, where the counterwomen told me the smoke plumes were all dust blown by the wind. After dinner, I bought bananas and beer at the grocery store, and ended up chatting with the occupant of the next unit, who was driving the Schwans Food delivery truck. He said the farm kids here were all rich, but the others were dirt poor, many families without lights or running water. And that the Bundys were actually nice people. I pointed out that armed occupation of a federal office wasn’t a nice thing to do, and he agreed.

I have been riding in the desert for six days now (not counting a day of Snake River Valley). I am ready for a change. I have one more desert to cross, but I should be in the Klamath National Forest by the end of the day tomorrow. Hopefully, there will be trees there


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