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Overlanding The West – You meet the nicest people in a Suzuki

You meet the nicest people in a Suzuki

ZUKIWORLD’s Adventure Series Tackles Central Oregon.

Editor: Eric Bewley Photo: Eric Bewley, Jason Hutchison

BEND, OR. -The Adventure Series is a group of social/adventure outings for Suzuki 4×4 owners from around North America. This means SJ410, SJ413, Samurai, Sidekick, X-90, Tracker, Vitara, Grand Vitara, XL-7. If it’s a Suzuki 4WD vehicle you qualify! The goal of The Adventure Series is to meet new people, see something you haven’t seen before, learn something new, and traverse unfamiliar terrain that will test one’s equipment, skills, and possibly, patience.

The Pine Mountain, Steen’s Mountain, Alvord Desert Adventure consisted of mostly graveled and dirt roads that went on forever. Every time we take a journey into the untamed portions of the west we are amazed at the shear vastness and splendor at every angle. It seems like no matter where you turn there is something interesting to see or do.

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We started our gravel and dirted journey 30 miles east of Bend Oregon on Hwy 20 at the turn off to the Pine Mountain observatory. Making good time up the moutain, we were able to set up camp early enough to see, and photograph, some of the local wildlife. The starred attaction for this evening was going to the Pine Mountain Observatory for a tour.

The observatory is at an elevation of 6500 feet. Telescopes of aperture 15, 24 and 32-inches are there. The facility is operated by the University of Oregon Physics Department. In addition, a group of amateur astronomers, called the Friends of Pine Mountain Observatory , help to maintain the telescopes as well as help out with some observing programs. Pine Mountain is a member of NASTEC and GNAT 

Unfortunately, we were traveling during a very bright full moon so viewing was limited at best but we were treated to seeing 4 of the moons and the storm bands on Jupiter, the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon, and a globular cluster.

The next day started off with a rousing rendition of Slim Whitman’s “Singing Cowboy.” Breakfast was fast and we were soon on our way.

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Most of this journey was easy to navigate because we were heading almost exclusively east and with our Magellan 330 GPS, every turn was pre-determined.

Our first stop of the day was an abandoned homestead that was still being used as a well for cattle. We’ve spent several trips out here and it’s amazing to note just how many homesteads were out here. There were definitely several tries taken to tame this tough land.

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Here’s the second tire problem Jason had. His ProComp tires just weren’t up to the tough gravel roads that we were traveling.

We made good time driving and had time to admire some of the natural features of the area. We examined several rock cliff faces, some with caves, and other features such as 10 foot tall sage brush, cattle, and small creeks.

Towards the end of this second day we were fortunate enough to come across the “OO” Marsh project. There were so many birds in these marshes we lost track as we slowly made our way past several marshes and small lakes.

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We had to make time to get to our campsite for the second day. We didn’t make it as far as we would have liked for we were shooting to get to the Steen’s mountain loop. That just couldn’t happen so we found a nice pleasant spot along the route that had a plesant view of the mountains we were going to takle the next day.

We woke to smell of fresh pancakes from Jason being cooked over his trusty colman stove. Next stop after braking camp, The Steen’s Mountain Loop by way of the quaint gas stop of Frenchglen. A small town named after Pete French and Dr. Hugh Glenn who was Pete French’s father-in-law. The “P” Ranch was established in 1872 as the headquarters for French-Glenn Livestock Co. Pete French owned 150,000 acres at the base of the Steens Mountain, in what is now known as the Frenchglen Valley. He was unarmed when allegedly shot and killed by Ed Oliver on December 26, 1897 over a fencing dispute.

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After a full tank of fuel and some ice-cream sandwiches, we were on our way to the Steens Mountains by way of the Steens Mountain Loop. We found out late in the game by the BLM that the loop usually doesn’t open for travel until July due to snow. We were ready for the snow, but the gate half way up the southern loop told a different story. So, we hiked around a bit and took some pictures of the glaciated canyons that still have visible trails on them that are no longer accessable to OHV users.

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Hey, if the land sailers can do it, why can’t we?

Next, we swung around the south end of this huge moutain range and headed for the Alvord desert where we were meeting some friends for a cold one.

The Alvord desert is a desert playas which are the flattest and most lifeless pieces of landscape on earth. The Alvord Desert, which lies at the base of Steens Mountain, is no exception. In summer, its cracked, sun-baked surface is smooth enough to drive across, or for small airplanes to land on. The only visible signs of life are the carcasses of small insects which have died after being blown into its barren expanse by the wind. When melting snow or spring thunderstorms wet the fine silt which forms its surface, it turns into a thick, sticky shoe-eating mud. Perfect for a little mud driving.

A picture showing Jason’s third and first tire issue. The first was a sidewall goiter and the third and final was a plain old nail. Out of all the participant, he was the only one to have tire trouble.

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We met up with our compaderes and proceeded do have that cold one. We then commenced with launching H20 bottle rockets, land sailing, motorcycle riding, and star gazing. All of which were enhanced by this gigantic unearthly playa.

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On the western edge of the playa, visible from the road which runs between it and Steens, is the Alvord Hot Springs and its galvanized tin bathhouse. This is privately owned, but public use is tolerated. The life-giving waters of the spring flow out over the playa for a mile or so. We took a moment to soak our bones into the extremely hot water before heading over to the small wet end of the playa for some “motorsports.”

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Jason, gingerly drove out onto the wet area first and was surprized by the immediacy of his sinking tires and how full they were of this afore mention ‘goo.’ After a quick tug to get him out, we decided that a little horsepower and speed was going to be needed to traverse this little challenge.

VIDEO CLIPS

Jason exploring the mud.

Exploring with more vigor.

We camped one more night and then proceeded home on the lonely and boring pavement. Remenicing about the groups antics and the wonderful sights and sounds we experienced along our dusty yet wonderful route.

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