Trans-America trail trip report: part 8 (Oregon)

April 27, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

This is the last installment of the Trans-America Trail (TAT) trip report blog. Well, of the actual travel part anyway - I will add one more with information about gear and vehicle later on. 

I don't have very many pictures from Oregon. On the trip west, I came through here in mid-June. When returning east on the TAT backwards trip, I skipped Oregon as it was hot, there were some forest fires, and I was on a schedule, not wanting to spend an extra 5 days on this section of the trail (I instead cut across Washington and Idaho to pick up the TAT at Horseshoe Bend, Idaho on the west to east trip in July 2017).

In my May/June 2017 westbound trip on the TAT, I took 28 days in total to reach the Oregon coast, but that included some extended photography breaks in Colorado and around Moab. If you're driving the full TAT in a truck, you should count on roughly 18 days solid driving to take you from start through to the Oregon border. For westbound overlanders, I'd recommend camping along the Boise River in Idaho and then doing a single day that will take you through the last part of Idaho and well into the national forests in Oregon. The Oregon section of the TAT contains some rough sections, some very remote sections, and some pretty obscure and infrequently visited trails in a few spots. I had to backtrack a few times due to blocked roads (trees and logging gates). You should allow 5 full days to get from the Idaho border to the end of the TAT in Port Orford. 

Central Oregon was comprised mainly of high plains and grasslands, there was hardly any other traffic, and the TAT is something like 90% gravel roads in this section. The Oregon section starts with high desert country. There is an occasional reprieve such as an irrigated cemetery in the dry high plains (N 44.412 W 117.722 - this would be an acceptable camping stop as there's nobody around and there is an artesian well feeding the cemetery).

Shortly after this, you get a taste of how the TAT route follows some quite obscure old roads. You come past a ranch at the Little Malheur River, take a sharp right on the west bank, and then contour up an obscure trail through the start of the Malheur National Forest to pick up a regular forest road. It would be nice camping on the west side of the Little Malheur if it is late in the day, but there's a really nice forest service campsite right on the North Fork Malheur which I highly recommend. Coordinates there are N44.208 W 118.383 - the picture below is of the river right beside my camp. The Little Malheur is a designated wild river and is really beautiful. It's a reasonable day's drive to get here from a camp along the Boise River in Idaho, even with some stops along the way (Placerville in particular). There's other campsites in the area, including Little Crane, just a few miles farther up the road and right on the TAT but I did not see any others in this area as nice as this one. 

My second day in Oregon took me on a mix of some paved sections, some good gravel roads, and some super obscure old tracks (bushes scraping both sides of the truck on tracks that looked like they were hardly ever driven). There's a nice overview of the mountains from the Dry Soda fire tower (N 44.207 W 118.912). You can also camp here, either in the fire tower area itself or across the road in some fields with fine views to the west. 

Shortly after that, you come to a country highway that takes you north to the town of John Day. This is a comfortable lunch stop from the North Fork camp and a good place to gas up. After a short drive to Mount Vernon on pavement, the TAT again heads inland to cross the same mountain range once again. More back country roads eventually bring you to the South Fork of the John Day River and from there, the gravel roads heading up to the high plains are wide and fast, for awhile anyway, across the Black Plain Wilderness.

Up on a narrow, little-traveled road in this part of the TAT, I came across a large tree down over the road at N 44.340 W 119.794. There was a steep logging road cut heading uphill, and it looked like it might connect with a parallel road up above, so I turned around and gave it a go. After some cross-forest driving and exploring, I could not find a way to connect so headed back down the logging spur to start back and do a work-around. As the spur had a sharp left at the bottom of a steep bit, I went right back towards the log over the road as I knew there was an area I could turn around. When I got there, much to my surprise there was another overland Jeep at the tree and the driver was out inspecting whether it might be possible to use a chainsaw to get through (no - it was 4 ft diameter).

So, that was the first Jeep I met heading the same direction as me and it was on one of the most obscure places on the trail. If I would have managed a left turn instead of going right, I would totally have missed the other Jeep (well, I may have driven back to see again as I am always watching for tracks of other vehicles and there were no other ones up here - additional fresh tracks would have had be totally perplexed). 

The other person was Brad Self ( from South Carolina. We ended up traveling together to the end of the TAT, and had some great camping and swapping stories along the way. After our short diversion around the big log, we pulled into a nice forest service camp on the Arvid Nelson Road (N 44.328 W 120.076) just before dark and enjoyed some good beer around the fire. For me, this was now 2 and a half days driving to get roughly half way across Oregon (and the more rugged coast mountains were still ahead). 

Day 3 took us out to some highway driving into Prineville, and then up along the very scenic Crooked River. Brad had to stop to do some work on his rig, so I took advantage of the stop to take out the big telephoto and take some pictures of guys out in the river fly fishing. 

Angler at workAngler at workFly fisherman on the Crooked River, Prineville, Oregon, 19 June 2017. From here, the TAT is into a section that has long traverses across pine forests and pine plantations. It was hot and dusty up here, reaching 100 F for the first time on this trip. There was a couple of places that were just pure fun. The Oregon ‘sand blast’ was a section of the trail on forestry plantation roads in a sandy section prior to arriving at Crescent City. Dust clouds were huge, the dust-sand mix extremely fine, and it was great fun, well so long as you have nobody in front of you. We came through here late afternoon and after gassing up in Crescent City, headed for the first of the passes in volcano country, Windigo Pass.

Despite the summer heat, as we headed up through the forest towards Windigo Pass we came to the first patches of snow a few hundred feet in elevation before the pass and soon the road was completely blocked by snow at only 5700 ft. elevation. This was on the 18th of June, on the lee side of the coast mountains, and certainly got my anxiety level up about the balance of the route, which would take us through remote passes in the heavy snow zones of the coastal mountains. 

We reversed from here and camped at a forest service campsite on the NW shore of Crescent Lake, right by the beach. I build a blaze to try to keep the smoke up as this area had some of the most voracious mosquitos I'd ever seen (I swear if each mosquito there managed to get a single meal, there would not be a single living animal left anywhere in the entire region). 

Next morning we had to backtrack all the way out to Crescent City, where we had a nice breakfast at this cool old restaurant, which had stuffed animals of all sorts all over the dining room walls (for some reason it even had a stuffed armadillo!). 

We continued on paved highway just north of Crater Lake (this would be an easy side trip but Oregon was taking so much time, at this stage both of us wanted to get to the coast) and then picked up the TAT again and headed into the Umpqua National Forest. The rest of the day took us through a mix of good gravel and obscure tracks, working southwest. This is slow traveling as there is lots of winding around. You come out to a short paved section on the Tiller Trail highway and Sam's maps show there is gas available here, but there is not. We were both running near empty here, so pulled off the jerry cans to top up 10 gallons each and get us to the next gas station. If you need gas here, you need to head NW on the Tiller Trail highway to Canyonville, which looks to be about 15 miles down the road. 

After that bit of pavement, it is back to gravel for a ways. We eventually got out on to paved roads and camped for the night at Devils' Flat (N 42.818 W 123.026). This was now 4.5 driving days in Oregon and we still hadn't reached I-5. 

Next morning, it was out on some easy roads and down to Glendale, along I-5. We stopped at a nice little cafe that catered to locals, near Glendale, and then headed out again, hoping to make the coast in early afternoon. Sam's maps are a little out of date in this section. He has the TAT running through a logging and sawmill operation in Glendale, but that is an easy diversion around. From there, we headed up old logging roads, and were after about a half hour turned around by a logging road gate, blocking us from traversing through an active logging area. That was a pretty substantial diversion back and around. Later the TAT takes you through two mountain ranges but with multiple ups and downs on the way, and some of the steepest and narrowest roads on the whole TAT. 

Fortunately we only had one spot where we had a patch of snow, but nothing serious. These roads are remote and obscure. Through many of these areas we were seeing zero sign of any prior traffic through this year and we were both wondering how many people that 'do the TAT' actually do the Oregon section of the trail. I was very happy to be traveling with another vehicle through here, as it would be a major operation to get extracted if something went seriously wrong out in this section. 

Below - a couple of shots of Brad Self out along this remote section of trail in the Oregon coast mountains. 

Retro Jeep treatmentRetro Jeep treatmentHigh in the mountains of Oregon, on the Trans-America Trail, 20 June 2016.

Oregon TATOregon TATOn the Trans-America Trail in Oregon, I met up with Brad Self (project hi-vis) and we travelled together for the last 3 days of the TAT, finishing up together at Port Orford Oregon. This was on some of the really remote backroads crossing the coast ranges.

After I took the shot above, Brad was going to wait just up the road for me. It turned out it was so steep, he kept going for a little ways. We both stayed in 4 high but we had both considered going to 4 low, one of the only places on the TAT this may have been really useful. Here's a short video clip of the climb up the hill. This was some of the steepest, narrowest, and most remote road on the entire TAT. And we saw no signs of anybody - truck or motorcycle - having come through prior to our passage on June 20th. 

Oregon backroads (1)Probably the most sustained steep section on the whole Trans-America Trail. This was super remote in the coastal mountains of Oregon. At this time, myself and a fellow solo TAT traveler, Brad Self, were crossing Oregon together. I go a lot of remote places on my own, but this would have had my anxiety level way up if I was doing it alone. I think this was on Day 20 of the TAT.

Each time we came down in elevation and picked up a more traveled road, we thought that might be it for the challenges of the TAT. Then, however, Sam will have one of his little surprises and run the TAT along even more obscure side trails. Just how untraveled? For one descent, I decided I wanted to get Brad on video going through our bush road and over the bumps and humps on the way down. Of course to get close enough to be able to see the other jeep in a video shot on a very wide angle Garmin Virb, I had to stay just about up his tailpipe as we careened down the mountain road.

Oregon backroads (2)More of the Trans-America trail in the coastal ranges of Oregon. Tailgating Brad Self in order to get close enough for super wide angle action camera shots.

Finally, after some bush whacking and narrow mountain roads, one comes down to the coast and the conclusion of the TAT on the Oregon beaches. Brad wanted to drive down onto the beach. The sand was pretty soft (it had been windy and was almost like drifted snow, a little deeper where the track runs down to the beach), so we decided that he would try going down and I would stay up top until we knew we could get out okay.

Good decision! He ran into problems in the sand, even after airing down to 14 pounds pressure. Max Trax did not get him unbogged and we needed to run a couple of lines down from my rig to winch him free.

Port Orford beachPort Orford beachBrad Self in the process of getting bogged in the soft sand after finishing the TAT, 21 June 2017. Onto the beachOnto the beachBrad Self bringing his jeep down on to the beach at Port Orford, Oregon, at the end of the Trans-America Trail, 20 June 2017.

We arrived at the beach after a full day driving and by the time we were unbogged it was time to enjoy the late evening sunset right at the longest days of the year. Below: sunset over the Pacific, at Port Orford, Oregon, the end of the TAT. After we watched the Pacific sunset, we went to the tavern in Port Orford to try to get something to eat can found out they had no food and some really sketchy patrons. Then we found out that all campsites on the coast were full so ended up having to drive north to get a couple of the only remaining hotel rooms in the whole region. I was starving by that time (it had been early afternoon since eating) and I lucked out in my hotel room, finding some frozen brownies in the freezer. I promptly scarfed them down, not thinking too much about it until the next morning when I woke and could not stand up. After some anxiety (was I having a stroke??), I realized (1) that I had some heightened sensory powers and (2) that cannabis was legal in Oregon. Quickly I put 2&2 together... and went back to bed for the rest of the day. Quite a finale for the TAT!

So, to summarize, it took me five and a half solid days driving to cross Oregon, following the TAT the entire way. When I rolled into the parking lot at Port Orford, I had logged 9297 km (about 6100 miles) from my starting point on I-75, north of Atlanta. Adding the distance for the first two days I did on my April dry run, I had driven 6400 miles in total on the TAT. This included some extra diversions in Colorado and Utah, but my guess is that anyone driving the entire TAT start to finish will probably put on at least 5300 miles. I ended up having 23 driving days on the full trip, and 28 days in total not counting my Colorado Springs maintenance - some drivers do it faster than 23 days, probably by making better time across the midwest, but after having done all the trail except snowed in passes, I'm hard pressed to see how you can cut much time. If there are any road or weather problems, this could be slower.  

I'm going to conclude this blog here, but I am going to come back with a final TAT blog, giving some of my opinions on what to take, how and when to do it, and some other information that I hope might be helpful for drivers thinking of doing the full TAT. 

Next stop for me after completion of the TAT was Vancouver Island, via the Oregon and Washington coast.  





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