Roger Sanders - High Desert Region PCA Historian
This Arrive & Drive was definitely our best one day drive of the year! OK, so it’s our only one day drive of the year, but it was a very good one. We started out at the regular Starbucks parking lot location with 13 cars leaving in two groups.
The one day format allowed us to drive on some great roads that our half Arrive & Drives can’t include. Our tour went through Madras, continuing on Hwy. 97 to the Antelope turn off.
We stopped at the John Day Clarno Unit Monument where we had some excellent cookies and admired the incredible Palisades basalt cliffs. 45 million years ago, huge rhino like creatures and tiny four toed horses roamed ancient jungles there. Their remains were swept up in volcanic mudflows and preserved for us to see.
The road to the Clarno unit and on to Fossil is considered by many to be one of the best sports car driving roads anywhere. You are met with sweeping vistas and beautiful ranches while driving on a smooth road and enjoying hundreds of great curves.
Fossil is the county seat for Wheeler County. It’s a nice stopping point for many people touring in eastern Oregon. Fossil was named by its first postmaster, who found a few fossils on his ranch. He had no idea of the many rich fossil beds to be found nearby. We stopped at RJ’s for lunch. There are three possible places to eat in Fossil, but RJ’s is the only one that can take a larger group. If you go, remember that Fossil has only one gas station and only E10 regular gas is available.
After lunch we continued southeast towards Kimberly, drove up into the nearby mountains and took the Twickenham cutoff. The road is mostly downhill with lots of curves. But it’s not well maintained, has no center-line. The cow-pies in the road mean that you better watch out for cattle!
Twickenham is a town lost in time that was located right on the John Day river. Today it’s a region of large, scenic ranches, a handy place to begin float trips down the John Day and is serviced by “Twickenham International Airport”. The airport is actually a small landing strip next to the highway and humorously named “Twickenham International” by Adam Temple, a HDRPCA member and rancher who owns it.
Leaving Twickenham we headed south and drove through one of the most amazing canyons. Millions of years ago it was cut through basalt flows by floods, creating a narrow pathway through cliffs that are 100s of feet high. And yes, after leaving the canyon the road became a great sports car road.
We continued south to Mitchell and headed to Prineville, over the Ochoco mountains. We had our last rest stop in the Ochocos, then continued on to Prineville where the tour ended. The tour was 200 miles long and took us about 8 hours. This particular tour is one of many eastern Oregon tours that are very scenic, historically interesting and well worth exploring during the good weather months.