Riding a bicycle through Oregon is an awesome way to learn about our history and get up close and personal with the wild places that have shaped it. From a bike you can hear, see, and smell much more than from inside a car — and hours in the saddle give you time to ponder everything your senses take in.
The final leg of my journey gave me several opportunities to for this. I rode from Gold Beach on the coast to the steep canyons of the Rogue River just outside of Grants Pass (see route details on RideWithGPS.com). Unlike the other three days of this trip, my route mirrored exactly what we’ll do on Cycle Oregon next month — all 71 miles (and nearly 7,400 feet of climbing) of it.
Gold Beach’s history is in its name. It was actual gold that brought settlers there in the 1850s and it was the richness of natural resources at the mouth of the Rogue River that allowed the town to flourish thereafter. But the use (and overuse) of those resources also led all-out war with the people who lived their first: Native American tribes.
Native Americans lived in the area for thousands of years before the French “discovered” the area in the early 19th century. And when the fur trappers came, followed by gold-seekers and then fishermen and canneries after that, the existing population, at least according to history, did not appreciate the intruders. The name “Rogue” was passed down from the French, who labeled the native populations — whose land they exploited without recompense — as aggressors and thieves. By 1855, as settlers streamed in on the newly opened Oregon Trail, the Rogue River Wars between the U.S. army and the tribes had begun.
Today the resources at the center of those battles have mostly been depleted. The gold only lasted about a decade, then it was replaced by the fish rush and commercial salmon operations that started a long decline in that species’ health that we’re still grappling with today. While you can still get fresh fish on the docks on Gold Beach harbor, all that’s left of the old canneries are a decrepit, mostly submerged old fishing boat and a few river pilings.
I saw that boat — the M.D. Hume, named after the wife of a major salmon cannery owner — right off the Rogue Riverside trail just beyond the port parking lot. The path took me under the Patterson Bridge and out on the other side where I connected to Jerry’s Flat Road and began my journey east.
The first 30 miles of the day hugged the Rogue River about as closely as possible without being in a raft. I had trouble staying focused on the days miles because there seemed to be osprey nests in every other tree. I also took a neat detour on some singletrack at Elephant Bar Trail, which led me through the riparian banks of river to a small estuarine pond.
I made another stop at the Indian Creek RV park because I saw a quaint little store and lodge that needed to be checked out. Inside I met the proprietor Cher Keyser. She was a font of knowledge about the area and happy to share what she knew. My favorite tidbit: Boats are still used to deliver mail on the Rogue River between Gold Beach and Agness (a small town 30-miles upriver).
Then it was time to buckle down and ride. I had a 16-mile climb to get to and it wasn’t getting any cooler. Before the route tilted up, I enjoyed every mile of the Rogue-Coquille Scenic Byway between Gold Beach and Agness, a route that goes through what a roadsign said was “a true taste of the Pacific Northwest” with its river canyons (both the Rogue and the Illinois), and “great diversity of views, vegetation, and waterways.”
After crossing a high bridge over the point where the Rogue and Illinois Rivers meet, I was introduced to Bear Camp Road. There was no small talk. This road got right down to business. Or more accurately, “up” to business. The climb began immediately and didn’t release its hold until I pedaled 16 miles and gained 4,500 feet in elevation.
It took me about three hours to get to the top. Three long, hot, sweaty, hours. Now I know why Cycle Oregon calls this one of the toughest climbs they’ve ever done. If you plan on joining us next month, I hope you’ve done some training.
The descent from Bear Camp was fantastic; but, like your first bite of food after being famished, it might just have seemed that way because I was so glad to be done with the climb. Bear Camp Road dropped me out right along a roaring Galice Creek before meeting back up with the Rogue River on Galice Road. After that it was an easy few miles south to Indian Mary Park, which happens to be the smallest native reservation ever created by the U.S. government. In 1886 its 46 acres were granted to local tribal member Umpqua Joe as a gift of thanks after he tipped off a mining company of an impending attack from some of those “Rogue Indians.”
Thanks for following along with me on these rides. I hope you now have a deeper understanding and appreciation for this part of our great state and are inspired to make plans to experience it yourself. If you’d rather have a guide and full support, there are still a few spots left on Cycle Oregon. But you’d better sign up in a hurry because registration closes on August 21st.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – email@example.com
Special thanks to Western Bikeworks for sponsoring the Cycle Exploregon series.