Dark Skies

5 Star Route

East of Bend by 30 minutes or so, are some of the darkest skies in all of the US. In the late 1960’s, Oregon University took advantage of this and built Pine Mountain Observatory.

The route takes in the beautiful scrub desert of Millican valley and Kotzman basin along with Ponderosa forests higher up on Pine Mountain.

In 2011, the observatory had three large reflector telescopes, with mirrors of thirty-two inches, twenty-four inches, and fourteen inches in diameter, housed in three domes. Observational work under Director Greg Bothun focuses on low-luminescent galaxies, with remote high-speed digital connections between the observatory and the University of Oregon campus and other astronomical data centers. [The Oregon Encyclopedia]

This ride is unique in that it can make for a very remarkable experience with a bit of planning. With that start your ride an hour or so before dusk and time your arrival at the peak for dusk. Grab a snack. Do a tour of the observatory, view the stars, kick in your courage … and when ready, hop back on your bike and begin the descent with your lights ablazing! **Read More

Adventure / Gravel Route

Loop: 30 miles / 2700 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 85% gravel, 15% paved
eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: ~ 30 minutes east of Bend, Oregon
– Published: April 2020

Difficulty

Advanced–. Due to the sustained 7% climb that is a bit gnarly and some sand patches that may require hike-a-bike.

When we like to ride this …

Late spring, just after the snow has melted, or fall when there is moisture begin sucked into the ground with freeze thaw cycles. The route needs moisture in the ground to be good. It usually begins riding in mid April and goes through late November, when the first snows arrive. Summer is mostly a no go due to sections of deep sand.

The Start

OHV dirt parking lot at intersection of Ford Road and Spencer Wells road (FS 23). No services.
Lat / Long: 43.873971, -120.987607


Downloads

Wahoo / Garmin Direct Download
Cue Sheet / GPX file / TCX file

Legend

Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road

For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.

Ridden and Reviewed by …

BenG / Team Dirty Freehub

Ben has made Central Oregon home for both work and play since 2000, in the summer dabbling in many kinds of cycling, running, hiking, or paddling, with winter’s favorite the overnight, free-heel, ski-tour of the backcountry. Always looking for adventure, yet still trading engineering skills with Dassault Systèms to pay the bills.

  • David Willingham says:

    Loved this ride. I hit it perfectly after some good rain. Not much sand at all. Thanks for the route! Made a funny little video of my adventure here is link if you want to watch it.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/cmok7t4burklayw/DF%3A%20Dark%20Skies%20Video.mp4?dl=0

  • Henry Abel says:

    Thank you Dirty Freehub for this fun ride! We started from the east side of Horse Ridge and parked on the Old Highway. Then rode to the start of the ride via the motorcycle track along the highway, and then about 2 miles of pavement. We did the ride on fat bikes and once the pavement ended we were pretty pleased with our choice! The rocky climb and all the sandy bits were easy-peasy, thanks to fat tires. A cyclocross bike would be a big tougher. The route was lovely and the views were extra good! Shared the road with lots of motorcycles on the gravel leading up to the start of the first steep climb, but all were friendly and waved. One even stopped to ask me for directions. I recommend not skipping the second climb, even if you’re tired. It was one of the smoothest sections of gravel on the ride and it was extra-green in the trees. The sand wash near the end of the ride was a cool way to finish the ride and fun on the fat bikes, but I could see that as bit tough with skinny tires. We give this route two thumbs up! ~Henry & Amy

  • Alex says:

    5/22/20 Awesome ride! Beautiful clouds. A few 4-wheelers, but mostly to myself! Sand not too bad after the week of rain. Go for it!

  • Bobby Braaps says:

    I rode up the south face of Pine to the observatory summer 2019. I would not recommend taking that climb at mile 65 of the day on fully loaded rigs. It certainly was a character building situation. 3″ tires+ recommended.

    • KevinE says:

      Wow! Yes, that would be a difficult climb fully loaded and after 65 miles of riding. When we did it a week or so ago, I had 2.1″ inch 29’er tires / rims and my riding companion had 40 mm / 700C. BenG who put together the route info did it on 38 mm / 700C. With 40 mm or less, you may walk a few hundred yards or so due to sand.

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