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! **Click to Read More
Leave the parking area heading south on a good paved road with little traffic. is It starts flat, and then starts to pitch up slightly in several miles. These initial miles are part of the Millican valley. Pine mountain, the destination, will be to your left (elevation 6300 feet).
At mile 4 take the red cinder road that veers off to the left. Continue to climb gradually until mile 7. The road surface will vary between red cinder and gray gravel. It will be washboarded / corrugated in some areas, but there is typically a good riding line to be found.
Less than two years ago, there were only eight or ten homesteaders throughout this territory (Millican valley). Today the entire valley is dotted with the cabins of those who have come to stay. There are now in the neighborhood of 60 homesteaders located in the valley. [Bend Bulletin: July 27, 1913]
Miles 7 to 12 are flat but continue to bring you to the south side of Pine mountain. In front of you and to the left of the closest butte, Mahogany butte, is Kotzman basin (239 square miles).
At mile 12, make a 90 degree left and begin the climb to the top of Pine Mountain, a 4 mile climb averaging 6% but with several miles of sustained 7%. Sections are gnarly, sandy, and rutted. It is all rideable, but requires some brute power. Part way up the climb the desert scrub gives way to Ponderosa forest. The last mile of the climb is quite moderate. At mile 16 there is a road to the left. This leads out to a nice viewpoint.
Just after this, the observatory buildings will be to your right. The descent down the north side of Pine Mountain is almost immediate. Overall, the road is usually in good condition, but the corners can be washboarded. Part way down the descent (~ 2 miles) the route goes right onto a forest service road.
This leg of the route brings you onto Pine Mountain ridge. You will climb again, about 500 feet. At the summit there is road to the left leading to a very scenic viewpoint. The distance is short and the view so well worth it. Continue along and descend through the Ponderosa forests and re-connecting with the main gravel road.
Go about another 1.25 miles, and just after a makeshift camping area to the left, there is a small double track trail. It is very easy to miss. Take it. The start is very sandy, in about 100 to 200 yards it gives way to a more proper double track trail. This trail eventually leads to a dirt road which leads to a gravel road. This entire section is just over 4 miles in length.
This route likes big, squishy tires. 40 mm at a least.
The route tops out at 6200 feet. Be ready for it to be colder and windier at the observatory.
If you are doing this route as an evening / night ride, skip the Pine Mountain ridge section. Also, bring a good light as you will need it to find the double track turn at mile 25.3. Trust your navigation device.
Adventure / Gravel Route
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.
OHV dirt parking lot at intersection of Ford Road and Spencer Wells road (FS 23). No services.
Lat / Long: 43.873971, -120.987607
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.