Madras to Trout Creek
Note: if you're serious about this go to the BLM's Lower Deschutes Boater's Guide and download maps 1 through 10 to a handy folder, along with the corresponding pages of detailed text notes (from links on the maps), and the map legend.
There are plenty of supply points along the route, but Madras (mad'-riss) is the last town of any size til The Dalles.
Head north on 97, turn west on C Street past the Madras Hotel (for sale) and on out of town. The grade bears left off pavement, passing under the BNSF trestle.
If you need a trailhead and parking, pass C St and make a left on Maple, right where 97 and 26 split. There's a big dirt lot used by semis, with a paved trail leading to the grade under the trestle.
The first half-mile of the grade is accessible to motor vehicles, but then a rickety bridge crosses the creek, and motorists are out of luck.
The old grade's in pretty good riding condition, with just a few rough spots.
Be alert. About a mile in, the trail veers left, downhill, on a slope no locomotive could handle. Look right, where the railroad grade goes smack into a hill. There used to be a tunnel there, and you can still see the concrete lintel of the portal.
In fact there are two tunnels here - inline "twins" - both closed by combat demolition teams practicing for WW II. As far as I can tell, the tunnels are still there - combat demolition was intended to close the portals, but allow the tunnel to be re-opened and used by their advancing forces. They did not usually intend total destruction. This seems borne out further ahead.
The trail drops, then levels out. Look up and you'll see about 200' of grade between the closed facing portals of the twins.
When the trail climbs back up to grade level, you can see what's left of the westernmost portal - nothing - it looks like the grade runs into a blind hill. But above the portal it seems part of the tunnel has collapsed - there's a hole, a "cavern", and on a hot August morning there was cold air blowing out of there. That seems to indicate there's another hole somewhere. I was alone - nobody knew where I was - so I didn't explore further.
From there west it's a pretty, quick ride out of the canyon. When you see pavement, look to your right - you'll see a characteristic cut through the rocks where the grade went, turning north.
I've followed it, but can't recommend it. It's a tangle of sagebrush and rockfall. Half a mile on, the hillside has slumped and wiped out 100 yards of the grade. Past that, it looks open, but there's a 6' fence across a cut at the next intersection with the paved road. Pavement is the better option out of Willow Canyon.
Turn right (north), and you're riding above Lake Simtustus, backed up behind Pelton Dam. Just down the hill is Pelton Park, operated by Portland General Electric. Camping, swimming, boating, with all the amenities. Roxey's Café was open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. when I was there in August 2012. They had some limited groceries, good coffee and tons of cold beer, and they serve food, too.
Pelton Park from grade level - Roxey's left of the marina.
Of course the place overflows on summer weekends. If you do get shut out, you might find a nice spot on the shore a little ways back up the hill, if you look. That's where I launched, loaded, and tested my boat. But come Friday afternoon, I blew right outa there - too many people around to suit me.
Follow the pavement north. You can see the grade cut into the hill above. When the road climbs to grade level you can see the gated cut I mentioned.
Continuing north, make a left onto 26. Sections of the old grade can be seen up the slope on your right, all the trestles gone. A mile or so ahead is the Rainbow minimart. Above it you can just glimpse an old tunnel. That's your guide to the next section of rideable grade up to Mecca Flat. Past the abandoned gas station, make a right uphill on a dirt road. Around a bend where the road levels out, the tunnel is on your right.
A 1910 or '11 Oregon map shows Mecca on Hill's Oregon Trunk line in about the right location by the bridge to Warm Springs>
Just across the bridge is the Warm Springs Reservation, and there's a first-class tribal museum about a mile ahead in the town of Warm Springs.
It's a beautiful piece of country they have there, but the res does have trouble with lack of economic opportunity for young people, and the attending social problems. I've found them very charming people, but there are some sad cases, too.
According to a report in the Madras Pioneer, a fisherman from Seattle camping at Mecca Flat was found dead in this tunnel in May 2012, a few days before I first visited. The day after his body was found, two men were arrested on the res as they were getting into his missing vehicle, and were charged with murder. The two alleged masterminds had been seen with the victim at his camp, but nobody seemed to know how he got mixed up with them.
Me, I was charmed, and managed to inspect the tunnel without getting killed. The grade runs north from there on an embankment to the BLM campground at Mecca Flat.
Past there it's gated and overgrown with sagebrush. On my first visit, I was stumped, but later I found the route.
Go from the gate west through a gravel parking lot towards the river. There's a foot trail for fishermen to follow along the river - a nice singletrack parallelling the grade. I suppose the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could arbitrarily and capriciously close it to bicycles at any time, and it would take 10 years in court to re-open it, but when I was there, it was rideable. Please do not abuse it - it's a nice ride - I'd like to do it again. By the wheel tracks, so would many others.
While I'm preaching, I might as well suggest being a good tourist. When you spend money, let people know why you're there - tourist money is what keeps these things preserved and open.
Between the grade and the river, the trail is easily followed. There are a few annoying V-gates that seem intended to keep fat people off the trail.
A quarter mile past a private house, possibly Luelling's, you can get up on the grade itself. It's clear and rideable right into Trout Creek, and it's one of those rides that make rail-trailing such a pleasure - clean air, beautiful country, quiet, and the rich scent of conifers and sage in the hot sun.
Next leg: Trout Creek to Nena >