Exploring the Zumwalt Prairie – Fan Report

September 21, 2010
Report and photos by Charlie Mitchell

The views expressed in Motorcycle USA Fan Reports are those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views of Motorcycle USA.com or its staff.
Fan Report
Our fan embarked on 250-mile journey to ‘The Zumwalt’ where he explored the vast wilderness of northeast Oregon.

Several times each year I like to head out to a part of the state that I simply call “the Zumwalt.” It’s more proper name is the Zumwalt Prairie, boasting the largest remaining grassland of its type in North America. It is situated on a high plateau, with elevations between 3500 to 5500 feet. At the northern edge of the prairie is the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and to the east is the vast and rugged Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. I like riding up here and visiting just because it is so vast and often very lonely.

I rode 255 miles on my 2007 KLX250 to the far northeast corner of Oregon. Turns out, this was the longest single ride I’ve ever taken on this bike. About half of the miles were off-road (mostly just gravel). Riding a dual-purpose bike is the best way to experience it in my opinion, especially after my front tire went flat.

Fan Report
While exploring our contributor met up with some bow hunters at Buckhorn Overlook. 

Once you get into the forest, there are roads going many different directions, and I probably couldn’t explore all of them in my lifetime. There are many amazing overlooks of Hells Canyon. I’ve seen an entire herd of bighorn sheep in this area. Each season brings a very different look to the region and I’ve visited it at least once during each season, including winter. The purpose of this ride was to get away from the world, people and civilization. However, on this particular ride, it was in the midst of elk bow-hunting season, so there were a lot more folks around than normal – which still isn’t all that much. I included a shot of a couple bow hunters on their ATVs next to my bike at the Buckhorn Overlook.

You could lose yourself up here without trying too hard. I’d highly recommend riding in this area, but make sure you have a good map (I don’t know that I’d even rely on GPS), and either have plenty of gas or plan out your route carefully so that you don’t run out. For most of the 100-mile loop, which begins and ends in Enterprise, the road is fairly smooth gravel, so pretty much any bike could handle it. But if you plan on exploring any of the side roads, a dual purpose mount would be the best choice. If you have knobby tires, then you can extend the ride further into the seasons and visit a large range of optional side roads and trails.

Fan Report
It was a perfect day for riding with cool air and not a drop of rain in sight.

This past Saturday the weather was perfect for my ride, with temperatures in the low 70s and lots of clouds but no rain. Shortly past the halfway point I discovered my front tire was going flat. Forty-three miles later, I tried airing it up at a gas station in Enterprise, Oregon, only to discover that the valve stem was leaking. I ended up riding over 110 miles home on a flat front tire – a Dunlop D606. As long as I was going fast, it wasn’t a problem, but whenever I had to slow down or stop, it became a little tricky. Of course, negotiating curves was interesting as well. Bottom line, I made it home safely and didn’t crash. I also didn’t have to call for anyone to come bail me out.

As far as I know, I didn’t damage my rim or tire, though I haven’t yet had the time to remove the wheel and take it into the shop to have the flat repaired. I’m assuming that since there wasn’t any wobble at high speeds, it’s OK, as is my spirit after my latest outing in the “Zumwalt.”

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