Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost, 1920
I have always preferred taking the “road less traveled.” Perhaps that’s why I love the open road, and over my many years of riding I have taken scores of those roads, both figuratively and literally. I love stories, both hearing them and telling them, and I thought I would share one of the many roads that have become some of my favorite rides and memories.
Last summer I loaded up my trusty Road King for a five-day ride to… well, I really didn’t know. I headed away from the Puget Sound area south of Seattle on Interstate 5 and aimlessly made my way to a friend’s house in Bend for the night before heading southeast into the central Oregon desert. That’s when I found Oregon Highway 205 (OR205).
Not to be confused with Interstate 205 in the Portland Metro area, this is a two-lane road that cuts south from Burns to the Oregon-Nevada border, 135 miles away. For the most part, OR205 is as straight as an arrow, crossing what is left of Malheur Lake about 22 miles southeast of Burns.
Malheur Lake is what’s left of a larger body of water in prehistoric times, once encompassing an estimated 900 square miles at a depth of 35 feet. Now it covers about 50,000 acres at its highest water levels, with a maximum depth of only six feet. Essentially now considered a freshwater marsh, the lake has been known to go completely dry in severe droughts, such as the one in 1934.
Malheur Lake feeds into Mud Lake or, at higher levels, over the dike and into Harney Lake. The highway cuts between Mud Lake and Malheur Lake, and at an elevation of just over 4,000 feet above sea level, the air is clean and clear. This part of Oregon is also home to the 160,000-acre Malheur Wildlife Refuge, designated in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. After crossing between the two lakes, I found myself all alone on the two-lane ribbon as it sliced southward through the scrubland of the High Desert and then rolled through a series of light turns and twisties into the “Town” of Frenchglen about 70 miles later. Frenchglen is an unincorporated town founded in 1870 and named for the French-Glenn Livestock Company. A mere speck along the road, Frenchglen’s main building is the historic Frenchglen Hotel, built in 1917 and now part of Oregon Sate Parks’ Frenchglen Hotel State Heritage Site.
Since the temperature was steadily climbing, I stopped at a small store for some water and then headed south out of town. Ranches and rangeland are plentiful out here, but that’s about it. Miles of desert and almost no other traffic make this a perfect solitary ride. The ribbon of asphalt curves east and then south again past the Roaring Springs Ranch, a sprawling 425,000-acre corporate ranch in the Catlow Valley equipped with its own airport. While I didn’t see many other vehicles on this stretch of road, I did have to stop to let the cattle cross in front of me! This was one of the few places along the route that I actually saw green grass and pastures.
My map had showed me a small town immediately south of the Oregon-Nevada border called Denio, and I figured on stopping to top off my fuel tank there. My Road King is equipped with a five-gallon tank, and I like to fill up every 175 miles or so simply because pushing a 700-pound Harley in the desert heat is not my idea of a good time. Besides, nothing else on the map showed me where there might be fuel.
I did pass a small store on my right as I sailed south, at a place called Fields. Not thinking much about it, and not needing a bathroom just yet, I kept rolling toward the Nevada state line. Before I knew it, I crossed into Nevada and immediately into the “Town” of Denio where I saw a few closed businesses, a post office, some old houses and dead cars. No gas. Since the only business open was the post office, I went in and asked. The lady behind the counter told me the nearest gas was about 20 miles north, back in Fields.
Kicking myself for not stopping when I went past there, I went back out to the bike and checked my mileage. I had ridden about 150 miles since my last fill-up in Burns, and I was crossing my fingers that I would make it back to Fields. I stepped the bike into gear and headed back the way I had come, keeping a light hand on the throttle and hoping I wouldn’t run out of gas. The good news is I made it. They had two pumps: diesel and regular (my bike takes premium). Oh, well; any port in a storm, so I filled the tank as far as I could. Since the pumps looked like they were from the 1970’s, I had to go inside to pay and, when I walked in, I saw a small bar with a couple of locals sitting there. I said something like, “Holy Crap, you have beer!” to which one of the locals replied, “Yup. Damn good beer, too.” Of course, being in no hurry as well as being very thirsty, I availed myself of one of those cold, frosty brews.
Back on the road, I made my way back down to and through Denio before turning onto Nevada Route 140. For those of us who dislike the Interstates, OR205 is a great ride, especially on a warm summer day. Just another one of the “roads less traveled.”