Backcountry Oregon with EarthCruiser

Overland Expo
Thursday July 7th to Saturday July 9th, 2022

Left Seattle early to avoid the traffic and had an easy 8 hour drive to Redmond where the Pacific Northwest (PNW) Overland Expo was being held. Timing could not be better, arriving a few minutes after Tim allowing us to camp right next door to each other. I was meant to park somewhere else as Molly was too big. And Tim was also meant to park somewhere else, as he had the full experience ticket. But this worked out just right.

The night of arrival we headed to EarthCruiser where they had a Cocktail and nibbles event. Gave us a chance to meet some of the other owners and view some Earthcruisers.

Friday started with some work calls, but not long before I was able to enter the event. My main focus was on education attending the following

  • Optimal Tire Pressure for Overlanding.
  • International Overlanding: Easier Than You Think
  • Overland Communications 101

That night we went to local pub to an event being hosted by Brad from Trail Recon and E3 membership program. This time I was Tim’s +1.

During the day on Saturday I walked the Vendors and attended the following education.

  • Wild Baja Mexico: What You Need to Know Before Driving South
  • Regional Q&A: South America
  • Things you Didn’t Know You Don’t Need
  • Power Systems and Overlanding

During the event I met some famous people. Friday at EC, I got to chat to Scott Brady from Expedition Portal, on Thursday it was Brad from Trail Recon and Saturday it was Eva zu Beck a Social Media influencer. So that wrapped up the Overland expo for me. It was a nice event and it had been four years since I had attended one. It was nice to share the event with Tim.

Molly and Tim’s Defender.
Tim’s Morning coffee
Expo Day 1: Trail Recon Event.
Day 1 – Welcome Dinner
Saturday, July 9th

The Earthcruiser Oregon Backcountry Trip kicked off with a mandatory meeting, where I met my travel companions for the first time and hear the details of the trip. Then we were treated to exclusive river-to-table dining experience featuring locally caught Salmon and Sturgeon cooked by a lovely indigenous couple.

The Adventure trip consists of 5 EarthCruisers, 8 clients and Ellen our expedition leader. This is the very first commercial trip run by Earthcruiser, and has us travelling through the high desert region of Central Oregon, stopping to explore its natural and archeological sites. We will drive on dirt and gravel road most of the way, summit mountains, and navigate remote and rugged canyonlands.

Molly fuel and water tanks were topped up the day before, the fridge was stocked with beer and food in Seattle and navigation routes were loaded onto the Garmin Overlander. The final night was spent camping at Overland Expo.

Dinner prepared in the traditional indigenous manner over an open fire..
And now it is time to eat.
Day 2 – Christmas Valley Sand Dunes
Sunday, July 10th, 2022

After picking up a coffee, I headed over to EarthCruiser HQ to gather up as a team. A quick introduction to day’s activities and instruction on convoy travel and radio protocols.

First Stop was Fort Rock, where a guide explained the geology and archeology of the area. Sandals found in a nearby cave are the oldest ever discovered, dating back around 9,000 years. Just down the road was Fort Rock Homestead Village Museum, which was a nice little visit of life back when Homesteaders came to the area.

Back in the trucks, we headed to the Lost Forest Campground at Christmas Valley. It was hot, but when we arrived I had to go for a walk to the sand dunes on the other side of the campground. The original plan was to spend the afternoon driving on the Sand Dunes to develop our skills in this difficult terrain. This plan was shelved as the Dunes were hot making traction in the sand even more difficult. We would wait for the cool of the next morning.

Ellen had some nice treats for us and the celebrate our first driving day.

Fort Rock State Park
Fort Rock Homestead Village Museum
Sand Dunes in the heat of the Day,
Day 3 – Hart Mountain
Monday, July 11th, 2022

The Sand Dunes were a short drive away, and it was not long before we were airing down the tires (to 45 PSI). Once on the Dunes I was nominated to find us a trial, so I drove randomly up and down various dunes. Ellen joined me as my co-pilot.

everything was going very well until one of the trucks failed to make it up one of the hills and got bogged. We spent about 30 minutes digging before it was decided to pull out some winch line for an easy extraction. Fortunately I was recording the path taken, so it was easy to navigate back to the starting point before the sand got too soft.

With sand behind us we headed to our destination for the day, Hart Mountain Hot Springs Campground. Earthcruiser had lent me a rather fancy Garmin Tread Overlander XL navigation device, and I used it to direct the convoy.

We arrived nice and early at the campground allowing time to soak in the natural hot spring. The night was spent around the camp fire talking about world travels and various adventures.

Molly leading the pack on the Dunes
The new toy for the trip, albeit on loan.
Day 4 – Alvord Desert
Tuesday, July 12th, 2022

The day started with a drive through Steens Mountain Wilderness area over dirt tracks to summit Steens Mountain. It was truly beautiful. Once at the top of the mountain, and over the lunch walked down to wildhorse lake. It was hot.

We passed through Fields, the home of expensive diesel and terrible service.

The ultimate destination was Alvord desert to camp on the playa.

Kiger Gorge Overlook
Wildhorse Lake
Steens Mountain
Alvord Desert (almost)
Day 5 – Owyhee Reservoir State Park
Wednesday, July 13th, 2022

The plan is to return to the Alvord Desert with some friends and spend more time here. But, it is time to move on. On the way out we realized that we camped on the smaller Alvord Lake, so next time the Playa proper.

We headed to Rome and the Pillars of Rome, which is a small geological rock feature which the town is named after. Then onto Coffeetop crater and the lava flow extending across the the landscape.

The earlier sites were just a warm up for the main event, being a delightful campsite surrounded by high rock walls. This place requires a 10 mile slow crawl over rocky roads to gain access to the campsite. We circled up the wagons and enjoyed a night around the camp fire.

We had also somehow transitioned to Mountain Time, and that was a little confusing.

The Pillars of Rome
Three Fingers Gulch
The lava that flowed from coffeetop Crater.
Day 6 – Copper Belt Vineyard
Thursday, July 14th, 2022

Eric and I spent the morning walking up the Canyon to reach the Reservoir. A very pleasant walk. I suspect very people travel this path. Once back at the trucks, it was time to head off and bump and grind our way out of the canyon. Once on normal dirt roads we headed North through Succor Creek State Natural Area, which was very nice and a few good camping places were spotted. We stopped at one for a quick bite and rest.

Once on the main road we aired up made good time to Vale where we refueled the trucks and headed into the supermarket to get a few extra supplies. At this point one of our trucks was struggling with what appeared to be some bad fuel, maybe made worse with the bumpy road conditions. The truck continued to make forward progress but the engine warning system was complaining a little. We all pitched in to help as much as we could with code readers and injector cleaners.

We took a very lovely and lonely route through the mountains on route 245. Another spot to revisit.

We arrived on time to our objective for the night, which was Copper Belt Vineyard, where we were treated to an open bar, a locally cooked meal, a tour of the wine making process, some live music (just for us) and a cooking class where we made peach cobbler in a dutch oven cooked with over and under coals. It was a very nice evening.

Being a fancy evening, I got dressed up for the event. Nothing like a little luxury when on the trial.

Wine being sampled directly from the cask.
Peach Cobbler cooked in a Dutch Oven.
Our private music band for the evening.
Day 7 – Strawberry Mountain
Friday, July 15th, 2022

An early start so we could make our planned camp spot early. Being a Friday, dispersed camp spots can fill up quickly.

On the way to Strawberry mountain we stopped at Whitney Ghost town and a historical guard station, which can be rented by the night (Antlers Guard Station Cabin). We arrived early, around 1pm and quickly setup camp.

But Strawberry Mountain was calling, and it was not long before I loaded up with food, water and emergency communication and set off for the summit. It was a bit of an up hill slog, but made the summit and returned in time for the evening debrief. And then it was time to cook dinner over the campfire and trade stories.

Sunset over the trucks at the vineyard.
Strawberry Lake, on the way to the summit.
Witney Ghost Town. Cabins available to rent.

Day 8 – Expedition Ends
Saturday, July 16th, 2022

The final day crept up on me quickly. We pulled out of camp, took the wheel out of 4 wheel drive for the last last and headed in the direction of Bend. Along the way we stopped at the Painted Hills of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Time to stretch our legs on a few brief walks.

We arrived at EarhCruiser Headquarters to conclude the trip and say goodbye to newly made friends. For me, first stop was a coffee and then headed back into the forest for the evening. The following day would have me return to Seattle via Mt Hood.

Overall on the road for 11 days. Molly did really well, and no issues of substance. We were on very dusty roads, but the seals did their job and kept the inside dust free. Both the fridge and freezer operated continuously, and the battery and solar system worked well.

Painted Hills