Iron Horse – East

The Iron Horse state park is split in the middle by the Columbia river. While the western portion can be ridden straight through from Seattle to the Columbia, the eastern portion is more of a patch-work with missing sections and unruly land-owners denying public right-of-way. In addition, the start and stop of the eastern section are in the middle of nowhere, making the 210 mile long one-way a bit difficult to get off the ground.

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210 miles, 8000 ft. of elevation gain

When the opportunity to catch a ride with Chip presented itself, I was hooked. I had wanted to explore the Saddle Mountains and the Scablands some more, and the route promised to take in those sections along with a plethora of other new-to-me territory. With an extra day off from work, we planned to complete the ride with two overnights.

We were dropped off at Beverly – behind us is the closed trestle over the Columbia.

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Photo from CA.

I had not met Chip before, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a kindred spirit, and incidentally with a very similar outfit and fitness level.

The initial ride along the Saddle Mountains was interesting in several ways: For one, the ponds had an eerie color, the grasses and reeds contained rattle snakes, the trail was full of goat-heads, and besides the seemingly serene trail where throttle-thumpers gassing it up. We rode past all this unscathed with a good tailwind. Riding was too easy.


Through the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.




Soon, we left the little basalt formations & ponds, and rode through farmlands.



Looking west – back from where we came from.

It was fairly warm, warmer than I had experienced in 6 months. Not putting on sunscreen would lead to a pretty good burn by the end of the day, which lead me to wear my long pants all day long.

After a while, the first major detour began. Othello would be straight ahead, but the rails are still being used on this section, so that we headed north to go through another part of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. The route there went on gravel and pavement through farmlands, orchards, and prairie.



Looking across the Goose lakes from a view point just off the highway.


Hayes Creek is also right next to the highway.



Just a mile in on Morgan Lake Road are the headquarter & visitor center for the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. We stopped in for the shade, and CA discovered running water by the gas pumps. Yay! Filled up and hosed myself down. Dust and sweat were replaced by cold water.

While the gravel road through the refuge sucks (its thick and rolly), the views are pretty nice. Lots of farming is interspersed with the protected areas – the idea behind this eludes me. We went briefly off the main gravel road to get a bit closer to the lakes. Beautiful!


After another hour of gravel and highway riding, we found ourselves at a little mexican restaurant in Warden. Several sweet and cold beverages were consumed, along with a delicious green-chile chicken burrito. CA was suffering a bit from the heat and only nibbled on a coke, but still rode strong.


The Iron Horse trail from Warden to Lind goes through sage brush and lifted my spirits significantly. The evening was quiet and we were enjoying the easy riding and tail wind. It was good being away from the highway, again.


With the last bit of sunlight, we set up camp on the trail. Permits are required for this section, and CA had taken care of everything. Excellent – as I had no idea that that would be something to look into. After all: it’s a state park, i.e. it’s supposed to be public! Odd.

Day 2

After an excellent night’s sleep, we rode onwards towards Lind. The grocery store there opens around 6.30a on Saturday, so we planned to have a good breakfast.


It took us a bit longer to get to Lind than I had thought, partly because I am just really slow in the mornings. We also needed to detour to the paved road as a small trestle was out and the trail was completely overgrown near Lind. After a good breakfast incl. coffee, we stocked up on a few provisions and were off again.


The gravel trail was fine for the first few miles, but after a while it became rockier along with a deft headwind – so that I suggested we use the perfectly empty highway next to it, instead. As such, we rode the half of the Lind-Ralston Highway to Ralston. Ralston is a few houses and a park where we met a few kids playing with dogs and were offered water by one of the residents. Since the town park’s water was still off, we greedily handed over our empty bottles and thanked her.

Without even stopping to look at the Iron Horse trail in Ralston, we continued our journey on gravel roads: first to bypass a spectacular collection of the finest goatheads in central Washington (or so we were told), then to get around the Iron Horse State Park section through the Cow Creek, which is guarded by an armed landowner, or so I was told. Nothing that 17 miles of gravel and pavement wouldn’t fix.


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Photo by CA.

Riding on these gravel roads is noisy. Not just a little bit noisy – it’s so loud that conversations are almost immediately squelched. Gravel is also dusty when cars pass. At this point, I must say that my least favorite trail surface to ride on, is just this kind of gravel that we were on. Pavement would be bliss. And single-track unthinkable. On the upside, only a couple cars passed us during the 10 mile gravel detour.

Grain towers provide the only shade in this part of the country, and so we stopped at one just near the tracks where we were about to pick up our Iron Horse trail, again.

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Photo by CA.

Back on the trail, we were immediately immersed in scabland-country. What beauty!



After crossing a couple closed gates for which we didn’t have the combination lock-code, we crossed under the Columbia Plateau Trail – where I had been 360 days before. I remember that I was looking down from the bridge and being glad that I was riding up high were I had a much better view.


Right afterwards, we went off the Iron Horse and into the Escure Ranch. This section had been a major motivation for me to do this ride, and it did not disappoint. Even just riding some double-tracks felt very fun and mountain-bikey.



The riding was easy, but the views got better20160409_151014.jpgand even a waterfall presented itself along Rock Creek


Not many flowers were out yet, but I got one of them. The detour didn’t last long, and soon we were back on the Iron Horse for a few miles, before we took the next detour to avoid another landowner.


The grain towers of Revere.

The detour went along fairly nice gravel roads and certainly through some first-class scenery.

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Photo by CA.


To our delight, a church in the little town of Ewan had a water faucet.

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Photo by CA.

Our next stop was at Rock Lake for an afternoon snack break.



The next detour was just ahead, as the Iron Horse along Rock Lake also has some landowner who doesn’t believe in right-of-ways of land deeds. Please someone proof me wrong, but this is just too outlandish that the railroad didn’t have right-of-way in its days, which then would have been transferred to the Iron Horse state park some 30 years ago.

This detour was again on gravel roads and through barren fields that were being plowed on a Saturday evening. We were covered in dust by passing pick-up trucks a couple of times, as well as dust from the plowing operation. The gravel was pretty thick in places and it was unreasonably hilly. I was not in a good mood. To proof to myself that this was ridiculous, I took this picture. It sure looks awful.


Well, maybe I was just in a bad mood, then. Luckily, we did eventually rejoin the Iron Horse and were immediately in a new environment: pine trees everywhere!


As the evening came, we rode the trail through the backyard towndump of Malden. A bit farther on we got off our bikes and set up camp for the night.

Day 3

The evening was nice, but by morning the dew had turned to frost and ice. It took me a while to gather my things and eat a small breakfast. Once Chip saw that I was up, he was ready to ride in a matter of minutes.

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I may look cold, but I was not.   Photo by CA.

The trail winds around and through farms and ranches, and it was very nice to be out this early in the day as the world is just beginning to wake up on Sunday.


At times we were riding straight into the sun and it was difficult to see, but behind us lay a golden landscape.


Our goal for this morning was breakfast in Rosalia, though we didn’t know of any place that should be open. And, nothing was open at the early hour of 8 am on a Sunday.


After some fiddling with gear and food, we rode towards the next (and last) town on the Iron Horse: Tekoa. This section was quite nice and the fields were green and it was not dusty. A good headwind made us work for our progress.


At the small town of Lone Pine, the trail was taken over by reeds and grasses and though it is much more level than the gravel road next to it, progress seemed in-ordinarily slow. Only a couple pickup trucks covered us with dust, which seemed like a fair trade.


Pickup truck passing on my left, I took a serene country photo.

Tekao (pronounced Tee-koh), seemed like quite a charming little town. With advertising for retirement apartments and a first class small-town restaurant, we ate like kings. OJ, coffee, veggie omelets, toast and jam – and running water. Chip arranged for our ride to come pick us up soon at the Idaho border, so we didn’t linger too long and rode the last few miles with stuffed bellies. The trail had changed character once again, as we now rode through hilly terrain to the Idaho border.


Tekoa Mountain.



Somewhere down the trail, Chip yelled: “We are in Idaho, now!” and with that, I turned around and had myself a nice nap. 50 hours after we hard started, we had covered the 210 miles.


The route certainly covered some new terrain for me, and it was nice riding with Chip. But, the amount of gravel road detours was beyond my limit for a wanting a second helping. Chip, who has ridden the Tour Divide twice, seemed fairly unscathed by all the gravel grinding and might just continue on into Idaho soon!

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At the eastern end of the Iron Horse trail. Long pants kept the sun off.  Photo from CA.

Let’s do some mountain biking on the next trip, Chip!


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2 Responses to Iron Horse – East

  1. Never before have I had to stop repeatedly to wade through drifts of tumbleweeds. It was a great trip. The hundreds of meadowlarks alone made it worthwhile.
    ~ Chip

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