Reader Ride - Shaniko, Oregon

Text: Sean Coker • Photography: Sean Coker

Don't call it a ghost town; Shaniko, OR, has maintained a population of 30 people. A far cry from the turn of the 20th-century town that billed itself as "the wool capital of the world." By 1911, a competing railroad line diverted much of the town's wool traffic and Shaniko fell into disrepair.

Then a flood in the mid-1960s destroyed most of the remaining town but The Shaniko Hotel stands as an economic high water mark, reminding passersby of a time when Shaniko rose out of sagebrush desert before returning to obscurity. Today, my ride sets out to explore the obscurity of Wasco County and beyond.

On my 2001 Suzuki SV650, I leave Shaniko southbound via SR 218, passing a sunburnt Chrysler peeling under an arid Oregon sun. The nine miles of road connecting Shaniko to Antelope were designed with motorcycling in mind. Riding downhill, I come across eight conjoined corners coiled like a fearless snake. A single, 90-degree radius turn would have sufficed but the road's engineers were obviously looking to challenge and tempt riders. I continue south until arriving in Antelope, where gas is available.

Heading east on SR 218, I pass the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds, a long quality road with little traffic. Few distractions allow riders to explore great lean angles and a landscape painted in the hues of wheat and juniper. SR 218 traces along the contours of a hillside, sweeping back and forth on the valley floor. After miles of mild turns have given me a false sense of confidence, I arrive at some corners worthy of the Nürburgring motorsport complex in Germany. Six, neutral camber turns are placed along varying degrees of hills in proximity to one another. Gravel is often found at the large, U-turn apex, as trucks run wide and kick rocks onto the road.

Less than ten miles later, I arrive in Fossil, OR, and head south onto SR 19. The carcasses of mule deer are strewn alongside the road, serving as an omen to expect the unexpected. Passing over the John Day River, I junction south onto SR 207 towards Mitchell. SR 207 rises off the valley floor and I navigate chicanes, mindful that only a tiny guardrail separates me from the cliff. I pick up US 26 and head west for five miles, before turning north at Burnt Ranch Road, following signs for the John Day Fossil Beds.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2010 back issue.