I followed Richard Carey's 2006 directions from the CoHP site, and they are still effective here. Either Carey did not mention them or barbed-wire fences have since been added at miles 3.7 and 7.9; you will need to open these gates to pass through and close them behind you.
From Whitehorse Ranch, it is easy to allow the relatively gentler sections of road lull you into complacency. Rest assured harder times are coming farther up the road. Having said that -- and this may be the heightened sense of caution and concern I acquired from previous trip reports of this county high point -- the roads were not as bad as I'd expected. Latour Peak changed me, man. (Well, and more on that a little farther below.)
For a couple stretches early on it almost feels as if you are not on a road at all, not in the rough sense but because it is all but completely overgrown.
At the hunters' camp mentioned in Carey's report I did in fact meet a couple in their 60s. I was so surprised to encounter anyone, and so intrigued by their elaborate setup, that I stopped to visit. They had driven up a sizable pickup and trailer, on the back of which they had towed their ORV and also set up a large platform tent. I'd mentioned my surprise at their ability to get that trailer back this far, and the gentleman told me he was equally as surprised that I was able to get so far on these roads with my tires. (Here is Chekhov's gun.)
It turns out that bowhunting season on mule deer (bucks only) was scheduled to open the following day. Sure enough, I encountered a number of vehicles on the road past that point, and I could also see where other hunters had set up camps a distance off the road. Just 1 mile from the summit, a Tacoma was parked but the owners were nowhere in sight.
The summit I had to myself. A short walk took me to the benchmark and cairn with register tucked underneath. It had taken me almost 2 hours to drive the 27 miles or so from Whitehorse Ranch. The road really does get rough as guts. But what breathtaking isolated country.
On my drive down I got pretty cocky. I had a passing acquaintance with the road by now and I had 100% certainty in the junctions and where I needed to take it slow and where I could go as fast as 20-25 mph.
Which is why I got a flat.
Just 7 miles up from Whitehorse Ranch, where only 30 miles of simple gravel road separated me from the highway.
I was facing downhill, so I maneuvered our vehicle so I was perpendicular to the road and set the parking brake. I got the jack up fine, and in the meantime I was approached by two guys in a Suburban I had seen earlier in the day. They chatted it up with me for a while and said it looked like I knew what I doing so they would be on their way. They commented it was good I had a spare, and I noted they had their spare tied snugly to the roof. They told me in fact they carry TWO spares with them on these roads at all times. Having hunted out here for the past 30 years, they told me experience had taught them better. I asked them how many spares they had gotten in that time and they told me 15 (!).
Those fellas took off and I was left with a beautiful sunset and a little work to do.
Perhaps most remarkable of all is that I had sufficient cell signal here to text my wife updates. That really blew my mind given the isolation here.
Once I got the flat off, and before I could get the spare on, the vehicle lurched forward and came to a rest on the disc. Dammit.
I had no shovel, so I used the crowbar to chip away at the rock and dirt underneath to make way for the jack. Every time I got the jack up an inch or so, the vehicle would lurch forward again. I checked the parking brake each time, and it was on. The vehicle was not facing downhill. I could not figure it out.
Finally I managed to chip out an angle for the jack to rest at which it would resist the vehicle pitching forward and hopefully give me just enough time to get the spare on. By this time it was dark and I was working by headlamp with a couple lanterns I had in my rig.
Just as I had perhaps a half-inch to an inch to go, I heard a pickup roll up from below. The guy stepped out and offered help, which at this point I was not about to refuse. He had a pickaxe in his truck (a pickaxe?!), which came in handy to chip away at the rocks under my axle. At this point he figured we could use his hydraulic lift to push up the suspension the remaining inch to get my spare on. After a little work we got it on fine.
I stood talking to the guy for 30 minutes and he assured me that once I hit the highway, there was a guy in the town of Fields (6 miles north) who would repair my tire. But he also told me it would be pointless to go so far as Fields as no one would be around until morning. He said I may as well enjoy the Willow Hot Spring just 7-8 miles down the road from Whitehorse Ranch. The hot spring also had an undeveloped campground.
This was perfect for me, and once at Willow I enjoyed the company of a few other hunters who happily shared some beer with me, as well as the serene waters of the hot spring.
The next morning I was off by sunrise. I got to Fields a bit early as the gas station did not open until 8:00, so I sat around and waited, noting that a family had slept in their minivan at the pumps as it is the last fuel available for quite a distance.
Once the gas station opened, the woman kindly informed me that the tire guy had died a couple years earlier.
On I drove to Burns, diverting to Steens Mountain...