The Steens Mountains

Trip Start Jul 21, 2016
Trip End Jul 15, 2017

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Flag of United States  , Oregon
Friday, September 30, 2016

Day 17 - There we were heading south from Idaho down into Nevada on Highway 95 when we could see the Steen Mountains calling to us.  Time for a little detour.

 Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Oregon, the Steens Mountains rise gradually from the west, a tilting plateau rising to 10,000 feet elevation and dropping off in sheer cliffs on the east side of the range. It's small as mountain ranges go, only about fifty miles from north to south, but it has some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery in the state. Three massive glacial valleys were carved through the range during the last ice age. Amazingly there is a road almost all the way to the top, with overlooks into the glacial valleys and out across the alkaline flats of the Alvord desert to the east into the mountain ranges of Idaho. 

 The first day we went to the top it was very windy, so windy that we were quite cautious about going near the edge of the overlooks, or hiking along them since one good gust could send us several thousand feet down to the bottom. Still it was a great day trip around the scenic loop road.

Since the country is open, it is possible to hike almost anywhere overland without a trail, being able to stay oriented by the massive landmarks. 

Sraddha writes: On Sunday morning I could see that we had a calm day, sunny and clear with clouds and windy conditions predicted to move in sometime in the afternoon. A perfect day to get out and explore! As I reached the parking lot of the fist glacial valley overlook I could see the line of clouds off in the distance, knowing I had several hours to wander before the storm closed in. It's almost impossible for me to describe how uniquely beautiful this country is, I hope you will get some sense of it from the photos. 

It took me about an hour hiking overland from the parking lot around to where the top end of the glacial valley met the high cliffs of the eastern edge of the range. Truly one of the most magnificent views of this lifetime, down into the glacial valley on the west and beyond into miles of wide open country, north through hill country as far as I could see, and east into the high timbered mountain ranges of Idaho.  

Every time I got up from a rock to start hiking back to the car, my eyes and my mind just couldn't stop looking, soaking in the beauty and expansiveness. So I wandered several yards, found another suitable rock, and parked myself for another twenty minutes. Finally it became clear that I had just about enough time to make it back before the front of the storm caught me. Back at the car I grabbed my lunch and found a fairly sheltered place to eat as the clouds rolled over, the temperature dropped, and the wind started a soft howl. The sky became darker as I rolled down the mountain towards the motorhome, and the next morning the top of the mountains were covered in a cap of clouds. I'm so grateful to have had even a small experience of this unique part of the west.

We enjoyed the 4 days here but the weather is changing so time to head farther south.
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Manisha Holm on

You've inspired us for our next roaming destination! So glad you wrote about this tiny corner of Oregon. Safe journeys!

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