9 Fantastic Reasons To Drive Out Of Your Way To Steens Mountain OR
Steens Mountain OR is the kind of place you get to on purpose, not by accident. It dominates the skyline in remote southeastern Oregon, and likely beckons you from afar if you’re the adventuring type, but it’s a long haul through high desert, sage brush, and the elements.
Although Steens Mountain has been proposed as a National Monument, the designation is still in the discussion stages. Interminably. Nonetheless, this is magnificent wilderness, rugged, interesting, untrammeled, and quirky. Like nothing else you’ll ever see.
Where is Steens Mountain OR?
Steens is 60+ miles south off Highway 20 near Burns. You leave Highway 20 with a FULL tank of gas, all the provisions for your stay, and more drinking water than you think you’ll need. Weather changes rapidly here, and you don’t want to get stranded.
Once there, stay a few days. The colors and textures of the desert are subtle and may take a little adjustment to appreciate.
What do you get to do?
On your far-off-highway adventure:
1. Have a good look,
Up close and personal. With its deep valleys, Basque shepherding history, and geologic intrigue, Steens Mountain will knock your socks off over and over.
2. Take the Steens Mountain Scenic Byway
Up the mountain, and more. It will challenge your lungs and admiration.
3. Hike or ride a horse
To Riddle Brothers Ranch National Historic District, a cluster of historic buildings settled by a pioneering family. Gotta get invigorating exercise in all that fresh air.
4. Get naked
At the Alvord hot springs on the east side of the mountain. You get 360 degree views of Steens Mountain and offer a 3D glimpse of your nether regions to the birds above.
Best to check out a video to capture the whole ambience:
5. See a “beach”
And watch land sailing over the sandy playa. You can camp out there, too, if you like no-cost and high exposure. Take your own toilet.
6. Spot wild mustangs
At the Kiger Wild Horse Viewing Area or ask the locals where the horses are hanging out these days.
7. Watch birds
At the annual migratory bird festival in early April out of Burns.
With NPS Senior Pass prices. The most obvious place to camp is at the foot of the mountain, just beyond French Glen, at Page Springs Campground. Because it’s a BLM campground, prices will be attractive to NPS Senior Pass-carrying folks.
If you’re not familiar with general pricing concepts, catch up at: Location, Location: Public Campground Savvy For Adventuring Seniors
Take robust bug protection to Steens. Just sayin’….
In case you’re curious, Frenchglen has a population of 111 scattered about, with a density of 0 per square mile. Yes, that’s zero.
9. Experience Steens Mountain “local color”
At historic Frenchglen Hotel. If you don’t want to stay here—an experience in its own right—at least scrounge your dollars and spend them on dinner. A reservation is required, and you’d better show up at the dinner bell. (Muddy Boots has been known to drive several hundred miles hell for leather, molded to the steering wheel, to get to Frenchglen by the bell.) Yes, you’re SOL if you miss it.
Dinner is served family style around large tables, and the cooking is excellent. Best of all, you’ll meet people you’d never imagined meeting. You may be swapping stories for quite a while, enjoy a desert sunset from the porch in excellent company, or adjourn to the cowboy-popular establishment next door which serves liquid refreshments (if it hasn’t gone out of business on the day you’re there).
Final warning: if gas is available at Frenchglen, thank your lucky stars, and fill up so you don’t have to drive 60 miles into Burns to get a refill.
Photo credits. Several CC 2.0 by BLM via Flickr including: Steens Wilderness; Scenic Byway, Wild Horses, Alvord Desert. View of north flank of Steens from the highway: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Amateria1121 via Wikimedia. Camping at Page Springs BLM Campground, Steens Mountain OR: CC BY 2.0 by John Bromley via Flickr. Frenchglen Hotel: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Cacophony via Wikimedia.