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Frenchglen Travel Guide

Hiking

Steens Mountain. Amid the flat landscape of southeastern Oregon, the mountain is hard to miss, although the sight of its 9,700-foot summit is more remarkable from the east. There, its sheer face rises from the flat basin of the desolate Alvord Desert, which stretches into Idaho and Nevada. On the western side, Steens Mountain slopes gently upward over a distance of about 20 miles and is less astonishing. Steens is not your average mountain—it's a huge fault block created when the ancient lava that covered this area fractured. Except for groves of aspen, juniper, and a few mountain mahogany, Steens is almost entirely devoid of trees and resembles alpine tundra. But starting in June the wildflower displays are nothing short of breathtaking, as are the views: on Steens you'll encounter some of the grandest scenery in the West. The mountain is a great spot for hiking over untrammeled and unpopulated ground, but you can also see it by car (preferably one with four-wheel drive) on the rough but passable 52-mile Steens Loop Road, open mid-July–October. You need to take reasonable precautions; storms can whip up out of the blue, creating hazardous conditions. On the drive up you might spot golden eagles, bighorn sheep, and deer. The view out over Kiger Gorge, on the southeastern rim of the mountain, includes a dramatic U-shape path carved out by a glacier. A few miles farther along the loop road, the equally stunning East Rim viewpoint is more than 5,000 feet above the valley floor. The view on a clear day takes in the Alvord Desert. The mountain and surrounding 669-square-mile Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which has an office in Burns. Steens Mountain Loop Rd., off Hwy. 205, 10 miles southeast of Frenchglen, Frenchglen, OR, 97736. 541/573–4400. www.blm.gov/or/districts/burns/recreation/steens-mtn.php.

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