Eastern Oregon Places

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Frenchglen

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 mi 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-mi 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. Northern entrance to Steens Loop Rd. leaves Hwy. 205 at south end of Frenchglen and returns to Hwy. 205 about 9 mi south of Frenchglen, Frenchglen, OR, 97736.

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