Exploring the Steens Mountains of
Southeastern Oregon
Exploring the remotest regions of Oregon
October 16-19, 2003
Last Update:  February 18, 2005
This fall trip would involve two vehicles and four people.  John and his girlfriend Jackie in their
1997 Subaru Impreza and my girlfriend Jen and I in my Toyota truck.   On this trip, we would be
exploring the extremely scenic Steens Mountains of deep southern Oregon.  One of the most
remote regions of Oregon and highest drivable point in the state.   Most of this trip focused on the
scenic views and we saw plenty of them as you'll see in the pictures below.
Friday, Day 1          Saturday, Day 2          Sunday, Day 3      
Day One - October 17, 2003
Actually, as usual, our trip began the night before, Thursday October 16th.   We left Portland late at night in the
hopes of driving as far as we could and then camping for the night.   Our purpose in leaving on these trips the night
before is too prevent us from wasting much of the first day sleeping in and driving.    Time is precious.
A few hours later, we arrived in Bend, Oregon and fueled up.  From there we drove east about 18 miles and camped
near an OHV area in the high desert.     The next morning, Friday, we got up and headed directly to our
destination...the Steens Mountains.   Our goal was to reach the Steens Mountains in time for us to drive up to the
summit before sunset.   This late in the year, sunset is at around a miserable 6 to 6:30 pm.   The summit of the
Steens is nearly 10,000 feet.   You can drive up just above 9500 feet, before you must make a very short hike to the
summit.   This is by far the highest drivable point in Oregon and perhaps the entire Northwest.   However, this late
in the year, we had concern that the area might be snowed in.   We were more than lucky.  Not only was there not a
snowflake in sight, the temperatures were warm and the skies were beautifully clear much of the trip.   We would
see partly cloudy skies and some wind over the next few days, but the weather could not have been better for this
time of year.   As we approached the summit, the Steens Mountain gate, which is closed most of the year due to the
snow, was open and we were on our way to see some of the most spectacular views in the entire state of Oregon.
Our first night's camp,
about 18 miles east of
Bend, Oregon in the desert.
The rear canopy area
loaded for the trip.  
On highway 20 almost exactly
between Bend, Oregon and
Burns, Oregon.  The
mountain up ahead is called
Glass Buttes.  The car up
ahead is John's Subaru.
We pulled off the highway roughly in between Bend and Burns for a quick break and stumbled on this old site.  
It's the remains of a civilian conservation corp camp that was built in 1936 and used through 1942.  Apparently
abandoned at the beginning of world war two.  It's purpose is not clear to me.  
The view from Wright's Point just south of
Burns, Oregon.  Highway 205 crosses this
hill and heads south the direction you see
here over the vast flat high desert until it
crosses more mountains.
Heading south of Burns on
highway 205, we passed the
remains of this old railroad
grade that used to service the
town of Burns.
Stopped in Burns to gas up
and restock.  This would be
our last visit to an
incorporated town during the
next two days.
The drive between Burns and Frenchglen is a lonely one most of the year.   But the views are incredible.  Vast
expanses of high desert, broken up by huge basalt cliffs and small mountains.   This area is peppered with a few
ranches, but is otherwise mostly unoccupied.   The beautiful Malheur Wildlife refuse is along the way, but on this
trip, we didn't have time to stop by.  You can see some of it from the highway.    Upon reaching Frenchglen, you'll
notice that the town is little more than an outpost.   A few ranches, and one store/gas station.  Here is a good time to
gas up, as the only other gas for many miles around is Fields about 60 miles to the south and Plush about 75 miles to
the west.  And those towns are just as small as Frenchglen.   We didn't bother to gas up as we intended to head
straight to Fields from the summit of Steens Mtn.   The road to the summit from Frenchglen is about 18 miles long.   
This is actually a loop road.  You can drive from Frenchglen to the summit and back down the southwestern side of
the mountain range where you come back onto the higher south of Frenchglen.    After driving the entire loop, I
don't recommend the second half for anything other than high clearance vehicles, although the views are incredible.  
The first half of the loop from Frenchglen to the summit is very well graded and can be driven with almost any type
of vehicle.
Most of southeastern Oregon
is cattle country and the
highways are all open range.  
You are required by law to
yeild to the cattle and that's
exactly what we're doing.
The long straight highways of
southeastern Oregon allow
for excessive speeds.  Here
I'm just trying to keep up
with John who is leading the
way.  My poor engine is doing
everything it can to maintain
this speed at this altitude with
this heavy of a truck.
Our arrival in Frenchglen.   
Frenchglen is the one of only two
gas stations in the entire
southeastern region of Oregon and
is also the gateway to the summit
of Steens Mountain.
The Steens Mtn Loop
road just out of
Frenchglen.
The first major sign you
come to indicating you're
about to enter the Steens
Mtn. recreation area.
The famous Steens Mtn
sign.
The long loop road to the
summit.  At Frenchglen
the altitude is 4190 feet.
By the time this road
reaches the summit about
15 up ahead, we climbed
over 5300 feet.  Almost 1
mile higher.
Another view of the fall
colors, picture by Jen.
Stopped along the Steens Mtn Loop road to enjoy the remaining fall
colors of the trees.   Unfortunately, we were here late in the year and
much of the colors have now gone.   Late September is a great time to
visit this area.  We couldn't have asked for better weather, though.
The final gate.   This gate
on the road to the summit is
closed most of the year due
to snow.   Today, there's not
a snowflake in sight.   Many
years, the gate is closed
within a week or two of the
dates we were here.
When approaching the summit, Kigor gorge is one of the first major views  you
see.  This picture is several pictures pasted together and is slightly distorted, but you
get the general idea.  The trees you see below are full size aspen.    As we stood on
the ledge we were looking directly below over 2000 feet straight down.  
USGS map showing Kiger
Gorge and part of the Steens
Mountain Range.
Another view point.  Not quite the summit, but just below.  Look at the increadible views.  The
first picture is looking north down the entire Steens Mountain range.   Elevation here is
approximately 9000 feet.    The second picture is looking out east of the Steens mountains.  
From here you could probably see Idaho.   The country down below is extremely remote desert.  
A few ranches occupy the lands, but not much else.   
This is the highest point you can drive in the state of
Oregon and quite possibly anywhere west of the Rockies.  
The GPS in the truck reads 9530 feet.   Here we are in late
October and not a snow flake in sight.   It was amazing.
From here, you can park your truck and hike another few
hundred feet in elevation to reach the absolute summit of
Steens Mountain.
On the trail to the summit you can
look down and see Wild Horse Lake.
 At 8420 feet, it's one of the highest
lakes in Oregon and actually has
fish in it.   It looks small, but it's
almost 1/4 mile across.
The summit.  At only a few hundred feet higher than the last view point, the views to the
east aren't much different, but in the pic to the right, we had a clear view to the south that
we didn't before.
That's me standing on
the edge of Steens
Mountain.  It's many
thousands of feet straight
down from there.
USGS map showing the
summit, radio towers,
and Wild Horse lake.
As we headed back to the truck and down off the mountain, the sun was beginning to set and we took these
pictures.  The one on the far left is by Jen.  The middle picture is of Wild Horse Lake again as we were
hiking back to the truck.
As we returned to the truck, we debated whether we should return via the road we came or continue on the Steens
Mountain Loop back to the highway.   A sign warned us that the road was rough, steep and rocky and that high
clearance vehicles would be needed.  Not a problem for my truck, but we were concerned about the Subaru.   We
decided to go for it.  The road was not too bad at all.  It was definitely narrow and rocky and we took it slow.   It was
long past sunset by now and we were dismayed at the great views we were missing.   Our maps indicated huge
canyons just below us, but we could barely see them in the twilight.   After a couple of narrow misses with the
Subaru and the rocky road, we were back on the highway several miles south of Frenchglen, where we started.   Our
next destination was the outpost of Fields Station about 60 miles south of where we were.    Fields is the only gas
station for many miles around and like Frenchglen is too small to be incorporated.  It's little more than an outpost
for the few ranches that pepper this very remote area.    As expected, when we arrived in Fields it was all closed up
for the night.   No big deal as we had planned to camp in the nearby Pueblo mountains anyway and gas up in the
morning.   

The Pueblo Mountains have quite the history.  Unfortunately we were unable to explore much of any of it on this
trip.  On prior trips we were able to discover several unsuccessful mining operations.  These mountains also contain
several World War Two crash sites.   One was a B-17 that crashed killing all aboard.   Only a few years ago, you
could hike to the site and find all kinds of artifacts, including bullets, gun turrets, engines and more.   Recently, the
site was excavated for the crew's human remains and it's unknown what artifacts remain.   We considered looking
for the crash site on this trip, but we our info on its location is a bit limited.

We decided to drive up Arizona gulch and camp for the night.  We had scouted this area out on a prior trip and were
aware of a pretty good campsite.    We made camp, ate dinner and finally got some sleep.