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 Two - October 18, 2003
We slept pretty well at our campsite up Arizona Gulch several miles south of Fields in the Pueblo Mountains.
The next morning we got up and prepared for the days journey.   Our first stop would be Fields Station for some
much needed gas and a few supplies.   Fields Station is a very interesting place that dates back to 1881 as one of
the few settlements out in this section of the station.   It's not much of a settlement.  More of an oasis in the desert.  
And today, a rare gas station and very small store and hotel.   Taking a walk around I came upon what the locals
must use as fire suppression.   Being the only station for hundreds of miles around, not including Frenchglen, the
local ranchers apparently depend on three old fire and water trucks, which are parked outside but appear ready to
go if needed.   It dawned on me that living in the city, I was used to having Police, fire or medical services within just
a few minutes.  Out here, they are many hours away at best and I can imagine that would be scary.
Our camp site up Arizona
Gultch in the Peublo
Mountains.
Coming down Arizona Gultch
road.
My auxilery alternator which
powers most of the
equipment, broke a wire.  A
quick temp fix and it should
last the rest of the trip.
Fields Station is the only gas and supplies station for many miles around.  Frenchglen about 60 miles to
the north and Denio, Nevada about 30 miles to the south are the two nearest stations, but both are also
unincorporated very small towns and just as isolated as Fields is.  To the east, the nearest gas is several
hundred miles away.  To the west it's well over a hundred miles.   Fields Stations dates back to 1881.   Note
the old repair garage on site.
This is the only fire department for over 100 miles in all directions.   It consists of an old used white fire
truck, A Ford pick up with a water tank, and what appear to be two military surpluss 6x6 tanker and cargo
trucks.
USGS Map of the remote
outpost of Fields Station
After gassing up in Fields we turned north to drive the gravel highway that traverses the east side of Steens
Mountain.  If taken it's entire length, this 70 mile long short cut, would take you all the way to Highway 78 and on to
Burns to the west or Jorden Valley to the east.  It's all gravel, but it's one of the nicest gravel roads I've driven on,
allowing for speeds easily in excess of 60 mph.  Although legal speed is only 35 mph.  We wouldn't be going all the
way to Highway 78 today.   We intended to hike up one of the gorges that lead up to the very rugged Steens
Mountains from the east side.   There are several abandoned unsuccessful mining operations in these mountains.  
Most prospected by just a few local miners.    Today we would see our only mine of the trip.  On prior trips in years
past, John and I have discovered several adits and remains and learned that two brothers mines much of this area
for Mercury in the 1950s through the 1960s, but didn't find much.  

We decided to hike up the Pike Creek gorge just north of the Alvord desert.  It was a nice hike, but we didn't find
too much.  One mineshaft and a few remains.  A local hunter told us that one guy did mine this area up until about
the 1960s and a cabin and some equipment existed into the 1970s.  Today, the only remains are what appear to be
dynamite shed and a single mineshaft.
One of the longest continious gravel highways in Oregon.  It's a 70 mile bypass
and follows along the eastern base of the Steens Mountains. Today we only 30
miles up this road to explore the Pikes Peak canyon and Alvord desert.
There used to be a mine road going up Pike's Gorge, but it's long falling into disrepair
and not even my truck could drive up it in certain sections.  The area is a regulated
wilderness anyway, so we hiked it like we planned.   The views were very nice.
Of the mine cabin and out
buildings that used to be up
here, this is the only remaining
structure.  A small shed,
probably used to store
explosives..
We only hiked back a little
more than a mile.   This is the
view looking back toward the
Alvord Desert.
The mineshaft was above the old road and John and I hike up to explore it.  It went
back about 40 feet and split off in several directions.  It appeared to be partly caved.   
We didn't expect that the mine was too large.  This was only a one or two man
operation.
Check out this tree we found near
the trailhead.  It really is growing
out of a single solid rock.  Now
that's incredible.
After hiking about a mile or so, we turned back toward the vehicles.   Arriving back at the vehicles, we were getting
hungry and the afternoon was getting along.   We decided to drive back to Fields, top off our fuel, eat lunch and
decide our next destination.    On the way back to fields we took a few short detours.  Jen and I drove the truck part
way up an abandoned mine road.   I decided not to drive the entire length as we were constrained by time.    A few
years ago, John and I stumbled on this road and discovered the remains of an old mining operation at the end of the
road including a tram.  It was a small 2-man operation and was very interesting.   But we didn't have time to explore
it today.   John and Jackie stopped for a quick dip in the Alvord hot springs just off the main road.     From the mine
road, Jen and I drove onto the Alvord desert.  The Alvord desert is a dry lakebed that is extremely flat and about
10 miles by 5 miles long.    A few years ago, I actually drove my Honda CRX across this desert, although the trail
getting from the main road to the desert is anything but car friendly.    Today, I drove my truck out a little ways into
the dry lakebed and took some pictures.    Then we all met up at Fields Station and ate lunch.
Only about half way up a long mine road that leads up into the
Steens Mountains, we stopped and looked back over the Alvord
Desert.
The Alvord desert is actually a dry lakebed that is 10 miles long by about 5 miles wide and perfectly flat.   
The ground is hard enough for any vehicle drive across at high speed.    There was not a single soul out
there today.  Occasionally a wind surfer in wheeled vehicles would come out here and play, but the area
is pretty remote.
We decided that our next destination would be the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuse to the northwest of us.  
 This required that head north about 50 miles almost reaching Frenchglen before we turned west onto a very long
gravel road.    It was getting late, but as we drove along highway 205 between Fields and Frenchglen in the Catlow
valley, the views and sunset were gorgeous.    About 8 miles south of Frenchglen we turned west onto an unnamed
gravel road and continued for about 40 miles.  All of this driving on the gravel roads and all the dust was beginning
to take it's toll.   John and Jackie had A/C so they usually drove behind us and rolled their windows up, but we still
got our share of dust.    As the wind died down and the dust just hung over the road, John had to hang back as far as
2 miles just so we could see where he was going.    It the pitch of darkness we finally reached the Hart Mountain
Camp ground.   We quickly found a spot as it was late in the season and set up camp for the night.
Driving north along Hwy 202 near the
Catlow valley looking east.
Looking east over the desert from Hwy
205 just north of Fields Station.
A small herd of bighorn
sheep just off of the
highway.
An old cabin off of Hwy
205 in the Catlow Valley.
Looking north at Catlow Rim on Hwy 202
in the Catlow valley.
Sunset pictures taken about 15 miles south of Frenchglen on Hwy 205 of Hart
Mountain.  That would be our final destination for tonight and our campsite.