We would have loved to extend our stay in Bend, Oregon but alas Tumalo State Park was full up so we headed southeast out into the high desert where we stopped at Narrows RV Park in Princeton, Oregon about 158 miles away from Bend. When I showed Sharon where we were headed she asked me why were we staying out in the middle of nowhere? Well the reason I chose Narrows RV Park was it was close to a place I wanted to explore called Steen’s Mountain.
The next morning we packed a lunch and headed south from the Narrows in our CRV about 35 miles to Frenchglen. Just past town we turned left onto the Steens Mountain Loop Road. I read that Steens Mountain is best enjoyed by driving this 52 mile Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway. This loop drive took us past several scenic campgrounds (only suitable for the smallest of RV’s). The highlights of this loop were the deeply carved glacier gorges of Kiger Gorge, East Rim, Big Indian Gorge, Wildhorse as well as Little Blitzen Gorge. We also enjoyed a hike up to the top of Steens Mountain at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet with gorgeous panoramic views.
We started out in the Alvord Desert and the loop road took us up nearly 5,500 feet in elevation in just under than 3 miles! We started out seeing sagebrush but as we climbed we saw dense stands of juniper as moisture became more plentiful. At a turnout we read that the park is actively controlling the juniper to make room for more of Mountain Big Sagebrush which competes with the junipers.
Before long we noticed the valleys had quaking aspen which were maybe just past peak autumnal colors. We stopped to take several photos of the colorful aspen trees and even took the time to listen to the wonderful relaxing sound the golden yellow leaves make while quaking in the gentle breezes. Higher in elevation where the climate is most severe we found mostly grasslands and low growing sub-alpine plants along with small shrubs stunted from the fierce winds that must persist at times here.
The geology is what shines here though, Historically “massive internal pressures forced the east edge of the Steens upward” which resulted in a “30 mile long fault-block mountain with a spectacular and rugged east face that rises one vertical mile above the Alvord Desert”. Steens Mountain is known to be the largest fault-block mountain in the northern Great Basin. The best overlook to take in the powers of nature for us was the Kiger Gorge overlook where we sat and took in the immensity of the landscape as we looked out over the headwall of a massive U-shaped canyon. Looking down into the canyon we could see small strands of golden hues of Aspen snaking along the lower spots where water was more prevalent.
We could have spent hours simply sitting and watching the shadows moving along the landscape in this isolated area of sheer desolation quite different from our urban excursions into Bend and Portland. We were also fortunate to see some of the wildlife in the area as we spotted an occasional mule deer in the tall sage brush. There was a fire in the area that was not fully contained making the area eerily hazy. The smoke brought in raptors from all around hoping to score a quick dinner from prey feeling threatened by encroaching fires. The coolest birds we spotted were several Golden Eagles and Rough Legged Hawks.The spotting scope sure came in handy this day and my new camera helped me capture of few good pictures, too.
Steens Mountain Loop Road is one coolest scenic drives that ’I’ve ever been on. I had never even heard of Steens Mountain’ until I researched the next few places we might encounter. I am happy to share through this blog what a wonderful and enlightening place we found here.I feel Steens Mountain provides a great experience in some untamed and remote land in the High Desert of Oregon…