After a pretty steady run of rivers it was time to stay ashore for the weekend and head to Steens Mountain. Steens Mountain is a huge fault block mountain in southeastern Oregon. From the west it’s a steady incline, from the east a steep dramatic drop off. The western side is also riddled with dramatic glacial canyons you can only appreciate with a good hike. We arrived for the weekend just before dark on Friday night at South Steens campground. There were about four other camps, not bad for a Friday night. Just as we set up and had the fire started the rain set in and we spent the rest of the night in the camper.
Next morning we were off to hike up the Big Indian Gorge. I’d only been here once before quite a while back. It wasn’t a wilderness then, but it was probably a little more wild. Anyhow, we made our way toward the gorge, a big glacial carved canyon cutting deep into the west side of the mountain. Note the new snow from the night before. It is June, right?
Before long we were enjoying expansive views and abundant wildflowers.
With the abundant snowfall this year the creeks are high. The trail includes 3 stream crossings, but we decided to skip those and sidehill up the drainage. It was tough going but there are rewards of solitude, scenery and wildflowers once you are in the Gorge. We had the entire drainage to ourselves.
Before we knew it we were running short on time. After a quick lunch stop we headed back the way we came.
Back in camp we had to share the campground with one other camper. It was a quiet Saturday night. South Steens is a nice little campground, very clean and an overnight fee of $6. It’s a place I could spend a bit more time. But alas, we were moving on the next morning. Before departure we took a quick hike to the mouth of Little Blitzen Gorge. We were again thwarted by high water and turned back at the creek but still had a good hike.
On our way out we also stopped and explored the historic Riddle Brothers Ranch. Oh what a life it must have been ranching this country in the early 1900’s
By early afternoon the sky was getting dark and grey and we were headed to the east side of the mountain. Once we arrived it was pouring rain, perfect weather for a milkshake at Fields Station (currently for sale if you are in the market for your own town). We were numbers 2009 and 2010 on the milkshake tally for the year.
We scooted up the road to the Alvord Hot Springs. Things have changed there since my last visit to the springs. It used to be a little roadside hot springs and a quiet spot for a soak while gazing at the mountain. Now it’s been developed into a pay to soak carnival with something they were calling ‘campsites’ (I’d call it a rock parking spot with a wheel for a fire ring) for a mere $20. And at least 5′ to your nearest neighbor as a bonus! Well, as you might have guessed we moved on, but as fate would have it our planned destination, which used to be a nice dispersed camp at the mouth of Pike Creek and easy access to a scenic hike is now part of the new and improved Alvord Hot Springs campground. We returned to inquire about camping there as the signs directed and found that the unimproved (no table, no restroom and an unimproved piece of not so level dirt) ran $30 a night. Once I picked my jaw off the floor we headed north to Mann Lake for a free night of camping (restroom included). I’m still reeling from the thought of forking over $30 to park on some dirt for a night.
We still had thoughts about returning for a hike up Pike Creek and a soak in the springs but then the wind came. And it didn’t stop. We had sustained winds of 30 with gusts to 60 the entire night. That may explain the lack of pictures for this segment of the trip. We were up in the morning and headed towards home.
We did have the pleasure of stopping by the Pete French Round Barn along the way. Quite a piece of Oregon ranching history. But, even that had changed since I last visited, with the addition of a new visitors center urging you to come hither and spend some cash. Oh progress.
Then we were headed back home. We still have more of the Steens to explore. Something to look forward to.