Visiting Steens Mountain (Eastern Oregon) 12-May-2015

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon

The terrain in and around the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area and the Steens Mountain Wilderness is well known to birders, photographers, and hunters but seems less so to hikers – the various hiking guides for Oregon usually only list a few “classic” hikes in this area. That, combined with it being 6-7 hours from Oregon’s population centers, means that crowded trails are never an issue.  Our plan was to spend a few days out in the Steens checking out some of the classic and not so classic hikes and starting to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

I had becoming to the Steens from time to time for the last 40 years or so, but this was the first time I (and we) go to stay in the delightful Frenchglen Hotel, a well-maintained and managed institution that is now part of the Oregon State Parks system.

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
The Frenchglen Hotel

We’d hoped for warm, dry, sunny weather but a low pressure area circling over the Nevada-Utah border – which kept throwing walls of water at us – forced us to keep our hiking plans flexible.

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Weather brewing over Steens Mountain

We woke to sunny weather that began to deteriorate almost before we’d finished breakfast. Unsure of where conditions were headed, we opted to spend our first day out here exploring some of the non-hiking attractions that we’d missed on previous visits. First off, we headed up the Steens Mountain Loop Road (still closed by snow above the 2nd gate),

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Clouds clearing (or not) over Steens Mountain

to Fish Lake and a sighting of blue sky.

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Fish Lake

Then it was down across the southern end of the Malheur Refuge,

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Southern end of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

to the Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area (yes, that’s its official name) for views of (yes) actual craters.

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
A 50-foot deep crater at the Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area

Then on to the Round Barn, a 100-foot in diameter enclosure bulit in the late 1870s to handle horses during the winter.

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Pete French’s round barn

Today it’s a tourist attraction and home to lots of swallows,

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Swallows nesting in the round barn

and a pair of ravens. We found pictures of the barn taken in the mid-1960s that show the same raven’s nest woven into the intricate bracing of the roof.

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Ravens are long-term residents of the round barn

From there we visited the wildlife refuge headquarters and Krumbo Reservoir. From a distance, it looks like nothing was blooming on the desert, but up close the ground was covered with mid-season blooms of various kinds – you just have to get down on your hands and knees to appreciate them.

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Flowers near Krumbo Reservoir

It started raining shortly after lunch and we took refuge in the hotel – as did a number of soggy campers – as it continued to rain all night long.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: