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.
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.
We woke to sunny weather than 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),
to Fish Lake and a sighting of blue sky.
Then it was down across the southern end of the Malheur Refuge,
to the Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area (yes, that’s its official name) for views of (yes) actual craters.
Then on to the Round Barn, a 100-foot in diameter enclosure bulit in the late 1870s to handle horses during the winter.
Today it’s a tourist attraction and home to lots of swallows,
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.
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.
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.