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MailTribune.com
  • Island in the sky

    A quick guide to Steens Mountain wild adventures
  • In the southeastern corner of Oregon, above a landscape famous for unconditional desolation, rises an alpine island called Steens Mountain.
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    • If you go
      Location: Southeastern Oregon
      Getting started: Burns is the unofficial gateway to the Steens, and the only town of size in the area, with plenty of grocery stores, hotels and gas stations. Altho...
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      If you go
      Location: Southeastern Oregon

      Getting started: Burns is the unofficial gateway to the Steens, and the only town of size in the area, with plenty of grocery stores, hotels and gas stations. Although the tiny towns of Frenchglen and Fields do have gas stations, their hours are unpredictable, so make sure to fill up your tank before leaving Burns.

      Access: The main access road is the Steens Mountain Loop Road, which runs 52 miles from Frenchglen and passes campsites, overlooks and points of interest. The Fields-Denio Road traverses the mountain's east side.

      Campsites: Page Springs ($8 per night/36 sites); South Steens ($6/36 campsites); Fish Lake ($8/23 sites); Jackman Park ($6/6 sites).

      Information: BLM Burns District Office, call 541-573-4400 or go to www.blm.gov/or/districts/burns/recreation/steens-mtn.php.

      Cool places to stay: Frenchglen Historic Hotel, 541-493-2825; Steens Mountain Wilderness Resort, www.steensmountainresort.com.
  • In the southeastern corner of Oregon, above a landscape famous for unconditional desolation, rises an alpine island called Steens Mountain.
    This massive fault block is less a classic mountain than a long, wide, high-altitude world that stretches 30 miles north to south and supports a wealth of rivers, forest and wildlife above the high desert below.
    The mountain is well known for the Steens Mountain Loop Road — the highest road in the state — which begins in the hamlet of Frenchglen and runs 52 miles past campsites, lakes and even to the 9,733-foot summit.
    But the road also serves as a teaser for those seeking a wilder experience on Steens, because it showcases views into the mountain's spectacular canyons. Carved by snow and glaciers, these massive chasms are 2,000 feet deep and over time have become incubators for trees, wildlife and even a few small trout.
    The canyons are especially gorgeous during autumn, as leaves glow red, yellow and green in the sunlight and the smell of sagebrush wafts down the cliff walls. Hiking and backpacking can be heavenly between these thick walls, and often remain open into late November.
    On a trip two weeks ago, I made it my mission to explore as many of these spectacular canyons as possible. What I found were three unique and accessible trails that make for excellent day or multiday trips:
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