Oregon’s Big Country and the Steens Mountain
Photos and words by Gabe Tiller
Nick had never been to the Steens. It’s not his fault — they’re closer to Boise than anywhere that anyone’s actually heard of in Oregon. They’re technically just one weird mountain, not a range. Steens Mountain is one of the ten highest summits in Oregon but you can drive to the top. It stretches for 50 miles north to south, but the snow dusted eastern flank drops 5,000 dramatic feet to the contrasting Alvord desert lake bed, known for its hot springs and land yacht races…
All three of us were on 29+ rigs, expecting loose sandy doubletrack and a fair amount of bushwhacking. We got it. We found wild herds of Kiger mustangs and wildflower cloaked streams high up on the Steens shoulder and a nude couple sunbathing next to their TW200’s in the middle of the dry lake bed.
We spent a night soaking in Willow Hot Springs and an afternoon bullshitting with the 6 year old mayor of Fields, and then wrapping it up with some sunset target practice with Ray Ray’s Glock.
Somehow the emptiness of the landscape makes every landmark more meaningful. Everytime I head to this part of the state I find more I need to go back and explore. Sometime soon I’m heading back and finding the mythical upside down lake and riding the Trout Creek Mountain Loop. Perhaps that winter fatbike skiing trip that never materialized last year? Or maybe schlepping a packraft and linking in the Owyhee?