Rough, off road
As fall approaches with its shorter days and cooler temperatures, it may be time to consider heading east into desert country. With high temperatures gone, and no more terrorizing mosquitos, the eastern half of Oregon holds some real appeal.
A great place to set up camp to provide the perfect base for exploration is at Page Springs Campground right near the base of Steen Mountain. The campground has 36 campsites, potable water, vault toilets, and plenty of trees for shade. Take along your fishing pole and your hiking shoes, as nearby Donner und Blitzen River (the rumor is Santa summers here with his reindeer) offers catch and release fishing, and two family-friendly hiking trailheads are nearby.
The area offers a glimpse of early pioneer life when hand-built homes, handcrafted furniture, and thousands of land speculators and home seekers landed in the northern Great Basin
But that’s just the beginning of this wide-open area. The Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area, as it is formally known, encompasses 500,000 acres of land, although some of that is private. But there is plenty of room to roam and explore.
Access to rivers, hiking trails, hunting and fishing areas can be found along the 52-mile Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway. Don’t miss the views from any of the four glacial-carved gorges you’ll find along the way. This is desert country so you can see for miles. And a little-known fact to consider while you’re driving is that Steens Mountain has no conifers and is the largest mountain known to be lacking typical forests of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine. Why that’s the case is not exactly known although there have been rumors that fires used by Native Americans burned any conifers to the ground and they never recovered.
Another prime stop is to see the Riddle Brothers Ranch National Historic District. The preserved complex of buildings dates to 1900 when the Riddle brothers built their ranch after securing control of the water in the area. Now managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the area offers a glimpse of early pioneer life when hand-built homes, handcrafted furniture, and thousands of land speculators and home seekers landed in the northern Great Basin. The visit will leave you wondering just how they survived!
As you drive around, you’re likely to come across a wide variety of wildlife from deer to bighorn sheep to wild horses to an amazing collection of migrating birds. Golden Eagles have been known to favor this area. The wildlife is also what makes this a prime hunting area, so keep an eye on what areas are zoned for hunting particularly if you’re there during an open season.
There are some other cautions when visiting this area. You are way out in the wilderness so cell phone reception and really access to any type of service is spotty. You may drive a long way between gas stations. Make sure you carry plenty of water and snacks with you. Also, be aware that much of the road you travel on is rough and primitive. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is best, but caution behind the wheel of any vehicle is encouraged.
Page Springs Campground, located near the town of Frenchglen is a perfect site to launch a trip that will take you back to a time when living was more rugged and treacherous but also incredibly beautiful.