Your guide to day trips and weekend getaways in the Pacific Northwest.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
The lead story in today's Oregonian suggests that the scenery around Steens Mountain in southeastern corner of the state is in for a big change. Columbia Energy Partners has recieved county approval to build a large wind farm with turbines over 400' tall on the mountain's north flank. While this economic activity may be a lifesaver for Harney County, it will be at the expense of an area of remote, rugged beauty.
Most mountains come as plurals: the Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada Mountains. But, Steens Mountain is a singular...a lone up-thrust of the earth rising above the sagebrush. Known as a fault-block mountain, it was created ten million years ago when massive internal pressures forced the eastern edge upwards. During the Ice Age, glaciers scoured gorges through layers of basalt creating several U-shaped valleys visible today.
The loop road to the summit leaves from the tiny town of Frenchglen and is like an uphill ramp climbing over 5000 feet in 15 miles. Sagebrush gives way to juniper forests, then aspen groves, and finally alpine meadows.
The summit, at 9700’, is the highest point you can drive in Oregon. The mountain ends abruptly with a mile-long, dramatic drop to the Alvord desert and offers spectacular views of the empty expanse of southeastern Oregon.
Better put this destination on your bucket list for a summer road trip real soon.
For the past twelve years, I have written a monthly travel column for a local northwest newspaper. In doing so, I have traveled over 50,000 miles in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia and taken far too many photos. Please join me in my travels throughout the Upper Left Hand Corner of the United States. We'll visit wineries, small towns, major attractions, museums, retaurants, gardens, historic sites, take a few hikes, and explore backroads and byways.
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