Part 14: Eagle, ID to Steens Mountains, OR


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The Trip

We stayed at an RV park in Eagle, ID and the primary action was changing the leaking tire.  Once that was completed, we did "chores" and then packed to hit the road again.  Based on the suggestion of our mog friend Ben, our planed destination was the Steens Mountains in eastern Oregon.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

As we were leaving Eagle, we spotted a large brush fire on the hills northeast of Boise, ID.  Fires were a recurring theme on this trip.

We traveled to the west, then south and passed this structure called "Lizard Rock".  The structure is a small butte capped with a volcanic layer.

A bit further down the road we passed the Snake River.

From a roadside park, Lizard Rock was still visible.  The top of the structure appears to be basalt and the layer below appears to be coal, perhaps western lignite.

Next to the park at on the Snake, there was a slough that had lots of brush and I spotted this egret.

The sign tells the story.

From the Snake River, we traveled to the west into Oregon to the Owyhee River.  We went to a BLM site right on the river and spent the night there.  The site was used as a put-in for river rafters.  Indeed, there were a set of rafters that were setting out on a seven day trip down the Owyhee River.  We spoke with several of them before their departure.  Note the striking lack of riverside brush.

Next morning, we broke camp and headed west toward the Steens Mountains across the Alvord Desert.  Our path took us on the dirt via BLM roads. Some of the roads were easier to find than others.  Midway across the desert, south of the Owl Head Mountains, we got our first view of the Steens from the east.  Despite the fact that it was mid-August, there was still plenty of snow in the 9,000+ foot peaks of the Steens.

As we were rolling down the dirt track, a wild mustang (horse) spotted us from the ridge across the valley.  He came to investigate the intruder to his territory and then he crossed our path.  Once he hit the dirt road he headed out in front of us. Note the muscle striations on his flanks.

He came from quite a distance to challenge the 1017, but once he scoped us out, he changed his path from across the high desert to the dirt track and took off at a run; we followed.  Note in the photo above that he is checking us out over his left shoulder.  Every time we sped up, he did as well.  Likewise, when we slowed, so did he.

He was a magnificent sight with the snowy peaks of the Steens Mountains in the background.  A scene right out of a Zane Grey novel. The mustang led us down the trail at perhaps 20 mph for over 5 miles.  Then, with a glance over his shoulder, he veered into the hills and was gone.

We crested a small set of hills and got our first view of one of the many dry lakes that are on the eastern flanks of the Steens.

The strata in the area was volcanic, like much of eastern Oregon.

The trail went past the site of a well casing that had been inserted into an artesian well and capped with a valve.  The tire provided a watering hole for the local animals.

Further down the trail, we got a reminder of what happens when you cannot find water.  The Alvord desert, like most of the west, has very limited open water most of the time.  I say "most of the time" since this year seems to be a glaring exception.  Heavy winter snows have created record runoffs resulting in higher grasses and more greenery than normal.

We stopped to investigate a hot springs and got a photo of the 1017 in context.

Near Mickey Dry Lake was a hot springs that was close to the trail.  The sign speaks for itself, but we went to investigate the site anyway.  The boiling temperature comment quickly killed any hopes of going for a dip in the spring.

First, we came upon a dried up vent.  The minerals and debris that was carried to the surface left a cone of material around the vent.  Then, for whatever reason, the subsurface flow patterns of the water changed and the vent went dry and the flow migrated to another vent.

The vent shown in the previous photo is at the upper right of the photo above.  There were also a set of dry vents directly behind me.  The new pool is perhaps 50 feet in diameter.  The water was hot, but not as hot as the sign suggested.  The flow rate was very modest with the exit path being the small trail of grass at 9 o'clock relative to the pool.

The mineral pool with the snowy Steens in the distance made a great scene.

We continued down the trail past another dry lake.

As we got closer to the face of the Steens, the extent of the faulting and subsequent uplift became apparent.  The crest of the range is over 9000 feet and the basin is at about 4000 feet.  A mile-high escarpment was the result.

The Alvord dry lake was not dry this year. Heavy winter snows resulted in large spring runoffs that filled the dry lake bed.

We continued around the south end of the Steens and then traveled north on the west flank of the range.  Again, we saw more striking examples of the volcanic origins of the mountains in eastern Oregon.

The volcanic flows produced cliffs that ran for many miles.

Our objective was to hit the southern access road to the Steens and then go to the crest and make camp.  We found the access road without difficulty (it was the only road for miles), but we soon had to change our plans.

The trip across the eastern Alvord desert was an epic adventure.  The trails were in good shape and being challenged by a wild mustang was quite an adventure.  The Owyee river was interesting, but basically since the soil is so impermeable, no brush or trees grow on the banks of the river.  As a consequence, you really could not tell the river was there until you could see the water.

We traveled into the Steens and discovered a few things.  First, the road was closed due to construction and we could not get to the north end of the range from the south access path.  Second, we discovered that an antelope hunt was in progress and there were tons of hunters in the otherwise empty campground.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2011, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.