Continuing on our quest to finally go all the places we’re surprised that we haven’t been before, we decided to ride out to the Steens on Saturday. We were thinking we’d make a weekend of it, heading home through Silver Lake, but ended up making it an epic one-day 625-mile ride instead.
Besides the Steens loop, we wanted to check out Diamond and also the Peter French Round Barn. We got started nice and early, on the road by a little after 6am (note to other riders, yes, we know this is deer-thirty, and yes, we know it’s stupid to ride this early and also ride as late as we did). We had a fun sighting of a beautiful hot air balloon hovering over Hwy 97, sure was a nice way to start the day.
The remainder of our ride to Burns was uneventful, it’s not an ugly road, but there’s really nothing very beautiful about it either.
We’d never ridden the Frenchglen highway (205), and it’s always fun to set the wheels to new pavement. The beginning wasn’t that exciting, but then the road dipped into some very pretty open grassland dotted occasionally with farm and ranch houses, and hemmed in occasionally by rotting basalt cliffs.
After last week’s century-mark temperatures, it was so nice to see things still green here.
We turned off on Diamond road, and first made the trip down to the “town” of Diamond, population 5…or 6…or 7, wait, we’re not there now, so it’s back to 5.
Such a cute hotel in a beautiful green and peaceful valley. It would have been nice to hang out here awhile, but we’ve got many more miles to explore today.
Although we do take a few minutes to check out the old stone building across from the hotel.
Back on the road again, we retrace our steps to the turnoff for the Peter French Round Barn. It’s a neat structure, and the road in has some intriguing lava formations that look like asphalt pimples that have exploded – which Mike did not take any pictures of because he thinks rocks are BORING. But we did take pics of the round barn, which is cool, and also has a pretty neat history (along with its builder).
Next stop is Frenchglen, and a bit of reconnaissance with the local store owner regarding road options. She’s a great resource, and gives us lots of options.
First on the list is the Steens Mountain Loop road, which is not currently a loop (they’re working on the last half), but you can get up to the summit, which is above 10,000′. Not many peaks in Oregon you can drive your family van to with that kind of elevation.
The road is gravel, but well-maintained for passenger car use, although it’s darned dusty. It starts unassumingly enough with what seems to be a very flat transit through open country, still beautiful with green grass and wildflowers. Slowly the elevation increases, when you turn a few corners and suddenly realize you’re nearly on top of this amazing mountain.
The views down into multiple rugged canyons are amazing and mildly vertigo-inducing.
Every corner brings more amazing vistas. The temperature is perfect, with a slight breeze and perfectly clear skies. We couldn’t have picked a better day to come up here. Although I’m sure there’s less heat-haze on colder days.
We stopped just below the peak and chatted with a few hikers as we were shucking riding gear and getting ready to walk to the top (just a short hike, maybe 1/4 mile?). Nice folks, and they were just as interested in talking bikes as we were talking hiking adventures. It’s always fun to find people who love recreation, no matter the mode.
Although looking up at the summit is a bit disappointing since it’s spiked with cell towers and radio transmitters, we still thought it would be a good idea to hike up there, otherwise we couldn’t actually claim to have been to the top. I’m so glad we did, the view is absolutely breathtaking.
It’s also amazing to see the difference from the “wet side” valley to the “dry side”, with ranches and farmland on the wet side, and the Alvord desert on the dry side.
If you do bring your dog, I’d suggest keeping him leashed. There’s no railings or warnings, and major drop-offs abound.
We rode back down to the Kiger Overlook, which we had overlooked on our inbound ride. Glad we didn’t miss it completely, because it is one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous views I think we’ve seen anywhere. It is impossible to understand the vastness of this valley in pictures. At least I’m not a good enough photographer to capture it properly. Honestly, it is amazing.
I don’t know if it’s this green all summer, if not, I recommend going early enough so that you can experience its verdant glory.
This view alone is worth the cost of admission…oh wait, there is no cost for admission. Well, the price of gas then. Which, by the way, is sort of expensive in Frenchglen, but we’re happy to pay it. We’re always happy to find little stores and gas stops in small towns out in the middle of nowhere.
The Frenchglen hotel is run by the State and in keeping with the old stagecoach traditions of the place, does not accept reservations – first come, first served. They also serve breakfast and lunch, which smelled delicious.
At this point we had a choice, keep going and exploring some new roads towards Lakeview to spend the night there, or save some money and head back home through John Day. We decided home was our best option, with a stop in John Day for dinner at our favorite place.
A speedy swoop back through many of the roads we’d just done the weekend before brought us to John Day, where we made fun of the Harley riders with their perfectly clean and bug-free scoots, trying to look tough and tired out from a “day on the road”. Sure, it’s not like there’s some contest to see who is stupid enough to ride the most miles in a day (actually there is, it’s called Iron Butt!), however, don’t try to act like a tough traveling dude when all you’re doing is riding down to the local Dairy Queen for a Peanut Buster Parfait with your mutually leather-and-fringe-clad fellow-midlife-crisis buddies.
And while we’re on the subject, what’s with the leather vest? Last time I checked, it’s elbows and shoulders that need protection in a crash, not man-boobs. Oh, wait, it’s so you can show off your cool Harley logo without having to wear all that hot and sweaty protective gear? I get it now. I won’t go into what I think of leather chaps as “protective gear” either. Kind of silly to protect everything except what guys seem to think matters most in that crotch area…if you know what I mean.
Sorry, rant over. Back to ride pics!
Even though we didn’t roll into our driveway until nearly 9pm, we were so happy we’d done this ride rather than opted for a day at either WAAM or Evergreen museums. If you have a chance to take a weekend trip up to Steens mountain, don’t even hesitate, just do it, you’ll be very glad you did!