Steens Mountain, Oregon 2013

During the drive over from central to southeast Oregon we encountered snow and rain showers
The weather continued to look ominous as we arrived in Frenchglen
Frenchglen has public stables where the horses would stay overnight
Fletch (left) and Taylor both liked their accommodations
We would be staying at the hotel
Despite the threatening weather, we went on a walk to a nearby homestead
In the distance we could see snow on the Steens (a foot had fallen the night before)
The walk leads past both the wetlands and fields irrigated by the Blitzen River
High desert and marsh meet in this stretch of the road
An old woven willow twig fence
The spring is slightly heated, but it was far to cold this day for a dip
The abandoned homestead dates from the late 1800s, when cattle baron Peter French controlled much of the area
The next morning we drove to the South Steens Equestrian Campground -- the gravel road was being repaired
The snow was disturbingly low on the mountain as we approached camp
The U shaped valleys make it clear the Steens once hosted alpine glaciers
We set up camp and our portable corrals as the weather improved
The entrance to Big Indian valley beckons
We took a short six mile afternoon ride to the Riddle Brothers Ranch
Crossing the Blitzen
In the late 1800s three brothers settled the upper river valley
There they built a modest ranch, which their family owned until the 1950s
BLM purchased the property in the 1970s and now maintain it as the Riddle family left it
The area is so remote and gets so few visitors that most of the original structures are directly accessible
Another small ranch house perched on upstream from the main homestead
Back at camp and our hopes rose as the sky cleared
But the clouds had returned by morning, and so we set off for Big Indian Canyon
The aspen had just begun to change color
The Big Indian River
Hunting season was for only two weeks, and it started the day we arrived
We were probably the only people not hunting in the entire region, and to be safe we always wore brightly colored vests
A small minority of hunters shoot at anything that moves (former US Vice President Dick Cheney is an example)
We reached a derelict homesteader's cabin as the snow began to thicken
We continued to wind our way up the canyon...
...and into deeper and deeper snow
Finally in the distance we could see the headwall of the canyon, which was to be our turn around point for the ride
But the snow continued to get deeper and deeper
And the wind began to pick up, blowing down off the cold snowy reaches above
We reached a grove of cottonwood about a mile short of our goal, and decided to turn around
Back through the aspen, snow and sage to camp
Later that day the sun came out and began to melt the snow
The end of the day treated us to a magnificent sunset
However the next morning the threat of rain was in the air
And we explored Donder Canyon on foot
Checking to see if the trail was suitable for horses
Later we made our way to the Alvord Desert (in the distance)
And scrambled around the eastern flank of the Steens
Later the clouds lowered and poured rain throughout the night and into the next morning
By the time it had stopped it had dumped over an inch of water
Our camp, clothes and horse blankets were drenched
But once again the clouds began to part
And we spent the afternoon riding up the southern end of the Steens Mountain Road loop
We reached about 7,000 feet in elevation, overlooking part of the trail we had ridden on the previous day
Then dismounted and walked our horses the 6 1/2 miles back to camp
Extra effort was needed to get the campfire burning with wet wood, and boots were set out to dry
The following day we set off on another ride, this time on the lower slopes of the mountain. Here Taylor poses before a "stud pile"
And we encountered a small herd of Keiger Gorge Mustangs, with a curious but cautious stallion
The sun came out and began to dry things off
We returned to Frenchglen and on our final full day went on a 21 mile ride along a canal
This area is within the Malheur Wildlife Refuge
There is no hunting on the refuge, and so we did not worry about getting shot
The footing was mostly good, and so we were able to trot most of the day
And finally returned to the small hamlet of Frenchglen