Steens Mountain

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Steens Mountain
Steens Mountain near Andrews, Oregon.jpg
Steens Mountain near Andrews, Oregon
Highest point
Elevation9,738 ft (2,968 m)  NAVD 88[1]
Prominence4,373 ft (1,333 m) [1]
Coordinates42°38′11″N 118°34′36″W / 42.636418°N 118.576717°W / 42.636418; -118.576717Coordinates: 42°38′11″N 118°34′36″W / 42.636418°N 118.576717°W / 42.636418; -118.576717[1]
Steens Mountain is located in Oregon
Steens Mountain
Steens Mountain
Location in Oregon
LocationHarney County, Oregon, U.S.
Topo mapUSGS Wildhorse Lake
Easiest routeShort hike from gravel road

Steens Mountain is in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Oregon, and is a large fault-block mountain,[2][3] Located in Harney County, it stretches some 50 miles (80 km) north to south, and rises from alongside the Alvord Desert at elevation of about 4,200 feet (1,300 m) to a summit elevation of 9,733 feet (2,967 m). It is sometimes confused with a mountain range but is properly a single mountain.

The Steens Mountain Wilderness encompasses 170,166 acres (68,864 ha) of Steens Mountain.[4] 98,859 acres (40,007 ha) of the Wilderness are protected from grazing and free of cattle.[5]


The mountain was called the "Snowy Mountains" by John Work, one of the fur traders who were the first Europeans in the area. It was renamed in 1860 for United States Army Major Enoch Steen, who fought and drove members of the Paiute tribe off the mountain.[6][7]


Steens Mountain, Oregon, July 16, 2017, Sentinel-2 true-color satellite image. Scale: 1:100,000.

The east face of Steens Mountain is composed mainly of basalts stacked one upon another. Lava flows several hundreds of feet thick inundated the region between 17 and 14 million years ago.[8][9][10]

Flora and fauna[edit]

Wild horses and sagebrush on Steens Mountain

Vegetation in the Steens Mountain Wilderness varies greatly according to elevation. Common plants include sagebrush, juniper, various species of bunchgrass, mountain mahogany, aspen, mountain meadow knotweed, and false hellebore. Other vegetation endemic to Steens Mountain includes Steens paintbrush (Castilleja pilosa var. steenensis), moss gentian (Gentiana fremontii), Steens Mountain penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii var. praeteritus), Steens Mountain thistle (Cirsium peckii), a dwarf blue lupine, and Cusick's buckwheat (Eriogonum cusickii).[11][12][13]

Steens Mountain is distinctive in its absence of conifers, especially Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir, at elevations in which they would normally be found - from 5,500–8,000 feet (1,700–2,400 meters) above sea level. Although other mountains of the Great Basin also lack conifers, Steens Mountain is the largest mountain area without conifers. One possible cause of the absence of conifers is the isolation of Steens Mountain, although lack of seed dispersal by bird species such as Clark's Nutcracker may also be a factor. It is also possible that prehistoric fires, including fires used by Indians, eradicated the conifer population.[14]

Environmental protection[edit]

BLM Steens Mountain Wilderness Map

On October 24, 2000, president Bill Clinton approved the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protective Act. The act was created by local landowners in cooperation with local and national government representatives in response to a proposed National Monument. This act created the Steens Mountain BLM Cooperative Management and Protection Area, a 425,000-acre (1,720 km2) area. This law protects 1,200,000 acres (4,860 km2) from mining, and 100,000 acres (405 km2) from cattle grazing.[15]


The west slope of Steens Mountain is traversed by a 52-mile (84 km) loop road, which is suitable for passenger vehicles.[4] The road reaches an elevation of 9,700 feet (3,000 m), making it the highest road in Oregon. It is possible to drive almost to the summit of the mountain and to other viewpoints such as Kiger Gorge.[16] Steens Mountain is also host to Steens Mountain High Altitude Running Camp.[17]

Other recreational activities enjoyed on and around Steens Mountain are camping, picknicking, bicycling, hiking, hunting, sightseeing, soaring, and exploring. There are numerous hot springs along the base of Steens Mountain, including Alvord Hot Springs.[18] Far from city lights, stargazing is also popular.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Steens Mountain, Oregon". Retrieved 2009-12-27.
  2. ^ "Steens Loop Tour Route". Travel Oregon. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
  3. ^ "The Steens Loop Tour Route" (PDF). Scenic Byways, Oregon Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
  4. ^ a b "Steens Mountain". Bureau of Land Management. 2017-04-10.
  5. ^ "Steens Mountain Wilderness".
  6. ^ McArthur, Lewis A.; Lewis L. McArthur (2003) [1928]. Oregon Geographic Names (7th ed.). Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press. ISBN 0-87595-277-1.
  7. ^ Loy, Willam G.; Stuart Allan; Aileen R. Buckley; James E. Meacham (2001). Atlas of Oregon. University of Oregon Press. p. 25. ISBN 0-87114-101-9.
  8. ^ "Southeast Oregon Basin and Range". Retrieved 2011-05-07.
  9. ^ "Andesitic and basaltic rocks on Steens Mountain". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
  10. ^ Camp, Victor E.; Ross, Martin E.; Hanson, William E. (2003), "Genesis of flood basalts and Basin and Range volcanic rocks from Steens Mountain to the Malheur River Gorge, Oregon", Geological Society of America Bulletin, 115 (1): 105–128, Bibcode:2003GSAB..115..105C, doi:10.1130/0016-7606(2003)115<0105:GOFBAB>2.0.CO;2
  11. ^ Sullivan, William L. (2002). Thurman, Paula (ed.). Exploring Oregon's Wild Areas (3rd ed.). The Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-0-89886-793-0.
  12. ^ St. John, Alan D. (2007). Oregon's Dry Side: Exploring East of the Cascade Crest. Timber Press. ISBN 978-0-88192-829-7.
  13. ^ Mansfield, Donald H. (2000). Flora of Steens Mountain. OSU Press. ISBN 978-0-87071-471-9.
  14. ^ Mansfield, Donald (1995). "The Unique Botany of Steens Mountain: The Rare and Endemic Plants" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-01-04.
  15. ^ Karras, Christy (2001-08-16). "Politicians dedicate Steens Mountain preserve". Seattle Post Intelligencer. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
  16. ^ "Steens Mountain". Harney County Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
  17. ^ "Steens Mountain High Altitude Running Camp". Retrieved 2016-04-27.
  18. ^ Alt, David D; Hyndman, Donald W (1978). Roadside Geology of Oregon. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing Company. ISBN 9780878420636.

External links[edit]