The East Steens Tour Route
This 143-mile tour skirts along the eastern escarpment of Steens Mountain
and the vast expanses of the Alvord Desert, providing a scenic study in
A. Setting the Stage
Like many great plays, the drama of the East Steens Tour Route builds
slowly toward a stunning conclusion. Heading south out of Burns on Highway
78, you'll pass the first of several hot springs just north of the town
of Crane; Crane offers limited services. A detour onto Lava Beds Road
south of Crane will take you to the Diamond
Lake Tour Loop. Keep heading southeast on 78 and your perseverance
will be rewarded.
In the Shadow of Steens Mountain
Near milepost 65, the Tour Route detours off Highway 78 onto East Steens
Road; it's a gravel surface, but quite passable for regular passenger
vehicles. The landscape is arid, but not without life-sustaining water.
After passing the sagebrush-covered Sheepshead Mountains to the east,
you come to a series of small lakes Five Cent, Ten Cent, Fifteen Cent
and Juniper Lakes (the lakes can be dry depending on the year) -- that
attract a variety of animal life. Majestic Steens Mountain also comes
into view. It is the largest fault-block mountain in the northern Great
Basin, rising a vertical mile from the Alvord Basin to an elevation of
nearly 10,000 feet. Steens Mountain is a topographical wonder, and presides
over the remainder of the route. Bighorn sheep can be spotted on the ridges
and pronghorn antelope can be seen adjacent to the road with binoculars.
You'll next reach Mann Lake, which is renowned by fly fisherman for its
hefty cutthroat trout.
C. Desert Hot Springs, A Treat in Fields
While Steens Mountain looms to the west, the shimmering salt flats of
the Alvord Desert unfold to the east. The Alvord Desert playa which can
be either wet or dry depending on the time of year, is one of the largest
playas in Oregon, six miles wide and 11 miles long. It's a popular venue
for motorcycle and ATV riding, land sailing, glider flying and camping.
Sore travelers will find sweet solace at Alvord Hot Springs; a privately
owned, no-fee hot spring that bubbles up at 174 degrees, but cools considerably
by the time it reaches man-made sitting pools. The Tour Route ends in
the small community of Fields; rumor has it that the cafe in Fields serves
some of the best hamburgers and milkshakes in southeastern Oregon.