Steens Mtn Loop

The Eurovan Camper was my vehicle of choice for a multi-day trip into the remote Southeast corner of Oregon. I rallied a friend and we put together a loose plan with many different options to choose from. Having never driven a van of this sort, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Much to my surprise it was not only insanely easy to drive, but the van had quite a bit of power even going up and down the rolling hills exiting the Mt. Hood area. Our loose plan consisted of some hot spring stops along the way, doing the Steens Mountain Loop overlooking the Alvord Desert,  finally making our way back towards Hart Mountain and finishing the journey through Bend.

After driving for hours, mostly in the dark, we arrived the first night at Crystal Crane Hot Springs where we soaked in the big pool under the night stars almost entirely alone. The following morning we made our way towards French Glen (the gateway to the Steens from the North.) After a nice chat with the local woman who ran the little country store she encouraged us to do the loop backwards because the views were better and I am so grateful for her sound piece of advice. 

This area is so remote you almost forget you’re in Oregon, let alone in the 21st century. Its mainly unfathomably bumpy dirt roads for miles and miles around here, which makes for an incredibly slow drive. However, when you’re going that slow you have much more time to take in the scenery that was absolutely mind blowing. Rising straight from the desert floor you are engulfed by a few giant canyons that rise to almost 10,000 feet and you’re quickly reminded this is the highest road in Oregon.

Carved by lava flows millions of years ago you can feel the history of the geology around here. I am still baffled at how well the Van handled the washboard dirt roads and elevation climb this road threw at us at every turn. Upon reaching the summit you are exposed to breathtaking 360 degree views of the sheer expanse of the desert surrounding you. The Alvord Desert is directly to the south, while high alpine lakes such as Wildhorse Lake captivate your attention and provide an excellent mirror to the sky above.

After a full day of driving and exploring the famous loop we ended about 18 miles short of the town of French Glen at Fish Lake to camp for the night. This area is so obscure that we only saw two other people the entire day. The following day some serious deliberations led us from our original plans to go to the Alvord Desert Hot Springs and instead head due West to the even less known Hart Mountain Hot springs. Spending what felt like an eternity on another even less well kept dirt road we finally arrived at the base of Hart Mountain and a completely empty area. There was one other van there but since there were two hot springs at this particular location it didn’t matter.

First things first, we went for a soak in both springs, since we obviously had to decide which one was better then finished the afternoon with a little bike ride, and run. Since the recent daylight savings time change, the darkness ensues us at about 5pm and we have many hours to play cards and entertain ourselves. Luckily the van has propane heat that is easy to turn on, a two burner stove so we could cook some immaculate meals, as well as wash our dishes in the sink inside. All in all for a couple of mountain folk like us, we felt as if we were in a 5 star hotel on wheels.

We spent hours in the hot spring that night relaxing, star gazing, and enjoying the pure serenity of the moment. It’s also much easier to get out of the hot spring into the cold desert air knowing you have a nice warm van to go dry off and sleep in! The following day we awoke to some of that pure golden light that illuminated the hills around us making it easy to get a jump on the day.

Coming out of the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge was mind blowing. Working your way down from the plateau into the basin below filled with lakes in every direction, herds of Antelope and almost every kind of bird of prey you can think of was an unforgettable experience. Despite the bumpy dirt roads, 10/10 would do it again. About 4 hours later we hit the 97 highway that takes you to Bend and eventually back to Mt. Hood area to finish our mega loop. 

The great thing about having a van is that you can park it anywhere and camp (discretely) even if its right outside your friends house in downtown Bend, or a very desolate desert. After its all said and done, I completely understand the Van life appeal, and would feel completely satisfied fully engaging in this lifestyle for an extended period of time. But for now if you’re looking to have a truly once in a lifetime experience and see what its all about, rent a van from Road Trip Oregon, pick a place you’ve never been, and let the adventure unfold in front of you.