The Steens Mountains: A Round Barn & U-Shaped Gorges

The Peter French Round Barn

The Peter French Round Barn

Having grown up around horses and in Amish country, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful barns in my life, but this round barn in southeast Oregon, built in 1880 to train and exercise horses through the winter, just might take the cake. I stumbled upon this place on my way into the Steens Mountains south of Burns, an unusual glacially-carved basalt landscape that I’ve long wanted to visit.

The round barn is essentially a covered round pen with an inner and an outer ring. Round arenas are best for training young horses as it keeps them moving forward.

The round barn is essentially a covered round pen with an inner ring and an outer track.

The inner circle

The inner circle

The center post is a huge juniper tree that was carted in from 40 miles way. Trees don't grow this tall and straight around here.

The center post is a huge juniper tree that was carted in from 60 miles way. Trees don’t grow this tall and straight around here.

Notice the nest in the middle

Notice the nest in the middle

Beautiful beams

Beautiful beams. This place was built to last. The Round Barn is no longer in use, but it’s preserved as a historical building in the National Register of Historic Places.

Windows encircle the inner ring, bringing light and ventilation into the arena.

Windows encircle the inner ring, bringing light and ventilation into the arena.

The inner ring is built out of basalt, very common in this region.

The inner ring is built out of volcanic basalt, very common in this region.

Gathering storm

Gathering storm

Eyes peeled! I'm back in rattler country!

Eyes peeled! I’m back in rattler country!

The Rattler & the Round Barn

The Rattler & the Round Barn

Rovering in the Steens!

Rovering in the Steens past Big Indian Gorge. I left the Rattler at camp to drive the 60-mile Steens loop road.

The terrain in the Steens Mountains is made up of basalt lava flows stacked hundreds of feet thick that erupted between 17 and 14 million years ago in a series of voluminous eruptions. Four massive U-shaped gorges were then carved out of the basalt by glaciers during the last ice age, creating a uniquely beautiful landscape shaped by fire and ice.

A textbook U-shaped glacially-carved valley. River carve V-shaped valleys but glaciers carve U-shapes.

A textbook U-shaped glacially-carved valley. Rivers carve V-shaped valleys but glaciers carve U-shapes.

Behind this sign: Wilderness!

Behind this sign: Wilderness!

One of the U-valleys end on

One of the gorges, end on

The Kiger Gorge

The Kiger Gorge. The notch in the opposite ridge was carved by two glaciers meeting on either side of the ridgeline.

Wild Horse Lake D.O.G. Remains of a glacial lake, left suspended in a hanging valley as the ice retreated.

Wild Horse Lake D.O.G. Remains of a glacial lake, left suspended in a hanging valley as the ice retreated down the canyon on the left.

Hiking up to the summit of Steens Mountain. There's a weather station on top so a rough road goes all the way up.

Hiking up to the summit of Steens Mountain. There’s a weather station on top so a rough road goes all the way up.

Steens Mountain summit marker placed in 1935.

Steens Mountain summit marker placed in 1935.

Unopened can of beer on the summit. Oh Bubba.

Unopened can of beer on the summit. Oh Bubba.

From the summit of Steens Mountain at 9,733 feet. This mountain is a classic fault block where a chunk of the Earth's crust gets uplifted high above the surrounding terrain. The Alvord Desert is just visible on the far right.

From the summit of Steens Mountain at 9,733 feet. This mountain is a classic fault block where a chunk of the Earth’s crust gets uplifted high above the surrounding terrain by tectonic movement. The Alvord Desert is visible on the far right below the steep, rugged east face.

The Steens!

The Steens!

I think it’s about time I climbed one of those Cascade volcanoes! Stay tuned…

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Steens Mountains: A Round Barn & U-Shaped Gorges

  1. Priya Ghose says:

    Reblogged this on Click And Color and commented:
    Wow, a truly beautiful barn!

  2. dianaed2013 says:

    Great to have the photos and the geological explanation – must have been wonderful climbing and looking at the view. The barn is just amazing – looks new!

  3. Cnawan Fahey says:

    Love the geometry

  4. Anne Goetz says:

    Your posts are always fascinating :) That’s an amazing barn.

  5. ttoombs08 says:

    What I wouldn’t give for a beautiful, old barn like that. And your narrative was enjoyable and captivating. Thanks to Anne Goetz for sharing such a wonderful blog. shared.

  6. Lavinia Ross says:

    That is some interesting structure! I’m always amazed at what was built back then, without today’s heavy machinery to assist. And beautiful countryside! Thanks for the education – I love these posts!

  7. furrygnome says:

    Just an amazing barn, and pretty neat values too!

  8. the workmanship of the barn is amazing. Your photos really bring some life to your travels, love them.

  9. What a treat … love the richness of the photos and your descriptions. Glad you enjoyed the Pete French Round Barn. The other state park in this area is the Frenchglen Hotel (still operating as a hotel and restaurant). Worth dropping by if you’re in the area. http://www.oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=2

    If you need anything before your next trip, just let us know.


    Chris, Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept.
    oregonstateparks.org

  10. Farmlady says:

    I always wanted to see some good photos of the Steen Mountains. Thank you.

  11. Amazing and beautiful, thanks for sharing!

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