Spectacular Steens Mountain Service, Oregon

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13273A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Discover unique landscapes and solitude in a place of spectacular beauty
  • Restore land and remove fencing to create a safer environment
  • Enjoy free time to explore, hike, or fish


  • All meals and cooking equipment
  • All tools and training for the project
  • Knowledgeable and experienced leadership


DatesJun 9–15, 2013
Difficulty1 (out of 5)
StaffFred Tanis

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Crowning Oregon's empty southeast corner, approximately 60 miles southeast of Burns, is 9,733-foot Steens Mountain. It is an island of aspen groves, clear-running streams, and wildlife habitat in a sea of sagebrush hundreds of miles wide.

The area surrounding Steens Mountain offers exceptional ecological and geological diversity. The mountain provides visitors with spectacular views of glacial gorges, colorful alpine wildflower meadows, and high-desert communities. Pronghorn antelope, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and raptors inhabit the area. The 52-mile Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway offers access to four campgrounds on the mountain and affords remarkable views of Kiger Gorge, the east rim, and Wildhorse Overlook.

The Project

For our project we will help remove barbed wire fencing -- a traditional focus on this trip. Within the "no livestock grazing area" of Steens Mountain Wilderness, the Bureau of Land Management is removing miles of barbed wire fencing no longer needed to control cattle. Because the fencing is located within the wilderness boundary, it must be manually removed, and the BLM relies heavily on volunteer labor from a number of organizations, including the Sierra Club. The work involves using hand tools to dismantle barbed wire fence and pull the metal posts. Manually operated rollers that weigh 45 lbs. are used to roll up barbed wire. Outfitted with backpack shoulder straps, these rollers will be transported from site to site as we move down the fence.

Because of the different locations of our work sites, you will gain an appreciation for this beautiful and diverse region. At the end of each of our work days, you’ll enjoy the incredible satisfaction of viewing a sweeping high-desert landscape that is being restored to its natural element.


Day 1: We will meet at the South Steens campground at 5 p.m. on June 9. Here, we also will get acquainted, learn more about our planned projects, and enjoy dinner together.

Days 2-3: We'll begin our work to remove barbed wire fencing.

Day 4: Today, we will have a day free to hike a number of trails leading from our campsite to explore the area, visit the historic Riddle Brothers Ranch, or just relax.

Days 5-6: We will continue to remove barbed wire fencing.

Day 7: We will finish our trip with breakfast Saturday morning and plan on a farewell dinner at a restaurant in Frenchglen.

Regarding meals, we usually plan on having breakfast at 7 a.m. We will eat lunch wherever we happen to be at noon. Frequent water and rest breaks will be called, and we should finish around 4 p.m. each day. After work and on our day off, you are free to relax, explore, fish, or spend time with your fellow trip members. Please plan on hiking in groups of at least three for safety.



Getting There

If you are flying, the closest major airports are Boise, Idaho or Portland, Oregon. The South Steens campground is located 18 miles from State Highway 205 on the Steens Mountain Loop Road (south entrance), nine miles south of Frenchglen. The campground is about a five-hour drive from Boise, and a ten-hour drive from Portland. There is a smaller airport at Redmond, Oregon, which is about four-hour drive. We will try to answer your travel questions and provide you maps of the area.

Accommodations and Food

As Steens is a wilderness area, there are no lodges or cabins close by. Come with an attitude that food is part of the adventure. Menu planning requires consideration that there will be no refrigeration, and food must be protected from animals. We provide healthy, nutritious, vegetarian meals, and snacks, with dairy and soy products added to ensure proper protein and occasional meat on the side.

Every participant will receive a survey from the trip cook to learn more about food preferences. Each day of our trip, we have a group commissary, with everyone taking turns in food preparation and cleanup. Before applying for the trip, potential participants with food allergies and/or strong food preferences must contact the cook to see if accommodations are possible. Our first meal will be dinner on the first Sunday of our trip, and our last will be breakfast on the last Saturday.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is appropriate for all ages, as long are you're in good physical condition. Families with teens or older are welcome! Although we will be staying in a front-country campground, we will be doing a lot of physical activity between our work and our hikes. It is highly recommended you make sure that your boots are comfortable.

Reclaiming land and removing fence are both strenuous, but satisfying, activities. At times, we will carry tools, rolls of barbed wire, and fence posts. There will be jobs for everyone and you will work at a pace that is comfortable to you. The BLM will provide us with the proper tools and training. Long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and boots are required while working. Safety is a priority on all service trips; no one will be asked to work beyond his or her capacity. Elevations are between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. Those of us who spend our lives near sea level should expect a period of acclimatization.

Your enjoyment of this trip depends in large part on your preparation. Be sure to include both cardiovascular and strength workouts in your training. Participants in good shape are less likely to have accidents and will enjoy the trip more.

Equipment and Clothing

You must bring a well broken-in pair of hiking boots that support your feet and ankles. For the fence removal, you will need two sets of durable work gloves. You will also need a tent, sleeping bag, and a small backpack for transporting lunch and other gear. Rain is certainly a possibility, and you should come prepared for occasional thunderstorms or rain that could last all day.  A comprehensive list will be sent out by the leader before the trip.

For altitude acclimatization and for everyday health and safety, it is important that you bring at least two quart- or liter-sized water bottles. We will treat all the water that we drink. Participants are asked to bring their own water filter or chemicals (such as Potable Aqua) to treat personal water. We will treat water for cooking. 



  • Pre-trip departure bulletins will include specific information about the location of our work sites so that you may access maps to the area.


  • Jackman, E.R. and  John Scharff, Steens Mountain in Oregon's High Desert Country. The Caxton Printers Ltd, 1979. ISBN 0-87004-028-6. This is a large "coffee table style" book with wonderful photos.
  • Mansfield,, Donald H., Flora of Steens Mountain. Oregon State University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-87071-471-6. Probably only something a serious botanist might want to own.
  • Taylor, Ronald J., Sagebrush Country, A Wildflower Sanctuary. Mountain Press Publishing Co., 1992. ISBN 0-87842-280-3. A wonderful little book for those who enjoy wildflowers and plan to spend time in the high desert country of the intermountain West.



On October 30, 2000, President Clinton signed the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act, commonly known as the Steens Act. Among its highlights was a 425,000-acre cooperative management and protection area, including 170,000 acres of designated wilderness.

But work still needs to be done to preserve Steens Wilderness. The High Desert Committee of the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club is focusing their work on land use and land exchanges, as well as additional areas for wilderness designation. The Sierra Club is committed to remaining actively involved in promoting environmental protection and preservation of wilderness in the region.



Fred Tanis is an avid outdoor enthusiast, who has led and participated on several service trips. He lives in Bend, Oregon, and is a frequent hiker in the Oregon Cascades and enjoys wonderful solitude of the backcountry. He has hiked in the Steens Wilderness on several occasions. His objective is to get you to enjoy this beautiful area. Fred is happy to individually answer any questions you may have about the trip or the area, and will send bulletins prior to the trip with further details and names of other participants.


Patti Miller-Crowley is a Northwest native with over 10 years cooking on various back and front country Sierra Club Service Trips. She has visited other parts of Eastern Oregon and is looking forward to this trip as a new experience. Although she will be sending a food questionnaire in advance of the trip to help plan meals, if you have specific food related concerns or questions, feel free to contact her.

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