Kiger Gorge

After a hearty breakfast at the Frenchglen Hotel, we hopped in the car and began the long drive up the mountain. The Steens Mountain Loop is a gravel road, and the first four miles or so were washboard. But there’s a trick to driving on washboard, which is to match your speed to the frequency of the bumps. At about 35 mph, our ride was fairly smooth. When the road turned up the mountain and began to climb, it really smoothed out and was better than any number of paved roads I’ve driven in Portugal. (It helps to go early in the summer, when the road crews have just smoothed out the road but the tourists haven’t had the whole summer to bollocks it up again.)

As I mentioned in a previous post, the magic of Steens is that the slope is so gentle on the west side that you really have no idea what awaits at the top. Near the summit, I turned off the main road by a faded sign that could barely be read. It said, “Kiger Gorge Overlook.” If you did not know where this road led, you might be tempted to pass it by in favor of the summit. This would be a mistake.

Kiger Gorge 3

Kiger Gorge is one of the best examples of a glacial valley anywhere in North America. It is a perfect U shape, but best of all, you’re viewing it from the very top. The perspective is astonishing.

To give you an idea of the distances, those little fuzzy green things at the bottom are full grown trees, including aspen. The slopes of the gorge are lined with dozens of feeder streams that bring snow meltwater down to the bottom, where a larger stream winds its way out the mouth of the gorge. There it empties into the Alvord Desert, the driest place in Oregon (it gets about 6 inches of rain per year), where it spreads out and quickly vanishes into the thirsty soil.

Gorge and sign

This is my mom, reading the interpretive sign at the head of the gorge. For some reason, pulling back a bit from the edge gives a better sense of distance.

We marveled at this sign, but not for the reason you might think.

Kiger sign

You’ll have to biggify this image to see it properly (and you can click on any of the images to enlarge them). The first sentence of the sign reads:

Imagine a massive glacier carving out this gorge during the ice age nearly one million years ago.

Someone tried to scratch out the words “one million.” European readers may be shaking their heads now, trying to understand why anyone would do this. Sadly, the stereotype of scientifically ignorant Americans denying the age of the planet as a secular assault on the “truth” of the Bible is not a stereotype at all. It is a fact. A significant number of Americans do not believe in evolution, choosing instead to believe that the Earth is around 6,000 years old and all life was created as is — because the Bible says so. To them, a sign referring to an event one million years ago is a lie. So they deface the sign.

It was surreal to stand up there, looking at this beautiful gorge and the stark, impossible-to-miss evidence of its glaciation, and imagine anyone being so offended by the truth. Fortunately, as soon as we stepped away from the sign, we forgot all about it and got back to the serious business of appreciating the incredible scenery.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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15 Responses to Kiger Gorge

  1. Oregon is indeed a wonderful state to do geology trips. The massive volcanic Cascades, the glacial valleys, the caves, the slopes, the coast… Really. How can someone not love to live or travel there?

    • The visiting and traveling are indeed great … as for the living there, I speak from experience when I say it’s a tough, tough place to find a job or otherwise make a living. At least it was for me, which is why I left for Idaho 10 years ago. Oh, and the weather in the Willamette Valley (where I lived) is highly conducive to depression at least 9 months of the year. But I do love to visit in the summer when it’s beautiful! 🙂

  2. xenatuba says:

    That is some amazing country. Thanks for these photos. And yes, the Willamette Valley summers do make the rest of the year bearable. And the strawberries.

  3. Ana_ñ says:

    Wow! I love this trip.

    The photos are fabulous, I enjoyed the interesting information and I laughed over the road and its frequency of bumps… You are too much 😉

    It seems windy. How about the temperature?

    Regarding the sign, it’s sad to see so many groups in the world that share ignorance, hate and intolerance based on their religion. Maybe a significant number of Americans don’t know that even the Catholic Church (everybody knows its long history of violent clashes with science) admits evolution (to the greater glory of the Creator), and Pope Benedict XVI says that The Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago.

    • oregon expat says:

      The temperatures were perfect during the day, and the winds on the mountain kept the mosquitoes down. No such luck with that at lower elevations…I still have bug bites.

  4. Lilaine says:

    Wow! 😮
    Splendid glacial-spoon-dug valley! 😉

    But there’s a trick to driving on washboard, which is to match your speed to the frequency of the bumps.

    Reminded me of a French film: “Le salaire de la peur” where they had to transport nitroglycerin on such roads… 😮

    For some reason, pulling back a bit from the edge gives a better sense of distance.

    Human-sized visual landmarks help evaluate the relative distances. You know it full well, and perfectly provided them. Thanks 😉

    So they deface the sign.

    In France, we have people (not sure where they’re from, though…) deteriorating the panoramas’ interpreting signs, too. Mostly more or less tasteful graffiti(a Latin word if there is one). It’s like they feel compelled to leave their sh.t anywhere they go… literally and figuratively, of course :p
    I don’t know what’s worse: scientific ignorance and denial or purposeful and uncaring destruction. 😦

    Fortunately indeed, there’s enough splendor in each of those natural sites to forget the petty (or potty) marks of humanity.

  5. Power Wench says:

    Glad to know that you returned from Steens before the fires got you! As of this morning Frenchglen is on notice for possible evacuation, Page Springs CG is closed, and the highway to Burns is being closed intermittently. Got photos of any of that?

    • oregon expat says:

      We neither saw nor heard any sign of the fires until after returning home. Yesterday I was startled to hear KLCC announce the possible evacuation of Frenchglen. What timing! I sure hope it turns out all right.

  6. Paulo says:

    That first shot is GORGEous (sorry, had to. It was in my “bucket list”).

    As for the sign-defacing ignoramuses, I recently attended a debate with a “Young Earth” creationist. Besides the irrelevant fact that it made me weep, it doesn’t give you much hope for the country in that respect. Especially if you put in the context of the recurring Gallup poll that this year had 46% of US residents agreeing with the statement “God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”.

    Four years ago that percentage was 44. Two years ago it was 40.

  7. Alma says:

    I’ve been to a glacial valley in Scotland, Glen Roy, and it’s got nothing on this one! Green fuzz = full grown trees? Amazing.

    (Choosing to ignore the bit about horribly ignorant Americans in favor of scientific awe.)

  8. eric says:

    stunning place. I had the good luck to stumble across it. Unfortunately you cannot overhype it to family and friends. being as inaccessible as it is, none will ever venture out to see it.

    Fields Oregon is a great little town. As is Frenchglen

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