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 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.
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.
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.