Experience Oregon's Big Country... Harney County
Ripe for exploration, it is the "Big Lonesome" captured in western features with open space, wildlife, and scenic beauty of limitless proportions.
First discovered by trappers and then rudimentarily mapped by military scouts, Major Enoch Stein and company, in the 1850's, Harney County is still a place of discovery.
Rich in varied topography, this area of Oregon's High Desert is a diamond in the rough with unbelievable lakes, streams, and mountains creating the ultimate Oasis'.
Although inhabited by man since the end of the last ice age, pioneers only began settling this area in the late 1800's. Homesteading and land wars continued into the depression era. Today, many of the area ranches are still in homestead family ownership, and agriculture, including cattle, sheep and hay production, continues to be a primary industry.
The sheer expanse of the County's landscape is huge with over 10,000 square miles encompassed by its borders and a population of about 7,700 people. It is still largely uninhabited with its landscape left relatively untouched by human hands.
Scenic vistas abound with wildflowers, mountain meadows, deer, elk, and over 300 species of birds migrating through each spring. The migration is welcomed each year with the John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival the first weekend in April celebrating the natural wonders of Harney County.
While the landscape of Harney County is vast and relatively uncharted, so are the night skies. They play host to millions of stars and celestial viewing opportunities. Harney County has the lowest ambient light in the nation affording exceptional star gazing.
Steens Mountain is a high elevation viewing platform with a low horizon line providing for the full expanse of the night sky. Aurora Borealis are commonly seen with their green and red hues highlighting the darkened skyline.
The forest to the north, Steens Mountain to the south, and the Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge in the middle offers a multitude of activities to enjoy whether the purpose of your visit is to experience one of our many Scenic Byway Tour Routes, or to hike in the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area with its rugged splendor.
Part of the Great Basin, Steens Mountain is a giant fault block which uplifted millions of years ago defining a gradual western slope with a steep escarpment on its eastern side reaching down to the Alvord Desert below. Steens Mountain, with a summit of 9,733', offers the opportunity for its visitors to drive nearly to the top on the highest road in the state of Oregon. Enroute must see stops include the Kiger, Little Blitzen, and Big Indian Overlooks to view the phenomenal glacial cut gorges speaking to the tremendous geologic forces at work on this landscape. The East Rim and Summit Overlooks provide a view to the Alvord Desert below. The Steens is truly an Oasis in the desert with sage brush steppe country giving way to juniper woodlands, and then alpine meadows and aspen groves at higher elevations. It is raptor heaven with over 50 species of hawks migrating through and making their summer homes in the higher elevations.
North of Burns where juniper woodlands give way to Pine forests, Delintment Lake and Idlewild Campground are two popular recreation sites. Summer or winter, Harney County has unbelievable possibilities.
An Icon of the American West, the wild horse is still roaming free in Harney County. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, horses can be seen on the range in many places on and around Steens Mountain, west of Burns across the high desert and towards Wagontire. Popular area herds include the Kiger Mustang and the South Steens Paint Herd.
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