THRUSTING up to nearly 10,000 feet in southeast Oregon's high desert country, Steens Mountain is a land where the deer and the antelope play. And the bighorn sheep and wild horses and sage grouse and redband trout and several species of horned lizard and the occasional human being. Among the twisted, fragrant juniper on this 10 million-year-old fault-block range - the highest point in the Great Basin - one can look out over vast areas of Utah, Nevada, and Oregon and see mountains in California and Washington. It is dry and harsh and quiet. And spectacularly beautiful.
When the last of the Paiute and Bannock Indians were killed or rounded up in the 1880s, the area around Steens Mountain (named for a US cavalry major) became home base for powerful cattle barons. Most people around here are still ranchers and cowhands.
Now, in order to head off what some see as increasing environmental pressure from grazing, mining, geothermal development, and off-road vehicles there is an effort to have Congress declare Steens Mountain a national park preserve.
Says Bill Marlett of the Oregon Natural Desert Association: ``The Steens is national park material. No question about it.''