Here’s an Oregon feature off the beaten track…the Alvord Desert.
If you’re ever visiting the Southeastern part of the state, you know that wandering through this part of the country is a must. The Alvord Desert is hidden in the rain shadow of the Steens Mountain, and it offers travelers the starkly beautiful sight of cracked earth stretching for miles.
This mostly barren (but lovely) landscape was formed thousands of years ago when a lake sat where desert exists now. Deep underground lava flows still exist – the same lava that formed the tops of the 5,000-foot high, 70-mile long Steens Range that dominates the horizon and borders the desert to the west. The dry lakebed of what’s now the Alvord Desert bear no hint of moisture now except from rains – it looks like crumpled paper, unfolding across the land.
It sounds desolate, but there are perks to this kind of geography: bright stars, a mesmerizing quiet, and space for contemplation. Not to mention the eerie occasional booming that rolls across the land, the sound of subterranean movement as the earth continues to shift, reminding travelers of how temporary this current feature is.
Also, magma mean hot springs, and there are a few worth visiting, including Mickey Hot Springs, Alvord Hot Springs, Borax Lake, and some spots on private lands that can sometimes be accessed for a small fee.
The desert is accessible year-round, although July through November is the best time to visit, as the playa is usually dry enough then for vehicular travel. Be sure to wander carefully into this part of Oregon – there’s no cell service, portable water, designating camping spots or facilities. And the nearest town is Fields, 45 minutes to 1 hour south.
However, if you’re ready for a free-spiriting voyage into Southeastern Oregon, this BLM site is a good place to start researching: http://on.doi.gov/1NWbGdC.