This memorial weekend, I had the opportunity to visit southeastern Oregon and camp 3 nights in the Alvord desert. I went with a bunch of oregonians, who go every year and turn the desert into their own hybridization between a colorful Burning Man festival and a Mad Max movie.
The Alvord desert is a 12-mile lake bed desert under the beautiful snow covered Steens Mountain. I had no idea what to expect going out there, but I was met with a truly unique landscape that I didn’t think I would find in the green and lush state of Oregon.
We arrived late afternoon right after a bigger rainfall, which made the ground on the playa act as a mirror and made it almost impossible to distinguish where the sky ended and the ground began. Accompanied by a caravan of cars we took the chance of getting stuck in the mud and drove through the wet playa to get to the dryer side. Mud was flying everywhere leaving all cars and motorbikes covered in a thick layer of brown mud.
Luckily, we all crossed the wet lake without getting stuck and we immediately started to set up the camp, building our own little minibar, Dj stand and dance floor making the desert our new home for a couple of days.
That night it started to rain again, which made the playa even more muddy the second day. Even though, I think, we were all dreaming about a dry and warm desert my mom taught me that “there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes”, so I put on my new awesome hiking boots, found in a Goodwill store, and a pair of vintage army pants and went to enjoy the wet playa. Thick brown paste clung to my feet walking around the playa and not getting mud on somewhere was almost impossible. Instead of complaining we all embraced it and made it a good experience after all.
Only a few hours later the sun came through and within hours the playa startet to get dry and you could see signs of it already cracking up. It didn’t take long before the ground was so dry that it started to crunch beneath us. I was amazed by how quiet it was when walking around on the lakebed. There was no wind, no ambient noise and apart from our own camp there where no one else around us for miles. It felt great!
I bet some of you have wondered about my outfit and if that is the dress code for the Alvord desert. The answer is no, but it felt liberating to be able to dress a little crazy for a weekend. The weekend really just felt like a small Burning Man festival and we all dressed up to fit the part. I wasn’t really prepared for the trip, so I had to use what I got. In this case it ended up being a hat from Forever 21 and a mesh top from Urban Outfitters
What To Do In The Alvord
Cruising The Playa
Well, you might think there isn’t much to do in a desert, but the Alvord desert actually has a lot to offer! Cruising around the playa in your car or on a motorbike is a must do out there. The dry, cracked, relatively smooth alkaline surface of the playa begs for both exploration and speed. Most of our crew had brought dirt- and motorbikes and I was lucky enough to get a ride. The playa felt lightning fast turning the ground beneath us into white blur. It’s was a feeling of freedom and adrenaline.
Camping And Stargazing
Camping on the playa is a adventure in itself and I would recommend to spend at least one night out in the desert. There is very little light pollution at the Alvord desert, which means that you can get some amazing views of the sky. The moonlight from the full moon was shining bright the whole night lessening the inky blackness of the night, but still not shinning so bright as to dull the sky of stars that speckled and glittered in the sky above. It was absolutely mesmerizing! It looked like a large hand had tossed diamond dust into the sky.
Hikes And Hot Springs
The Alvord desert also have, from what I’ve heard, amazing hikes and natural hot springs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy any of these this time around. I’ll save that for the next Alvord adventure.
If you are searching for an escape offering a feeling of solitude and wilderness, the Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain are certainly a worthy visit. Make sure to bring plenty of water, pack a good pair of boots, some warm clothes for the chilly nights and go enjoy the desert!