One of my bucket list items, the Alvord Desert has always intrigued me. The desolation. The harsh environment. The wide open spaces. The hot springs. So this year, we finally went to explore it ourselves.
After loading up the Land Cruiser, we hit the road for the 7 hour journey ahead.
We had to stop at Whole Foods in Bend, OR for the typical vegan overland chow – Beyond Burgers, Beyond meat crumbles, Chao cheese, cold beers, and all the fixins.
After passing through Burns, we began to experience the desolation we had been craving so much.
We stopped in Frenchglen – a historic dot on the map. The general store was still mostly original, including the squeaky floors, and overly polite employees. They had a little of everything – from touristy t-shirts to cold sodas, candy, and camping supplies.
This would be our last stop until hitting the Alvord area.
I hadn’t put our actual destination – Alvord Hot Springs – into my GPS, I simply put Fields in, as I thought they were close. This error might have been a saving grace, as we were able to top off fuel there, and stretch our legs. The actual hot springs were still over 40 minutes away.
Once we crested a ridge on the now gravel road, we were able to see our first glimpse of the Alvord desert. The bright surface starkly contrasted against a violent sky. It was an awe-inspiring sight, for sure.
Our biggest concern was now a not expected one – the wind. The wind was howling at about a constant 30-40 MPH. After a disastrous experience in a roof top tent in Moab a few years ago, I knew what kind of night was ahead – no sleep (for us or our almost 3 year old). And therefore, tired grumpy days.
We pulled into the Alvord Hot Springs area, and learned that they now rented out military “MASH” units. These were once old office trailers for the Army, and now sat on the side of a desolate, windy desert. While they were bare bones, they were warm, clean, and most important – oblivious to the wind. So we rented one for 2 nights and made it our home.
After a few minutes of decompression, we had an immediate order of business – soaking in the famous hot springs. With a cold IPA in hand, my wife, son and I walked over to the tin structure.
There are a few moments in life where all the odd little circumstances come together for something truly remarkable. And for me, the next hour would be one of those moments. The now stretched legs, springing from 7+ hours cramped in the truck, felt incredible in the perfectly heated, natural water. The company – my wife and son – were just as eager and interested in the task at hand, that a silence fell over us. The stark desert surrounding us provided ample entertainment as we fully relaxed and enjoyed the moment. And, more importantly, the whole spring was ours.
It was a moment I will not forget.
I can see how and why people adventure from around the world to come here. It was a truly awesome experience.
Over the next two days, we had some great food – cracking the windows in our army trailer and setting the stove and kitchen up. My wife made Beyond Meat street tacos, burgers, and awesome breakfasts. Coffee was my favorite from Black Rifle Coffee Company, and prepared in the Moka Express.
During our visit, we adventured out on the playa itself – teasing on the edge of vastness and a feeling of getting lost. Once you are out there in the middle, you see almost nothing for bearings. It is a surreal experience, not unlike being on the open water in a boat.
We also adventured to Mickey Hot Springs – quite a drive to find, but worth it. This mini-Yellowstone had hissing vents, bubbling mud pots, and lots of very interesting geothermal things to explore and discover. This is truly remote wilderness, so be prepared.
We also explored the other camping options in the area, all owned by the same family that owns Alvord Hot Springs. If not for the wind, we would have given one of these more remote experiences a try for a night.
We left in the opposite direction from where we came, and the desolation continued. It wasn’t until we returned to Burns that we felt we were back into civilization.
It is amazing how this corner of Oregon remains so desolate, beautiful, and worth visiting.