December 28-30, 2013.
Exploring the Alvord desert and hot springs | 0′ ele. gain
Photos from the entire trip are on Google+
After a leisurely day of wandering through Borax Hot Springs, we drove up to the desert to scope out the camping situation. It was Aaron’s first visit to the Alvord desert so I got my camera ready to film the drive out onto the playa. This is what we saw:
So the desert was as vast and awesome as I’d remembered. There was barely a breeze and not another person in sight. We got out of the car and ran around a bit, then Aaron got back in and did some crazy bro-driving while I walked back to the grassy shore. We searched for a nice campsite for later, then drove up to the hot springs.
The Alvord Hot Springs are available for soaking for a $5-a-person charge. There’s a little shop with a restroom and a year-round caretaker on-site. The water from the springs are piped into two soaking pools. One is open air and the other is surrounded by corrugated metal sides. The water is wonderfully warm, cutting the sharp cold of the desert evening. We watched the sun set while sitting in the tub, then drove back to camp in the desert.
For a couple days, we explored the desert, took off for day trips, and came back to camp. It was a surreal place to camp; our “campsite” had no boundaries. We used an established fire ring so we left minimal impact behind. For both nights, we had no neighbors. A nearby light shone brightly from a house, but besides our campfire there was no other point source of light. Looking up at the stars was spectacular.
One morning we drove east to check out the other edge of the desert. Across the vast, flat expanse, we found tiny hills with deep channels carved into them by water. We played around on the hills and were excited to find windblown piles of fluffy snow. Huge ice crystals filled shallow puddles on the cracked surface of the desert. It was quite beautiful.
Of course, driving back across the playa was fun. You could literally drive with your eyes closed, no hands. It was perfectly flat, barren, and long.
Winter is probably one of the best times to visit the Alvord Desert, since it’s at a pretty comfortable temperature, there’s no one out four-wheeling on it, and it’s incredibly dry. The silence, the stars, the bitter cold nights and sunny days, and the neighboring hot springs make the drive out here totally worthwhile.
Continue reading about our eastern Oregon adventure here: