Sundown on the Alvord Desert


One hundred and some miles past the last open gas station, 20 miles past the last closed gas station, 10 miles past the end of the pavement, and hours since seeing much but an occasional ranch house and sagebrush extending to the horizon, I rounded a bend just before sunset to come upon this unique and oh so welcome scene.

The Alvord Desert, middle of nowhere Oregon. Here, you’ll find abundant free camping under the stars, miles from anyone, assuming you choose a trail that your vehicle can make it down safely. The trails and desert conditions vary by season, becoming more muddy with runoff from Steens Mountain in the spring and gradually drying out over the summer. It’s generally best to stay south of the hot springs, where the northern “lake” portion started to get muddy even during this trip in late June. Should you be driving something without high ground clearance, take a moment to find one of the smoother trails down.  Many miles from any cell service is not the best place to find yourself in need of a rescue.

Once you make it onto the lake bed, choose your favorite spot amongst the miles of sprawling desert, and the rest is up to you. As the sun receded over the mountain in the distance, the buzzing of racing motorcycles faded away in the distance and a few camp fires emerged miles across the lake to far to hear a sound. The desert gradually faded to absolute peaceful silence, lit brightly by the waxing moon, which itself eventually settled behind the horizon, clearing the sky for the Milky Way, Venus, Jupiter, and an abundance of meteors to stage an impressive show above the desert floor.

It goes to show, if you just take the time to go around enough corners, there will eventually be something exciting waiting just around the next bend. 🙂

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