Deep stillness on the Alvord Desert

As we packed up and headed for the Alvord Desert, a song clip kept running through my head, “Off we go, home in tow, down the highwa…son of a gun we’re gonna have great fun on the playa.” It was the wrong song. The Alvord Desert is amazing, beautiful, and very, very quiet. For us, not a place of boisterous fun. Absolutely magnificently wonderful.

Saying Goodbye to Page Springs Campground
A quail chorus sang us out of Page Springs

A quail chorus sang us out of Page Springs Campground and we headed to Fields around the south end of Steens Mountain. We passed Skull Mountain Road and a small airstrip on the Roaring Springs Ranch. We saw pronghorn and a magpie hitching a ride on a cow, then an entire cow parade.

Cow parade

The folks keeping an eye on the cows grinned as I shot video with my phone out the window. I wonder if they’d find my workday as interesting as I found theirs.

As we drove up a rise a white surrealistic landscape appeared in the V framed by the road cut. It grew into a remarkable view of the south end of the desert. Amazing.

I was a little nervous about actually getting onto the desert and a little nervous about figuring out where to set up camp. Neither was worth worrying about.

I’d called Alvord Hot Springs to make sure they were open and to get an idea of how desert access worked. They were really nice and I almost understood the process.

There were cars in the parking lot, a couple people near the accommodations (pretty charming looking repurposed modular MASH units) and a masked couple talking at a picnic table in front. I was happy to pay for a couple days use of their private road and so, so happy to use their bathroom! We paid for a days use of the hot springs but didn’t. Covid and hot spring use are difficult to manage.

The road was nice and we appreciated the tip about the damp mud near the outlet. We dropped a pin on our map to make sure we could find the road again. The mountains make good enough markers, but the pin was reassuring.

Pulling Brave Horatio out onto the dry lake bed of the Alvord Desert was a little unnerving. There aren’t many places left where you can just drive anywhere at all. It took some getting used to. We’d decided to camp toward the north end, but not too far from the west edge. We drove into an area of small bumps and parked, deciding that the small bumps would slow down anyone out for speed.

It was weird to just stop and camp. It’s flat, flat, flat. Like camping on a gigantic dried up mud puddle. Amazing mountains around all the edges and miles and miles of light pinkish brown dried mud. I took my shoes off and enjoyed the softness on my feet.

We dropped a pin where we left Brave Horatio and went out for a spin in Freya. It felt like we were flying over that flat space–we got up to about 30 mph. It felt fast and a little thrilling to just steer where ever we wanted. No lines, no signs, no people or vehicles. Miles and miles and miles of flat. We drove toward the south end of the desert, then around the eastern edge and back north. It was interesting to see where larger dunes formed and the areas that included some fist size black rocks. We only saw a couple other vehicles the whole time.

Back at Brave Horatio we started to realize how very quiet it was and how very little there was to do. Bill played guitar. We read. I knitted. I twirled in a circle with the bubbles I keep in the galley.

Visualization of how musicians feel during Covid-19
French dip sandwiches on the desert. Marvelous!

We could see two camps. One to the southwest and one southeast. Both were so far away that binoculars showed people, but not their features. We later discovered that the camp to the east of us were friends of my nephew. Such a small world.

Our oh-so-far-away neighbors turned out to be friends of my nephew (lots of telephoto in this picture. They’re way the hell-and-gone away from us.)

Peeing in the desert is also a little surreal. It’s flat, it’s unvegetated, it’s dry. Pick a direction, walk away from your camp, pee, and pack out your paper. Kind of fun.

I worried about poop.

My primary plan was to wait and use Alvord Springs’ bathroom. Luckily, my backup plan was untested.

We sang What a Wonderful World into the quiet desert dark, enjoyed the milky way, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars and tucked ourselves into Brave Horatio.

It got windy for a bit. Brave Horatio wiggled a little as the wind whistled around, but he stayed put and we stayed snug.

Milky Way over the Alvord Desert