Tuesday, June 24, 2014

South Eastern Oregon Exploration: Alvord Desert to Steens Mountain

We continued on up the road to the highly anticipated Alvord Desert. According to Wikipedia, the Alvord Desert is a 12 by 7 mile dry lake bed that averages 7 inches of rain a year at an elevation of 4,000 feet. Kerrie and I headed north on a gravel road, slowly climbing up to the view point overlooking the desert with the Steens Mountains towering a long side. We had planned to soak in the Alvord Desert Hot Springs, but due to a temperature of around 80 degrees, we opted out and drove back to find an entrance down into the lake bed. The playa, as the locals call it, was occupied by numerous camps of RVs, land yachts, airplanes and gliders. Heading onto the playa was a surreal experience with miles and miles of flat open lake bed. I pushed the pedal to the floor and aimed for the middle of the lake, windows down, music up. 


Cooking dinner

 We ended up camping about 2 or 3 miles into the middle of the playa. We threw out our chairs, cracked some beers, read our books and cooked dinner before nightfall finally overtook the area. We climbed into our Polar knapsacks and pointed our attention to the wondrous display of stars spread out before us. There was supposed to be a large meteor shower that night, but we must have missed it by a day because the only movements we saw were a few satellites. Before crawling into bed, I set my alarm clock for O’dark:30 in order to try and catch the sunrise spilling onto the mountains.   


The next morning we lounged around taking in the view before loading up and heading back into Fields for burgers and fuel before pointing the car North once more. Driving into the Steens Mountain Refuge is a cool experience for anyone that likes views or long expanses of dirt/gravel roads. We were also lucky enough to stop and watch some wild horses playing and feeding beside the road.

The Steens

South Steens Campsite
We were happy to see that South Steens Campground wasn’t that full for a holiday. However, we took longer than necessary picking out a campsite, but finally settled on a shady spot besides a few junipers. I opted to go for a short run while Kerrie relaxed in the hammock. Unfortunately, my run was cut short by two rather full rivers. When I got back, I was finally able to setup my solar shower and even convinced Kerrie to indulge in a lukewarm shower.

Swollen river crossing
That night we cooked over Foil Bombs/Hobo Dinners over the fire and played Banagrams. Kerrie was disappointed it took so long to have a fire on this trip so we stayed up late chatting around the campfire and looking at the stars. 

While we had planned to stay two nights at this campground, with the rivers too swollen to cross, we decided to pack up and head towards Bend. Before leaving, we ventured up the road to a viewpoint that our camping neighbors informed us of. We were both super glad that we followed their advice as the drive up was pretty fun and the views were outstanding.

Big Indian Gorge

Little Blitzen Gorge

On the way towards Bend, we visited the Riddle Ranch, had lunch at Frenchglen Hotel, explored the Pete French Round Barn, visited the Diamond Craters and drove through the Malheur wildlife refuge. Finally arriving in Burns, Oregon, I pulled over and filled the tank with our reserve gasoline cans then headed west toward Bend, Oregon with thoughts of microbrews filling our heads.

Riddle Brothers Ranch House

Pete French Round Barn

A few hours later we were pulling into the parking lot of Good Life Brewing covered in dirt and smelling to high heaven. One giant pile of nachos and two beers later, Kerrie still hadn’t had enough fire pit action so we drove back down the street to 10 Barrel brewing to have our last rounds of beers before heading up the road to camp at the trailhead of Dillon Falls.

The next morning we had no real plans and had no rush to get back to Portland so I fished for a while on the Deschutes while Kerrie finished her book. We decided to take the long way home, but wanted to get some exercise so we made the call to hike to the top of Black Butte since neither of us had ever made the short trek.
The views were amazing although slightly obscured by the clouds. There before us stood Mt. Bachelor, Tumalo Mountain, the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, Olallie Butte, Three Finger Jack, and Mt. Jefferson. Mt. Hood remained lost in the clouds.
Dillon Falls Trailhead

Roll cast!


Climbing up Black Butte

The last leg of our journey had us travelling through the Mt. Hood National Forest via NF-46 and Hwy 224. Finally squirting us out in Estacada, Oregon where were continued to I-205, Hwy 84, and I-405 to come to a safe landing in NW Portland. 1,215 miles later, we were home safe and sound. Road trip complete.