The Alvord Desert

The Alvord Desert

It should be called a playa but isn’t.

That is because the Alvord Desert is tucked away in a little traveled, remote corner of southeastern Oregon where the few scattered ranchers living there have never heard of playas.

Its one of those places where most folks tried and failed to make a living and then abandoned their efforts.

Alvord Desert Winter Sunrise

As always seems to be the case, I drove all night to catch this winter sunrise scene in the Alvord Desert.

This view is looking south across the border toward Denio, Nevada and, I believe, the snowy Bilk Creek Mountains.

It was wet and muddy after recent rains but I’d come to photograph the hot springs near Borax Lake on the south end of the Alvord so I pushed on.

Borax Lake

Borax Lake is fed by a very large hot spring and has an average temperature of close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

It contains lethal concentrations of arsenic and sodium borate and should be inhospitable to life but it is home to a unique species of fish, known as the Borax Lake chub.

Arch Spring

Between Borax Lake and the vast Alvord playa are a series of closely spaced, unique hot springs not unlike what you might find in Yellowstone.

There was a lot of mud and high water on the road so getting to the springs was tricky with a lot of slipping and sliding sideways involved.

Emerald Spring

The springs were worth it, though. There are a surprisingly large number of hot springs and each one is different and unique.

Uh, Oh! Trouble!

On the drive back out I bottomed out hard during a particularly tricky, but necessary, off-road maneuver.

After that there was a horrible loud noise come out from the undercarriage and it would not go away.

I instantly concluded, “That’s bad!”

The Hourglass Spring

The clatter stopped when I stopped and came right back again when I moved and the faster I moved the louder it got. It was very loud.

I looked and looked but could find nothing wrong.

The CRV limped slowly back out to the “main” dirt road. I knew right then and there that my planned 3-day photo safari sweep through southeast Oregon was over!

I was absolutely convinced there was serious damage and I was stranded.

Friendly Cowboys

About that time a couple cowboy ranchers in a pickup stopped. Yup, there was a filled rifle rack on the back window! They were the only humans I saw anywhere near the Alvord that day.

After much checking and discussion and since the engine sounded undamaged, it was decided I’d try to slowly drive the 100+ miles to Burns,  the closest town with an auto mechanic.

They had cattle they were checking on but agreed to come back and follow me all the way to Burns if needed. Country folk are friendly and helpful that way.

There was time. I wasn’t gonna be going anywhere fast, anyway.

By the time they returned it seemed to me I couldn’t go very fast but I’d get there so I thanked them and they disappeared off into the distance in a cloud of dust.

Steen's Mountain as seen from the Alvord Desert

The Alvord Desert is literally right next to one of southeast Oregon’s iconic locations, Steen’s Mountain. So I stopped by the side of the road to capture a view.

When I got to paved roads again I found that if I increased velocity slowly that I could go faster on a flat surface.

It took 5 hours but when I got to Burns there were no available mechanics. Dang!

The Fix

I drove an additional 130 miles to Bend where I finally found a mechanic the next day.

In less than 5 minutes the CRV was fixed!

The bemused mechanic pointed out to me that all that was wrong was that a piece of metal mounting a flange protecting the drive train was bent and the flange was just banging against the drive train. Though noisy, he said, it was not serious and I could easily have pulled it back away.

Chagrined, I paid the bill, tucked my saggy tail between my legs and drove home.

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About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!
This entry was posted in Desert, Landscape, Oregon, Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Alvord Desert

  1. greg says:

    I like your article on the Alvord Playa. I first encountered this area in 1980…at that time the larger Alvord playa (when it was dry) was open to going out on in a vehicle. I believe it is closed now for good reasons..but at that time you could drive out on it at night, turn off your car lights and drive in the dark, close your eyes if you wanted to! oh well, the silliness of youth.

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