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  • Oregon - From Mountain Peak to Desert to Lakes Expedition 2013

    Steens Mountain, Alvord Desert pretty much anyone who is into four wheeling/overlanding in Pacific Northwest knows those names. Situated in South east corner of Oregon they are not inaccessible yet pretty remote. Steens Mountain is a large fault-block mountain that stretches some 50 miles north to south. At the base of eastern slope is large open playa, 12-by-7-mile (19 by 11 km) dry (in Summer) lake bed - Alvord Desert. Steens is highest point in Oregon you can drive up to at 9733 ft. Dry Alvord desert playa is flat enough to set land speed records. I caught a glimpse of those on the way to 2009 Nevada Trophy.

    Finally made it here this 4th of July weekend 2013. We took of much later than anticipated. Were greeted with fireworks in small town of Burns. Finally just before midnight we arrived at primitive camp among small aspen trees near Fish lake. At 7500 feet night was a bit colder than we anticipated, clear moonless night pleased us with spectacular Milky Way display.

    Breakfast bacon and eggs then onto sightseeing. Kigler Gorge u-shaped troth carved out by glassier millenniums ago.

    9500 ft East Rim view on Alvord Desert 5000 ft below. Steens summit was only part requiring mild 4WD. Short narrow shale rd with one steep climb. Rest of roads so far was perfectly suitable for passenger cars, well graded gravel. It was actually relatively crowed on that day.

    At the base of summit rd there is a parking lot and trailhead to Wildhorse Lake.

    Here I got to talk to group of fellow Portlanders we kept running into several times later. We were short on time and 3-4 hours round-trip hike wouldn't suit our plans very well.

    Turn off to South Steens didn't warn us of anything but few miles down the road there was sign that gate was closed ahead, road closed for repairs. Those same people I talked about lake hike were similarly stumped by pure lack of communication from whoever manages that part of the road. Just in case we proceeded to see what needed "repairs". Few small rocks on the road and closed gate. At least we were rewarded with fantastic Big Indian Gorge view.

    Our trip just got lengthened by good hour or more. Nothing else to do we backtracked onto northern part of the loop advising others too.

    Fields station World Famous Milkshake is more like soft-serve ice cream served in a large paper cup. Very reach maybe even too much so. I must add they are not in a rush doing anything in that town of 11 people. As we were about to leave fellow Portlanders pulled in.

    South eastern Oregon is dotted with hot-springs.

    Borax lake warm pull of arsenic rich water.

    Olga didn't let me to get in. Oh well. We press forward only to almost getting lost in maze of barbed wire/closed gates. Alvord hot springs is now managed by some fella in a shack $5 per person to enjoy it for 24 hours. It was still in upper 80's at the time. Seating in 100+ degree water under blazing sun didn't bode very well in our plans.

    Looking for campsite. Setting down by a nice creek just didn't feel novel.

    Camp on playa! As we drive in I notice vehicle sitting on dark colored patch where Alvord hot spring drains into lake bed. Equipped for just such occasion we drive up to fine those same people little Subaru Forester was on it's belly in sticky clay. Alvord Host spring host attempted to rescue them but with only short chain was just about as stuck as you can be without being stuck. He happily yielded opportunity not after several attempts to free himself. It was a short and easy job for Power Wagon 12000 lb winch.

    Blasting down dry lake bed is fun in it's own right. We never reached 512 mile/hour set by Kitty O'Neil in 1976 but easy to get going fast.

    Most of playa was way too windy to set camp. Only very western edge has been relatively calm. We'll settle down here. As Sun settled down temperature dropped for nice comfortable contrasting soak in hot pool. We spent an hour or so in very primitive accommodations. Dark night, amazing desert sky, hot pool. Fantastic. Back at camp we set our cots under starry sky to continue stargazing party but not 20 seconds later we were knocked out.

    I woke up with something burning in my eyes.

    Sun just came up over eastern mountain range I was facing sleeping outside on my cot.

    Eventually our other neighbors, some autogiro club went for early flyovers. It was time to leave.

    Mickey Hot Springs are indeed hot some even boiling and a little bit scary. People died here apparently.

    We found one spot where we could deep out toes.

    We stopped by aptly named wheel well.

    Onto quest of some more challenging terrain. Didn't find much really mostly just bone jarring rough tracks.

    All this really reminded me of Nevada Trophy. Very similar terrain and settings. Got to do it again this year.

    Out attempt to locate Malheur Cave was unsuccessful. Seems like it's located on private property behind No Trespassing sign unfortunately.

    It was time to part with out companions. They headed home while we decide to spend remainder of this day and next exploring Cascades lakes region west of Bend/Sunriver.

    Beautiful countryside.

    Dozens of lake big and small. Spent a night at Cultus lake resort.
    We plan to come back later this summer.

    Traffic was abhorable on the way home. Stopped in Sisters, OR to find something to eat. Discovered another little gem, Los Agaves Mexican Grill. Surprisingly good. It was a good trip 1100 miles. Power Wagon averaged averaged 14.5 mpg. Not too bad.
    - By PWRider

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Crossing Oregon. From mt peak to desert to lakes started by PWRider View original post
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Stan's Avatar
      Stan -
      That Los Agaves Mexican Grill is a good place huh! It's only been there about a year and a half or so. I stopped there last time I went fly fishing over there, looks like this was a great trip Steens are very beautiful area!