daybreak over the Alvord desert

daybreak over the alvord desert
steens mountain foothill daybreak

views of the alvord desert

views of the Alovrd desert

alvord hot springs

kiteboarder on the alvord desert

dogs running on the alvord desert

Alvord Desert views

alvord hot springs

views of the alvord from pike creek

alvord desert area- fields station denio road

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If You Go: Alvord Desert

The Pueblo Valley and Alvord Desert region is rather remote. There are few places to stay, and the campgrounds are what would be referred to as dispersed. 

The Fields-Denio Road, the main road along the East flank of Steens mountain and the access to the Alvord Desert, is largely unpaved. As gravel roads go, it is well maintained. The gravel is both a blessing and a curse. It deters many would be visitors in large motor homes and cars whose owners are too protective of to risk the paint and tire damage.  This self-limitation helps to keep the area from becoming overrun, the blessing. The downside of the road is the potential for flat tires. You should note that the gravel they use includes fairly large, sharp chunks of rock. These are pulled up with the grader, and often sit atop the hard road bed, a tire trap.  If the road has been recently graded and you see fist size stones sitting on top, take caution and slow down.

Sadly, they are working on paving this stretch. On the Deschutes River, near Maupin, is a plaque with a quote from a past head of the USBLM (US Bureau of Land Management) “Future generations will thank us for the roads we did not build.” There had been a push to pave a road along what is now a wild and scenic river corridor, and in the end it was decided not to go forward. Unfortunately, paved campgrounds with motor home pads, electrical hookups, and showers is viewed by many as “protecting” an area.

Camping in this area is dispersed, although there are a few really choice spots. The easiest access for 5th wheelers and large vehicles is a large flat area at the base of Indian Creek Road, directly across from the Alvord Hot Springs. There are several other campsites up this road with sweeping views of the desert. If the weather is inclimate, I would recommend against camping above the lower spot or two. I’ve included a story on this site about waiting out a storm in the mud higher up on this road. It is also very exposed, and a good friend was once caught in a raging thunderstorm up there, not a great place to avoid lightening strikes.

On Pike Creek, just a bit North of the hot springs, there are a couple of very choice spots.  The road in is very rugged, so don’t take in a vehicle with low clearance. Because it is so rocky, however, and not steep, it’s unlikely you will get caught in the mud. There is a lovely trail following Pike Creek, popular with hikers. Cross the creek in the camp area, and you will find it on the far side. A word of caution: do not walk blind into the old mine on the trail, or allow your dog to run back there. In the back, the shaft goes straight down.

These campsites are not improved, so you will need to bring in your own toilet. Please don’t turn the whole place into one! It is not uncommon for campers to dig a privy, and bury it when they leave, resulting in large areas of dug up ground in the better campsites and much consternation to those of us who follow their stay accompanied by dogs. Read: gross. The simplest setup is a groover made of a pickle bucket (or old cat litter bucket) with some of the blue stuff they sell for portable toilets at RV stores. This can be dumped at the end of your trip into the pit toilets up at Mann Lake, and the blue stuff really does keep the smell down.

Some people camp on the Alvord Desert itself, or at the edge of it. The desert is a large alkali flat, which is to say a dry lakebed. It can be a lovely place to stay, if the weather cooperates. It is a vast open space, though, so there is no protection from the wind, and moisture can pose a serious problem. The experience of one group in particular has become legend in the area. As the story goes, there was a group conducting a photo shoot on the desert, and they brought in several large motor homes, which they parked on the far side of the Alvord. A wind came up, pushing the surface water that had gathered on the West side of the desert, runoff from the Steens, across to their camp. They found themselves up to their axels a couple of miles from “shore.” 

The area around Mann Lake used to be very popular with fishermen. I am told, however, that someone planted some goldfish in it and ruined the trout fishery. There are several sites and it offers pit toilets facilities.

If you’d rather not camp, there are a couple of options. Fields Station has a couple of rooms, roadside motel style. John has stayed there in winter when the weather has been particularly bad. Mostly, we visit almost daily for the best burgers and milkshakes we’ve had anywhere. They have gas, too, a rare commodity out in this back country. Other options are available on the far side of Steens Mountain, and I might cover them at a later time.

The Alvord Hot Springs is on the Alvord Ranch, and is privately owned, as is most of the desert itself. Please be respectful of this, clean up after yourself, and do no harm. It is entirely gracious of them to allow the public to use their hot springs and access the desert on their land. There are two concrete pools, I understand they were originally built as bathing facilities for the cowboys and ranch hands. A windscreen and changing shed have been constructed around the pools, creating one outdoor and one sheltered pool. The temperature is controlled by increasing or decreasing the flow from the springs through a series of pipes into the tubs. Note that clothing is optional; not always a happy experience, depending on who is currently in the tubs.  Also, the springs flow into creeks, and the water is extremely hot. Mind small children and dogs on the path, that they don’t scald themselves.

There are other hot springs in the area, the closest is Mickey. It’s not really set up to enjoy, although someone has dug a couple of small pools into the stream. It is interesting to see, though. The big pool is really large, deep, and hot. Animals have fallen into it and died before getting themselves out, so please do not let your dog run free when visiting there.

Willow hot springs are a bit south of the desert, and many people camp close to them. There is a large tub dug into the ground. They are less visited by people driving through than the Alvord hot springs, and offer a little more remote experience, although groups do often camp right at the hotsprings. It does also have pit toilet facilities.

In this series on our website:

Photo galleries in this series:Alvord Desert view from Pike Creek
Alvord Desert and Hot Springs
Alvord Desert and a Kiteboarder
Fields Station - Denio Road
Pueblo Valley and Mountain
Alvord Desert Area
Alvord Desert Daybreak

Stories in this series:
Daydreaming of the Alvord in Tokyo.
Steens Storm


copyright© Eva Gill 2009 ~ Web design, photographs,text by Eva Gill, unless otherwise noted. Video by John Gill.