Samantha and I are practitioners of the 4 day work week and it is life changing. That means we have Saturday through Monday to explore. That extra day combined with Yakima, Washington’s favorable geographic location amidst a diverse multitude of environments here in the Pacific North West has allowed and encouraged us to instigate a lot of epic adventures with some of the best people we know. This last one was too good not to tell the full story through pictures and text. Enjoy!
The alarm sounded at 4:30 am and our time to get ready was only as long as it took the fresh pour over coffee to be made. We pulled out of the driveway by 5 am and headed south on an adventure that started on the dry side of the Cascades and would only get deeper into the high desert of Eastern Oregon.
Stop one was the hallowed verticals of Smith Rock. It was here that we met up with Meghan, Bec and Craig who were coming from Bend, OR where they spent the previous evening. To avoid the insane crowds of an organized trail running event we hiked a few miles off to a secluded sage brush pasture, littered with large boulders. It was here that we spent the late morning scaling the side of these rocks, taking route cues from chalk remnants and occasionally finding ourselves looking up from the aptly named crash pad.
The encroaching mid-day heat let us know it was time to leave the rocks behind and continue on to the next destination. We fueled the vehicles and our stomachs in Redmond, OR and drove due East. The high desert vistas widened as the roads got straighter. Ninety minutes had passed and the steering wheel needed to be corrected by a few degrees only twice to adjust our 80 mph trajectory. I admit our speed fluctuated up to 10 mph plus-or-minus thanks to the lack of cruise control in our aging Honda Civic and the brake lights of a passing state trooper put us on high alert. A couple minutes later I could see the trooper passing cars as he made his way closer to us. Even saints become nervous with a trooper in the rear view mirror and I veered to the side of the road, trailed by red and blue lights. In a courteous exchange the trooper informed me he had tagged me at 76 mph and gave me a chance to provide reasoning for the speed. With no legitimate excuse, I sheepishly patted my steering wheel and explained the accidental speed on a lack of cruise control and really, really long straight roads.
He returned to his cruiser with my information and after 10 minutes we lost hope of any sort of leniency, assuming the paperwork was in motion. Another 5 minutes lapsed before he arrived back at my window with nothing more than my license and a word of caution about my speed. I pulled away appreciative and stoked that my driving record remained untarnished. A few miles down the road we found the other half of our crew, pulled off on the side of the road, their sullen faces transformed to disbelief when they heard the news, and we continued on to our destination as upbeat as ever.
Our evening’s accommodations could be spotted across the flat sage brush desert well before our arrival and when we pulled up to the 25’ tall teepee our inner child was ignited as we took turns running inside and out, transferring all of our supplies from the vehicles into the ultimate adult slumber party space. The teepee’s 20’ diameter was the perfect size to allow all overnighters to sleep in a starburst pattern radiating out from the center where a galvanized tub that was installed and tapped with hot water from the properties natural hot spring. Yes, a Teepee with our own private hot spring tub in the center.
Adjacent to our unique accommodations sat the properties most attractive feature, a natural hot spring pond. It is 7’ at its deepest and holds a consistent +/- 102 degree temperature thanks to the 175 degree (at the source) hot spring water. It was here, in the middle of the South Eastern Oregon Desert where we idled away the hours and eventually days, spending those beautiful transitional moments where the sun emerges and retires each day from the comfort of the hot water and returning after dark as well to enjoy a blanket of stars, laid out in spectacular fashion thanks to the new moon phase.
Sunday was dedicated to exploring a white swatch of land I had observed on a satellite image a few days prior during trip research and our adventure continued deeper into South-Eastern Oregon to experience this mysterious place first hand. After an hour, snow appeared on the horizon, signifying the approaching Steen mountain range. Our objective was directly behind those mountains, which squeeze the last bit of moisture from the already dry air, creating the ultimate rain shadow and by consequence, the Alvord Desert Playa. We shot passed a ‘pavement ends’ sign sooner than anticipated and spent the next 31 miles on a dirt road to seemingly nowhere. The playa peaked into view and the mirage effect had us questioning whether it was potentially drenched from the lightning storm we watched on the horizon the night before from the hot spring.
A small access road left us sitting in the car at the foot of an incredibly expansive dry lake bed, its appearance a combination of salt flat and the racetrack playa in Death valley National Park, but without the tourist, because like us [up until 48 hours prior] most people don’t know this place exists.
Our time here was an absolute surreal experience. The surface was as flat as that of water yet deceptively hard, appearing glossy in places and feeling like packed clay under foot. A light breeze offset the rising temperature pleasantly and the playa lingered with an unexpected silence, interrupted only by the whoosh of a passing blackbird in flight. This was a place I did not want to leave and it is a place I hope to return to.
On the way back we stopped into Alvord Hot Springs. Situated on the edge of the Playa, these once free hot springs that have always been on private property now require a $5.00 per day fee. We made our contribution and spent a little time sitting on the edge of the spring conversing with an elderly couple from Portland but did not even consider soaking as the direct mid-day sun was becoming too hot in this exposed environment. Alvord Hot Springs is looking to hire a grounds keeper of sorts, so if you think you are diehard enough to spend any length of time in this beautiful yet desolate environment I suggest you give them a call.
We retraced our steps on the 30 mile strip of dirt flanked by sage brush and navigated our way around an alarming number of bull and rattle snakes before rounding the Steen mountain range and heading back to our teepee for a repeat evening soak and sunset to the chorus of birds also temporarily camped out in this desert oasis as part of their spring migration.
We started our own migration back home on Monday morning taking an alternate route in order to stop into another one of Oregon’s most peculiar wonders; the painted hills. As unique as the colorful formations were, we were even more baffled by a tree that we passed on the way. I hit the brakes and turned around for a better look, and sure enough there was a tree entirely covered in footwear of all different kinds, and down on the trunk a small sign read “Just a bunch of old souls hanging around.” As confusing as this experience was, I have since learned that it is indeed, a THING; so keep your old chuck’s in the trunk and maybe you can contribute to some roadside history somewhere along your travels.
Part of me thought this trip was going to kill our old Honda; that we would end up on the side of the road flagging down strangers in order to get to a town with service just to arrange another way home. The very decision to bring our unnamed but well loved Honda was a perilous one to begin with and it is becoming a burden just driving it around town. It doesn’t have power windows or locks, it never did. The same applies to its lack of air conditioning in a region that regularly sees triple digit temperatures. The engine leaks oil and a tire leaks air. The windshield is cracked and the body is battered with dents and rust. The window doesn’t roll all the way down and the door doesn’t open all the way up. The rear quarter panel flapped in the wind until I screwed it back to the car the other day. The muffler is cracked and hangs lower than it should. The headlight plastic is fogged over so badly we rarely drive it at night if we don’t have to. The CD head unit has been pushed deep into the dash and wires are exposed where interior plastic panels have fallen off and become lost long ago.
But you know what, when I take the drivers seat in that old car with Samantha riding shotgun, our gear in the back seat, map in the center counsel and adventure on our minds, there isn’t a better feeling in the world. Nearly a decade of old trips and experiences come rushing back and nothing else matters except getting out of town. And if it breaks down, well, then that is where the newest adventure will start.
And if you dont keep an eye on our FACEBOOK page then you may have missed last weekends adventure as well. If that is the case, check out the short video below!