Alvord Desert, OR for Stargazing, Hot Springs, & Camping

My husband and I wanted to do something a little unconventional this last New Year’s Eve. We skimmed a lot of options, but when we ran onto the Alvord Desert, there was no contest. How neither of us had heard of this place is totally beyond me. It’s literally miles and miles of beautiful, flat playa. Fortunately, January is one of the driest months in the Alvord. We were so excited, we started packing basically immediately. It wasn’t even Christmas yet. (What? I said we were REALLY excited.)

We decided to leave the day before New Year’s Eve, early in the morning, so we could make the 10 hour drive and stay in a charming little bed and breakfast in a nearby town. Then we’d spend New Year’s Eve lighting sparklers, drinking champagne, and cuddling in our sleeping bags.

The whole thing went off without a hitch. We packed up all of our cold weather camping gear – wind-resistant tent, plushy sleeping bags and blankets, a cooler with plenty of snacks and water, our little uKeg (go get one, if you like beer and other beverages that can go in a pressurized keg…they’re amazing), and of course sparklers and plenty of champagne. We got to the b&b around 5:30 p.m. and had a lovely evening. There wasn’t much to do in town, so we left around 10 a.m. the next day and headed for the desert. We arrived an hour later and were immediately taken by the mammoth expanse that was the playa. When we got there, we discovered another couple, laughing hysterically and “woo!”ing as their Land Cruiser spun donuts in the middle of the desert. We knew in that moment that this trip was a very, very good idea.

We both brought our film cameras, so we did some shooting during the day. It was chilly, but the sun was out. Perfect. (Still need to develop the film. It’s February. We’re experts in procrastination.) After striking poses, running through the desert, joining our new friends in a desert donut contest, snacking, and drinking a little beer here and there, we discovered the hot springs. They’re privately owned, but only cost $5/person for guests. It was a little busy with day trippers in the afternoon, so we waited for evening when only the campers – of which there were not many at all – hung around. They’re open until 10 p.m., but we hopped out around 9 to make dry off and make some dinner. The Land Cruiser couple joined us. They had their own romantic plans for the rest of the evening, so they went back to their site after we ate, around 11 p.m.

Anticipating the total lack of cell service (which we were pretty darn happy about), my husband and I brought some of our favourite books along and read, curled up in sweaters and blankets, until 11:55, when we got dressed for the now VERY cold desert and started unwrapping the cork on our champagne. Midnight – we popped the bottle, shared a kiss, lit our sparklers, and used his mobile speaker to blast some our favourite music. The Land Cruiser couple bursted from their tent and celebrated with us. The mini party went on until almost 2:00, when we were forced into quiet awe after catching a glimpse of the incredible blanket of stars above us.

Despite the rough time we had the next morning (champagne hangovers are the WORST, am I right?) we regretted nothing. The Alvord Desert was the PERFECT place to start the new year.

Insider Tip

Cell service and other amenities are totally foreign in the Alvord. The bathrooms at the tiny office by the hot springs are open during the day, but close when the hot springs do. You definitely want to pack like you’ll be in the middle of absolutely nowhere. And, of course, always observe the Leave No Trace policy. : )

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