After talking about the Alvord Playa with my wife for 2 years now ad nauseam, and she insisting I should just do it, I finally made the long drive down the to the region. Located in a very remote area of Oregon about an eight-hour drive from the Portland area. I knew this time of year is one of the worst in terms of visiting the area but I don’t always get the vacation time I would like. The plan was to take my Boxer dog Scout with me in my 4Wd Montero. I finally figured out the seats in this vehicle will fold down flat including the back jump seats making an incredible bed for a tall person and that I would be totally sheltered from the elements and feel much more secure than being in a tent.
When photographing the Playa (dry lakebed) it is preferable to go during dryer months so that the cracks that develop will be the most spectacular, and that driving out and even camping on the Playa will be possible. Well I can report that none of the above happened for me. The forecast was calling for 20% chance of snow and low temps around 27 degrees- Yaaah…Wikipedia says that this region only gets 7 inches of annual rainfall, I think 1/3 of that fell while I was there.
As you can see from the photos I got what I was after, and a whole lot more. The view from above looking down on the Playa was spectacular; the wind, not so much. I also noticed that I had a flat tire on my brand new Les Schwabbies presumably from one of the sharp rocks, it slit the rubber between the treads. During my research of the area I had read accounts of the people getting numerous flats out here and sure enough I was also a victim. Now I know why people buy off-road jacks, they are much easier to use than crawling under a vehicle to prop up a 11/2 ton hydraulic car jack that only raise the tire about 5 inches. It took about one hour for me to change that tire and boy was I glad I brought a shovel. I just could not get that spare on without some excavation work.
I was determined to set foot on the Playa and try some photography after driving all that way, Scout and I headed down a very steep hillside that would allow some access to what looked like a dry section of the lakebed. Distances are very tricky out there with no discernable landmarks. It took twice as long as I would have thought to reach the playa. The photography gods smiled on us for a brief time allowing for a little photography that you can see here. I was also pretty impressed with the cracks, if only I could keep scout from running in circles in front of my comps with his muddy paws and ruining my shots.
After returning up the hill and to the car it was nearly 4:30pm and I decided to wait and see what kind of sunset might transpire in terms of a lightshow or lack thereof. I waited patiently and watched the storms continue to come, finally the weather broke and I was able to set up the tripod and make an attempt at an image. Cloud cover mostly obscured the sun and the sunset was, for the most part a bust as you can see in this photo.
Camping in this area was totally out of the question the wind and rain was so intense it ripped the shovel off of my luggage rack that I had attached with bungees. I knew I wanted to go home via an alternate route that would take me into Nevada and then onto Lakeview Oregon via Hwy 140, then through K-falls and Medford and up I-5 to home. I got gas at a place called Denio Station for about $5.00/ gallon I'm not really sure what I paid I just know I told the guy $40.00/worth. At this point in the evening it was clear and cold, I was exhausted and needed to find an area to camp for the night. I drove about twenty more miles and found a very small rest area where I promptly pulled over. I ripped every thing out of the vehicle so I could make the sleeping configurations with the seats, then blew up the therma-rest and pulled out the 0-dgree bag. We spent 11 hours in the car getting up several times two warm up the car. It got very cold that night and it snowed on us as well. The photo you see below is Hwy 140 after the snowstorm. Needless to say that the 100 miles to Lakeview were a little hairy.
It took about five hours to reach Medford from the Alvord Desert. All in all I drove 1100 miles in about 38 hours. If I ever decided to come back to this area again I would prefer to go in the late summer, maybe September. I will also bring two spares, it is unnerving to have already used your spare and not have a backup in such a remote area.
Note* For higher quality images of this area go here.