Last weekend I was craving an escape. I wanted to get away from Bend, from people, and just be in nature near the mountains. Despite being an Oregon native, I had never ventured to the Southeastern corner of our state, where the Steens Mountain range lies across the plains like Mother Nature herself plucked them from elsewhere and plopped them down right in the middle of a desert. Unlike the Cascades, which do not lie in one intact range, the Steens spread over 50 miles from South to North in one connected group, flattening out at the base and sprawling into a flat desert oasis on the East side called Alvord.
In short, it was exactly what I had envisioned for my solo camping adventure.
I wanted to see snow-capped mountains, but not have to be in the snow myself. I wanted to be warm at the base while I stared up at jagged peaks. I wanted to sleep in my car, and wake up with a view. I wanted to relax and rejuvenate in a geothermal spring.
So to the Steens I went.
I headed straight for Alvord Hot Springs, meandering slowly along the way and being sure to stop for gas in Burns before heading into the barren southern landscapes. Alvord Hot Spring is just a large hot tub, essentially, with self adjusting temperature gauges and washing machine innards for seats, but it sits in the midst of the Alvord Desert, a sprawling flatland still refusing to soak up large gulps of water that rest on its surface while wind gusts through the valley and sweeps up the sand in a delicate, fairytale-like sort of way. It’s really pretty to watch.
From the Hot Spring, you could watch the dust swirl for hours, or simply turn around and stare at the mountains above. The scenery is unique and gives one the feeling of endless possibility to explore.
If only one had an endless supply of gas.
None of the nearby campgrounds offered the mountain view I was seeking, so I opted to drive until I found it. I’m a total view whore when it comes to camping/hiking/traveling…okay, anything outdoors. I want the reward of knowing a difficult hike was worth it, or waking up to the mountains staring down on me in a cold sort of comfort that reminds me how small I really am. I love that.
So of course I found the best spot around. I cooked up some dinner on my pocket stove, popped a bottle of beer, watched the sun fall behind the peaks and then color the sky every shade of pink. Then I curled up with a good book (I don’t recommend reading the Hunger Games while solo camping unless you want to wake up feeling like you’re in the middle of the arena, unarmed and totally helpless; lesson learned) and a sweet puppy on a cozy pile of sleeping bags and blankets in the back of my trusty Xterra.
I was hoping to go for a hike in the mountains, but by the time I had finished my breakfast and coffee, the wind was whirling through the valley like something was chasing it, and the rain drops had already begun to fall. I wasn’t up for a stormy adventure, so instead I headed back toward Crystal Crane Hot Spring for another soak. This one differs greatly from the others I’ve visited. It’s a large pond resembling a hot swimming pool (they also have private rooms for rent) with a less appealing view, but the water was rejuvenating nonetheless and the changing room was an actual sauna, which is a welcome respite from a cold and stormy day.
This was only the second time I’ve gone solo camping (the first was on the Great Salt Lake and it was, um, memorable. Read about it here), and I found myself wondering why I don’t do it more. I think that’s going to have to change…unless you want to come along.
Are you in?