Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

3. Alvord Desert

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 97-98.

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What to Expect: Nude hiking by moonlight

Distance: 16 miles round trip

Elevation Range: 4,005-4,011 feet

Drinking Water: Not likely

Best Times: Summer, fall

USGS 7.5' Maps: Alvord Hot Springs, Andrews, Miranda Flat SW, Tule Springs

Oregon Map Starting Point: Andrews

Approximately 6.2 miles north of Andrews on the Andrews—Folly Farm County Road is an unimproved way down to the edge of the Alvord Desert (0.2. mile). Park. Water (not tested) is available at Frog Spring (marked, hut not named on the Alvord Hot Springs quad).

The objective is Big Sand Gap and/or Big Sand Gap Spring (Tule Springs quad; you'll also be crossing the Miranda Flat SW quad). Big Sand Gap is a noticeable landmark 7.5 miles east-southeast from Frog Spring. As you get closer, distinc- tive vegetation should indicate Big Sand Gap Spring.

"What could go wrong?" you're thinking. "It is a flat walk and the destination is in sight." Plenty. This exploration should only be done in summer when the playa is dry. It will therefore be hot as hell during the day, so make this an overnight trip. Start this hike just as the sun sets over Steens Mountain. Take twice as much water as you might need as you may not find Big Sand Gap Spring.

You will make very good time on the playa, but your speed will decrease a bit as you hit the sandy soil and dunes on the east side. Walk gently as this is western snowy plover habitat.

Periodically turn around and determine appropriate landmarks to help your return. Frog Spring is not obvious from the other side of the playa.

At normal walking speeds in summer you should easily make the objectives before dark. If you don't, camp anyway.

Based on your walking speed eastward, determine your departure time for your westward return. Ideally you would be reaching Frog Spring as it just starts to get unbearable. As the sun rises in the sky, the desert heats up. The reflective white surface can move you past tan to burn in no time.

Timing your trip during a full moon not only adds to your nocturnal plea- sure, you'll have some light to guide your westward return if you need to start before first light.

Unfortunately, the Alvord Desert is presently open to motorized use. Though pedestrians have the right-of-way, don't count on it. It is also prudent to assume that Alvord drivers are likely to be intoxicated.

A final request: no dumping on the playa, even if you bury it. Few microorganisms exist to aid decomposition. Manage your bowels or pack it out. Thank you.

Be prudent and you'll have a great time. Especially recommended is nude hiking.