Alvord Desert – New Princeton, Oregon - Atlas Obscura

Alvord Desert

New Princeton, Oregon

At the base of Steens Mountain resides an otherworldly desert. 


Stepping onto the Alvord Desert will feel as though stepping onto a distant planet. Deep in the shadows of the towering Steens Mountain, it’s a place that’s hard to forget, with views stretching for miles in all directions. 

Thousands of years ago, a lake almost 200 feet deep covered the desert, leaving behind many of the salt minerals that comprise the desert today. On average, the Alvord only receives around seven inches of rain every year. 

Each season provides a very different experience in the desert. Cold temperatures dominate the winter months, while the spring is filled with sporadic rainfall. In the summer, the Alvord feels much more like a desert with dry air and little to no rainfall.

Nearby, the Alvord Hot Springs provide a stark contrast to the surrounding landscape. There are actually four other springs located around the desert region including Mickey Hot Springs, Tule Springs, Buckbrush Springs, and Borax Hot Springs. However, the Alvord is the only one you can actually get in and enjoy the waters. Wild horses sometimes come to the springs for a drink, a beautiful sight to witness.

Know Before You Go

Due to the fact that there is very little light pollution in the desert, the stargazing opportunities here on a clear night are incredible. Depending on the time of year you go, the Milky Way is particularly impressive. People love the idea of camping on the playa, which should always be done on the edges of the desert due to people driving through the middle. Particular care should be taken when there is water on the playa, as this can move during the night.

Camping here really is a magical experience, with jaw-dropping vistas making it a photographer's paradise. Watching the sunset behind Steen Mountain is a great experience, and visitors should also try and catch the sunrise, especially when the rays first hit the land in the morning.

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