Posts Tagged ‘alvord desert’

The sun rises with a vengeance on the Earth, and no clouds intervene. Sun’s rays warm the pavement and the pavement radiates the heat back up into the air. The city swelters. Today was one of those days in the Portland metro area. I am not certain what the “high” of the day was, bit I do know this: the mean temperature is taken at PDX International which rarely represents the rest of the metropolitan area, except on these days when the summer, sun, and Portland collide. The mercury climbed toward the three-digit mark.

It was lovely.

I take my lunch in my car. This can be a freezing situation in the winter, with blankets piled on top of me as I work the Daily Crossword, read a few chapters in whatever book I have on hand, of simply close my eyes and try to nap. Summertime, when the mercury rises, the car heats up. I back it in to the parking spot so the prevailing sun will be on the passenger window, and I install the reflective window shield – not so much to protect the vinyl of my dashboard as to create a shady lunchtime haven. My car is my refuge from work.

We were at 86 degrees (Farenheit) at noon today. A breeze toyed with the radiant heat from the black asphalt. I rolled all the windows down while I ate and worked on the crossword. It was almost too blustery: hot, dry, wind from the east. Still, the car cooled to a liveable 78 degrees (or so – I gauge temperature with my skin, not a thermometer). I finished eating, turned my cell phone alarm on, and then leaned back in the seat with my eyes closed.

Later, someone asked me if I had taken my lunch outside. She was shocked, curious, and concerned. I assured her that I was perfectly fine eating lunch in a hot car. Better than fine, but I didn’t tell her that.

I closed my eyes and imagined myself sitting on a lounge chair under the shade of the cottonwood trees behind the big boulder on Pike Creek, above the Alvord Desert. White dirt, not this red-clay-dark loam soil of the Willamette Valley. White dirt, mixed with alkali dust, reflecting the sun with a brightness that forces the eyes to squint.

Cottonwoods, their dry leaves rattling in the hot breeze. Green towhees meowing. California quail. Chukkar up the canyon calling: chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk! The hot smell of sagebrush. The trickle of Pike Creek coming down from Steens Mountain: the creek full in the morning and slowly reducing to a trickle by eventide. Mud-daubers and dragonflies. Yellow jackets floating on the tense creek surface: did you know wasps know how to float? Ash-dark lizards peeking over the edge of the rock. Pink rocks. green rocks, Striped rocks. Boulders the size of houses, washed down from the canyon above in some ancient glacial period.

Dust-devils dancing on the playa below.

The soft lowing of cattle down on the fields of the Alvord ranch. Echo of coyotes somewhere. The hoot of pygmy owls peering into the dusky camp. Heat, radiating down, radiating up: Alvord Desert.

Milk shakes at the cafe in Fields, Oregon.

Climbing on top of the house-sized boulders at sunset to watch Fourth of July fireworks down on the playa.

The smell of burnt sagebrush, extending northward to Mann Lake, exposing the boulders: pink, green, striped. The rocks that poured out of Pike Creek are strange and colorful, metamorphic. There are thundereggs up in the narrow mouth of the canyon. Slate and shale make the pathway to the Wilderness entrance. The mine entrance hidden by willows, cottonwoods, rattlesnakes.

Bobcats. Startle Bighorn sheep. Cottontail. Black-eared Jack rabbits playing Kamikaze Jack as the evening sun dips low.


Long-horned beetles.

The colors of hot springs: red-yellow-green. Ivory-billed ibis. Flocks of blackbirds. Song of the Western Meadowlark. Basalt rocks spilling out onto the road.

My alarm goes off. I am in Portland. Highway 26 is yards away. MAX runs every fifteen minutes between my car and Highway 26. I have to return to overrated air conditioning and work.

But for thirty minutes or so – I was in Heaven.

I wonder why other people cannot close their eyes and take themselves somewhere beautiful. I wonder why other people hate hot so much. My oldest niece once wrote that she wanted to be a lizard, basking in the sun.

I am a lizard and the sun warms me. The meditation calms me and I return to work, ready for another half day.

On a side note: the Air Conditioning unit broke down for the entire east wing of our building. The building was as warm as 74 degrees and I did not need to wear a sweater to work. It was Heaven.

It probably will be fixed tomorrow when the temps only reach into the 80’s and I will have to wear a sweater. Maybe I will imagine snow falling to make myself feel better. 😉


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I promise: just a couple more desert posts. I’m merely trying to prolong my visit to the desert and pretend I am not sitting here in the city, surrounded by asphalt and traffic. I am also in denial that the shadows are getting longer and the days shorter and cooler.

I’m going to pretend all I have to do is get in my rig and drive on down to the Alvord Hot Springs…

The hot springs are a place of gathering: you never know who you will meet there (or if they will have clothes on – best to use some discretion when you have children with you). Part of the springs are walled in and most of the nudists move into the private tub when they see people with children approaching – we’ve never once had a bad encounter with rude people. Met some strange ones, but strange is what the desert is all about.

I like to think of the hot springs as a melting pot of humanity in the center of absolutely gorgeous nowhere. We usually go early in the morning when one is less likely to meet other soakers. Not that we’re anti-social or anything: we’ve met some of the most interesting folks in the hot springs and they’ve come from all walks of life. The equalizer is we all come to the desert because it draws us there: archaeologists, ranchers, cowboys, land-sailers, upland game hunters, cougar and antelope hunters, bird-watchers, neo-hippies on a road trip, European travelers exploring, arthritic men and women looking for a cure, families and singles, men and women.

Private parties like the land sailers and upland bird hunters maintain the tubs and they are open to the public (free) year-round.

Someone got drunk and forgot their clothes in the “dressing room”. The “door” opens to a vast six-mile wide desert view: it is VERY private except for the bovine observers.

Closing off the hot water means plug the pipe from the hot springs otherwise the tubs get wayyyyyyyy too hot.

After soaking, it’s time for a drive onto the desert floor.

The playa is 11 miles long and 6 miles across. We didn’t even go half-way but I can assure you that it all looks like this. No wonder they land-sail on this! It can get brutally hot or brutally cold here.

That’s the east view of Steens Mountain. The desert is at 4,000 feet (1200 m) and the Steens is 9733 feet (2966.6 m)

After all this fun in the sun, it is time for a run down to the town of Fields (population 86 in 2000) and to Fields Station for a World Famous Milk Shake.

I intend to linger in the desert for a few more days just to dry out my skin.

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