3 rigs set off from Olympia on Sunday morning to head to a campsite just outside of Bend, Or. I had picked this spot solely off of satellite imagery and it's proximity to Bend. The plan was to meet our 4th rig there and hit the trail the next morning. The trip down was mostly uneventful. I had picked a somewhat scenic route that would take us from Salem to Bend, Hwy 22. Heading up into the mountains we were met with a constant flow of traffic headed the other way. Chalking it up to people just headed home from labor day camping, we continued on. However, once we got to Detroit Lake, we knew the real reason...Fire. The smoke was pretty heavy but the fire map had the fire about 10 miles away and on the other side of the mountain. We continued on and made it to the campsite. We had another oh hell moment when less than 1/2 mile from the site, we encountered a wildfire crew mopping up a small fire. Someone had decided it was the appropriate time to shoot tannerite in the dry bush.
This campsite was super dusty and way too close to a local shooting area but made due. After getting camps set up and getting to know everyone, we sat down for dinner and enjoyed the company. I had one nagging issue, where was my dog Koa was going to sleep. This was literally his first overnight, outside, no doggy bed adventure. I had a spot for him in the back seat of the truck but he was being a super magnet dog so I was going to give him a shot in the tent. He quickly made up my mind...
The next morning we headed out on the trail. The plan was to take trails and graded back roads all the way to Fields, Or. We set out with a goal of making it to the lost forest outside of Christmas Valley. The route was slow and dusty. Great two track but very little in scenery.
Frequently during the day, we kept receiving Severe high wind warnings for the night. We weren't making very good time and I feared we wouldn't make it to the lost forest and get stuck camping out in the open. We decided to take a route that would lead us out to pavement and skip the Lost forest. We all agreed and beat feet for Flagstaff Lake. It was a good choice as the wind was pretty heavy and blew in a ton of smoke.
We arrived at the lake and found the suggested campsite. The wind was brutal and we quickly found a spot on the other side of a hill that shielded us pretty well. About an hour after moving in, the smoke on the horizon was so thick, we couldn't see the cliff. After a quick dinner, we all called it quits early and turned in for the night. Tonight, I let Koa stay in the tent however, he came pretty close to sleeping in the truck again.
The morning was epic! The smoke and wind had cleared and the sky was super blue. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and sat in complete silence to watch the sun rise. Member Brad Rosenfeld snapped this fantastic pic.
After breakfast, we broke camp and hit the trail into the Harts Mountain antelope refuge. The "road" through the refuge was easy and wide but the washboard was kidney busting even aired down. We stopped at Hart mountain hot spring and had a nice refreshing dip. After letting our kidneys regroup, we hit the washboard road again. After about 2 miles of spine busting, teeth chattering barley 5mph torture, the most brilliant suggestion came over the radio. "how about we try going 40 and see what happens?"
I became the test subject. I accelerated and found that Mythbusters was right. 55mph was my sweet spot and it was just as smooth as driving on pavement. We had about 30 miles of the washboard road left and we all channeled our inner rally driver and booked it. We popped out on hwy 205 and headed into Fields for lunch........and dinner in a way.
We did the cheese burger-milkshake combo for lunch and man it's a lot of food. After swapping Veteran stories with the owners. Vet humor disclaimer! nothing like hearing a casual "busier that a one legged man in an ass kicking contest" joke by an actual one legged Marine vet. We moved out and hit the road to the Alvord.
We were blessed with no wind, 65 degrees and clear skies so we decided to stay the night on the playa. I found a spot 6 miles across the lake so we queued up the ride of the Valkyries music and set out in appropriate fashion.
The sunset was amazing and the sound of silence is too much for words. We stayed up for some epic stargazing and Brad got some amazing photos!
The morning arrived and we said goodbyes to DB and his wife. They had to get back home due to some danger close fires near their home. After the obligatory speed runs, selfies, drone poser footage and spectacular bathroom break, we headed for the Steens.
The smoke finally started moving back in while we were up in the mountains making for bleh photos but the views from up there are intense.
It was starting to get late in the day so we decided to head down and find camp for the night. After striking out at the Fish lake campground we lucked out and found a nice shaded spot on Lilly lake.
We continued to monitor the fire and smoke issues on our planned route out. Seeing that the fire near Salem had exploded and totally cut off the route we had come in on as well as the fires throughout Oregon we decided to cut it short and head north to Burns in the morning. After lunch in Burns, we just drove north. We ended up finding a "spot" in the Umatilla National forest. We made our way up 206 to I84 and then stopped in Cascade locks for breakfast. Wanting to avoid Portland all together we hit the Bridge of the Gods and headed home to Olympia. I hated to cut the trip a little short but glad we got out when we did. That being said, If you get a chance to go to the Alvord desert, do it. There is just something about that place that puts you at ease. Eastern Oregon is an amazing place and the vastness is awe inspiring. Cant wait to go back.