With the eastern face of Steens Mountain in the background, the Alvord Desert conjures up Western movie scenes of parched cowboys riding through the desert—though today you're more likely to see wind sailors scooting across these hard-packed alkali flats (the "playa") and glider pilots using the basin as a runway. But once they go home, this desert is deserted. Snowmelt from Steens Mountain can turn it into a shallow lake until as late as mid-July. The mostly gravel
Fields-Denio Road runs alongside the playa, accessing a number of rutted tracks maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.
At the south end of the road, Fields Station pretty much is the town of Fields, an all-in-one post office, general store, motel, and café. The old-fashioned milkshakes at this desert outpost are themselves worth the drive, made with old-school fountain syrups and served in enormous, 24-oz plastic cups. 22276 Fields Dr., 97710. 541/495–2275. www.fieldsoregon.com.
If the milkshakes aren't enough to justify a desert trip, then come for the Alvord Hot Springs. Though the land is privately owned, the public is welcome to use the two concrete pools taking on superheated water from the nearby springs. From this roadside, ramshackle soaking station, the view of Steens Mountain is superb. Be warned, though, Alvord is a nudity-friendly spring. Off Fields–Denio Rd., 23 mi north of Fields, 97710. Free.
From Frenchglen take Hwy. 205 south for about 33 mi until road ends at T-junction near town of Fields; go left (north) to Alvord Desert and Alvord Hot Springs., Frenchglen, Oregon, 97710, USA