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. From Frenchglen, drive south on Hwy. 205 for about 50 miles, turning left near Fields onto Fields-Denio Road and following the signs.
Fields Station. 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 milk shakes at this desert outpost are themselves worth the drive, made
with old-school fountain syrups and served in enormous, 24-ounce plastic cups. 22276 Fields Dr., Fields, 97710. 541/495–2275.
Alvord Hot Springs. Though the land is privately owned, the public is welcome to use the Alvord Hot Springs, two concrete pools taking on superheated water from the nearby springs, for a small fee. From this roadside, ramshackle soaking station, the view of Steens Mountain is superb. Be warned: athough Alvord doesn't officially condone nudity, plenty who visit here go without swimwear. 46008 Alvord Ranch La., off Fields-Denio Rd., 23 miles north of Fields, 97721. 541/589–2282. www.alvordhotsprings.com. $5.
Fields-Denio Rd., Princeton, Oregon, 97721, United States