Trip Report: The Alvord Desert & Malheur Wildlife Refuge


Southeast Oregon — especially the area around Harney County and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge — has been in the news a lot lately, but not much has been said about what it's really like there.  Earlier this week, I planned a 3-day road trip to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and the Alvord Desert to take some landscape photos and find out what all the fuss was about.


What I found was a landscape that is peaceful and truly expansive.  Just a few miles outside of Burns, Oregon, you lose cell service.  I didn't see any bars on my smartphone for two days as I explored the area, which was just fine with me.

The wildlife refuge isn't a curated experience like a National Park with crowds and prescribed vistas.  Rather, it's the kind of place where you can spend hours in complete solitude in the company of waterfowl and songbirds and just soak up the subtle beauty that surrounds you.

The local people I met along the way were friendly and welcoming.  They seem to rejoice in spring more than most, but it's clearly a busy time of year for those who work the land.  On the second day, I happened upon Rushing Springs Ranch when they were roping and branding new calves.


Continuing further south, I spent the second night camped on the playa of the Alvord Desert — a dried and cracked alkali lakebed at the base of the Steens mountain range to the north.


After a leisurely soak at a nearby natural hot springs, I cooked dinner, brewed a pot of french press, and set in for a gorgeous evening under the nearly-full moon.  At night, the desert is one of the quietest places on earth, with only the occasional howl far off in the distance.

The next morning, I woke to clear skies and watched the sun kiss the snow-covered peak of Steens Mountain and descend onto to the playa.


You can learn more about my landscape photography and other places I've visited at: