The Silence of the Desert Playa

Modern life has become too comfortable and too dull. I wanted to escape from the organized chaos by travelling to a remote landscape of nature where I could experience the thrill of pure solitude and silence. A chance to acclimatise to the rhythm of nature. When I travel, I constantly seek solitude. Solo trips through the desert have become my ritual every time I experience such chaos. Desert landscapes creates this emptiness, where one can fit in the space and time to be in a momentary spiritual state of silence.

Route map from San Francisco to Alvord Desert
Route map to Alvord Desert
Road with sign board next services 65 miles
Desolate roads with endless emptiness
Desert roads in Nevada
More desert roads leading to Oregon

I have been fascinated by desert playa ever since I first visited the Badwater basin at Death Valley. I feel alive, and I love the minimalist style of nature. Desert playa are often in eerie silence with a 360 degree view and with minimal distraction for miles and miles till the horizon. The playa evokes a sense of freedom and a spiritual experience like no other nature’s creation. The freedom to drive or hike in any direction with no set of rules to follow is enticing. The dark skies at the playa are lit with millions of stars like a 1000 watt bulbs. I find such places liberating and exhilarating and a perfect place to break the monotony and reach the elusive spirit of solitude.

I started researching desert playa’s close to the Bay Area, California. There were none within 100 miles, or 250 miles, and the nearest one was at least 500 mile drive towards either Nevada or Oregon. I chose the former, and I was surprised to visualise a desert landscape in Oregon as the state is known for dense forests and ocean landscapes. But the more I read, I realised south eastern Oregon is home to the Alvord desert, a dry lake bed playa 7 mile wide and 12 miles long. The moment I knew this place existed, I couldn’t wait to explore. I sketched a plan to camp on the high altitude desert playa the following weekend, and tackle the journey through the desolate desert landscapes to be with the stars for one night.

The day came, where on a weekend, I headed 600 miles towards the northeast to the town of Winnemucca, Nevada from the Bay Area. The plan was to stop there for the night at Country Hearth Inn and head to the Alvord desert by noon the next day. The night at the hotel was chilly and was so cold to the point where I questioned myself whether to camp at Alvord desert for the following night. But I was so pumped that I felt I could somehow manage the cold.

Next day, I headed towards the Alvord desert, and remember driving through a vast expanse of nothingness on either side of the roads. After crossing the border from Nevada to Oregon, I found the only gas station that happened to serve ice cold milk shakes. To my surprise, the milkshake was one of the best I had in a long while, even better than UCONN (Alumni there) husky dairy bar, which is known to serve the best ice creams and milkshakes. The final stretch of road to the playa was a 10 mile long dirt road. After a while, I noticed the first views of the playa from a distance. I was so happy and excited that I had to stop, and took time to soak in the views of the playa from a higher elevation. A short drive further lead to the mouth of the playa where I paid 8$ to drive through it. The mental image of the desert playa I made in my mind is now a reality.

For the next 1 hour, I drove through the desert like a mad man, fast and furious in all the directions. I was aiming from edge to edge and stopped to take photographs of the unique landscape. As the Sun was dipping fast, the light created long shadows with uninterrupted landscapes. I found a camping spot for the night. It was so remote that I did not sight another individual for miles and miles in any direction. As the sun was setting at the horizon, I could feel the uniqueness of being on the flat land with nothing in between me and the celestial body. I was slowly acclimatising to the rhythm of nature.

Alvord Desert playa with Steens Mountain at the backdrop
Alvord desert playa with Steens mountain at the backdrop
Desert playa up close
Desert Playa up close
Bike rider at a distance at Alvord Desert
A lonely Bike rider at a distance at Alvord Desert
My camp setup for the night at the Alvord Desert Playa
My camp setup for the night at the Alvord Desert Playa
Sunset view of Alvord Desert Playa
Viewing the sunset dipping behind the Steens mountain
Campfire at Alvord Desert Playa
Campfire and solitude
Night sky view of Alvord Desert
Night sky view of Alvord Desert Playa
Star Studded Night sky view of Alvord Desert
Woke up at 4 am to view this amazing night sky with shooting stars at a distance

The campfire was one of the toughest to build due to the blasting wind from all directions. It took ~30 minutes to just start the fire. As the fire was getting larger, I was anxious that the fire would literally engulf the tent due to its close proximity. So after a while, I had to extinguish the fire and so the warmth with it. Night was getting cold by the second, and magnificent stars were slowly appearing in the sky with underneath clouds rolling towards the camp. The 30F rated sleeping bag was nowhere comfortable as the temperature started dipping below 8F. The water bottle froze, my feet numb, and there was a blustery wind, this made me realise how things can change quickly. It was more than what I asked for. By 4 am, I was out of the tent. On one side it was bitterly cold with my feet experiencing the pinching sensation, and on the other side a magnificent display of night sky and shooting stars. This was the defining moment that I came for to experience the solitude from so far. The silence of the desert playa. Reality hit me then that the most sought out is the most difficult to get. 

The morning sun greeted me with the warmth. It was a sign of relief from the bitter cold. I took some more pictures of the long shadows and my companion tripod to showcase the true scale. My shadow was almost reaching the bottom of the Steens Mountain. I took a few more fast rides through the desert, and then headed straight to home with this crazy life experience that are etched in mind and penned it here. When you yearn for solitude and give permission to slow down, it helps you to recharge your mind, body and soul. Nature is a power healer.

“Give yourself permission to slow down.” -Gabby Bernstein

Early morning shadows. Reaching closer to Steens Mountain
I also made a video of my adventure to Alvord Desert. Please check it out.

12 thoughts on “The Silence of the Desert Playa

  1. That’s quite the drive to get to the Alvord Desert Playa. The barren desert landscape looks so beautiful and peaceful. Looks like you picked a great camping spot in the middle of nowhere. Your pictures of the night sky are fabulous. That’s too bad about the cold overnight though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I usually run to mountains for peace ❤️

    Have you ever been to Maine? Did you know that the state of Maine has a desert 😮 is crazy!

    Have you been to Arches National Park in Utah? That’s pretty incredible

    And in New Mexico – they have these cliff dwelling homes that are just incredible – they are ancient … Mesa Verde National Park

    I imagine the desert 🏜 would be quite silent – nice place of peace ✌️😊

    Maybe not when 130 degrees lol 😳😮

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been to Maine. Loved the Acadia National park. But desert in Maine will surprising. On one winter I traveled through 5 National parks of Utah and 3 state parks in less than 10 days. I will be posting soon. And Arches is great. Never got a chance to go south like New Mexico. I can image how lovely it must be. Thank you for your wonderful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah the desert of Maine is pretty cool – you don’t think of that for Maine !

        New Mexico is beautiful if you ever get a chance – the cliff dwellings are incredible! You can actually go see them inside!!

        You are very welcome my fellow traveler lol ✌️😘

        Like

  3. Yes, the Alvord is a special place. The milkshakes at Fields Station are good (and huge)! Hope you drive to the top of Steens Mountain someday. The road is only open a few months of the year and the views up there are spectacular.

    Liked by 1 person

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