dust til dawn


sights and sounds from a night in OREGON'S alvord desert

Words & Photos by Adam McKibben

Accelerating over the cracked dirt at 100 mph isn’t actually that dangerous in the Alvord Desert. It’s barren, lifeless, and dry—perfect conditions for a scene straight out of Mad Max.

In the southeast corner of Oregon, this dry lake bed is flanked by towering mountains, creating an energy, the kind of energy that pushes the pedal to the floor and lightens your feet as you sprint for no apparent reason.

Before we reach this arid landscape, we’re greeted by the gatekeepers of the Alvord, an adorable older couple and their grandson. They have sun worn skin and a kindness native to places where people live purely by choice.

We speed to the center of dry lake bed and lose track of time as we set up camp and run around taking pictures. Kona, our trusty dog, is just as excited as we are in the vast the emptiness of the desert. We gambol in circles for hours, feeling silly and carefree.

The late afternoon wind sparks a game of tag and the tent tumbles away multiple times, but we’re still too awestruck by our surroundings to worry. We tuck into bowls of stir-fry on the truck’s tailgate, undaunted by the ever present dust and dirt infiltrating our meal.

As sun begins to set, the Alvord takes on a new personality. It transforms from a bright and colorless sheet of earth into a dramatic array of textures, shadows, and vibrant hues. Across the desert, the departing sun illuminates the Steens Mountains. Light rays dance their way through the cracks and valleys, as if the grandeur of this place simply refuses to go quietly into the night.

We sit in silence, experiencing a moment we’ll never really be able to put into words. Trying to is a hopeless “you had to be there” joke.

Darkness swallows the landscape and stars begin to poke through the sky. After getting into our tent, the wind picks up again—and by pick up, I mean unleashes a gale force. The heavy gusts warp the synchronized howls and yelps of coyotes in the distance. Kona, assuming the role of juggernaut protector, barks and growls at the cacophony, ensuring that no one sleeps and surely keeping all of those vicious coyotes at bay.

As windy chaos reigns, we smile, immersing our senses in the world outside of the tent. We are reminded how to feel small; to put ourselves in perspective. It is this feeling that makes every long drive and every dollar spent on gas completely worth it.

Eventually Kona and the band of wild howlers calm down, sinking into the silence of the night as we melt in our sleeping bags. Although perhaps impossible to explain, these are our moments. Maybe you just had to be there.