Alvord Desert

Alvord Desert

The Alvord Desert is a desert located in Harney County, in southeastern Oregon in the western United States. It is roughly southeast of Steens Mountain. The Alvord Desert is a convert|12|mi|km|sing=on by convert|7|mi|km|sing=on playa, a dry lake bed, and averages convert|7|in|mm of rain a year. Two mountain ranges separate it from the Pacific Ocean—the Coast Range, and the Cascade Mountains. Along with Steens Mountain, these topographical features create a rain shadow. The Alvord lies at an elevation of approximately 4000 feet (1220 m).

The desert is named after General Benjamin Alvord, who served as commander of the U.S. Army's Department of Oregon during the American Civil War.Corning, Howard M. "Dictionary of Oregon History". Binfords & Mort Publishing, 1956.]

During the dry season, the surface is flat enough to drive across, or land small aircraft on. An unofficial women's world land speed record was set in 1976 on the Alvord Desert by Kitty O'Neil at 512 miles/hour (843 km/hour.) [ cite web
url =
title = Thrust SSC: Rockets Rule
accessdate = 2008-03-16
] The nearest community is Fields (population 11).

Geothermal features as well as cold springs ring the desert following Basin and Range NE to SW trending normal faults. On the western edge of the desert is Alvord Hot Springs (coord|42.544|-118.533|display=inline). At the north is Mickey Hot Springs (coord|42.678056|-118.346667): an assortment of bubbling mud, geysers and a small pool. At the south is Borax Lake (coord|42.326944|-118.602778) which is a thermal spring complex. To the east is an unnamed natural hot spring, one of 40 or more along 25 miles of the Alvord fault. [ cite web
last = Hinds
first = J.
title = Alvord Hot Springs
work = Life at Interfaces: Biocomplexity in Extreme Environments
publisher = The Experimental Project to Stimulate Competitive Research
url =
accessdate = 2008-03-6
] To the southwest is seasonal alkali Alvord Lake which once extended convert|100|mi|km north and south—covering the desert.

Despite the barren nature of the playa, some opportunities for wildlife observation exist. Wild horses sometimes drink from the springs on the eastern edge of the desert. In areas where natural hot springs flow into the playa, especially around the Alvord Hot Springs, one can usually find nesting long-billed curlew. Further out into the playa proper are numerous killdeer and snowy plover, along with the occasional American avocet. The outlet waters from the springs typically flow roughly one mile into the desert, and their reach roughly delineates the bird habitat. The nearby Steens Mountain Wilderness contains populations of bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, and pronghorn. Further west is the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which is popular for birding.



External links

* [ Places to visit in Malheur County: Alvord Desert]
* [ An explorer's guide to southeast Oregon geology: Steens Mountain area]
* [ Steens Mountain from]
* [ The Wilderness Society: Wilderness in Oregon’s High Desert]

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