20 days ago, I didn’t know that there was a desert in Oregon. Is this concerning for someone who’s lived in Portland for five years? Probably. So naturally, when my friend Katie asked if I wanted to spend a few days there, I responded with an enthusiastic, “yes!” and then quickly reverted to my 12-year-old self: “what do I bring?” “how far is the drive?” “wait, where are you taking me?” I had no idea what I was in for, and in a way, that was refreshing.

The only way out of a ridiculous situation: laugh. And take a selfie.

The only way out of a ridiculous situation: laugh. And take a selfie.

If you know me, one of the first things you’ll discover is that I’m a creature of habit. I order the same things at the same restaurants. If the Boneyard RPM IPA is on tap, that’s what I’m drinking. I study in the same spot on campus every day. I buy the same groceries at the same store, and cook the same meals. Every. Week. There’s comfort in knowing exactly what you’re getting. But as our weekend in one of Oregon’s most desolate places told me, there’s also comfort in the unknown.

Was I happy that I had someone leading the way? Absolutely. Was I also happy that, for her, this too was uncharted territory? You bet. Because when you go somewhere with someone who’s experienced it already, you’re seeing it through their eyes. They point out what they want you to see—what they saw. They take you where they know, to places already comfortable to them. But when everyone’s discovering something for the first time, together, you can see what you want to see. You can experience what matters to you. And because two weeks later, I’m still daydreaming about it, I’d say our experience was pretty wonderful.

Now, I thought about describing the details of our three-day excursion here. I even drafted a few paragraphs. But, in the essence of encouraging new experiences and being uncomfortable, I’m not going to. What I will say, is this: if you haven’t been to Steens Mountain, or the Alvord Desert, stop whatever you’re doing and add it your bucket list. Right. Now. 20 days ago, I didn’t know that this place existed. Now, it’s on my bucket list, again and again. With that, a few highlights:

  • Four most commonly uttered phrases of the weekend: “wow,” “wooowwwwww,” “holy crap,” and (embarrassingly), “is this real life?”
  • Yes, it is possible to have a dance party while driving your car 63mph. You just have to be on a desert.
  • Even for the most anti-hot tub people in the world (me, Katie), the Alvord Hot Springs are the most magical thing in the world. The only thing missing was a cowboy playing “Wagon Wheel.” (Bonus highlight: you’ll have full LTE service and can stream it on Spotify.)
  • Joe, the host at Alvord Hot Springs, has enough information to write a guide book. Also, a really cool parrot.
  • If you’re itching for a hike and Joe tells you to take a left at the un-named road 1.5 miles away and park near the juniper tree growing out of a rock, do it.
  • When Joe also tells you to get a milkshake at Fields Station on your way out of town, do that too. Maybe don’t eat anything before.
  • Whatever you do, DO NOT camp at the campgrounds. Head out to the desert, pick a spot near the shrubs, and grab your sleeping bag. Commence most amazing star gazing ever. (Thank you, Micah Whaley & Corey Bruce.)

And now, for some visual inspiration: