Have you ever wanted to get away? Away from civilization, from cars, people, buildings, laws and regulations, and everything else that seems to get between you and yourself? If so, perhaps you should take a journey to the deserts of Southeastern Oregon. One hundred and twelve miles from the nearest “city”, sits a lonely and charming little café that makes up the town of Fields, OR (population: 11). Only after driving through hours upon hours of barren landscape adorned only by dry sagebrush and the occasional antelope herd, you begin to understand that this truly is among the least populous spaces in the lower 48 states. So few people come here, in fact, that pilots have been known to land on the roadway, pull into the station and catch some breakfast. Yes, there are pictures to prove it – you’ll have to go see sometime!

When I met up with Marc Adamus he kept going on about this place, about it’s remoteness, the mountains, the desert, the giant plates of hash browns, etc. Well, we had to go visit, even if the primary photographic attraction of the place, the Alvord desert, would undoubtedly be flooded and inaccessible. After hours of driving we finally set eyes upon the 53,760 acres of what is usually a dry expanse of cracked mud. I suppose we were fortunate to see it half flooded since the desert here averages just 7 inches of rain per year. As you can probably imagine, this vast expanse of nothingness is the perfect place for all kinds of strange activities. Add a few hot springs to the mix, and you probably get the idea. Keep in mind, Burning Man takes place just one “desert” south of here – a hundred or so miles as the crow flies. Far in the distance, seemingly stranded on the wet playa, was a lone land rover. This gave us hope – maybe we could get out there after all. What are they doing, you might ask? Well, enjoying the solitude, of course!

"Solitude" ~ Alvord Desert, OR
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 500mm, car door as brace
Exposure: iso 200, f/8, 1/320th

As the sun started setting we were frantically searching for a safe way out onto the mud. Driving cross-country through sagebrush was an option we explored, but it was too far. Once back on the road, by chance we ran into the folks of the yellow rover – they claimed it wasn’t a problem to get out there (the usual way)! So, at moonrise, we tested the playa surface: it was wet, yet hard! Just the top 1/8th inch or so was yet, below that it was hard as a rock. Typically if you walk out on the wet playa the mud will build up on your shoes until you’re walking on 5 pound platforms – not something cars can handle so well. Anyways, we made it out there just fine, and just in time to try out Marc’s brilliant idea. A little fine tuning, and a strained neck on my part, and I think we managed to capture the feeling of being in that surreal and contemplative space. I didn’t really want to leave.. it was mesmerizing.

"I Am" ~ Alvord Desert, OR
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod
Exposure: iso 800, f/8, 200 sec
Notes: Credit for this image belongs to my friend Marc Adamus. In processing I took a few liberties, most notably cloning out my footsteps and making the reflection a little more reflective in some parts.

The following morning the water had frozen over, turning the playa into a giant skating rink. In the distance were the towering Steens Mountains, which provided a wonderful backdrop to the vast expanse of nothing. After satisfying our photographic interests we headed to the cafe for that world famous breakfast. It did not disappoint 🙂

"Skate to the Steens" ~ Alvord Desert, OR
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, tripod, Subaru
Exposure: iso 200, f/18, 1/25th sec
Notes: We used the Subaru to block thes sunlight from hitting the nearby ice structures. Clouds did the rest. Two exposures blended for depth of field, signficant use of dodge/burn tools.

Lest you think that the Oregon deserts are devoid of color and sensual beauty, here’s a scene to ponder. I wonder, should I leave it at this? Let it speak for itself? Or should I provide you with at least some explanation? Well, before you read on, perhaps you owe it to your brain and visual system to view the larger version and let it bend your mind.

"Solar Art" ~ Painted Hills, OR
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 100-400mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/11, 1/250th
Notes: Three shot panorama stitchde with PTGui. Yes, natural colors 😉

These are the Painted Hills, a spectacular series of colorful rolling hills protected by the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The colors come from a variety of fossilized vegetative matter and other minerals. In the winter the hills do catch their fair share of snow – but usually it’s only a sprinkling, or it’s enough to completely hide the magical colors. Given the strangely warm storm we were experiencing while photographing some Ponderosa’s further west, we decided to head out to the Hills in hopes of finding some unique patterns of snow. Well, the snow had come, and the sun had done its magic. Rarely have I seen such a work of natural art. I could try to give you a sense of scale, but why bother? I suppose you’ll have to visit sometime to see for yourself.

Thanks for all the kind words on the previous installments of this series… that’s all from the frozen north for now. Currently it’s raining like never before in Southern California, and I’m very excited for what could be a spectacular wildflower season. A few weeks from now, we’ll know!

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4 Comments to “Population: 11”

  1. Barry says:

    I’m also looking forward to this year’s wildflowers. I’ve been looking at the storm totals and was surprised to see that Desert Hot Springs (just west of J-Tree) received 8 inches of rain this week!!

    It should be a great season. The wildflowers are already starting up here in the Santa Barbara area. Lupine , in particular, is already blooming like crazy in the Jesusita burn area. There are also other scattered plant species blooming may months early in the burned area.

  2. Karen says:

    A visit to your site is, as always, a moving experience. Your photography is gifted–your images breathtaking. I am so glad for the opportunity to view them.

  3. Carl D says:

    Hey Floris

    Cool read – and Solar Art is a great shot …. I’ve no idea of the scale there .. really cool work.



  4. Joshua Bury says:

    Great writeup Floris. The Alvord is truly a magical place. Awesome shots, thanks for sharing!