We Love The Desert and Free Camping

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Written by Alexa Boldt, Photos by Garrett Schmidt

We Love The Desert and Free Camping

Set up your free, dispersed campsite at Mann Lake and admire Steen Mountain’s sharp jawline. Wake up early enough to catch the warm morning light glow on the mountain face and reflect off of the water. Camping is primitive, but free, and in a stellar area to enjoy.

Packed with options for diverse recreation, whether it’s a hike that starts from one of the many trailheads (Page Springs and South Steens Campgrounds, Wildhorse Overlook and Pike Creek), paddling out on Mann Lake in your kayak, or cruising in your car on the Alvord Desert, you’ll come to love this place as much as us. One winning moment was the sunrise that scattered pink light over the hills giving an unbeatable morning view.

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I was born and raised in Oregon and my dad says that all Oregonians should spend time in the Steens Mountain Wilderness. After Garrett saw his buddy Andrew’s photos of the Alvord Desert (5 minute drive from Mann Lake), we were easily convinced to take this trip.

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In September it got chilly, so we bundled up in puffy jackets in our roof-top Tepui Tent. If you’re really cold, check out one of the nearby hot springs. Tyson Gillard from the Outdoor Project has a great field report that shares helpful links and information for various hot springs in the area.

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Our campsite and the Alvord Desert were both dog friendly, so Picacho got to play a long game of fetch. Since cars can roam freely on the desert floor, be sure to stay aware of your surroundings to keep yourself and yourself, your pup and/or your kiddos safe.

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A few notable details about the Mann Lake campground are that there was a simple bathroom, AT&T had full reception but Verizon had none, and that you’ll trek on 30 miles of an unpaved road before arriving at the site. Travel safely and prepared, gas and other amenities are scarce. I read somewhere that the gas station in Fields is only open during certain seasons of the year. Exact coordinates of the campsite are 42°46.681, W 118°26.464.

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Check out these additional resources for more info I used to prepare for this trip:

BLM Recreation Info for Steens Mountain

Emily Gillard – Outdoor Project

Gear List

  • Tepui Tent – Solid construction. Very minimal condensation after a freezing night. Can be difficult to pack when it’s very cold in the mornings. Bring gloves. Can be set up under 10 minutes.
  • Puffy Jacket – Puffy jackets are light and compressible. I’m cold more often than not, so I always have my Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody on hand. The jacket is crazy expensive IMO but the long-lasting quality and sound business practices make the purchase worth it.
  • Sleeping Bag – Sierra Designs make amazing bags and quilts that don’t break the bank. Garrett uses a Backcountry Bed. He sleeps on his side, so the open design fits him perfectly. I use the Zissou, a mummy style bag that keeps my head nice and warm.
  • Camera – I use my iPhone and mostly take photos of my dog, so that suffices, but I’m always excited to see Garrett’s photos after an adventure. The guy will get up at the crack of dawn in 20 degree weather to capture the places we have the opportunity to experience. He shoots with the Sony a7rii, and looks great doing it.
  • 10 Essentials – Listen to the outdoor community and take notes from The Mountaineers. Be prepared and don’t be dumb.

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