Sunday, December 1, 2013

Deserted by Nature: Alvord Desert, Oregon

At the bottom of every lake and sea lies a cracked and dried surface, waiting for exposure. Such holds true with the Alvord Desert and its lake that once existed but has since dried up and created a dried and abandoned exterior. Tens of thousands of years ago, a lake with a depth of nearly 61 metres (≈200 ft) rested above this now cracked and crumbled surface, before drying up and exposing the Earth’s outer shell.

Now, the Alvord Desert is the largest playa in Oregon, measuring 10km - 17km (≈6 mi-10 mi) and receiving only 12.7cm-17.8cm (≈5in-7in) of annual rainfall. The surrounding Cascade and Coast mountain ranges are responsible for this number since they geographically place the Alvord Desert in a rain shadow and prevent extensive amounts of precipitation.

Despite the overarching dryness of the Alvord Desert, geothermal springs can be found near the neighboring Steens Mountain and feed a few lingering streams that vanish into ground cracks. Steens Mountain is part of an ancient lava flow that has carved its way into the landscape and exists well beneath the visible Alvord Desert surface.

When one finds themselves standing atop a nearby mountain ridge, or at the center of the flattest part of the desert, it is hard to ignore the desert winds. It is hard to ignore the massive nothingness that exists in a place where water and life were once abundant and visibly everywhere. Dried up and nearly silent as space, the Alvord Desert is now alluring in a different way; a more subtle way that tells the story of a historic past and an abandoned beginning.

Photo Credit: Tyson Fisher


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