From an expansive sunbaked playa to a mile-high escarpment, this 143-mile/230-kilometer tour highlights the extremes of southeast Oregon’s basin and range country. Combine it with the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway to form a loop.
Settler Charles Fields established a stone roadhouse here in 1881 as a stagecoach supply station. Fields remains a spot to grab supplies for exploring the remote Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain area. Travelers also know it as the place to savor a burger and milkshake at the end of an adventure.
From Fields, the tour route heads north on Fields-Denio Road, a gravel-and-dirt surface that’s maintained for passenger vehicles. The 9,734-foot fault block of Steens Mountain towers to the west, a tremendous rain shadow responsible for the Alvord Desert. Measuring some 60 square miles/96.5 square kilometers, this expansive desert playa can feel as remote as the moon. The unusual venue draws an interesting cross section of recreationalists, including ultralight pilots, motorcycle and ATV riders, and sailors captaining windsurfing boards and sailboats on wheels.
North of the tiny hamlet of Andrews, a corrugated metal shed on the east side of the road marks the Alvord Hot Springs, one of several area hot springs open to the public. Waters here bubble to the surface at about 174 degrees but cool significantly before reaching man-made soaking pools.
North to OR-78 and Burns
Continuing north on the route, travelers will find Mann Lake, Ten Cent Lake and other small lakes (sometimes dry) dotting the sagebrush landscape, attracting anglers and wildlife. Watch for pronghorn, a native mammal that can reach speeds of nearly 60 miles/ 96.5 kilometers per hour.
Turn left on OR-78 and follow the tour route toward Crane and Burns. As testament to this region’s sparse population, the Crane Union High School provides room and board for its students — one of the only public boarding schools in the Lower 48. Crystal Crane Hot Springs provides a perfect resting spot for a leisurely soak in the natural hot springs. The tour route ends in Burns, where it connects with the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway.