At the Head of The Alvord Desert
The driest location in Oregon is the Alvord Desert found in the rain-shadow of 9733 foot Steens Mountain. Often featured on OPB specials and well known amongst hunters, this is a region that receives few visitors thanks to the uninviting nature of a dry and hostile land. The Alvord is a desert basin ringed by large fault block mountain ranges, the Pueblos and Steens along the western edge; and in the southeast is the Trout Creek Range. Runoff from these high ranges has created several desert playas, dry lake-bottoms that rarely accumulate water. At the north end of the Alvord directly below the summit of Steens Mountain is the largest and best known of these. Referred to directly as the Alvord Desert on maps, this is the location of popular salt flat events such as windsurfing and drag racing. North of the Alvord Desert Playa the basin is split into two distinct valleys by a dark pointed ridge running south from the Sheepshead Mountain Range. The highpoint of this ridge is Mickey Butte at 6294 feet.
Looking toward summit
This highest point in a cluster of low peaks, Mickey Butte has a surprising 1964 feet of prominence
, unexpected for a point so clearly in the shadow of Steens Mountain. Dark and sinister in appearance, Mickey Butte has a triangular western face carved by shallow gulleys, while its south and eastern faces are steep cliffs of stacked basalt. Mickey Butte does not appear to be a fault tilt like nearby Steens Mountain, but looks like an uplift forced upward as surrounding basins slide down alongside it (similar to what is happening to Hart Mountain in this picture
). This high point offers an incredible viewpoint of the Alvord Desert, the Sheepshead Range to the north, scattered benchlands to the east, and most spectacularly the jagged eastern face of Steens Mountain.
The southern face of Mickey Butte is an intriguing mix of tiered sandy ridges, gullys hiding plants you wont find in the open, and weathered basalt cliff bands. The cliffs in particular are riddled with small shallow caverns, filled with the nests of birds, rodents and insects. Expect to see Jackrabbits and a wide variety of Raptors, if you're lucky Chukars and Sage Grouse roam the area. Vegetation is largely limited to bunchgrass and sagebrush although a lone juniper can be seen several miles to the south of the hot springs.
Mickey Basin and Sheepshead Range, check out at full size
easiest place where one can begin a hike to the summit of Mickey Butte is at the parking lot for Mickey Hot Springs. Not a bathing or soaking spring like the Alvord Hot Springs, Mickey Hot Springs are posted as dangerous and extremely hot. To find Mickey Hot Springs travel approximately 33 miles north of Fields along the base of Steens Mountain to a set of 90 degree turns. At the second turn which is to the north, a gravel road takes off to the south. Follow this unmarked road south and east for a little more than 6 miles to the Hot Springs. Along the way less traveled roads will take off to the sides, but remaining on the most traveled appearing road is the way to go. In the winter this road may be muddy, but its mostly gravel, sand and dirt the whole way, easily passable for even a sedan. The Oregon Benchmark Atlas has the Mickey Hot Springs and its road clearly marked for better reference.
Hiking from the hot springs to summit of Mickey Butte is a cinch. Hike one mile directly north through the sagebrush from the parking area to the obvious gully. Pick your way up this gulley, gaining 1500 feet of elevation in little more than a mile, this will take you to a saddle between Mickey Butte and its slightly lower southern neighbor. Turn east at the saddle and ascend Mickey Butte in a quick quarter mile. Total distance hiked 2.3 miles with 2300 feet of elevation gain. In muddy snowy winter conditions this took nearly 4 hours, in drier conditions this could be done in a little more than two roundtrip.
Mickey Butte and the roads to reach it lay on BLM land.
Mickey Hot Springs and Butte
This is cattle country, so try not to hit them with your car. Rattlesnakes will be found at any elevation, so hiking in the late fall to early springtime may be the best way to go. I hiked this one several days after a large snowstorm blew through in early January; roads were a little muddy but passable in four wheel drive. The mountain had snow above 5500 feet, and was muddy at all elevations, but was hikeable in low top shoes. Like stated above, Mickey Butte is located in the rainshadow of Steens Mountain so snow should not be a problem any time of winter.
A firepit has been erected outside the fence for Mickey Hot Springs next to the parking lot, and there is a lot of open room here to throw up a camp. A better camping spot can be found along Pike Creek
at the eastern base of Steens Mountain. 40 miles to the south, Fields has an RV park, store and gas station. This is mostly open BLM land so find a spot you like and throw up a campsite.
Mickey Hot SpringsMickey Hot Springs
Oregon Field Guide Video, enjoy...