The playa that forms the Alvord desert stretches out beneath Steens Mt, a marvelous fault block mountain that rises to more than ninety six hundred feet. This playa runs nine miles north/south along the Steens and stretches six miles east. Tens of thousands of years ago, a lake almost two hundred feet deep covered the playa. Now, it is intermittently covered with water depending on the season. Land sailors, car racers, bicyclists enjoy the area when it is dry.
Borax Lake, at the southern end of the Alvord, near Fields, is fed by hot springs which contain a high concentration of borate. When the hot springs evaporate, a high concentration of alkali is left behind. Between 1892 and 1902, about 400 tons of borax were boiled down and crystalized annually. Mule teams transported this processed borax to the railhead at Winnemucca, NV, a distance of 120 miles. Borax Lake is now owned by The Nature Conservancy, and offers excellent birding.
Just north of the Alvord, Mickey Hot springs bubbles away, both as hot pools and as mud pots. Some springs have dried up, leaving interesting alkali patterns in the crust. Springtime blooms carpet the area. Golden gilia is particularly beautiful, as are the Indian paintbrush that grow up through the sage.