If you were asked by a friend you trusted to travel 60 miles into a barren desert and camp for two weeks, would you go?
In late May of 1990, I got a call from a friend, Bill Witherspoon, who asked me if I would go to the Oregon Desert in July. He wanted me to film an art project he was going to do so that we could use some of it in a video about his art. Little did I know then that saying yes that day would change my life forever.
I met up with Bill Witherspoon and his 10 year old son, Miles, in a town called Burns, Oregon on the afternoon of July 24th. Bill decided that because of the time, we would only travel about 70 miles that day before camping that evening. The next morning we would continue into the Alvord Desert Range, a part of the vast Oregon Desert that stretched a hundred miles in several directions.
Once off the road, we drove slowly through sage brush on what appeared to be a wagon trail at best. Bill had used this trail many times to reach remote areas of this desert where he would camp for weeks and sometimes months while painting skies and landscapes.
I was driving a rented Subaru 4 wheel drive SUV, and Bill and Miles drove their school bus that Bill had remodeled as a studio for trips into the desert.
The bus got stuck an hour after we left the hard road, and it took us several hours to free it from the sandy soil. Back on the trail and with the sun slowly dropping in the West, Bill suddenly stopped again. I pulled to the side to see if he wanted to talk, but instead, to my amazement, I saw eight wild horses crossing in front of his bus. They had come off a small hillside and were heading into the flat desert land to our right. A dark brown, unkempt but majestic stallion stopped and turned to us. He stamped his hoof and threw his head up as if to say ‘I am in charge, and do not bother us,’ then turned to join the rest of his group. All of the horses had manes and tails that almost reached the ground.
I knew then this would be an adventure like no other I had before. We continued through the sage brush on the trail and around a mountain to our left. The terrain opened up to reveal miles of flat land with only sage brush surrounded by mountains with no vegetation, just gray and brown rocks that covered them. The trail ended as Bill moved onto the dry lake bed where we would make our main camp.
After stopping on the edge, close to a stand of high sage brush, Bill, Miles and I stood and marveled at the scene in front of us. The dry lake bed stretched for several miles across the basin. The sun was falling behind the mountains to the West rimming them with a soft orange glow. Shades of blue sky and white clouds hung over the lake bed and surrounding basin encircled by mountains of brown, gray and yellowish orange colors.
I was excited to be there, wondering what tomorrow would bring. Bill was right, this was a magical place. This was Mickey Basin.