Over the course of 4-days a group of Defender owners traveled to a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest to celebrate the legacy of a vehicle with exploration coursing though it’s bloodline. This Defender-only rendezvous was conceived as a gathering of Land Rover Defender enthusiasts. Armed with dates and a general area description - the only directions provided were in the form of Lat/Long coordinates. For most travelers the drive from home was a two day affair with at least ten hours of navigating through towns that got smaller at every turn. Eventually the tarmac ran out altogether - leading to miles and miles of dirt roads with corrugations to shake your liver apart. The dirt highways gave way to rutted two track and eventually no path at all at the edge of a massive dry-lakebed. It was here on a grand playa that we had invited a handful of adventurers to come spend time amongst the sand and the stars as fall pushes into the Pacific Northwest. Camp was established in the remote northern section of the 21km (13 mile) long dry-lakebed that stretched 11km wide at the center.
For those travelers who arrived in daylight hours, the ever growing ring of Land Rover Defenders was easy to spot several miles away. This led most participants into a high speed run across the flat and crackled lakebed. For those who didn’t arrive until after sunset, darkness came quickly to the desert as the sun dipped below the western edge of the playa into the tall and steep mountains at nearly 3000M.(9700’) Our campfire became a confirming beacon and with GPS systems displaying distance and direction the Defenders continued to roll into camp well into the night. Participants were greeted with welcoming smiles, and as the group around the fire grew larger celebratory Scotch appeared along with discussions on how best to explore the foreboding Steens Mountain Range that marks the western edge of the desert.
In the morning, the group woke to the sight of a ring of Defenders with happy people milling about their individual camps, enjoying breakfast, and making plans for the days adventure. Saturday was our day to explore and that we did. We left late-morning and after refueling the caravan and our bellies at Fields Station our group bounced along the Southern end of the Alvord valley past abandoned homesteads to a sunken hot-spring where we took to the water to shed the accumulated dust. After wasting away the day some of our group headed into the hills to find a route back to camp through bull-dust and sand dunes and others explored windswept ghost-towns and chased the sunset back to camp.
Winds had picked-up along the playa as the day wore on. By dark they were blowing a steady 25mph with gusts nearly twice that. High winds preventd a campfire this night and we set out inflatable Luci lights to guide in the other groups who had traveled as far as Nevada to explore the site of a WWII B-24D bomber that crashed while on a training mission Feb 9th 1945. The weather did little to dampen the festivities of the evening gathering and a variety of cocktails appeared consumed in the shelter of a Defender 110 Ambulance converted to overland camper.
As the night wore on the winds shook tents, trucks, and the fortitude of several participants. Almost as if it were on a timer, the winds stopped at 3am and left an erie dead silence in place until well after sunrise. Sunday found us in perfect conditions and we gathered in the morning to participate in a Q&A session with South African author and overlander Graeme Bell - as well as a raffle of sorts to give away several items donated by generous suppliers.
Once again the party split into a few smaller groups with one group headed into the hills to explore the grasslands that support a population of wild horses - mustangs. Others headed to soak in hot-springs once again, and some participants packed up camp and headed off on adventures that would eventually lead them home a few days later.
Others stayed in camp and tended to the trucks and chores, while lazily visiting under shade canopies. With calm and clear conditions that night, the sky turned-on a show of stars that stretched across the horizon as far as you could see. The cold was held at bay with a large campfire, food, drink, and stories from friends both old and new.
By mid-morning the last day all but the organizers had departed and we closed down the camp within an hour; saying “safe travels” we split into three small parties each headed into diferent directions for more adventures on the route home. We are already scouting locations for 2016, 2017, and beyond...
Special thanks to event sponsors and supporters:
DefendersNW, Tiktaalik, Series Defender Outfitters, MPowered, Clear Creek Distillery, Kleen Kanteen, Nathanael Napolitano, and the participants who made this event memorable.