Bend’s Culture is Burning on the Flats

Bendites are cobbling together a DIY burning man on the Alvord Flats, signaling a shift in Bend’s party scene.


Jackson Crocker, Staff Writer

 Cracked clay stretching for miles, howling wind, burning sun, and most importantly emptiness. That was the Alvord up until Covid, nestled in southeastern Oregon it’s frequent camping destination for those brave enough to face the elements, a small gas station miles up the road represents the only civilization in miles. In the heat of the desert haze groups of twenty or so trailers and RVs are huddled in circles throughout the flats. Dusty campers play games, drink and party into the night. It’s a unique kind of fun and magnetizing to many, especially to the kinds of people who seek out Bend. These campers have been regulars of the Alvord for longer than they can remember.

Mathias Perle is a seasoned veteran of the flats for years, “I have been camping out on the Alvord since 1997.”

In recent years Burning Man partiers have flocked to the Alvord in droves, and this year is looking like the biggest turnout yet. The real impetus of the partiers discovery of the Alvord was in 2020. With Burning Man canceled, dead heads, hippies and psychonauts were looking for a new outlet and those local to bend found it in the Alvord. Many smaller invitational parties filled up, and new groups formed as the demand for parties on the flats increased. Labor day weekend was full to the brim with groups larger than ever before. Lights streaked the sky, feet shook the ground, and music echoed out for miles across the clay. Just like that, Alvord became a prime destination for party goers all around Oregon. 2021 and 2022 have been ramping up steadily with liberal estimates putting one party this Labor Day at  around 200 people.

Many attendees are fed up with the high bar for admission to Burning Man and have pounced on the opportunity to make party experiences of their own. 

Sam Brian an attendee of the aforementioned Labor Day party said, “I think that the burning man culture helped to promote this increased presence on the Alvord. People wanted a place to gather and share different forms of art, music and culture.” If the energy on the flats continues on its current trajectory, the Alvord could become a major destination for locals and tourists alike. 

Some of the veterans like Perle are uneasy about the increasing population of the Alvord.

 “I think more frequent larger groups definitely have the potential to impact the camping experience out there in a negative way,” said Perle.

Although the larger groups mean well, their size alone may negatively affect solo campers or even discourage them enough to stay home all together. 

“If other people’s behaviors and choices started to impact my enjoyment of the area, that would be a difference. I would likely still go but would choose to find times when there are not as many people,” said Perle. An extreme uptick in attendance for the Alvord could seemingly irreparably damage the solo camping experience.

These concerns are certainly reasonable given the recent increase in large parties, Brian says that he and other party goers like him would “remain sensitive to the environment, specifically in terms of ‘Pack in pack out’ and leaving things as they were.” 

Although this assurance is heartening, it’s not clear if this is a largely shared sentiment or simply some optimistic thinking on the part of Brian. There are also solo camper concerns that even the presence of such large parties could leave physical impacts on the flats themselves.

Parties of this size are not unheard of, with attendance for one of Perle’s parties reaching somewhere around 100 people. Yet, the bigger difference is the camping experience. Parties like the one Brian is attending on labor day have booked DJs, erected sound stages, and set up speaker towers that are straight out of any burning man fan’s dreams. These campers are looking to emulate the concert atmosphere of burning man in the Alvord. This party mindset is juxtaposed by campers like Perle whose groups prefer to experience the Alvord in a purer, quieter way Perle described it as being “out there”.

Whether solo or with a group, loud or quiet, people will keep coming, and memories will continue to be made on the flats.