Around eight hours from the lush, famously rainy city of Portland is the Alvord Desert. It’s the driest place in Oregon, popular for dramatic scenery and for the small hot spring that’s been developed into a natural hot tub. As I pulled into the parking lot of the Alvord Hot Springs, I immediately noticed a striking small home I had to learn more about. It turned out to belong to Joe, the current host of the hot springs and campground, who made the home himself. He was kind enough to show me through the space, share some of his story, and let me share some photos of his amazing creation.
Joe had owned a conventional home before, but told me, “I see no benefit in having a house anymore.” While it has wheels and a steering wheel (visible under a blanket, below the sleeping loft) he doesn’t see his home as an RV. He just calls it “minimalist living.”
Joe built his home after completing another house. He said he had always been fascinated by building and construction techniques, and loved creating a unique design. “I don’t have to hang much art, because the house is art,” he said. With his home’s mixture of metal, wood and glass, this would be true anywhere, but it was especially evident in the desert landscape where he’s settled for the moment.
Joe built the home a few hours away and had it towed to the Alvord Desert to begin his stint as the camp host of the hot springs. He dug depressions into the ground for the wheels to create a low profile and a feeling of permanence while he’s settled there. The Alvord Desert is a wild landscape. It’s part of Oregon’s largest county, but the county population is under 10,000, with a population density of about one person per square mile. Portland’s, for reference, is about 4,000 people per square mile. Most towns in the area aren’t much more than a combined general store and gas station, separated by an hour or two of public lands and private ranch operations. Joe seems to enjoy living in the remote area. He smiled knowingly as he told me, “I’ve lived in Portland. I like the country better.”
Joe was extremely friendly and welcoming, even letting me hold Herman, his African Gray Parrot, who he’s had for years. He’s had many excited visitors that come to use the hot springs and can’t help but ask about his unique home. He also seemed open to building for others, so if you’re interested, you can send compliments and inquiries his way at josephweissbeck at gmail.com.