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A Glass House in the Desert | Hart #2

One of the things about the high desert is that it just looks boring. Miles and miles of - generally boring - flat terrain. Millions of the same - boring - sagebrush arrayed out over the sandy soil. And colors that - for most of the year - are just drab and boring.

There's a lot of this land in the western United States, and one of the great things about it - in my opinion - is that everyone else thinks it's boring. The secret, however, is that these desert areas are great at preserving whatever ends up within their boundaries. Over the decades, lots of interesting things have found their way into the high desert. And today, we had our sights set on one in particular: an entirely glass house.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves - we had quite a way to go before we'd reach something that sounds like such a bad idea. I mean seriously - it's hot in the desert, and there are lots of stones.

Heading north, then east and south, across the desert towards Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge from the P-38 and A-6 plane wrecks we'd explored near Christmas Valley.

The land rose up alongside US-395, snow highlighting the layered nature of the volcanic cliffs.

Eventually, we turned off of US-395 and onto Hogback Road. I'd expected this to be paved, but it was even better - well graded gravel! I say better because paved roads tend to suffer quite a bit in the hot/cold climate of the high desert. Expansion and contraction lead to deterioration, and fixing asphalt is difficult. Gravel on the other hand can be easily regraded, and ultimately leads to smoother travel. I smiled, @mrs.turbodb napped, and we ticked away the miles.

Hogback Road curving off into the distance.

The steep side of Hart Mountain rising up to the east.

An interesting tidbit that my more-geologically-adept-passenger noted to me a little later in the trip was that the steep side of Hart Mountain and the steep side of Steens Mountain (which we've visited a lot and borders the Alvord Desert region) are mirrors of each other, creating a gentle valley between the two ridgelines.

A cross section of the opposing fault block mountains of Hart Mountain and Steens Mountain.

An hour or so later, we turned west - away from our ultimate destination - to check out a little draw that I'd noticed as I'd been planning our route. I forget why it'd jumped out at me, but the name - Mine Draw - certainly sounded promising. As we headed up, it was classic Oregon outback with rolling hills and rocky outcrops.

With its southern exposure and clear skies, most of the snow was gone despite temperatures that still hovered in the mid-30s °F.

After several miles, and a thousand feet of elevation gain, we rounded a bend to a dilapidated old miner's cabin at the base of an area dotted with diggings. There wasn't much left to see, but if for no other reason than to stretch our legs, we got out to take a look around.

Won't be here much longer.

On a nearby hillside, perched atop a pile of tailings, this strange ore chute stood watch over the site.

Off we go.

After climbing another 300 feet or so, we reached the ridge and carried on over the other side, wondering if there was more to see. Deciding after a mile or so that there was not, we headed back to the top where a snow-dusted Hart Mountain gleamed in the distance. We had only one more stop - for fuel in Plush - before we headed that way.

Fingers crossed that the blue skies win out.

Heading back down Mine Draw.

Into the valley. I really liked the contrast of rock and snow, brown and white.

The Tacoma all fueled up, we soon found ourselves bumping along the western flank of Hart Mountain, the snowy cliffs now much closer, aspen still clinging to their yellow leaves as they snaked up the canyons.

Fall into winter, right before our eyes.

To our west, what used to be Hart Lake was dry, now just a field of brilliant yellow grass.

Pvt. Charles A. Fonda | US Army 23rd Infantry Company D | Died from wounds | April 30, 1868

The long evening rays turned everything golden.

Winding our way through a maze of roads, it was just after 5:00pm when we made our final turn and spotted the craziness we'd set out to find - the all-glass roof of an all-glass house in the middle of the high desert. As we pulled into what could only be considered the driveway, the love and care that went into building this place - as crazy as it was - was immediately apparent. We wasted no time exploring.

Decorative metalwork lined the driveway, the tops of stone walls, and many other elements of the property.

The main entrance sported four large doors, an affordance for quicker cooling.

Built into the small rise on which it sits, the house is well camouflaged if you aren't looking for it.

Even on this cool day - temperatures never reaching higher than the low 40s °F - it was reasonably pleasant inside what was essentially a greenhouse in the desert. And, with no way to open or cover any of the roof panels, it is easy to understand why this project ultimately failed - there was simply no way to escape the oven-like environment on even relatively mild days.

The living room.

The bedroom.

The kitchen.

After poking around for a few minutes - @mrs.turbodb opening some drawers (where spices, utensils, and other niceties still remained), me inspecting some of the electronics (both 120v and 12v receptacles were distributed throughout the house) - we reconvened in the kitchen where a guest book sat on the counter. With fewer than a handful of the 80 sheets consumed, this place sees only a visitor or two a month, perhaps understandable given its location in the middle of nowhere.

We did find one interesting entry - Wonderhussy (Sarah) - from June, 2022.

Our search complete, it was time to figure out our camp plan. With only about 15 minutes until sunset, we decided that the smart money was on camping nearby the house so we could get dinner prepped, eaten, and cleaned up as quickly as possible. Plus, a parking area off of the driveway afforded us a nice flat spot to setup the tent. And so, as the sun dropped below the horizon and the color of the sky transitioned through a pastel palette, we set about our evening activities as efficiently as we could.

Though it hadn't been that warm all day, temperatures dropped quickly as the sun ducked below the horizon.

Climbing into the relative warmth of the cab of the Tacoma, we killed a bit of time before climbing up the ladder to snuggle under the covers. While @mrs.turbodb read, I copied a few photos off of the camera, marveling at the things we'd seen just a few hours earlier!


An Unexpected Aside...

Some of my favorite moments of a trip - and these don't happen every time - are discoveries of something unexpected. Just such a discovery happened somewhere along our route between Christmas Valley and the Glass house - we just happened to glance at some large rocks on the side of the road and noticed that they were covered with petroglyphs.

If you know where these petroglyphs and pictographs are, please keep their location special. There are already several petroglyphs that have been shot at, and modern graffiti on some nearby rocks.

Of course, upon noticing the art - which is relatively plentiful in the area - we stopped immediately to take a closer look. The images and shapes here depicted common themes - bighorn sheep, hunters with bows, alien-bug-men, and concentric circles - that we've seen elsewhere in southeast Oregon (Owyhee, Hart Mountain), and were likely created by a civilization that once roamed the entire region.

Follow the leader.

A common etching.

Four pronghorns.


A hunter and his quarry.

A full rack.

The highlight of the rock art was the discovery of a single multi-colored pictograph, a short distance from the petroglyphs. It's a mystery we'll never know the answer to, an opportunity for our curiosity to run wild.

Red and white Bugman.

Of course, modern humans can't help but leave their mark as well, this yin-yang symbol adorning a nearby rock as well.

Unnecessary addition.


The Following Morning...

Fully expecting it to get just as cold as it'd been the previous night, both @mrs.turbodb and I had bundled up before climbing into the tent just after 7:45pm. This time, I'd oriented the tent to take advantage of the sun rising over the easter horizon - my hope being that any frost on the rain fly would sublimate before we even got out of bed.

What neither of us expected, was to hear the pattering of snow that began at midnight and lasted nearly four hours!

Luckily, with temperatures in the mid-twenties (°F), the snow was reasonably dry; what little didn't slide off the tent on its own was easily shaken off when we got up to go pee. And when we did, I hoped that at least some of the white stuff would stick around till morning, because it was beautiful.

After getting an inch or more snow, this is all that was left several hours later.

A little more on the cold steel metalwork of the Glass House.

With sunrise at 6:30am - and even having gone to bed early - it wasn't until 7:30am that we finally climbed down the ladder and started packing away camp.

Clearing skies to the north, but no sun to sublimate any frost on the tent. Lucky for us, there wasn't any!

Most of packing away camp is a quick process, but as I've mentioned in several rig reviews over the last couple of years, the toughest part these days is getting the zipper on the CVT cover to close. To make is as easy as possible, I now wash/lubricate the entire zipper with water, each time I zip up the cover. This can be torture on my fingers on a cold morning, so I've started storing my water bottle with me in the tent, its contents warming my fingers during the cleaning process, rather than freezing them!

Unfortunately, the problem this morning wasn't going to be fixed with warm water.

Bummed at the lemons that life had thrown at us, I tried to look on the bright side - I still had the straps to hold the tarp mostly on the tent, and trail dust would be minimized given the moisture we'd gotten the night before. And so, with everything packed away as best we could, we set out for our final day on the trail.

Just like the last, it'd turn out to be full of unexpected surprises.



The Whole Story


  1. Anza4R
    Anza4R December 4, 2022

    Fabulous photos as always, and that Glass House? Astonishing.

    Having seen our share of modern embellishments on ancient treasures... thank you for sharing pictures but protecting locations. People could probably learn some manners and respect what came before Roblox and Virtual Reality Headsets.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 4, 2022

      Thanks - so glad to hear you're enjoying the stories! I know exactly what you mean as far as "modern embellishments," so I do try to keep the locations of lesser known art relatively under wraps. There's plenty of well-known stuff for everyone to visit already!

    JOHN D MORAN December 4, 2022

    Another fine adventure. Doubt I'll ever get to see the glass house first hand so this was very interesting. With an engineering background and having worked on many house rehab's I think that place could be made livable, even in the summer! Too bad about the tent cover but I'm having similar problems with the cover on my new Sky Ridge tent. The cover fits very (TOO) tight and has a zipper all the way around which is the worst part of taking down the tent. Fortunately I carry a load of ratcheting straps if there is trouble with the zipper. Thanks again for a great adventure!

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 5, 2022

      Thanks John. I'm sure the house could be made livable via a combination of solutions that would include some shades for the "roof" glass, ventilation in the roof (along the ridge), and some intake vents low(ish) on the walls; with that, you could probably get some good airflow...though the shades would negate a bit of the "glass house" effect.

      Of course, it was nowhere near power or anything, so it'd be completely off-grid, which doesn't make things any easier.

      Bummer to hear about your tent. Sounds like you're having issues with the same cover zipper that I did, which I think is a common problem for our style of tent. Luckily, with CVT, the cover isn't too small as long as the tent is fully compressed before securing the cover in place, and I'm still limber enough to be able to compress it. I don't know if it'll be helpful for you, but here's my "tent closing strategy," which seems to work well.

  3. Greg von Buchau
    Greg von Buchau December 4, 2022

    Reading this while camped in my Van up Four Palms canyon in Kofa.
    What or who do you suppose the “bug people”
    were in Indian culture? They seem to show up a lot in Petroglphs.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 5, 2022

      Oooo, sounds like a great place to take in a story (while making your own)!

      As for the "bug people," my guess is that those are sheep horns, worn by hunters as they were hunting sheep. Boring, perhaps, and of course I have no idea, but I think it's easy for us to overlook the simple/obvious answer as we try to explain that with which we aren't familiar.

  4. Jack
    Jack December 5, 2022

    Another great trip report. Thanks for taking us along. Sorry about the zipper. I got some sticks of 100% beeswax (from ebay) a number of years ago. I use that to lube zippers that get used a lot. it doesn't attract dust and seems to work well. It is sometimes difficult to apply depending on temps. Warming the wax a little bit helps.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 5, 2022

      Thanks Jack, glad you enjoyed the story! I've had others suggest beeswax, but I've always been hesitant that it would attract dust; interesting to hear that you've not had that experience! ?

      The good news is that I've already gotten the zipper taken care of (via a conversation with CVT and with YKK, the zipper manufacturer) in a way that I'm more than satisfied with - both companies were great from a customer service standpoint, and will be getting some kudos in a future rig review. Stay tuned! ?

  5. Sam Milewsky
    Sam Milewsky December 5, 2022

    Any idea on the years the glass house was active/lived in?

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 5, 2022

      I don't know for sure. What little info I've been able to glean about it is inconclusive.

      One story suggests that it was built in the early '90s (1992-94) by a California wine grape grower, Walt, for his wife. He had one helper, a local man from Adel.

      Another story is that it was built in the 70's and later abandon in the 80's. That same source says that the property and the house is now (as of 2009) owned by the Friends of ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  or even ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  itself.

      Sometimes, the wonderment of the life's mysteries is better than the certainty of knowing. ?

  6. Sherman Cahal
    Sherman Cahal December 5, 2022

    Beautiful writeup. I remember my first loft in downtown Cincinnati being like this glass house. Half the ceiling was exposed glass. It was either too hot to sleep in or too cold - and only livable about half the year.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 5, 2022

      Thanks Sherman! That's crazy to hear about in Cincinnati; I always feel like it's dark in Seattle and I'd love more light, but there definitely has to be a way to shut it out when it gets too sunny!

  7. Shawn Dones
    Shawn Dones December 7, 2022

    For zippers, try some chapstick for lube. I don't know how the dust will affect that, but we use them on all our tent zippers while in Colorado during really dry and dusty seasons.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 7, 2022

      Chapstick huh? That sounds pretty sticky to me (a dust attractor) but very interesting to hear that it works for you guys! Maybe I'll try it on a small section to see if it stays clean on dusty trails.

  8. Ramble Onn
    Ramble Onn January 29, 2023

    Stumbled across your blog today while researching the glass house which, by accident, I found just yesterday! I was set on finding the petroglyphs (which we VERY cool), but then by sheer luck, discovered the glass house. With no internet to peruse, and no signage, I was unable to determine ownership, so we didn't set foot inside. However, you can walk around (and above) and see the entire setup. It was quite the headscratcher! VERY cool place to see.

  9. Old stick man
    Old stick man February 8, 2023

    We just missed each other since I camped next to the Plexiglass house on Election Day night as far away from media as possible after mailing my ballot in Adel! Ian Tyson songs lolled me to sleep. Rip Ian! You are right in that it was built by Walt the wine maker and a local in the 90's. Although the decorum looks typical 70's. I believe it now belongs to the Hart Mt National Refuge but it is not maintained or advertised, hence the dilapidation.

    I spent the rest of the week traditional bow hunting up on Hart Mountain and it snowed several times with temperatures down to 0 degrees. More snow then usual early November but had a Pyrenees Mountain dog with me in case it got too cold! I've been all over SE Oregon for the past 36 years and this is one of my favorite spots so thank you for not giving out to many details and locations, especially the petroglyphs. Your photos are awesome and glad you got to experience some of the deserts secrets. Enjoy the desert but leave no trace; is my philosophy so others can do the same. Rub your zippers with a regular candle which can come in handy for other means. Also traditional bow string wax does the trick as well!

    • turbodb
      turbodb February 8, 2023

      Oh man, we did just miss each other! Sounds like you had a great time out there (really, how can you not?) and I'm right there with you on keeping some of the secrets a little bit secret.

      Ever since we discovered SE Oregon on a "random" trip to Owyhee about 6 years ago, we've really come to love it. I don't know if you're interested or have time to read some of our excursions, but if you do, I'll point you at these two "destinations," each of which has several trips. Such cool places!

      • Dirty Doug
        Dirty Doug February 9, 2023

        Yup, been there done that as they say! You have some great photos and a knack for exploring as I can attest to with many memories and admiration! Like I mention before I've been exploring SE Oregon for almost 40 years now with a friend Alan St. John who wrote a great book "Oregon's Dry Side" published in 2006 by National Geographic. It is out of print but you may find it used at Powell's books or on Amazon. It's a wealth of information for everything in Oregon East of the Cascades and still my go to even though he and I have been exploring, hunting and working in this region for decades. He also just came out with a second edition of "Reptiles of the North West" if you are into Herps; yah I'm in both books and feathered as a Herpetological hand model wrangling specimens for photos in their natural habitat and released! Maybe we will cross paths in the Oregon/Nevada Outback someday!

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