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The far-out, spacey land sailors of Oregon’s Alvord Desert

It looks like a desert mirage. A sailboat, racing across a stone flat and waterless playa, its glittering metallic hull materializing on approach like a Star Wars landspeeder hovering above a desert floor on Tatooine. You stand at the edge of the Alvord Desert rubbing your eyes waiting for reality to return.

But land sailing is not a mirage. It’s the real deal. And it’s epically Oregon.

“It is far-out looking. It is spacey, definitely,” says Phil Rothrock as he buffs his three-wheeled, chrome “land yacht” to a blinding, sun-reflective polish. With the addition of a towering, hard metal sail, the bizarre craft reaches full alien effect. Because, why not? There’s no serious aspect to this endeavor, really. Crafting land yachts by hand, using designs and ideas passed down from his father and from friends in the land-sailing community is all for fun. And for a little thrill. Rothrock beams as he says it. “We’ve got yachts developed now to be able to do 50 miles per hour in wind of six and seven miles an hour.”

This is a hobby. And for this strange and beautiful hobby, the Alvord Desert is the greatest showroom in America.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ed Jahn