Badlands Wilderness (Proposed)
Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 181-184.
Striking volcanic outcrops covered by juniper and a dry river canyon with polished lavas.
Location: Deschutes and Crook Counties, 9 miles east of Bend
Size: 46 square miles (30,463 acres)
Terrain: Volcanic flows and outcrops with sandy basins in between
Elevation Range: 3,368-3,900 feet
Managing Agency: Prineville District BLM
Agency Wilderness Status: 32,221-acre BLM wilderness study area; 32,030 acres recommended
Recreation Map: West Half Central Oregon Public Lands, Prineville District BLM
The dictionary defines badlands as "barren land characterized by roughly eroded ridges, peaks, and mesas." Oregon's badlands are a little different. There aren't many peaks and the edges are rough, not from erosion, but the lack thereof. Geologically, the flows are relatively new, and erosion has been slight.
The dominant geology is rolling hills comprised of ragged dark reddish brown and black basalt outcroppings and escarpments. The light tan sand brought into the area by wind fill countless small irregularly shaped basins and valleys.
The Badlands consist of two groups of volcanics, roughly divided by the Crook-Deschutes county line. The western flows are recent to 1 million years and are basalt to basaltic andesite in composition. The eastern flows are 2 to 5 million years old and consist of basalt.
There are numerous very large pressure ridges that were formed by slowly moving subcrustal lava. Some of these took the shape of muffins and bread loaves and have the same characteristic cooling cracks as baked goods.
The Dry River is a prehistoric river channel. It was formed during the Pleis- tocene epoch when the Millican Valley to the east drained into the Crooked River. It is now a part of the Great Basin. Erosion from this massive water drainage is evi- dent in polished lava rock and tinajas (rocks with smooth holes in them formed by the water working little pebbles in a circle). Some tinajas here are up to 3 feet deep.
The juniper is all ages from young to old growth. Understory species include big sagebrush, gray and green rabbit-brush, bitterbrush, Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, squirrel-tailed needlegrass, and phlox.
The area provides critical mule deer winter range and also supports prong- horn and a hundred other species of wildlife.
Several prehistoric and historic sites are located in the area. It served as a bombing range during World War II, but no ordnance has been found.
The numerous small, sheltered basalt-rimmed sandy basins scattered throughout the area make it easy to be alone and lost. Figure on it. To get your bearings, climb a pressure ridge (and also take in views of several Cascade peaks, Smith Rocks, West Butte, and Horse Ridge).
The Badlands geology and juniper cover are a type not represented in the national wilderness system.