Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Buzzard Creek Wilderness (Proposed)

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 102-104.

<<<-Previous             Table of Contents            Next->>>

Recreation by and for those at risk.

Location: Harney County, 25 miles southwest of Burns

Size: 525 square miles (367,771 acres)

Terrain:Lots of flat and gently rolling hills

Elevation Range: 4,112-5,464 feet

Managing Agency: Burns District BLM

Agency Wilderness Status: None

Recreation Maps: Northwest and Northeast Quarters, North Half Burns District; South Half Burns District BLM
Southwest of Harney Lake, northeast of Hart Mountain, and west of the Blitzen Valley lies a whole lot of generally unremarkable country. It is flat and has gen- tly rolling hills, where often a hill should be more properly called a rise. So gentle is the terrain, that rarely even a low rim gives relief to the relief. A few promi- nent landmarks like Iron Mountain can be distinguished from US 20, US 395, or OR 205. A few canyons do exist, like Buzzard Creek.

The proposal consists of eight units separated by low-standard roads: Alkali Flat, Angie Canyon, Buzzard Canyon, Devils Canyon, Iron Mountain, Keg Springs Valley, Nameless (not a named feature in it), and Wilson Butte.

Much of the area is a homogenous sagebrush panorama without even the lone juniper.

After studying the USGS 7.5' quad maps, an appellation comes to mind: "The land of the ten-foot contour maps."

Nothing appears to be the most, the deepest, the highest, the largest, the last, or the like in the area.

While there is little to attract most wilderness visitors, save for the vast little- ness of it all (don't underrate it), the area does have important natural values. It is good sage grouse habitat. Mule deer and pronghorn can be found here. Where there is rimrock, there are raptors.

The area's numerous ephemeral lakes and streams are important stops on the mini-flyway between the Warner Valley (see Hart Mountain National Wild- life Refuge Additions) and the Silver Creek Valley on the Malheur National Wild- life Refuge, both of which are very major stops on the Pacific Flyway.

Most recreational use is by a few hunters in the fall. However, the area does get used by a large number of backpackers. Almost all of these backpackers are here against their will.

They are not being punished, though they may well think so. They are being helped.

Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions of Albany, Oregon, leads therapeutic backpacking treks into the wilderness. Its clients, from all over the nation, are minors with major drug (including alcohol), emotional, or behavioral problems. Frustrated and desperate parents—often with insurance com- panies picking up a large part of the tab—send their problem children into the wilderness, not for recreation, but hopefully for re-creation.

For 18 days, three leaders trained in both outdoor and mental health skills lead seven clients into the wilds and away from the distractions of people. The clients don't know where they are going. After a long drive from the Portland airport, they are marched up Iron Mountain, where they can see forever but cannot see a sign of human habitation or roads. To you this might be a very pleas- ant experience; to them the message is unmistakable: "I am safer staying with this group." The leaders try to avoid other humans at all costs to lessen the risk of clients attempting to run away. This is why they seek the boring Buzzard Creeks over the scenic Steens Mountain: fewer distracting people.

The clients don't know about the maps and cell phones carried or of the water and food cached. Most drinking water is strained through the bandanna on one's neck and boiled.

The experience includes a three-day solo. Hopefully by the end, the clients have begun to learn to trust others, and to learn something of the benefits of teamwork and the costs of personal irresponsibility (if you don't put up your tent properly and it rains, you get wet and miserable). Hopefully they gain self- confidence and self-esteem, so afterwards they are better prepared to face the challenges of the urban wilderness.

The institute explains "wilderness therapy" this way:

In the wilderness, young people leave behind the distractions and luxuries of their daily lives. Nothing comes easy or by itself.

Consequences are meted out by nature in her simple, direct way, not by some authority figure of questionable motives and fairness. It is our belief that until young people experience the negative consequences of their choices, they won't perceive their behavior as a problem. Nature holds young people accountable for the choices they make and helps them rediscover the values that are important to leading successful lives: family, responsibility, honesty, trust, and respect.

Wilderness living provides a naturally healing environment. It provides the physical activity and healthy conditions that are especially important to adolescents, and it is the best available means to promote self-explora- tion and self-esteem. This occurs in a setting where one naturally explores the meaning of solitude, daily work, play, and relationships, as well as life's larger spiritual questions.

Seventy percent of its participants have had "marked improvement" from the experience, says the institute. [1] Not a bad use of land, don't you think?


1. R. Cooley "Wilderness Therapy Can Help Troubled Adolescents." Inter- national Journal of Wilderness 4, no.3 (December 1998).