Deschutes Canyon Wilderness (Proposed)
Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 192-193.
The meeting of the Cascade and desert ecosystems provides an unusually rich natural diversity.
Location: Deschutes, Jefferson, and Wasco Counties, 15 miles northeast of Redmond (Steelhead
Falls and The Island units); 10 miles south of Maupin (Criterion unit) Size: 51 square miles (32,864 acres)
Terrain: The plateau is quite gentle and flat, the canyons definitely not
Elevation Range: 1,000-3,180 feet
Managing Agencies: Prineville District BLM, Crooked River National Grassland (Ochoco National
Agency Wilderness Status: 3,240-acre BLM wilderness study area; 0 acres recommended
Recreation Maps: South Half Lower Deschutes River Public Lands; West Half Central Oregon Public Lands; both Prineville District BLM (the best map for upper units is the Crooked River Grassland Map on the Ochoco National Forest Map)
The area consists of four units: Criterion, Fremont Canyon, Steelhead Falls, and The Island.
The canyon is a study in the merging of several geologic strata. The wildness and scenic wonder is proportional to the elevation change. The roar of the rapids in the canyon bottom, the rich green and red hues of the streamside vegetation, and the towering canyon walls all compete for attention.
Basalt and sedimentary-layered rock formations are of varying textures, thicknesses, and colors, including reddish brown, white, light gray dark gray, and light tan. The rivers have bisected these formations for the last several thousand years. Basalt formations rise steeply from the canyon floors and form small plateaus in several locations.
Because of the warmer, sheltered conditions in the canyons, many species bloom up to a month earlier than in exposed desert ecosystems. Upland vegetation includes western juniper clusters with an understory of big sagebrush, green rabbit-brush, bitterbrush, Idaho fescue, and bluebunch wheatgrass. Canyon bottom vegetation includes red alder, red-osier dogwood, wax currant, spirea, wildrose, penstemon, and sedges.
On side hills one finds clusters of western juniper and the occasional ponde- rosa pine with an understory of big sagebrush, bitterbrush, bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, green rabbit-brush, buckwheat, wildrye, milkvetch, yarrow, gold balsamroot, and sunflowers.
Fish species include bull trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, kokanee (land-locked sockeye salmon), squawfish, and sucker.
Peregrine falcon and bald eagle winter in the canyons. Several species of owls and waterfowl, swallows, hawks, osprey, golden eagles, and two hundred other species of birds are present.
Mule deer, coyote, cottontail jackrabbit, porcupine, beaver, river otter, and badger are common.
Rattlesnakes are in high densities. The desert night snake is also reported to be in the area.
Numerous Native American and historical sites cover the area.
The Island unit is among the best undisturbed grasslands (great desert crust) left anywhere in the Columbia Basin. It is both a research natural area and closed to the public. Because of the topography it has never been grazed, save for some sheep that served as a cover for a still during Prohibition.