Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp 16-17.
We are not so poor that we have to spend our wilderness, or so rich that we can afford to.
The Oregon Desert is far from being one huge sagebrush-covered flat. While significant portions do host vast stands of big sagebrush and little topographic relief, the Oregon Desert has seasonally snowcapped mountain ranges, forested hillsides, deep river canyons, and more. Take the time to see what the desert has to offer, including those sagebrush-covered flats.
It has also been called a "high desert" because it is much higher in elevation (colder in winter and not as hot in the summer) than the Sonoran, Mojave, and Chihuahuan Deserts.
The Oregon Desert includes part of the fourth kind of North American desert, the Great Basin, which is both a name for a type of desert and a region where the streams never reach the ocean. The Oregon Desert also encompasses arid lands that drain into the Pacific Ocean.
It is a sparsely populated land, though sprawling Bend-Redmond-Prineville is infringing upon it. Oregon's three largest counties in size—Harney, Lake, and Malheur—comprise the heart of the desert. Yet, while covering 29 percent of Oregon's land area, these counties contain only 1.4 percent of its citizens.
The Oregon Desert is the wildest part of the state; 6.2 million acres of de facto wilderness remain. Wildlands are the reason that pronghorn and bighorn sheep still range free. They are the reason that sage grouse still gather in their fascinating and marvelous mating rituals.
Wilderness is the highest value for most of the Oregon Desert. Oregonians need to protect all the wilderness we have left and to restore much of what has been lost. Senator Clinton Anderson, a sponsor of the first wilderness bill in Congress, said:
Wilderness is an anchor to the windward. Knowing it is there we can also know we are still a nation, tending to our resources as we should—not a people in despair, scratching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.
Edward Abbey, the desert rat of all desert rats, in his classic Desert Solitaire noted:
A man could be a lover of wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. W e need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it is there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.
Our voracious rates of consumption and suicidal rates of reproduction are using up the Earth. But there is time to ensure that this large bioregion always functions ecologically. We still have time for the northern sage grouse to avoid the path of the northern spotted owl. The Oregon Desert provides the opportunity to leave room for nature. David Brower, the greatest living conservationist, noted:
We dare not let the last wilderness on earth go by our own hand, and hope that technology will somehow get us a new wilderness on some remote planet, or that somehow we can save little samples of genes in bottles or on ice, isolated and manageable, or reduce the great vistas to long-lasting videotape, destroying the originals to sustain the balance of trade and egos.