Andy Kerr

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

Recommended Reading

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 238-245.

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

Many books were lovingly read or consulted for the preparation of this volume. The author is thankful for the numerous authors who came before.

A primary source worth special mention is the numerous government documents, especially those prepared by the Bureau of Land Management in conjunction with their wilderness review. This book would have not been possible had not a legion of public servants gone before.

Book titles and authors are noted below, but the publisher, publication year, and price are not. For books, both in and out of print, your first stop is either the library or 'a bookstore. If they don't have it, they can often obtain it. A vibrant market in used books is growing, both expanding knowledge and extending the lives of books.

(Though some of the books recommended below are published by The Mountaineers Books, publisher of this book, this was not a factor in the author's selection.)

Outdoor Skills and Safety

Where's a doctor when you need one? Probably a long way from you when a medical emergency strikes. Wilderness Medicine: Beyond First Aid, by William W. Forgey, M.D., and Wilderness Medical Society Practice Guidelines for Wilderness Emergency Care, edited by Forgey, are both very readable. The former is longer and more directed toward the layperson. The latter includes succinct treatments of subjects. Wilderness 911: A Step-by -Step Guide for Medical Emergencies and Improvised Care in the Backcountry, by Eric Weiss, M.D., is strong on both prevention and improvisation in emergency situations.

For learning the art of land navigation, try The Essential Wilderness Navigator, by David Seidman. A classic in the field is Be an Expert with Map and Compass, by Bjorn Hjellstrom.

A pocket Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver (our tax dollars at work) saved the author at least some lost time and miserable nights, if not his life. It is possible to get turned around even in treeless terrain. GPS Made Easy, by Lawrence Letham, is quite good. GPS is no substitute for maintaining your sense of direction and paying attention to the landscape as you traverse it, however.

When you do get in trouble (it is best to assume you will and be prepared for it), The Basic Essentials of Desert Survival, by Arizona survival expert Dave Ganci, and Desert Survival Handbook, by Charles Lehman, are no-nonsense books that make for interesting and important learning. During the summer, even a "cold" desert like the Oregon Desert can kill the ignorant and unprepared.

Backpacking One Step at a Time, by Harvey Manning, is a fine general guide to the art of backpacking. For the art, science, and Zen of backpacking, one must turn to the classic The Complete Walker III, by Colin Fletcher. John Hart's Walking Softly in the Wilderness is the bible on low-impact techniques. If you have experience backpacking, doing so in the desert should not be a problem. Water availability is the primary factor. Desert Hiking, also by Dave Ganci, and Desert Hiking Tips, by Bruce Grubbs, have suggestions specific to tree-free regions.

Everyone does it, so why not do it expertly? How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art, by Kathleen Meyer, is a small volume that exhaustively covers the subject.

It can be fun to learn about weather, but it can also save your life. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather, by David Ludlum, is helpful.

Desert Walking and River Running

All guidebook authors are deeply indebted to their predecessors. Although Hiking the Great Basin: The High Desert Country of California, Nevada, Oregon and Utah, by John Hart, covers only one Oregon area (Steens), it gives a fine overview of some of the greatest hiking in the Great Basin. Similarly, while it is about forests, A Walking Guide to Oregon's Ancient Forests, by Wendell Wood, is an inspiration for this book. William Sullivan pioneered the concept of presenting both the protected and unprotected wild areas in his Exploring Oregon's Wild Areas. He does include eleven Oregon Desert areas in his collection of primarily forest and alpine areas.

It is long out of print and was never well distributed, but Unobscured Horizons, Untravelled Trails: Hiking the Oregon High Desert, by Bruce Hayse and published by the late Oregon High Desert Study Group, deserves a mention if for no other reason than it was the first.

For those wanting to continue desert explorations eastward, there is Exploring Idaho's High Desert, by Sheldon Bluestein (now online at There is not a lot of cross-country skiing in the Oregon Desert, but Steens Mountain and some of the other high mountains can be skied. The last chapter of Cross-Country Ski Routes: Oregon, by Klindt Vielbig, is about Steens Mountain. Hiking Hot Springs in the Pacific Northwest, by Evie Litton, includes four springs in the Owyhee country. If you have the equipment and expertise to run a river (the only real way to see the Lower Canyon unit of the John Day Wilderness and one of the best ways to see the Owyhee Wilderness), Oregon River Tours, by John Garren, and Soggy Sneakers, by the Willamette Kayak and Canoe Club, are the standards. A new standard may be Paddling Oregon, by Robb Keller. John Day River Drift and Historical Guide, by Arthur Campbell, is exhaustively specific.

Travel and Exploration

Since you won't want to do the long drive without taking some time to explore what else can be found along the way, you'll need some other guidebooks.

Oregon's Outback: An Auto Tour Guide to Southeast Oregon, by Donna Lynn Ikenberry, is the newest of the genre and should be packed for desert travel. Oregon's Great Basin Country, by Denzel and Nancy Ferguson, centers on Harney County and environs. Since you'll undoubtedly want to break up the long drive, the Birder's Guide to Oregon, by Joe Evanich Jr., reveals key birding areas in and on the way to the Oregon Desert. Oregon Wildlife Viewing Guide, by James A. Yuskavitch, is a guide to all those binocular icon signs along Oregon's roadways. Finally, it is so old it is quaint, but the classic Oregon for the Curious, by Ralph Friedman, is a fine road guide. Friedman doesn't short the forgotten quarter of Oregon as do so many other tour books.

Eastern Oregon: Portrait of Its Land and People, by Allan D. St. John, has lots of beautiful pictures and narrative to give you a nice natural and cultural overview of the Oregon Desert. A merica's Secret Recreation Areas, by Michael Hodgson, covers official BLM recreation opportunities nationwide, with an extensive Oregon chapter.

Flora and Fauna

Good field guides to birds and other species are a must. Two books dominate the field: Field Guide to the Birds of North America, edited by Shirley L. Scott (National Geographic Society), and A Field Guide to Western Birds, by Roger Tory Peterson. The latter is more limited in geographic range and therefore includes fewer birds that are unlikely to be seen. Especially good for beginners is Birds of North America, by Chandler Robbins, Bertel Bruun, and Arthur Singer.

A fine little natural history of desert birds to supplement your bird identification guide is Birds of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, by Carrol D. Littlefield.

Though not a birder, the author enjoyed Birds of the Great Basin: A Natural History, by Fred A. Ryser Jr.

Atlas of Oregon Wildlife: Distribution, Habitat and Natural History, by Blair Csuti et al., is an excellent encyclopedic guide.

To help identify those wildflowers, try Sagebrush Country: A Wildflower Sanctuary, by Ronald J. Taylor.

Desert reptiles can be looked up in Reptiles of Washington and Oregon, Robert M. Storm and William P Leonard, coordinating editors.

For desert amphibians, the choice is Amphibians of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, by Charlotte Corkran and Chris Thoms.

For those really into grasses (and forbs and sedges), no decent field guide exists. Range Plants: Their Identification, Usefulness and Management, by Ben Roché (Washington State University Department of Natural Resource Sciences Forestry Publications, Pullman), is somewhat helpful.

A desert can have trees. Trees to Know in Oregon, by Edward C. Jensen (published by Oregon State University Extension Service), is an excellent identification guide for the layperson. Trees of the Great Basin, by Ronald M. Lanner, is more of a natural history.

Between the grasses and the trees are many plants documented in Shrubs of the Great Basin: A Natural History, by Hugh N. Mozingo.

Land Mammals of Oregon, by B. J. Verts and Leslie N. Carraway, is the definitive word on the subject.

Rattler!: A Natural History of Snakes, by Chris Mattison, is an excellent treatise on rattlesnakes. Knowledge can conquer fear. Great pictures.

Fish freaks will love Fishes of the Great Basin: A Natural History, by William E Sigler and John W. Sigler.

Ovis: North American Wild Sheep, by Guy Tillett, includes bighorn sheep but merges the California subspecies into the Rocky Mountain subspecies, a convention not of taxonomy, hut of trophy hunting.

Pronghorn aficionados will relish Pronghorn: Portrait of the American Antelope, by Gary Turbak.

Track of the Coyote, by Todd Wilkinson, details the natural history of the trickster.

Fans of cougar, mountain lion, puma, catamount, or whatever you prefer, might like The Cougar Almanac, by Robert Busch, or Mountain Lion, text by Rebecca Grambo and photographs by Daniel Cox. For an excellent literary examination of this species, see Shadow Cat, edited by Susan Ewing and Elizabeth Grossman.

For a fascinating discussion of the natural history of and the history of wiping out the beaver, see W ater: A Natural History, by Nancy Outwater. To go deeper on beavers, see Beavers: Where Waters Run, by Paul Strong.


To start with the big-picture overview of American deserts and grasslands, see the National Audubon Society nature guide Deserts, by James A. MacMahon, and Grasslands, by Lauren Brown. Then get more specific with The Sagebrush Ocean: A Natural History of the Great Basin, by Stephen Trumble. The latter serves as an excellent introduction to the Oregon Desert, though somewhat Nevada-centric.

Natural Vegetation of Oregon and Washington, by Jerry E Franklin and C. T. Dyrness, is loaded with pictures and descriptions so an interested layperson can understand the major landforms and vegetative communities of the Oregon Desert (actually it is not real desert, but steppe and shrub-steppe).

To grasp the basics of the increasingly important science of conservation biology, see Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity, by Reed E Noss and Allen Cooperrider.

Continental Conservation, edited by Michael Soule and John Terborgh, contains the wisdom of over two dozen prominent biologists who argue that to have fully functioning ecosystems, across both the landscape and time, nothing less than the rewilding of North America will do.

Oregon Mountain Ranges, by George Wuerthner, devotes a fine chapter to the natural history of the Basin and Range mountains, reminding us that mountains in Oregon are not always covered by trees.

You'll never find it in a bookstore, but a fourteen-volume collection (the volumes are small) under the title of Wildlife Habitats in Managed Rangelands—The Great Basin of Southeastern Oregon is well worth finding. (Don't be bothered by "managed"—it was a funding thing. The series is a fine example of how your tax dollars can be spent wisely) The technical editors were Dr. Jack Ward Thomas, who later rose on the back of the spotted owl to be chief of the Forest Service, and Chris Maser, then with the Bureau of Land Management, but later forced out for his ecological views.

The fourteen volumes were first published separately, in conjunction with BLM, as General Technical Reports (GTRs) of the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station (then known as the Forest and Range Experiment Station). All the following titles begin with "Wildlife Habitats in Managed Rangelands—The Great Basin of Oregon":

1. Introduction, by Chris Maser and Jack Ward Thomas (GTR PNW-160, 1983).

2. Plant Communities and Their Importance to W ildlife, by J. Edward Dealy, Donavin A. Leckenby, and Diane M. Concannon (GTR-PNW-120, 1981).

3. The Relationship of Terrestrial Vertebrates to Plant Communities, Part 1, Text, by Chris Maser, Jack Ward Thomas, and Ralph G. Anderson (GTR PNW-172, 1984).

4. The Relationship of Terrestrial Vertebrates to Plant Communities, Part 2, Appendices, by Chris Maser, Jack Ward Thomas, and Ralph G. Anderson (GTR PNW-172, 1984).

5. Native Trout, by Wayne Bowers, Bill Hosford, Art Oakley, and Carl Bond (GTR PNW-84, 1979).

6. Sage Grouse, by Mayo W Call and Chris Maser (GTR PNW-187, 1985).

7. Pronghorns, by Robert R. Kindschy, Charles Sundstrom, and James D. Yoakum (GTR PNW-145, 1982).

8. Mule Deer, by Donavin A. Leckenby, Dennis P. Sheehy, Carl H. Nellis, Richard J. Scherzinger, Ira D. Luman, Wayne Elmore, James C. Lemos, Larry Doughty, and Charles E. Trainer (GTR PNW-139, 1982).

9. Bighorn Sheep, by Walter A Van Dyke, Alan Sand, Jim Yoakum, Allan Polenz, and James Blaisdell (GTR PNW-159, 1983).

10. Riparian Zones, by Jack Ward Thomas, Chris Maser, and Jon E. Rodiek (GTR PNW-80, 1979).

11. Edges, by Jack Ward Thomas, Chris Maser, and Jon E. Rodiek (GTR PNW-85, 1979).

12. Geomorphic and Edaphic Habitats, by Chris Maser, J. Michael Geist,

Diane M. Concannon, Ralph Anderson, and Burrell Lovell (GTR PNW-99, 1979).

13. Manmade Habitats, by Chris Maser, Jack Ward Thomas, Ira David

Luman, and Ralph Anderson (GTR PNW-86, 1979).

14. Management Practices and Options, by Frederick C. Hall (GTR PNW-189, 1985).

Of course they're dated (and just forget No. 14), but they still have great value. The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (a joint Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management project) has managed to spend a lot of tax money without any improvement in the management of ecosystems to date. However, the draft environmental impact statement and especially An Assessment of Ecosystem Components of the Interior Columbia River Basin and Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins (GTR PNW-GTR-405), although flawed, are fairly impressive for ecological information, though they are depressive on management issues.

Land and Water

To learn more about the diverse and spectacular natural history of the region, start from the ground up. An advantage of the desert is that the geology isn't obscured by trees. Geology of Oregon, by Ewart Baldwin, is the classic in the literature and gives an overview of Oregon Desert geology. Geology of the Great Basin, by Bill Hero, focuses primarily on Nevada, but nonetheless is helpful in understanding the forces that shaped the Oregon Desert. Windshield geologists will enjoy Roadside Geology of Oregon, by David D. Alt and Donald W Hyndman. Also consider Hiking Oregon's Geology, by Ellen Morris Bishop and John Elliot Allen, which includes twelve routes in the desert. The Desert's Past: A Natural Prehistory of the Great Basin, by Donald Grayson, is a classic.

Oregon Rivers, with photographs by Larry Olson and essays by John Daniel, gives a fair shake to the state's formally designated wild and scenic desert rivers.

Wilderness and Land Management

BLM's body of publications for their wilderness review (all published by the Oregon State Office) includes a foot-high stack of environmental impact statements and inventories. The last and the best is Wilderness Study Report (Oregon), which includes two volumes plus a statewide overview. You'll likely be exasperated by the agency's rationalizations to not designate most areas as wilderness. Fortunately Congress, not BLM, makes the final decision.

BLM's draft Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement offers more information than protection.


The best literary product of the Oregon Desert is William Kittredge, who grew up on the MC Ranch in the Warner Valley. His Owning It All, Hole in the Sky, and W ho Owns the West are stories of the desert and human attitudes toward it.

Though set in the American Southwest, Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey, is a paean to all deserts and a rage against any who would desecrate them.

Desert Notes, by Barry Lopez, has some inspiration from the Oregon Desert.

C. E. S. Wood, an absolutely amazing turn-of-the-(last)-century author, lawyer, civic leader, radical, writer, nature freak, free-lover, and much more, wrote Poet in the Desert, which was inspired by his experiences in the Donner and Blitzen country. He's best known for having translated Chief Joseph's surrender speech. Wood Works: The Life and Writings of Charles Erskine Scott Wood, edited by Edwin Bingham and Tim Barnes, gives a good taste of the man, as does Two Rooms: The Life of Charles Erskine Scott Wood by Robert Hamburger.

A rapid ecological, economic, and social transition is happening throughout the American West. Lasso the Wind: A way to the New West, by Timothy Egan, tells stories from across the West, several of which could just as well have been set in the Oregon Desert. (For the record, the author is featured.)

Conservation Policy

The harm to America's deserts is not all caused by livestock. Inappropriate cultivation, aquifer and stream depletion, and relatively new stresses such as mining and exotic plants (livestock related to a large degree) are laid out in stark and compelling terms in Desertification of the United States, by David Sheridan, published in 1981 by the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality. It is so powerful that the government soon took it out of circulation, though the demand was high and the information important.

Oregon's Living Landscape, by the Oregon Biodiversity Project, is an excellent source of biodiversity information by ecoregion. It suggests numerous conservation opportunity areas that are remarkably compatible with many of the protection proposals in this book.

Ernest Callenbach, best known for Ecotopia, has written The Buffalo Commons. Though this book is focused on the Great Plains and not the Great Basin, Callenbach paints a grand and better future for a similarly abused landscape. We can emulate.

The environmental literature on the horrible destruction that livestock do to arid lands is not well developed. Not just the masses but many conservationists and writers have also been duped by the cowboy myth. I'm sure it will change as the literati begin to pay more attention to the ecosystem rather than just continuing to glamorize and mythologize the cowboy.

Two people who haven't been deceived, and who deserve much credit for educating generations of environmental activists dedicated to removing livestock from the public lands, are Denzel and Nancy Ferguson. Their classic, Sacred Cows at the Public Trough, is now a hallowed ancient text. If you don't already comprehend the great wrong in allowing these aliens run of the arid West, do read this book, but read the first chapter last. Even to the committed conservationist it can seem unduly harsh. After reading the rest of the book, however, this chapter will seem too kind.

Also of note is the exhaustively documented and detailed Waste of the West, by Lynn Jacobs, who has done as much in the Pacific Southwest to educate the public about the livestock scourge on the public lands as have the Fergusons in the Pacific Northwest. This book can be hard to find, but it is online at www. swcenter org/ swcbd/ grazing/ waste html.

Sharman Apt Russell's Kill the Cowboy: A Battle of Mythology in the New West is an interesting and entertaining treatment of the livestock debate, but her conclusion is that better grazing is the solution—not because humans need the meat or the ecosystem needs the livestock—but because she needs her cowboy myth. It also profiles the antigrazing work of Denzel and Nancy Ferguson.

For a general discussion about the environmental, social, and health impacts of bovine meat, consider Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of Cattle Culture, by Jeremy Rifkin. If you want to swear off beef for sure and likely all other meats as well, consider Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat, by Howard Lyman.

There is a crying need for a modern hook that examines the government's animal damage control efforts. To learn of both the ecological and fiscal idiocy of this subsidy to livestock operators, see Waste, Fraud & Abuse in the U.S. Animal Damage Control Program (available from Wildlife Damage Review—see Appendix C)

or Audit of the USDA Animal Damage Control Program, by Randal O'Toole of the Thoreau Institute (online at

History and Archaeology

To learn about native peoples of the Oregon Desert, start with The First Oregonians: An Illustrated Collection of Essays on Traditional Lifeways, Federal-Indian Relations, and the State's Native People Today, edited by Carolyn M. Buan and Richard Lewis. For an archaeological overview, start with Archaeology of Oregon, by C. Melvin Aikens.

To understand how the Paiutes endured in such a seemingly harsh environment, see Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes, by Margaret M. Wheat. A classic is Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, by Sara Winnemucca Hopkins. (Both Paiute and Piute are correct spellings.)

Donald Grayson's The Desert's Past: A Natural Prehistory of the Great Basin is a synthesis of the environmental and human history of the Great Basin.

To learn about the European invasion and the pioneers, settlers, cowboys, sheepboys, and the rest, you might enjoy The Oregon Desert, by E. R. Jackman and R. A. Long, Owyhee Trails, by Mike Hanley with Ellis Lucia, and High Desert, by Raymond R. Hatton. The former two especially were written by cowboys and cowboy wannabes and are of an era since passed.

The definitive source on place names is Oregon Geographic Names, by Lewis A. MacArthur and Lewis L. MacArthur. It also contains natural history tidbits.

Night Skies

There is no better place to scan the heavens than the Oregon Desert on a moonless night in the dry winter air. You'll enjoy it more with all the warm clothes you own and a good book on stars like the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Shy, by Mark Charttrand.

Other Methods of Learning

The High Desert Museum on US 97 on the south end of Bend offers several well done natural history displays, though you would never know from them that livestock are the major ecological irritant to the Oregon Desert. The Desert Museum in Tucson shows that natural history and the human impacts—including livestock—can be properly interpreted and still draw large crowds and contributions.