Spring Break Unplugged: Sage Brown in Oregon's High Desert
In an increasingly complex world, I find myself continuing to seek simplicity across many avenues. Longing for a space unconfined by tall buildings and concrete, I am in a continual state of unrest in the city. There’s only one cure for this, and I know exactly what it is: fresh air and a wide open landscape. After a long damp winter, it’s time to shake out the cobwebs, stretch my legs, and hit the road. For me, this means pointing the nose of my truck eastward and spending some time in the high desert of Eastern Oregon.
Much of the high desert that sprawls across Eastern Oregon is public land, managed by the BLM. Being originally raised on the East Coast, I wasn’t very familiar with public lands before taking up residence on the West coast. These days, I’m not sure what I’d do when I need to recharge if it weren’t for the vast expanses of public lands we have at our fingertips here in Oregon. As I’ve spent the past few years rambling around the desert, following one dirt road to the next, I’ve begun volunteering in the field with The Oregon Natural Desert Association on a variety of trips, from road inventory to fence pulling to wildlife monitoring. Dedicated to protecting and restoring Oregon’s high desert, ONDA has been like a gateway drug to digging deeper into the depths of the desert, while also providing me the opportunity to give back to a place that has given me so much. If you like dusty dirt roads, endless views, spectacular sunrises, wild places, and good company, you’d probably enjoy these trips too.
On first glance, the desert is rough and barren, a harsh landscape in which it’s hard for anything other than sagebrush to survive. As the frost of Winter thaws, a fresh dampness fills the air and it appears as if the earth is literally bursting at the seams with life. Only lasting for a brief moment before the oppressive Summer heat sets in, Spring in the desert reveals a tenderness clinging in the balance of extremes. The beauty that perseveres in such a rugged landscape at this time of year is indicative of the bigger picture. There’s always more than meets the eye in the desert, and each time I return this lesson proves itself true.
As the heaviness of a damp Pacific Northwest winter begins to take its toll, the memories of past seasons adventures are a positive remind that Spring is on the horizon. Last year, I spent my 30th birthday hiking the canyons of the Owyhee Canyonlands on an ONDA trip (technically speaking we were working, surveying road conditions). A year prior, my wife and I were married on the playa of the Alvord desert, surrounded by our closest family and friends. I’ve hiked miles and miles across Hart Mountain surveying mule deer and sage grouse, also with ONDA, and sprinkled throughout those trips are countless days fly fishing on the Deschutes, John Day, Crooked, and Metolius rivers. It’s these memories of the simple openness and stillness of such rugged and remote wild land that brings me to my center. I feel myself caught in the middle of that same balance of extremes—in a fleeting moment where everything seems to be just right.
If you’re interested in exploring the desert and joining ONDA in the field, don’t miss their reminders: ONDA.org/email. See you on the dry side!