How To: Go from Desert Hiker
to Desert Steward

Renee Patrick

Hello, you! Did you know that the Oregon Desert Trail was made for you?

ONDA crafted this route connecting all the most beautiful places in the high desert with this sincere hope: that you would enjoy a lifetime of adventure and become a strong, lifelong advocate for high desert places in need of care. 

We think that being a good desert steward starts when you build your foundation of desert knowledge and respect, and then get involved in desert conservation in whatever way, or ways, that are right for you. Ready to dive in?      


Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva, ODT thru-hiker 2017

Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva, ODT thru-hiker 2017

“To me, it’s a thru-hike in an isolated place that promotes a conversation in land management, ethics and usage. Hiking across a vast and remote landscape and having a random and chance encounter with cowboys and hunters to discuss how ‘all of us’ should treat the land, how we all have a responsibility, no matter our political leanings, really showed me the pulse of the people in rural areas, especially here out west.”


Connecting Trails

Connecting Trails

The Oregon Desert Trail ties into two National Recreation Trails: the Fremont National Recreation Trail and Desert Trail.


John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

Restoration is hard slow work. It takes hold, or it doesn’t, in fits and starts. The immensity of the need can be discouraging, but we must carry on. I am so thankful ONDA carries on.

First, Learn Everything You Can About the Desert

Natural History: Something many people do not realize is that deserts are actually full of life! Oregon’s high desert supports a remarkable diversity of plant and animal species, many of which are unique and endangered. With many, many, many natural history resources available, here are three to get you started:

Indigenous History: Many Indigenous peoples live in Oregon’s high desert region today, including members of the Burns Paiute Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Wasco, Warm Springs and Paiute), the Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin) and the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe. Their ties to this landscape date back to time immemorial. These two books offer Indigeous perspectives on Oregon’s sagebrush steppe.

  • Legends of the Northern Paiute as told by Wilson Wewa, compiled by James Gardner, and published by OSU Press in 2017, shares and preserves 21 original Northern Paiute legends which were previously unpublished.
  • Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, written by Sarah Winnemucca in 1883, is an autobiographical memoir and a history of the Paiute people during their first forty years of contact with European Americans. It is considered to be the first known autobiography written by a Native American woman.

Geological History: Yet another incredible aspect of Oregon high desert is that it offers people the chance to see millions of years of geological processes at work. Learning about the geologic origins of the formations you see today will certainly deepen your appreciation for the desert.  

  • The Geological Journey of Desert Rivers, featuring Dr. Elizabeth Safran, Associate Professor of Geological Science at Lewis & Clark, follows the course of Oregon’s wild rivers as they journey through the lively geology of the high desert and explains how landslides, lava flows and more have interacted with desert rivers.

Public Lands Management: The Oregon Desert Trail travels through a patch-work of public lands, managed by different land management agencies and for different purposes. Learn more about the intricacies of the high desert landscapes as you hike, and what makes these particular areas special. A complete overview of public lands management is provided in the guidebook and marked in detail on the hiking maps. Additionally, these pages will help you learn more about these important places and what your role can be in advocating for them in the future.

To continue your learning about the desert’s plants, animals, cultural history, and more about how public lands are managed, subscribe to ONDA’s e-newsletter, attend ONDA events, watch our High Desert Academy webinars. 

When You Are Out on Trail, Explore Thoughtfully

While there are many ways to be a thoughtful, responsible desert traveler, here are two key ideas: 

  • Travel lightly on the land. Travel on durable surfaces, respect closures, and follow Leave No Trace principles while choosing your path to ensure you are not damaging fragile ecosystems.
  • Respect the cultural significance. The Oregon Desert Trail crosses through the traditional homelands of the Northern Paiute, Wasco, Warm Springs, Bannock and Shoshone tribes. Consider yourself a guest in someone’s home and act accordingly. You may also encounter the rock art, artifacts, structures and other signs left by the region’s earliest inhabitants while on the Oregon Desert Trail. These historic and cultural artifacts are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and other authorities. It is illegal to remove or disturb archaeological sites, historic sites or artifacts such as pot shards or arrowheads found on public lands. 

Are You a Member?

A great way to enhance your Oregon high desert experiences is to be part of a community of like-minded individuals who share your passion for its conservation, and that is exactly what becoming a member of Oregon Natural Desert Association offers you. 

As a member you’ll enjoy reading deep dives into current conservation issues, suggested high desert adventures, natural history and more. Plus, you get the fun perk of a complimentary Wild Desert Calendar in the mail each November. And, simply by joining, you’ll be helping ONDA to be a more effective organization, because the more people that ONDA represents, the more clout we gain with elected officials.

Learn about the benefits of ONDA membership.

How About Flexing Your Muscles?

ONDA offers a wide array of volunteer opportunities that let you take part in desert restoration. Hard-working volunteers have planted thousands of trees, restored dozens of miles of streams, decommissioned old roads and removed enough barbed wire to stretch from one end of Oregon to the other. 

To get in on the action and put your time, talent and strength to work for the desert, sign up to be one of ONDA’s Independent Stewards. 

Here’s a small sample of how desert hikers have taken part in desert stewardship: 

  • monitor for recreation impacts along the ODT 
  • maintaining trails in the Fremont National Forest and Steens Mountain Wilderness
  • Identifying and recording important wildlife observations

Have You Used Your Voice?

As an Oregon Desert Trail explorer, you have firsthand knowledge of some fairly remote and little-known public lands, which makes you uniquely qualified to speak up for these public lands and demand their protection and care. 

ONDA can let you know whenever there is an opportunity to make it clear to decision makers that Oregon’s high desert deserves strongest possible protection.

  • Check out ONDA’s Take Action center to find opportunities to submit comments, write letters, make phone calls, attend a public meeting and more. 
  • Text the word ONDA to 52886 to get alerts when your voice is urgently needed.
Thank you exploring the Oregon Desert Trail and thank your for getting involved in preserving all the vast open space and stark desert beauty that you have come to love!