We Challenged, You Hiked

ONDA’s Badlands Challenge prompted discovery, exploration, and a lot of math
Robert Curzon and Jill Duncan were the first to complete the challenge this spring

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of Oregon Badlands Wilderness designation, ONDA hosted a six-month-long exploration challenge.

After ONDA volunteers helped to build trail segments that created critical connections into the larger Oregon Badlands trail system, we realized the 30,000-acre wilderness area now held 50.1 miles of trails, and the question arose: could we entice desert lovers to complete all 50.1 miles for the tenth anniversary?

Over 160 people signed up to take the challenge and while not all of those hikers finished the miles, some went above and beyond in their quest to hike among the lava flows and ancient juniper trees.

“I would estimate I’ve done about 250 miles in the Badlands this summer,” commented challenge finisher Marlene Moss who explored the network of trails on her “goofball” Arab horse. “This was a great year for this challenge with all the wildflowers from the wet spring. The sand lilies are always pretty, but this year the buckwheat and sego lilies were amazing!”

We asked challenge takers to send us a selfie with their maps, thanks Duane!

Many of the participants invited friends or loved ones for sections of their hike, and one successful finisher even carried their loved one the whole 50.1 miles…she completed the challenge while pregnant!

Jessica Beauchemin, another challenge finisher commented, “It was a blast and I’m glad to have experienced the Badlands from every angle and every trail. Day and night. Sunrise, sunset. In the heat, rain, cold and wind. Thanks for putting this out there.”

The challenge didn’t just include hiking, running, or horseback riding the miles, we wanted participants to learn something about the area while they were hiking, and discover something new. Kathy Vaughan shared, “I saw three Northern scorpions, a new species to me, and secondly, I learned that the Badlands has many varieties of moss and lichen, several I’ve never seen. This was a surprise, and I enjoyed hiking through the damper pockets of the desert.”

Marlene Moss’s view from her Badlands Challenge

Of course, Christof Teusher, the Oregon Desert Trail speed record holder (17 days and 15 hours!), had to do the math to figure out the “Optimal Solution to the Oregon Badlands Challenge.” Teuscher, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Portland State University, used modern graph theory, several algorithms and solvers for the Chinese Postman Problem to determine the solution: “If one wants to visit all trails in a single push and start/finish at the same trailhead, one will have to complete a distance of 65.4 miles, that is 15.3 miles longer than the sum of all trails.” Head over to his website to read more about this logistically fascinating solution, or here to watch some hilarious videos from his 2016 ODT speed record trip.

Not all the challenge’s inspiration came in the form of math or a sense of discovery; we also suggested that participants write a Haiku, or “hike-u” while wandering the sandy paths of the Badlands.

Team UltraPedestrian knew how to deal with the lack of water in the Badlands.

The Bugs Are Biting
Smell So Bad But Feel So Clean
Walking The Badlands
~Michael Young

Green, pink, yellow.
Colors of the spring desert.
Hiker’s paradise.
~Jessica Beauchemin

Amidst the ashes
I see the sharpened arrow
Perfect while broken
~Kathy Vaughan

Juniper greets me
Tangled and complicated
Enduring for life.
~Robin Sims Sullivan

Michael Young submitted this photo he took along the challenge. Yes, that’s a camel. Brilliant.

The Badlands Challenge did prove quite a challenge, as some of the trails can be hard to follow due to minimal signage, frequent game trails that crossed the paths, and confusing junctions. Some hikers threw in the towel, but as more people spend time on the remote trails and hard to reach trailheads, the paths will become more defined, and hopefully open up a whole new area of exploration for all.

While ONDA’s Badlands Challenge may be over officially, we still encourage you to explore all 50.1 miles.

Discover something new about the area. Enjoy some “desert bathing.” Or, test your navigation skills and connect some of the trails with cross country travel – that would be great training for hiking the Oregon Desert Trail!




The Oregon Swallowtail butterfly is the official state insect of Oregon and a true native of the Pacific Northwest. The Swallowtail can be seen in the lower sagebrush canyons of the Columbia River and its tributaries, including the Snake River drainage area.  Source: State Symbols USA

Latin name: Papilio oregonius


Great Horned Owls and Western Screech Owls

Great Horned Owls and Western Screech Owls


Sarah Graham, Sage Sustainers Member

Sarah Graham, Sage Sustainers Member

“I contribute to ONDA monthly because it adds up to a larger annual gift than what I’d be able to comfortably afford if I were to do a simple one-time donation annually. I’m able to give more to ONDA this way and have greater impact which is important to me, and my dog Polly.”