The Oregon Desert Trail is a journey following a rugged, remote and in many places incomplete 800-mile trail through the southeast Oregon desert. Renee Patrick, with 10,000 miles of trail experience behind her, is the Oregon Desert Trail Coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA).
Patrick's first major hike was the Appalachian Trail in 2002, and she knew immediately that hiking was her niche. Then came the West Highland Trail in Scotland, followed by the Pacific Crest Trail, the Colorado and Arizona Trails, and last year the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada. Patrick says that ONDA's vision is to achieve designation of the Oregon Desert Trail as a national connecting trail, joining others such as the Fremont National Recreation Trail and the Desert Trail, which is another Mexico-to-Canada trail. To accomplish this, much more mapping and other trail work will be required, along with public support and hiker popularity. She says that to date only five "through hikers" have traversed the entire Oregon Desert Trail. She hopes to be the sixth.
The Oregon Desert Trail is the brainstorm of ONDA and its executive director Brent Fenty and his staff. Although much of the trail is in concept form, it traces a route that begins in the Badlands Wilderness east of Bend, meanders south connecting with the Fremont National Recreational Trail near Paisley before turning east to the Abert Rim, Hart Mountain, and Steens Mountain. It culminates after traversing the Owyhee Canyonlands. The trail is ONDA's vision to connect protected areas like the Badlands Wilderness to areas such as the Canyonlands that it would like to see permanently protected.
In some areas there is a definite trail; in others, hikers must have a global positioning system (GPS) to know exactly where they are. Without question, it is one of Oregon's most remote regions, devoid of water in some areas and rich in vegetation in others such as the Fremont National Forest. Along the way, one might see any of hundreds of species of birds, including the iconic Greater Sage Grouse. There are herds of pronghorn antelope and mule deer in the desert sage, and elk near Steens Mountain. Bears can be spotted in the Fremont. The trail traverses a landscape of ancient history where, near the Paisley Caves, archeologists have traced the existence of Native Americans back nearly 15,000 years.
As ONDA's Oregon Desert Trail Coordinator, Patrick's job includes creating and enhancing maps with guide points, and landmarks of interest, while promoting the trail concept to the general public and federal agencies managing public lands.
"There is so much natural beauty out there. It is stunning," she says. Right now, a through hike over the route involves some established trails and much cross-country travel, connecting to old roads, and even animal trails. "It's challenging," she says. Patrick thinks section hiking the trail will become very popular for those who have only short periods of time available to hike. She points to the Fremont trail region as an amazing spot just a two-hour drive from Bend where hikers can find solitude.