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Winter hiking in The Badlands

The Bulletin - Go Magazine Section
January, 2005

GETTING OUT Outing shorts are trimmed versions of stories by Jim Witty published in The Bulletin within the last few years. They are chosen to be seasonally appropriate and appeal to a variety of interests. Witty's full length weekly outing stories are published in the Community Life section on Wednesdays.

Winter hiking
by Jim Witty

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be able to get out and hike in January.

Yes, I can. It's good for the sole.

Hiking with boots, not skis, on dirt, not snow.

The Badlands is a trusty destination this time of year where, barring an unusual blizzard, you can walk out across the desert unencumbered by the vicissitudes of winter.

Oh, you may get a chilly wind, some cold rain or even a skiff of snow, but a'postholing you almost surely will not go.

This time of year the Badlands is good. This stern, austere country can get hot and dusty come July, but it's a pleasant place to poke around on a cool day in January or February.

Which is what I did.

There are a couple of convenient ways to enter this 34,000acre tract of twisty juniper, ubiquitous sagebrush, basalt, coyotes, raw wind, sand, mule deer, water-carved gullies and open views. You can drive east on Highway 20 to the 17-mile marker, turn left and park near the Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area bulletin board about a half-mile up the road. Or you can do what I did this time, which was turn left at the 16-mile marker and park at the 16-mile marker trailhead.

The best thing to do is pick up a map at the bulletin board there. There's a well-trod trail from there to Badlands Rock, which is a nice out-and-back trek with the added bonus that you probably won't get lost. Sometimes though, I like to take off across the desert and explore a little. I didn't get lost this time, but I could have. Easily. The seemingly flat, relatively open desert can be deceiving.

Three years ago, I spent a thoroughly engrossing day out here with Bob Speik and a couple of other people participating in a navigation field exercise.

Engrossing, but humbling.

Speik took us out into that flattish expanse of seeming sameness, armed with map, compass and GPS, and got us thoroughly lost. After much consulting and inspecting and calibrating and consulting again, we were still lost. But. in the end, Speik gave us a few strategic pointers and Eureka! We found us.

The point (I think) is that those little gullies, gulches and draws make the desert a lot more interesting upon close inspection. The desert's beauty is found in its subtleties.

The Badlands is a Wilderness Study Area, which means it comes with more regulations than all that other BLM territory to the east, but is still open to limited motorized use. Central Oregon environmental advocates are pushing for legislation to make it a full-fledged wilderness. They argue that the elimination of motorized vehicles would also eliminate illegal dumping, vandalism, tree cutting, depositing stolen vehicles and livestock theft (there's a main dirt road that bisects the Badlands and another couple roads open seasonally).

Whatever ends up happening, the trails are off-limits to cars, trucks and motorcycles. It doesn't take long to get away from the highway noise (and if you go cross-country, lost).

This wilderness-in-training, less than 20 miles from Bend, is an excellent place to lose the winter white blues.

And find your hibernating hiker within.

From Bend, drive about 16 miles east on Highway 20. Turn left at the 16-mile marker into a dirt parking lot. The trailhead is here.

No permits are required.

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Read more . . .

  The Badlands Wilderness
OHVs to be held to designated trails by USDA Forest Service!

BLM posts Reward for information on Juniper rustlers
BLM weighing public input on management plan
Oregon's Badlands hit by old growth Juniper rustlers  Photos
Congressman Greg Walden to visit The Badlands
Badlands Wilderness endorsed by COTA
OpEd - Unregulated OHV use is being reviewed across the western states
OHV use curtailed by new USFS policy decisions 
Sierra Club's Juniper Group supports Badlands Wilderness 
OHV regulation discussed at BLM meeting in Bend, Oregon
OpEd - Badlands part of BLM's recreation management area
OpEd - We need the Badlands Wilderness 
OpEd - Off-roaders have no reason to fear Badlands Wilderness designation
Speak for the Badlands at Town Hall Meeting 
Hiking poles are becoming essential gear 
Vandals destroy ancient pictographs in the Badlands
Senator Wyden tests support of Badlands Wilderness
Badlands Wilderness endorsed by Bend City Commissioners
The Badlands: proposed for Wilderness status

The Badlands, a brief history  
The Badlands pictographs reported 75 year ago

Map of huge exclusive OHV areas adjoining the Badlands