The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 38: The Desert Trail

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

The Pacific Crest Trail is becoming more popular, and more hikers start out on it each year. But if you want to avoid the herds, there is another trail you can walk from Mexico to Canada. This week on The WildeBeat; The Desert Trail.

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News from the WildeBeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number thirty eight.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: This weekend, several hundred people are going to gather near the Mexican border in California, to kick-off thier twenty six hundred mile trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. Perhaps a quarter of those people will complete their end-to-end through hike. But less than a hundred miles to the east, is the starting point of another long-distance trail that nobody's ever through-hiked. It's called the Desert Trail. Ross Edgington is the president of the Desert Trail Association.

ROSS EDGINGTON: In the mid nineteen sixties, Russel Pengelly got the idea of creating a national scenic trail from Canada to Mexico through the high desert areas. He started out in nineteen sixty nine on Steen's Mountain in southeast Oregon. In nineteen seventy two, the Desert Trail Association was founded by Russel.

STEVE: How much of the route has been established so far?

ROSS EDGINGTON: Right now the Desert Trail Association has put in six sections from highway seventy eight, east of Burns, down to the Nevada border at Denio. Each of these sections is approximately twenty to twenty five miles long. There are trail guides of each of these sections. In nineteen ninety two, those six Oregon sections were Congressionally approved as a National Recreation Trail. The trail itself is a corridor concept trail. Much of it is just overland and you're free to from one area to another. We didn't want to specifically put in trails where there were not previous trails.

STEVE: So there's not a system of markers or blazes like the Pacific Crest Trail, for example?

ROSS EDGINGTON: In one section — this would be the one that's closest to the Nevada border known as the Pueblo Mountains — there are rock cairns that marks the route. In other areas there are a few signs put up by the B.L.M. as a hiking trail. Other than that, there are no markers or anything.

STEVE: Imagine for a moment that we're looking at a national map, or a western U.S map, and describe the big picture route of the trail as you envision it.

ROSS EDGINGTON: You start at the Mexican border, let's say, at Anza Borrego State Park. You go through the western side of Death Valley in California. We cross over into Nevada about the Mono Lake area. And then north to the Black Rock Desert, which is on the northern Nevada border. Across Steen's Mountain which is the highest mountain in southeastern Oregon. It would go up to highway seventy eight at the pass there, and then it would cut kind of east over towards the Oregon-Idaho border at the Snake River. And probably then we'll follow the Nez-Pierce Trail up through Idaho and Montana.

STEVE: What percentage of this has actually been hiked so far?

ROSS EDGINGTON: Every thing from highway twenty in Oregon, all the way south to the Mexican border has been hiked.

STEVE: He says that the entire route is mapped, from Mexico up to northern Oregon. But they still need help scouting and mapping the northern end of the trail.

ROSS EDGINGTON: To the north, we've run into some problems with agencies. We have the route set up, haven;t been able to get cooperative agencies like the B.L.M. and the Forest Service to formalize any specific route.

STEVE: The Desert Survivors, from Berkeley, California, played a big role in scouting and mapping the trail. Steve Tabor is their president. He worked out the route from the Mexican border to the Nevada-Oregon border.

STEVE TABOR: They weren't getting very far in this California and Nevada part. There was a group of people in California that were trying to devise routes that would connect up with what the Desert Trail Association was doing in Oregon. One of these individuals was a person by the name of D. W. Tomer, who went by the moniker, "Old Creosote." Your desert trail name can be chosen by you or it can be designated by someone else. So in nineteen ninety, ninety one, Old Creosote, by that time he was seventy seven, and he said, "you know I'm getting too old for this, my route is not taking hold, and I can't hike that much anymore, how would you like to take over this desert trail project?" So at that point I went back and looked at the maps, and took some of Old Creosote's route through Anza Borrego, and then just charted a line of my own from Joshua Tree through the Sheep Holes, Marble Mountains through Mojave Preserve, and on north, and started to hike it. And in the summer time we were hiking another route that I devised to connect up with that from Death Valley up through Nevada. So in the summer we would do reconnaissance trips in Nevada, and in the winter we would do them in California. So we did something like forty six reconnaissance trips in the period from about May, nineteen ninety seven, until finally ended up in August of the year two thousand. We had our, something like, eleven hundred and twenty miles in California-Nevada, and we linked up with the Desert Trail route coming down from Oregon. We laid what we called the Silver Spike, where we just joined the two together just like the railroad at Promontory Point. We joined the two together and now we have a thirteen-hundred odd mile route. This is now a continuous hiking route, and we now have guide books or maps written for all of it.

STEVE: Ross and Steve both say that maps and guides to the Desert Trail are available from their organizations. They recommend you get your start exploring the trail, by going on outings lead by their groups. But if you're already an experienced desert hiker, and you want to take on a serious challenge, the desert trail could be it.

STEVE TABOR: We've now hiked all of the routes a second time in Oregon and Nevada in what we call, "Desert Trail Relays." Where we've had one leader after another take people and progress father north as we go. So that's been tremendously successful. The reason we were successful in devising the route I think was instead of trying to lay out long, eighty-mile stretches, what I did when I devised the route was to try to make sure that you can get two, three, or four day segments. And just do it in the same manner that we do our Desert Survivor's hikes. Where each hike is designed to be done in a long weekend, and then people can do it and get back home in time for work. The route that I devised is just a long string of these, with trailheads that are set up on accessible roads.

STEVE: Do you imagine anybody ever through hiking that entire trail?

STEVE TABOR: There actually have been a couple people who have brought that up. One individual tried to do it as part of the relay, but I think he dropped the project. Yeah, I'm sure somebody is going to do it, eventually. It takes a lot of gumption. Also, you almost have to have a support person to bring you food along the way. There's only a few towns that the trail actually engages. In Nevada you can get water in virtually every one of the segments. But in California it's a little dicey, so you might have to have people bring you water from time to time. When I originally looked at the concept, I figured, "well, you know, with a few more stores you could just hike, like a hundred miles or so and come to a store." But some of those stores have actually since shut down. I was basing my plan on information coming back from the eighties and nineties. But yeah. I'm sure somebody is going to do it. Maybe you!

STEVE: You can find out more about the desert trail, about the Desert Trail Association, and find links to maps and guides for the trail, on our web site.

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Next time -- Birds.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to support future editions of The WildeBeat. Contribute your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number thirty eight. Thank you for listening.

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