Bend solo hiker finishes 800-mile desert journey

Desert Trail not always easy to follow; glad she had GPS

PLUSH, Ore. - Too many tourists for your liking at Oregon beaches or campgrounds? There's an alternative that is beautiful in its own way, and far more remote.

An expert hiker from Bend has just finished exploring 800 miles of it, an informal route across eastern Oregon that's being called the Oregon Desert Trail.

Sage Clegg, 33, spent the last five weeks navigating some of the state's most desolate country as part of research for the Oregon Natural Desert Association. Bend-based ONDA pieced the route together and wants to eventually ask land managers to recognize it as an official trail.

According to Clegg, the route wasn't always easy to follow by map, and she was glad she had a GPS.

"If I got to a place that it was unclear where to go or if I decided there was a necessary reroute, I would write that on the map," she said. "And (I) kept track of where water was and what the quality of the water was, and how much water might be coming out of a certain spring."

Traveling solo, as she did for most of the trip, Clegg said the biggest challenges were figuring out how much water to carry and, of course, dealing with loneliness.

The route starts outside of Bend in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness and heads south to Hart Mountain, Steens Mountain and east to the Owyhee Canyonlands on the Idaho border.

Dan Morse, conservation director for ONDA, said the details Clegg has brought back will be key to introducing other adventurous souls to what the desert has to offer.

"The Oregon Desert Trail travels through some of the High Desert's most spectacular terrain," he said. "And we want to highlight the importance of these places, to our state and to our country, and also highlight the importance of protecting them."

Clegg is an extremely experienced ultralight hiker and was well equipped for the trek. She said it wasn't all solitude; she enjoyed meeting people in tiny towns and at ranches along the way, and hopes the trip also fostered some understanding.

"I think hikers and the people that live out there are not at odds with each other," she explained. "I don't know, I felt like I was a guest in people's backyards. As much as I want to preserve the land, I also would love to see the culture out there preserved."

For people who don't have a month to spend in the wilds of Oregon, the route contains many good day hikes or weekend trips. Some can be done on bikes or horseback.

Information about the Oregon Desert Trail is on the ONDA website.

Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service prepared this article.

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