Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Crooked River Wilderness (Proposed)

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 186-198.

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Seven jewels representative of the ecological diversity of the Crooked River Basin.

Location: Crook and Deschutes Counties, 12 miles south of Prineville (Rocky Canyon and Chimney Rock units); 8 miles northwest of Paulina (North Fork unit); 3 miles north of Hampton (Hampton Butte unit); centered about 15 miles south-southwest of Paulina (Rodman Rim, South Fork, and Gerry Mountain units)

Size: 213 square miles (136,584 acres)

Terrain: Rugged river canyons, gentle buttes, big flats, and steep rims

Elevation Range: 2,994-4,800 feet

Managing Agencies: Prineville District BLM, Ochoco National Forest (North Fork unit only)

Agency Wilderness Status: 101,971-acre BLM wilderness study area; 40,420 acres recommended

Recreation Map: West and East Halves Central Oregon Recreation Lands, Prineville District BLM

The Crooked River Basin is quite large, and some of the wilderness units are widely separated. Each stands alone as a wilderness proposal, but also comple- ments the wilderness and natural values of the others.

The wilderness proposal consists of six BLM wilderness study areas: North Fork, South Fork, Sand Hollow Gerry Mountain, Hampton Butte, and Cougar Well.

Chimney Rock and Rocky Canyon Units

Neither are very big, but don't let that stop you. There's a lot of wildness and solitude packed in these units.
Both contain spectacular rim frontage along the wild and scenic Crooked River, designated by Congress in 1988. This protection only extends an average of 1/4 mile on each side of the river, so these wilderness units add some valuable depth to the natural river and associated values. They are Prineville's back- yard wilderness.

Juniper, big sagebrush, and native grasses slope gently toward the Crooked River until the precipitous canyon rims. A few gaps in the rim, such as Rocky Canyon, break up the otherwise solid fortress of the basalt walls.

You can find a few big ponderosa pines along the banks of the Crooked River, but the dominant tree in the units is western juniper.

The Oregon Biodiversity Project has designated the Badlands Conservation Opportunity Area that includes the Badlands and Horse Ridge to the south, and all land north to and including the Rocky Canyon and Chimney Rock units. From Oregon's Living Landscape:

This area includes what is probably the largest block of high-quality old-growth juniper habitat in Oregon, and perhaps anywhere. The area's mo-saic of sandy soils, Mt. Mazama ash, windblown loess, silts and volcanic clays support an impressive diversity of juniper communities, which in turn, provide important habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife. [1]

Sitting on the rims, you can look down on raptors that use the habitat along the cliffs above the Crooked River. There are also several small caves in the cliffs below the rims that serve as valuable habitat. The high flats are important deer and pronghorn habitat.

Camp in one of the several BLM campgrounds along the river and day hike into the area. The Crooked River Road, which separates the two units, is a BLM national backcountry byway.

BLM is not even considering these units for wilderness designation.

North Fork Unit

Here the forest transitions first to woodland and then desert, or from desert to woodland, depending on your point of view.

The unit contains 7 miles of the meandering North Fork Crooked River, which has downcut basalt in some places as much as 800 to 900 feet deep. Two small waterfalls can be found. Above the canyon walls are grassy plateaus. A total of 12.5 miles of the river is part of the national wild and scenic rivers system. Rainbow trout inhabit the river. The riparian zones are healthy grasses, rushes, dogwood, and willow.

Higher up, where there is enough precipitation, large Douglas-fir and ponde- rosa pine trees dominate the scene. In between one finds big and low sagebrush, bunchgrass, and many springs, seeps, and small tributaries to the river.

The unit is crucial winter range for both elk and mule deer, as well as home to pronghorn, golden eagles, bald eagles, Canada geese, bobcat, Lewis' wood- pecker, and California quail.

A prehistoric trail reportedly exists in the unit.

BLM is not recommending the unit for wilderness designation because it favors oil and gas development, livestock grazing increases, and logging. This unit is actually in the Blue Mountains ecoregion.

South Fork Unit

Dominating the unit is the South Fork Crooked River Canyon, a beautiful as- semblage of numerous combinations of reddish tan, dark brown, and black col- umns along with gigantic irregular blocks of basalt. Much of the rest of the unit consists of rolling hills and a desert plateau, often covered with western juniper. Parts of the canyon are 700 to 800 feet deep.

Habitat along the river is quite diverse and productive, supporting beaver, many songbird species, some waterfowl species, and rainbow trout.

Ferruginous and Swainson's hawks, both of which are candidates for the endangered species list, are found in the unit (also in the adjacent Gerry Mountain unit).

Besides being important mule deer winter range, the area also has important sage grouse habitat.

BLM is recommending most, but not all, of the unit for wilderness designation. They recommend closing a primitive road that separates their two wilderness study areas.

Gerry Mountain, Hampton Butte, and Rodman Rim Units

Much of these units is covered by dense stands of western juniper with an understory of bunchgrass, rabbit-brush, and sagebrush. Gerry Mountain is the high- est of the many juniper-covered buttes, rising 1,100 feet above the surrounding lands to dominate the landscape. On the extensive flats, one finds Thurber's needlegrass and bluebunch wheatgrass.

The units contain much crucial range for pronghorn, mule deer, elk, and sage grouse.

Flowing water is nonexistent, but springs can be found. Some dry lakes exist.

BLM prefers that the units be developed for oil and gas and more livestock grazing.

1. Oregon Biodiversity Project. Oregon's Living Landscape. Portland, Ore.: Defenders of Wildlife, 1998, 176.