Andy Kerr

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

Homestead Addition (Proposed) to the Hells Canyon Wilderness

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 161-164.

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Ten miles of a very rugged and knifelike ridge descending from forest to desert.

Location: Baker County, 2 miles west of Homestead

Size: 24 square miles (15,546 acres)

Terrain: Extremely rugged, though nonetheless quite gorgeous and inviting

Elevation Range: 2,000-5,200 feet Managing Agencies: Vale District BLM, Wallowa-Whitman
National Forest

Agency Wilderness Status: 7,001-acre BLM wilderness study area; 0 acres recommended

Recreation Map: North Half Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Getting to the area is easy, as good roads bound all sides. Once in the area, travel is rugged and often difficult. However, the wildness and the solitude are well worth the sweat.

There is not 1 foot of maintained hiking trail, even though half the area is Forest Service land and part of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The 10-mile-long north-south knifelike ridge that dominates the area is a perfect location for the Desert Trail (see Appendix E). But until it is constructed, travel is difficult. If you do backpack the ridge, plan to spend three times longer than you'd imagine and plan to drop down into steep side canyons for water.

The ridge begins in forests of beautiful old-growth ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir in the north. It descends southward through a decreasing forest and in- creasing grassland to the tree-free arid grassland. Vegetation includes bunchgrass, big sagebrush, elderberry, hawthorn, poison ivy, and snowberry.

Wildlife includes mule deer, elk, cougar, black bear, and blue grouse. It is also habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Up to seventy bald eagles use the Snake River directly to the east.

The grizzly bear is officially extirpated in Oregon (the last having been shot on September 14, 1931, in Chesnimnus Creek 70 miles to the north in Wallowa County), but a reliable sighting of a griz heading east up Steep Creek into the Homestead Ridge area (and from the Lake Fork Roadless Area, which is sepa- rated by a mere road from the Eagle Cap Wilderness) in 1979 suggests that the grizzly bear is not yet done with Oregon.

The views from the high ridge are spectacular, both near and far. To the west, the Wallowa Mountains and Lake Fork drainage dominate. To the east, the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho are dominant. One needs to try to ignore the butt-ugly Snake River reservoirs behind Hells Canyon and Oxbow dams.

Prehistoric rock cairns can be found in the area, and an old Indian trail traverses the ridge from the Snake River to Pine Creek.

The Hells Canyon Preservation Council advocates the relocation of the powerline that separates Homestead Ridge and the larger Hells Canyon Wilder- ness to the north. Private lands along the lower edges and inholdings should be acquired to give full integrity to the area. BLM and the Forest Service did not recommend wilderness designation because they respectively favor mining and logging of the area.