Since starting work on the Oregon Desert Trail I’ve been working with the Desert Trail Association. Also known as the DTA, this group of hikers had been working on creating a Mexico to Canada route in the deserts of California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington since the 70s. Fast forward over 40 years and the group has been successful in designating several sections as national recreation trails, particularly in Oregon in the Pueblo and Steens Mountains. The Oregon Desert Trail ties into their sections here, and first brought me in contact with the group, based in Madras, Oregon.
Now many of the original members have passed, and many others are old enough that the Desert Trail has lost a lot of the energy and drive to continue refining the route and telling hikers about it. Now the members like to go on hikes along the route several times during the year, and I’ve started leading some of those hikes for them. I love the stories from this group, and especially the fact that many of the hikers are in their 70s or even older. When one of the board members, Skip, asked if I wanted to co-lead a few sections of the route through Death Valley in California, I jumped at the chance. I have never been to Death Valley and have heard marvelous things about the hiking there.
The Desert Trail is very much the precursor to the ODT, and much like my route, this has almost no trail, and that’s how this group likes it. There have always been bad ass desert rats wanting an immersive wilderness experience, and I very much identify. The ODT can learn a lot from this OG route, and has.
We chose November as the summers are an inferno, and it was their traditional time to meet and go hiking. When I looked at the forecast and saw 90 degree days, I knew the trip would be like one last hurrah of summer. I left Bend after work on a Friday and drove about 5 hours to just outside of Winnemucca and pulled over on a BLM road to park and sleep in the back of the car.
The next day I drove through the middle of Nevada and past many mountain ranges I was itching to explore. I pulled into stovepipe wells mid afternoon and found the group in the campground. Several folks I had met before, and several I hadn’t. We were joined by some other people from the Death Valley Hikers Association, and spent the first night camped together. Not everyone would be hiking, and some would be helping to cache water and shuttle cars.
We started at the Racetrack, a large alkali playa where the rocks have an eerie way of moving on their own. Our plan was to hike back to Stovepipe Wells in 4 days. About 40 miles. Because I was the youngest hiker (and the only woman) by about 30 years, we had planned some modest mileage. Skip had hiked this section several times before, although from the other direction. We figured between us we would have our bases covered. I had the guidebook to the desert trail in death valley, and the route waypointed on Gaia. Even though I haven’t been here before, we had enough resources and first hand knowledge to do the trip.
The drive to the Racetrack took 3 hours even though it was only 72 miles. About half was on a rocky washboarded road, although the group told me it was in much better shape than they had seen it before. Two cars went to drop off a vehicle at our night 2 spot as one of the hikers would have to leave early. We had water cached inside – there is no water available for the 4 days otherwise.
We all met at the Racetrack and started hiking. The Playa was beautiful and the Temps were a much more pleasant low 80s. We checked out the grandstand, a rocky outcropping in the middle of the flat, and then made our way up the climb of the day through a series of washes.
The mountains are enormous here, and I loved it all. After huffing and puffing up the climb we had lunch on top. The rest of the way we wound our way back down past Joshua trees and creosote bushes. We descended down to Hidden Valley, which didn’t seem so hidden because we saw a bunch of cars cruise by on the dirt road that passes through the middle. We took a lay-down break before crossing the valley to find camp at the mouth of the next climb. Basin and range baby!
I’m cowgirl camping tonight and it’s fairly warm… so nice to be out here.