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Women Hike to Protect, Enjoy High Desert of OR, NV

From left, Julie Weikel, Helen Harbin and Alice Elshoff toast the five days they spent hiking and camping in the southern Oregon and northern Nevada high desert. Credit: Jim Davis for Oregon Natural Desert Assn.
From left, Julie Weikel, Helen Harbin and Alice Elshoff toast the five days they spent hiking and camping in the southern Oregon and northern Nevada high desert. Credit: Jim Davis for Oregon Natural Desert Assn.
June 22, 2015

BURNS, Ore. – Few hikers are seen in the stark, high desert of southern Oregon – and even fewer in their 60s or 80s.

But three retired Oregon women made the trek this month. They want to call attention to a swath of land between Nevada's Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and Oregon's Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. It's a corridor that some are concerned could end up being used for power-line placement or other development.

Hiker Julie Weikel says the women were pleased to find abundant wildlife, and the habitat on both refuges in good shape.

"Society is demanding that the BLM do a better job of its multiple-use mandate,” she says. “And that country has never looked better to me – and I've been coming and going out there for 25 years or so. It was beautiful."

The hike was just over 50 miles and took five days. Weikel says the women all are experienced backpackers, but they still chose to rely on others to meet them along the way with supplies.

At age 68 – and with companions of 65 and 80 – Weikel says she had thought this might be her last big backcountry adventure. But now, she's hoping to be able to bring her grandchildren along in future years.

"I used to think I was going to retire from other people's active agendas and just get to be a grandma and help raise these grandkids,” she says. “Now, I really think I can't do a good job of that if I don't help preserve these places."

There's a blog about their trek on the Oregon Natural Desert Association's website.

Weikel’s advice to others who want to attempt this kind of hike is, be sure to carry enough water.

"If you do much hiking, you know that lots of people need three liters a day, when others need two,” she explains. “In our case, we turned out to be two-liter-a-day people. But water is certainly an issue, and we didn't see a lot of what might have been usable water."

In addition to its expansive views, sagebrush and wildflowers, the Hart Mountain area also is home to remnants of the Shirk Ranch – which was homesteaded in the 1880s – petroglyphs and the Hot Springs Campground, where the weary hikers treated themselves to a long soak at the end of their trip.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR