Explore new book goes wild on hiking

March 28, 2003 12:00 am
‘This sense of space is even more pronounced when you go east of the Cascades. Here is a region with almost no people at all. The few population centers ... are swallowed up by the vastness of the landscape.'— George Wuerthner,with his oldest daughter, Summer (GEORGE WUERTHNER photo).
‘This sense of space is even more pronounced when you go east of the Cascades. Here is a region with almost no people at all. The few population centers ... are swallowed up by the vastness of the landscape.'— George Wuerthner,with his oldest daughter, Summer (GEORGE WUERTHNER photo).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Thirty-five years ago the east fork of Eagle Creek in the Wallowa Mountains was a set location for the motion picture "Paint Your Wagon."

Information like this can be found in ecologist George Wuerthner's new book, "Oregon's Wilderness Areas'' (Westcliffe Publishers). "Paint Your Wagon," which starred Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, received mixed reviews. Wuerthner's book, though, should win thumb's-up critiques from Northeast Oregon wilderness lovers.

The well-illustrated book contains detailed descriptions of all 40 of Oregon's designated wilderness areas.

Fifty-nine of the book's 280 pages are devoted to Northeast Oregon and its eight wilderness areas. Within these 59 pages are descriptions of 30 hikes. The hikes range from 1.3 miles to Strawberry Lake in Grant County to 36 miles following the Wallowa River.

Wuerthner, who went on each of the hikes, most enjoyed preparing the Northeast Oregon section.

"That (Northeast Oregon) is my favorite part of the state,'' the author said this week from his home in Richmond, Vt.

One of his favorite aspects of the Northeast Oregon are its many open areas that make it easy to see wildlife.

"You can see elk herds run down and almost dance on hillsides,'' he said.

The open terrain provides a stark contrast to the thickly forested areas of Western Oregon, which Wuerthner has also hiked.

"Unless you are high up, you sometimes feel like you are hiking in a tunnel,'' said Wuerthner, who lived in Eugene for 6fi years before moving to Vermont six months ago.

While in the Blue Mountains, Wuerthner was invigorated by the presence of high mountains all around. "You feel immersed in mountains,'' he said. Wuerthner said there are high places where one can look for 360 degrees and see almost nothing but other mountains.

By contrast, in the Cascades there are high peaks surrounded by a sea of lower forest.

The author also likes that Northeast Oregon's wilderness areas are larger than most others in the state. As a result, a hiker can make extensive treks within wilderness areas without having to "walk in circles.''

Wuerthner also is impressed that there are places in the Hells Canyon area where one can hike year round because winters are relatively mild.

Wuerthner is struck by the similarity between many parts of the Blue Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. He noted that the Blue Mountains are much more like the Rockies than the Cascades are. The Blues and Rockies have similar climates, geology and wildlife.

Wuerthner compares parts of the Blue Mountains to the wilderness area in Idaho's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area.

"You could blindfold somebody and take them to the Blue Mountains and they would think they were still in the Bitterroots,'' said Wuerthner, who took all of his book's approximately 100 photographs.

"Oregon's Wilderness Areas" is jammed with information, but its descriptions of more than 150 hikes do not overwhelm the reader with details.

"This is not your typical trail guidebook, detailing every nuance of the hike ... ,'' Wuerthner wrote.

Instead, the book contains information aimed at helping people enjoy the hikes "as you might taste the rich variety of food at a dinner.''

For each wilderness, vital statistics are provided including information on size, location, elevation, directions, historical notes, wildlife and much more.

The book also contains a large amount of geologic information. A passage on the Blue Mountains reads: "Much of the central Blue Mountains, including the Elkhorn, Greenhorn and Strawberry Mountains, are part of the Baker Terrane, which formed beneath the ocean. The jumbled rock was mixed and changed to such a degree that its early history has often been obscured.''

Wuerthner has written 29 books, many of which are trail guides like his latest work. Three other recent books include "California's Wilderness Areas, Vol. 1 and 2" and "Oregon's Best Wildflower Hikes: Northwest Region."

Wuerthner does not expect to get rich on his latest work, since authors often do not make much on natural history guides. He said, though, that preparing books like "Oregon's Wilderness Areas" is a labor of love.

"It is an excuse for me to get out and see a lot of the state,'' he said. "It gives me a purpose for going places and motivation.''

The book is available at local bookstores.

On the Web: www.westcliffepublishers.com.