Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Zumwalt Prairie: High, Wide, and Lonesome

Zumwalt Prairie
Vast grasslands once covered much of northeastern Oregon, eastern Washington, western Idaho and on up into Canada until homesteaders plowed these under to create the great wealth of wheat, potatoes, lentils that make this region famous. However, there was a section in Oregon that was a bit too high in elevation (between 3300’ and 5000’) and a bit too remote for farming to be successful.

Young, red-tailed hawk.
The Zumwalt Prairie, located north and east of the town of Enterprise in Wallowa County, is the largest (about 200 square miles) tract of remaining bunchgrass prairie in North America. Its rolling hills run from bright green in the spring and early summer to shades of yellow and brown as the season progresses. With little sign of human habitation other than a few cattle ranches and plenty of abandoned farmsteads, the place is alive with wildlife including 3,000 elk, black bears, wolves, cougars, bighorn sheep and over 48 varieties of butterflies. The prairie is home to one of North America’s highest concentrations of breeding raptors (golden eagles, prairie falcons, northern harriers, kestrels and numerous varieties of hawks) as well as grassland songbirds.

In 2000 and 2006, The Nature Conservancy purchased 33,000 acres, or about 51 square miles, and has been working in partnership with various state agencies and local ranchers to manage invasive species, develop sustainable grazing practices, and protect animal and plant habitats.
Abandoned farm on Zumwalt Prairie

To visit the prairie, fill up your gas tank and follow Hwy. 82 east of Enterprise about three miles. Turn onto Crow Creek Rd. to Zumwalt Rd. and follow the signs to Buckhorn Overlook. The road soon becomes gravel, but is well graded and fine for most passenger cars. Be sure to stop and look back at the sweeping view of the snow-capped Wallow Mountains. There are a few trailheads off Zumwalt and Duckett Roads, and a trail map produced by The Nature Conservancy is available at the Forest Service center in the town of Joseph.

View from Buckhorn Overlook
Other than the beauty, quiet, and wildlife, the main attraction in the prairie is the Buckhorn Overlook. Located at 5200’, this abandoned fire lookout sits on the edge of the Imnaha River Canyon and offers a view that is nothing short of spectacular. The steep walls of the Cow, Horse, and Lightning Creeks lead into the Imnaha River Canyon and beyond that is Hell’s Canyon (deeper than the Grand Canyon), and beyond that the peaks of the Seven Devils in Idaho. And, the best part of savoring the view is that you will probably have it all to yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative with just the right to keep you wanting to read more, well done!!

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