Walking with Recognition of the Land on the ODT

When I plan on doing a thru-hike I look forward to the scenery, the adventure, meeting new people, and the stories I can tell afterwards. My hiking and romantic partner, Carolyn, and I are excited to hike the Oregon Desert Trail for all those reasons. We also believe that it is beneficial to acknowledge, learn, and continually think about the first people that inhabited the land we will be walking on.

We aren’t the first people to walk on the land, and we definitely aren’t the first people to “use” the land which, in turn, brings about a desire to preserve and care for it.

To start, the people that lived in the Oregon High Desert….still live there. I want to ensure that I recognize that these people still inhabit, care for, and feel a deep connection to the land.


Why is this important?

I am not an expert on this subject, the people, or the Oregon High Desert (in fact, I have spent very little time there). Writing this post is an attempt to put more intentionality into recognizing the people who were on the land before the the modern day settlers. I am not sure how often we, as thru-hikers, take a moment to really sit and think about the people that walked here before us – not just the John Muir’s, Edward Abbey’s or Lewis and Clark’s – but even long before that. 

My hope is that people reading this (you!!) will be more inspired to learn about the first people of the land you travel or live on.

Please feel free to recognize places in my writing where I am not as aware as I should be. Also, if you are able to point me to resources to continue to learn more about the first people of the Oregon High Desert – I would greatly appreciate that. I am always working to grow as a human being!


What Can I Do?

Yeah, I am just another thru-hiker who wants to enjoy time outside in a unique environment, challenge myself, and grow as a person. When I think about the specific subject of understanding, or just knowing, about the first people to walk on the land I think…

What can I do about it? Great, I looked up all this information and learned a bunch about the history and people of this land…this isn’t going to make my pack lighter or make me walk faster. For me, it doesn’t seem like an act of improving my pack’s base weight or my fitness level. It comes down to the intentionality of walking with respect for the people, the past, and the place.

So, here are a few of the things that I am planning on doing during my thru-hike:

  1. Take time to learn about the first people of the land – maybe that is writing a blog post about it or just quickly seeing what you can find on a Google search. See what you can learn about those people, how they lived, and if they are still on the land.
  2. Respect the land and the place. Practice minimizing your impact where you are able and be aware of cultural artifacts and sacred places.
  3. Recognize the people that were on the land before you and before them in the communities you are a part of. Consider sharing with a friend or a co-worker when you are talking about your trip. I plan to recognize the ancestral land of the first people in my posts on Instagram by putting the names of the tribes that lived on the ancestral land in the description of each post as I am walking.
  4. When I am out there on the land – I will try to take some moments to recognize all of the people who have lived on and literally off the land that were here before me. It will be beneficial for me to recognize the land and develop my own connection to it – as people did a long time ago – whether thanking the land, listening to it, or really working to see it.The Owhyee Reservoir. Photo Credit: Oregon Desert Trail Facebook page. 


A (Very) Brief Summary of What I Learned.

For me, it is helpful to think of the Oregon High Desert as a part of the Great Basin.  The Great Basin was made up  by nearly all of Nevada, much of Oregon and Utah, and some of California, Idaho, and Wyoming. Wow! Seems like a big area. 

From looking around the world wide web it seems like five main tribes inhabit the Great Basin. The Shoshone, Bannock, Gosiute, Paiute and Ute.

The Northern Paiute, a subsect of three tribes of the Paiute people, is the name of the tribe that inhabits most of Eastern Oregon’s High Desert. The Northern Paiutes were a very nomadic group of people and often moved in small groups in order to survive. It seems like they didn’t have access to as many resources as the neighboring tribes did who were located near the ocean or along an abundant food source. Because of this, they moved with the seasons in order to live while hunting and gathering. 

Once again, I am not an expert on the people of the Oregon High Desert. I know the information above does not bring justice to the culture, relations, stories, rituals and ceremonies, familial structures, and many other areas that existed in this groups complex lifestyle.


For Growth and Personal Connection.

As I attempt to walk the Oregon Desert Trail I want to recognize that we probably aren’t the first to walk the “Oregon Desert Trail ”, per se. It could be that the first people of the Oregon Desert walked similar routes, drank from similar water sources, and experienced the land in their own way.

I have learned, through my work with Outward Bound, that people aren’t as connected to the land as they were. It may be because we are not so directly involved in living from, and ultimately, “with” the land. I want to challenge myself to continue to develop a deeper connection to the place I am in. I hope to do this by recognizing the people that were here before me while I am walking.

**All photos credited to the Oregon Desert Trail Facebook page.

Links to Online Sources Used:






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Comments 1

  • Renee Patrick : Mar 23rd

    Great post Jeff! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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