Looking east from Zumwalt Prairie to Hells Canyon
and the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho.
We first heard about the Zumwalt Prairie about ten years ago. Someone came back from a trip to the northeastern corner of Oregon, raving about all the birds and wildflowers to be found there. This 220-square-mile plateau is special for many reasons. It is the largest remnant of native bunch grass prairie in Oregon—and maybe in all of North America. It is the same soil type (the "Palouse") that produces the rich wheat harvests of eastern Oregon and Washington, but the Zumwalt Prairie is a bit too high elevation (up to 5,000 feet) for wheat, and so most of it has never been tilled.
This remote corner of Oregon also is the summer nesting home of an amazing number and variety of birds. The big birds of prey—hawks, eagles, and falcons--are found here in dense concentrations.. The uniqueness of Zumwalt Prairie caught the attention of the Nature Conservancy and in the year 2000 they purchased a significant chunk of it, to preserve one of the "Last Great Places" as they put it.
The Zumwalt Prairie is also a biological contradiction. For decades, it has been grazed by cattle. Elsewhere in the West, cattle's grazing has meant the near-extinction of the native bunch grasses. Not so, on the Zumwalt. Cattle, elk, hawks, bunchgrass and wildflowers all seem to thrive together here. A trip to one of the "Last Great Places" seemed in order.
Our first stop--at Multnomah Falls, in the Columbia Gorge
At the end of June, Karen and I headed for Enterprise, Oregon—the county seat for Wallowa County. We were armed with National Forest maps, birding guides, and a copy of Marcy Houle's book, The Prairie Keepers, detailing her study of the Zumwalt Prairie hawks in 1979.
The Ponderosa Motel in Enterprise--our home for three nights.
The Prairie lies just north of the beautiful, high Wallowa Mountains. We spent our first day on the Prairie and the second day birding, wildflower-hunting and drinking in the scenery near Wallowa Lake.
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