I have second thoughts as I arrive at a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It’s more like a glorified trail that hasn’t seen a grader in years. According to the map, it’s about five miles to the river.
Hoping it won’t be too bad, I turn onto the trail and brace for the bone-jarring bumpy ride. My Ford maneuvers over sharp basalt rock, and sagebrush scrapes the sides of the vehicle. I pray the truck doesn’t get a flat or overheat in the scalding sun – cell phones don’t work out here.
Mule deer look up in curiosity; their heads twitch back and forth, and then they go back to eating wild bunch grass. This backcountry hasn’t seen a vehicle in weeks. The truck continues to creep along barely exceeding five miles per hour. After an hour, I crest a sage-covered flat and finally see the river.
In contrast to the burnt brown and yellowish hard clays of the landscape, the banks of the river are green with native grasses and willow. I analyze the river, trying to determining where a fish might lie.
There’s a small pool turning behind rocks and a soft seam hugging the bank. My first cast is upstream to the grassy cut bank. Stripping fast, I take a couple steps upriver and cast again, this time behind a rock where the current is moving at a considerable pace.
Bam! The trout explodes, cartwheeling out of the water. She’s strong, pulling, not giving in, but her fight ceases after a few minutes. I bring her to the bank, remove the hook and release her.
These public land experiences are an American right. As a hunter and fisherman without access to private land, I take most of my trips afield on public land. I need access to the arid high-desert backcountry, which forms my playground for hunting chukar and mule deer and fishing for trout.
In southeast Oregon where the majority of my time is spent recreating, there are millions of acres to roam, and still sportsmen’s access to public lands is being infringed upon.
With the current demand for oil, gas, solar and wind energy, our public places are increasingly vulnerable to development. The TRCP is working to ensure that energy development is done in a responsible manner that balances our energy demands with conservation of core fish and wildlife habitat. Without this balance our favorite places to hunt and fish will be lost.
If you’re willing to go on an adventure, you can get lost on the endless backcountry dirt roads that lead to rim rock breaks or trout streams in the desert. These special places have no road signs, traffic lights or city congestion – just arrows pointing to dirt roads that cross an endless landscape.
I want to see these American landscapes kept the way they are so that one day I can come back to catch and release a trout again. Join us in ensuring that we keep public access an American right.
What is your favorite backcountry hunting or fishing story?
Mia Sheppard is the Oregon field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and fishing bum by night. To find out more about her work to help conserve public backcountry land, go to www.trcp.org.