The high desert is an extraordinary combination of high elevation and desert precipitation. It’s because of this unique combination that it is home to an usual array of mammals and vegetation.
The Eastern Oregon region of the high desert is the most arid region of the state, averaging 15 inches (380 mm) of rain annually. Though this is not “arid” according to other areas of the nation, it is quite a bit less precipitation than it’s Western Oregon counterparts. Eastern Oregon is also home to the highest point above sea level in the high desert. At 9,733 feet, the fault-block Steens Mountain is a popular hiker destination. Geologists believe that lava flows in Oregon over 16 million years ago and several ice ages created amazing landscape of this region.
The climate of the high desert provides habitat for mammals such as pronghorn, coyote, mule deer, black-tailed jackrabbit, and cougar. Birds common in the region include sage grouse, California quail, and prairie falcon. The western juniper is the most common tree in the region, and big sagebrush and common woolly sunflower are the region’s most widespread plants.
The high desert is home to an array of large mammals such as the mule deer, pronghorn, coyotes, elk, bighorn sheep, and cougars. It is also home badgers, bobcats, foxes, porcupines, and even the state animal, the beaver.
Particularly in the Eastern Oregon region, there are many small mammals native to the land: weasels, woodchucks, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, mice, bats, and the much-hunted sage rat. In fact, here at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, we have a “sage rat hunting season” in which people commute in from all over the region to camp and hunt for sage rats.
But most impressive may be the enormous amount of migratory and native birds in the high desert. Commonly referred to as a “birder’s paradise”, it is not uncommon to encounter the following species: sage grouse, quail, chukar, and sage thrasher. Closer to high-desert lakes, you are likely to see species such as yellow warblers, orange-crowned warblers, house wrens, spotted towhees, Brewer’s blackbirds, western meadowlarks, swallows, and nighthawks. mountain chickadees, Cassin’s finches, black-headed grosbeaks, green-tailed towhees, yellow-rumped warblers, MacGillivray’s warblers, mountain bluebirds, common ravens, northern flickers, and white-headed woodpeckers. Some birds of prey that live in the high desert include owls, hawks, prairie falcons, golden eagles, and bald eagles.
Come experience for yourself the beauty of the majestic high desert and its species. You may even hear the call of the coyote or see a bat fly overhead as take a soak in our 100-degree pond.