Yeti's Unofficial Website of the Desert Trail (DT)

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The Desert Trail

Intro by Brian Tanzman (Buck-30) - Welcome to the Unofficial Website of the Desert Trail! What, you’ve never heard of it? Congrats on just getting here and finding it! 2,000+ miles from Mexico to Canada through the deserts of eastern California, western Nevada, eastern Oregon and then maybe not quite as deserty northeastern Oregon and eastern Washington. You probably haven’t heard of it as very few hikers have hiked the Desert Trail, the Desert Trail Association disbanded in 2020 and if you Google it you find almost nothing about it. But it exists! (Please note, the Desert Trail (“DT”) is not the more famous and much shorter Oregon Desert Trail (“ODT”) that is about 750 miles through the deserts of Eastern Oregon).

A brief history of the Desert Trail is bit tough, but in a nutshell starting in the mid-60’s and continuing through around the early 2000’s Russel Pengelly (founder), D.W. “Old Creosote” Tomer, Steve Tabor and the Desert Trail Association scouted and mapped a route from the Mexican border to the middle of Oregon. In the early 2000’s Steve led a group of hikers on a relay over several years covering the entirety of the Desert Trail route. Although a bit hesitant to give specific credit as this site is not the official DT historian, but we’d be remiss to not mention that Steve was the anchor over the years and routed and mapped the bulk of the DT. Over this time, we’ve identified 4 hikers who hiked the original DT from the Mexican border to mid-Oregon, Dusty "Desert Rat" Brown, "Cactus Pete", Skip "Desert Doc" Smith and of course Steve “Pathfinder” Tabor. And then it seems the route just kinda disappeared for a decade in the mid 2000’s. Then Buck “Colter” Nelson came along and became the first person to thru-hike the Desert Trail in 2012. This was no small feat given that a route didn’t even exist from mid-Oregon to Canada. So Colter created his own route and hiked it (this mid-Oregon to Canada route was subsequently adopted by the now defunct Desert Trail Association as the official route if there ever was an official route). In 2018, Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva thru-hiked the DT and in 2019 Brian “Buck-30” Tanzman and Heather “Steady” Werderman thru-hiked the DT.

The most visible result of the Desert Trail today is Steve’s guidebooks. Steve wrote the most incredible 13 volume set of guidebooks. The guidebooks were written from 1999-2003 and have mostly not been updated since. These guidebooks are critical to hiking the DT, are a wealth of trail and nature information and a real testament to Steve’s work to make the DT a reality. In the last few years more information has been documented through Colter, Dirtmonger and Buck-30’s websites (see links below) and a rudimentary GPS track has been created and can be provided by emailing Buck-30.

If you want an adventure of a lifetime and know what the hell you are doing on trail then there isn’t a grander thru-hike than the Desert Trail. Click around this website, the blogs linked throughout cover lots of information about the DT, planning help and detailed journals of thru-hikes. There’s also a couple of cool articles about the DT in Backpacker magazine from the 1970’s and the journals from the Desert Survivor’s Relay in the early 2000’s.