Meet Donald M. Kerr. When he was 12, his interest in birds of prey grew into a mission that in 1982 brought a museum-like facility into being to teach people about wildlife. Donald’s dream became Bend, Oregon’s High Desert Museum, now a 100,000 square feet facility on 135 acres.
Like any great museum, High Desert has both permanent and temporary exhibits of 5-compass quality, but don’t go expecting a focus on traditional art. What you’ll see and learn about are animals. The current but temporary “The Bison: American Icon” addresses the importance of the buffalo to Plains Indian cultures as this animal was becoming a national symbol. A timeline dramatically shows its decline. Around 1800, there were 30,000,000 bison roaming North America. In 1910 there were only 1,023 remaining in the United States. “The Bison: American Icon” closes January 6, 2013.
Often under the High Desert Museum’s name is the phrase “Wildlife and Living History”. Its living history aspect is fully realized in Hall of Plateau Indians, subtitled “By Hand Through Memory”. Because permanent exhibits have a regional focus, the Plateau is the Columbia River’s and the Indians are the people struggling to keep their identity as swarms of settlers passed by and/or moved in. The culture clash is ironically understated in a recreated 1963 Reservation Home. All of the household objects came from Native American families including, I assume, the Hoffman TV. I tuned in briefly as The Lone Ranger, that highly articulate masked man, explained a routine plot development to Tonto who replied, “Me not understand.”
The sounds that accompanied “By Hand….” were an irregular, distant drum, the wind, and native birds. On the other side of the entry kiosk was the Hall of Exploration and Settlement where the sounds were of bagpipes, hammering, and crows accompanying exhibits with names like “Manifest Destiny on the Move”.
The High Desert’s wildlife is both inside–a rescued bobcat that was once someone’s pet, well-cared-for Desert Tortoises, darkling beetles, etc–and outside where winding trails take visitors to an otter habitat, a Birds of Prey Center, a 1904 ranch and sawmill, etc.
Entering visitors are given a daily schedule of talks, and at 11 am a staff member named Matthew showed up with a great horned owl with pulsating white neck feathers (a Gular Flutter, I would soon learn). After his talk, Matthew told me that there were about 25 rescued birds 0n-site that, if released, could not survive on their own. The next presentation was a porcupine nibbling a carrot.
The High Desert’s next exhibit runs from September 29 to April 7, and I predict wild popularity and big crowds. HDM’s newsletter entices, “Hummingbirds will be zipping around you in our largest gallery, where they will join hundreds of butterflies.” Hummingbirds & butterflies? How magical is that? Thanks to HDM, I’ve already learned that hummingbirds exist only in North and South America and that the rufous variety migrates seasonally from Alaska to Mexico.
If, like the hummingbird, your travels take you anywhere near Bend, Oregon, check out the High Desert Museum.