Big red canyon walls and miles of rolling river through remote south eastern Oregon puts the Owyhee on many river enthusiasts list. As you start planning your trip you quickly begin to learn the brutal nature of spring in the Owyhee Canyonlands. A truly fickle snowpack and river flow can go from perfect to nothing in a day or two, but back to great with a perfectly planned storm. Many keep their eye on the snow all winter only to be disappointed when it melts at the wrong time.
If there is one thing certain about an Owyhee River trip is uncertain weather. It can be any and everything all in the same day. You will hear stories of snow storms followed by temps in the 80s the follow day. Trips can see rain for days. You may even be warm enough to swim. Chances are high for being Owyhee-ed.
Owyhee-ed [Oh-wai-hee] –adj 1. Fully living and enjoying all of the weather phenomenons found in the Owyhee Canyonlands. 2. Building a snowmen on a river trip. 3. Similar to Kalmiopsised.
Lower Owyhee trips start in Rome, Oregon. Rome consists of a gas station / cafe / lodge, a bunch of ranches, and the BLM boat ramp. In years when the river is running above 1,000 CFS is a bustling metropolis of river runnings eager to embark on a trip of a life time. Once the water drops below 1,000 CFS you will find a crowd of boaters much smaller. Last week we saw one other commercial rafting trip and a couple parked cars. After waiting out one intense rainy wind storm we pushed off to battle the Owyhee.
The low water didn’t have us down. While we had a couple boat gets stuck for a minute or two I would say we had clean lines through all of the rapids.
The Owyhee boasts some spectacular scenery. As you float down stream you go in and out of big red walled canyons and rolling hills covered in sage brush and wild flowers. If you are lucky you will also get to watch the storms cycle in and out of the canyons. We were lucky enough to witness these storms come and go about every 30-60 minutes. You could watch a micro-blizzard (see below for details) blow through the canyon right over top of us.
Micro-Blizard [Oh-wai-hee] –n 1. A storm with small amounts of blowing snow, winds greater than 35 mph, and visibility of less than ¼ mile, for less than 10 minutes. 2. Likely invented on the Owyhee.
Even with all the wild weather we were able to do some side hikes, enjoy the snow covered lava flows from atop of Lamber Dome, and watch just a few of the many migratory birds en route to their summer homes.
The rapids on the Owyhee are pretty straight forward, minus a few tricky ones. Going into the this trip we were preparing for some low water, knowing we would be challenged when it didn’t seem like there was enough water to make it through a rapid.
One of the challenges open the Owyhee is Whistling Bird. A beautiful rapid formed when a large slab of rock slide off the canyon wall and landed partially in the river. At higher flows you can sneak down the left side and pull away from this rock. At these low flows there was only enough water to sneak down the left and get real close to the dangerous rock formed cave.
Iron Point Canyon, aka Green Dragon Canyon, could be talked about in the scenery section as huge towering walls of rhyolite block out most of the sky. It is also home to one of the rivers longest rapids, Montgomery. We some how timed going through this rapid between mico-blizzards and wind storms and got to fully enjoy the canyon.
What A Trip
After a couple of years away from the Owyhee due to COVID-19 and low water it sure was nice to be back on the Owyhee. Our days were filled from start to finish with 3 blizzards, 20+ micro-blizzards, up stream wind gusts (maybe in the 40 mph rage), some rain, and even some sun shine.
We saw one other small group but had the rest of the river to our selves. Even with the weather challenges we got the relax by the fire, sip hot drinks, and share stories of fun adventures of the past. While some may think getting Owyhee-ed would ruin a trip, everyone embraced the challenged and thoroughly enjoyed the Owyhee rain and shine.