As I loaded my truck for another adventure, my anticipation and excitement grew and I started to think about the many firsts in my life. The first time riding my bike without training wheels, the first time I saw a mountain, and my first rafting trip down the Arkansas River in Colorado. Many of those firsts are from experiences I have had in the wilderness around the world. With adventure on my mind, my truck loaded, I hit the road, for another first, a visit to Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands.
The Owyhee Canyonlands sit in the far reaches of southeastern Oregon, a place it seems more people have heard of than have actually been to. Paved roads cut through the sea of sagebrush and set you up for sweeping desert views as you near this Oregon treasure. The true adventure begins as you leave the pavement and head down into the canyon on gravel roads that quickly narrow, become rutted, and are often a muddy. Do a little research and be prepared, as there are no services once you leave Highway 95 and begin the adventure, as you enter this really wild and seemingly uninhabited landscape.
Part one of my adventure began with the drive out to Birch Creek Ranch. I was headed there to meet some friends, from Base Camp Brewing Co., Oregon Desert Association, and Gordon KLCO. They were there to get some inspiration for their brewing and video projects that will help draw attention to protecting this vast, wild, and unprotected piece of Oregon. The plan was to camp at Birch Creek, the take-out for the lower stretch of the Owyhee River, but somehow the directions I had took me on a wild set of ranch roads that no one should try to navigate. I had to hop out a few times to open gates, wound up drive through huge muddy pits, and occasionally slowed to a crawl over rocky outcroppings. As I followed the squiggling line on my GPS I couldn’t help but laugh at how I was now lost driving in the middle of nowhere, in the dark. Eventually the unmarked roads got me to Birch Creek where I was greeted with a cold beer and blazing fire .
You feel small at the bottom of a canyon, a feeling you can only get when standing next to something of monumental size. Once on the canyon rim you get a similar overwhelming tingle, you can see for a mile, maybe 10, maybe 100 miles. The landscape is so expansive and seems to go on forever. The differing shades of red, orange, and white swirl together to create a vibrant swath of desert colors. These are beautiful views I am still thinking about as I write this.
The adventure continued with hikes, talk of conservation projects, and views of the vast desert landscape. The Owyhee Canyonlands is home to over 200 animal species, including golden eagles, prong horn antelope, and the largest remaining herd of California big horn sheep. With threats of mining, and oil and gas development lingering at the fridges of this remote landscape there is very little that has protection. Stretching 9 million acres across Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon, remoteness is the only thing protecting the area now. Looking toward the future Oregon Natural Desert Association is part of a coalition pushing to get 2.5 million acres permanently protected. Permanent protection will help plant and animal habitat, preserve human history, and provide outdoor enthusiasts a place to recreate for generations.
A long gravel road with a few tight switch backs leads down to Three Forks, where the North, Middle, and Main forks of the Owyhee River come together for the first time and and start their adventure north to the Snake River, eventually into the Columbia and into the Pacific Ocean.
This vast and rugged landscape needs your help
- Sign the petition for permanent protection.
- Join us for Wild Rivers Night at the Patagonia Store in Portland.
- Write a letter to your senator or congressman or congresswoman letting them know you support the permanent protection of our wild places.
Load your adventuremobiles and make your way to Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands.