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Copyright Copyright © 2013 by Boise Front Adventures, Inc. and © Mark Lisk, Lisk Studio, Inc. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced including electronic (digital) reproduction without written permission of the authors and publishers. Visit our websites to view additional publications and products available: www.marklisk.com or www.stevestuebner.com. First Printing, November 2013 All photos in this book are taken by Mark Lisk unless otherwise noted. On the cover: South Fork of the Owyhee River near the confluence with the West Fork of the Little Owyhee. Back cover: Three Finger Gulch Title Page: Birch Creek Pinnacles •All base maps created with TOPO! ©2013 National Geographic •All elevation profiles created TOPO! ©2013 National Geographic To learn more visit: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/topo

lisk Lisk mark photography


Acknowledgments We want to thank everyone who helped us with this challenging but rewarding project. In particular, we want to thank Leo Hennessy, Mr. Idaho Outdoors extraordinaire, for helping with hiking and biking trip ideas, route details and reviewing content. We also want to thank Jerry Wiseman, Denise Lauerman, Joanie Fauci, Norm Nelson, Doug Lawrence, Paul and Stephanie Hilding, Will Whelan, Tad Jones, Greg Davidson, Melanie Schuster, John Robison, Brenda Richards and the Owyhee Initiative Committee, Chris Black, Jeff Kronenberg, Chris Hanson. We also want to thank David Draheim, Ryan Homan and Max Yingst from the BLM for their expertise. We appreciate the detailed work of our proof-readers, Mary Lucachick and Jim Pace. Steve thanks his partner, Wendy, and his family for their patience and support, and Mark thanks his wife, Jerri, and his friends and family for their company during the long hours spent photographing this project. And last, we also want to pay homage to our 4WD vehicles, Steve’s Ford F-250 and Mark’s Dodge Ram, for surviving the often-punishing jeep trails in the Owyhee Canyonlands desert environment.

Owyhee anCanyonlands outdoor adventure guide

the


Contents

Chapter 1 - Welcome to the Canyonlands Chapter 2 - Owyhee Survival Guide Chapter 3 - Backcountry Ethics Chapter 4 - Welcome to Cattle Country Chapter 5 - The Owyhee Initiative Chapter 6 - Native People of the Canyonlands Chapter 7 - Geology of the Owyhee Canyonlands

13 18 22 25 28 35 37

1 2

The 100-mile scenic byway for motorists 3-day bike ride, Jordan Valley, Ore., to Grand View, Id

40 51

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

BLM Oolite Interpretive Trail Shoofly Quick Loop Little Jacks Creek Between the Creeks Big Hart-Little Hart Loop Browns Canyon Slot Canyon Loop Toy Pass Hike #1 Toy Pass Hike #2 Silver City Presby Creek Loop Silver City Sawpit Peak Loop Silver City Skyline Mine Tour Barking Spider Wild Rockies Loop Wilson Creek Northwest Passage Loop Wilson Creek Mini-Moab Loop Wilson Creek-Reynolds Creek Loop Squaw Creek Slot Canyon Loop Jump Creek Canyon Hikes Wildcat Canyon Loop Stick in the Sky Loop

58 61 64 68 71 74 78 81 84 87 90 94 97 100 104 107 111 113 115

22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Explore Sage Creek Succor Creek State Park Hikes Hike to Three Fingers Rock Back of Beyond Three Fingers Loop Carlton Canyon-Painted Canyon Loop Juniper Ridge-Honeycombs North Fork Three Fingers Loop Steamboat Ridge Scenic Tour Juniper Gulch to Yellow Jacket

120 123 126 130 135 138 141 145 148

The Owyhee Backcountry Byway The Owyhee Front

Succor Creek Leslie Gulch


Big Jacks Creek Wilderness

31 Big Jacks Creek-Parker Trail 32 Zeno Canyon-Duncan Creek Scramble

154 157

33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42

Bruneau Dunes State Park Indian Bath Tubs Loop Bruneau River Overlook Hike Roberson Trail East Mary’s Creek Loop Sheep Creek Bighorn Country Tour Sheep Creek Big Bend Rim Hike West Fork Bruneau Homestead Tour Quest for The Arch Jarbidge Canyon Trail The Idaho Centennial Trail - Nevada border to Glenns Ferry 43 Section 1 ID-NV state line to Poison Creek 44 Section 2 Poison Creek to Big Draw 45 Section 3 Big Draw to Glens Ferry

162 165 168 172 175 177 181 184 188 192

46 Deer Creek-Boulder Creek Loop 47 Ride Antelope Ridge (Mud Flat to Triangle) w/sag wagon 48 Discovery Hike to Camel Falls

207 212

49 North Fork Wilderness Hike #1 50 Grave Creek-Cottonwood Creek Loop 51 North Fork Wilderness Hike #2

219 222 224

52 53 54 55

West Fork Little Owyhee Jordan Craters Coffee Pot Crater Birch Creek Pinnacles Hike East Fork Hike to the Tules

228 232 234 237

Additional work by Mark Lisk Additional work by Steve Stuebner

240 241

Sheep Creek/Jarbidge/Bruneau Canyons

Triangle Area And Pole Creek

North Fork Owyhee River Area

Far Flung Owyhee Backcountry

Other publications by the Authors

Wilderness Areas Hiking Trails Mountain Bike Trails

196 199 203

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TOPO! Š2013 National Geographic

About our Rating System Quality: How the hike/ride compares to the rest in terms of overall quality experience on a scale of 1-4 stars, with 4 stars representing the highest quality. Obviously, this metric is somewhat subjective. Difficulty: How the difficulty of a hike or ride compares to the rest of the book. We rate them easy, moderate, strenuous or epic. You get the drift. Distance: Total distance from start to finish for the hiking or biking trip. Tread: The trail tread for the hike or ride. In the Owyhees, it’s usually a singletrack trail, two-track road or cross-country hiking (no trail of any kind). Travel time: The amount of time required to complete a hike or ride. The times listed should be considered a general guideline. Super-fast aggressive hikers or bikers will complete our trips faster than our stated times. People who like to go slow and take


their time may take longer. Vertical gain: The amount of vertical feet involved in climbing and descending during the hike/ride. Keep an eye out for: Wildflowers, rattlesnakes, cattle, old homesteads -- things of interest that you may see on the hiking or biking trip. Water: In case you have dogs or if you’re backpacking, this notation indicates whether there is water along the hiking or biking route. In many cases, it’s seasonal at best. Season: Recommended season of use for the hiking/biking trip. This frame of reference is definitely relative to whether it’s a dry year (not much snowpack or dry spring) or wet year (lots of snow and lots of spring rain). It’s always a good idea to check with the BLM before you go to check on field conditions. Trailhead GPS: Latitude and longitude GPS reading at the trailhead. Road access challenge: In this section, we recommend a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, medium-clearance AWD vehicle like a Subaru Outback, or 2WD vehicle for reaching the trailhead. If in doubt, bring a 4WD high-clearance vehicle if you have one. Getting there: Driving directions to the trailhead. General remarks: General description of the hiking/biking trip. Directions: Detailed directions for the hiking/biking trip.

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Storm clouds form eerie formations in the Wilson Creek area


Disclaimer Warning: HIKING AND MOUNTAIN BIKING INVOLVE A NUMBER OF RISKS THAT MAY CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY OR WORSE. THESE RISKS INCLUDE FALLING ON ROCKS, ROCKS FALLING ON PEOPLE, FALLING OFF CLIFFS, TURNING AN ANKLE, BREAKING BONES AND GETTING LOST. ANYONE WHO PURCHASES THIS BOOK ASSUMES ALL RISK AND RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS OR HER OWN SAFETY AND WELFARE. The authors have attempted to provide an accurate description for each route in this guidebook. However, a route listed in this book may or may not be safe for anyone to use at any given time. Routes vary in difficulty. The difficulty for hikers and mountain bikers will vary according to their experience, training and endurance. Trail conditions may change or deteriorate because of cataclysmic environmental or climactic events, new developments, logging, mining, wildfires, road-building or other circumstances beyond the authors’ control. The trail descriptions and other information in this book are designed to help hikers and mountain bikers find new places to go and equip them with the necessary information about what to bring and how to prepare. Along with the information provided in this book, users may need to bring larger source maps for the areas they are recreating in to help with trail orientation. The travel times listed for a given hike or bike ride are approximate. Actual travel time depends on a person’s experience, endurance and conditioning. Strenuous trails listed in this book involve climbing on trails for a long period of time, which can lead to dehydration and exhaustion. Beginning hikers and mountain bikers should never attempt strenuous trails until they have developed experience and endurance on shorter routes. Know your limitations and use common sense. Never embark on a hike or bike ride late in the day – you could run out of time and get caught by darkness and freezing cold weather, perhaps leading to a nasty night spent out on the mountain without proper clothing or shelter. Before you embark on a hike or a trail run, be sure to tell someone where you are going and leave them a map of the trail. If you get lost in Owyhee County, call the Owyhee County Sheriff ’s Office at 911 or 208-495-1154. For Malheur County in Oregon, call 911 or 541-473-5125.

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Ice forms on the waters edge at Succor Creek State Park.


Hoodoos guard the confluence of the East and South Fork of the Owyhee River


CHAPTER 1 Welcome to the Owyhee Canyonlands If you live in Southwest Idaho, you can’t help but to notice the Owyhee Mountains rising sharply into the sky from the Snake River Plain. If you look closer, you’ll notice that the front side of the Owyhees contains many mysterious cracks and draws. If you’ve got a little zest for adventure, you’ll feel drawn to these little-known places to go exploring. But if you go a little farther into the Owyhees, you’ll realize that the front side of the Owyhee Mountains is merely the beginning of a vast, biologically rich region of open spaces, canyons, creeks, rivers, ranches, roads and trails. The Owyhee Canyonlands encompass an area that’s even bigger than the giant, 5 million acre swatch of country that makes up Owyhee County, Idaho, a county that covers 7,697 square miles and is larger than the combined area of Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Owyhees also cover a significant amount of countryside in Eastern Oregon, including the spectacular canyons and rock features in the Leslie Gulch area, Succor Creek area and lower Owyhee River area. Fortunately for all of us, most of the Owyhee Canyonlands are located on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Mark Lisk and I have been exploring the Owyhees for several decades hiking, camping, mountain biking and boating the desert rivers, the Jarbidge-Bruneau, and the many forks of the Owyhee River. When the Owyhee Initiative Committee completed its work a couple of years ago, and Idaho Senator Mike Crapo pushed legislation through Congress creating 517,000 acres of wilderness and 316 miles of National Wild and Scenic Rivers in Owyhee County, Mark and I thought it was time to create a modern guidebook for the Owyhee Canyonlands. People want to know how to access the new wilderness areas; the old guidebooks for the Owyhees are way out of date and mostly out of print. So we pooled our knowledge and experience from years of exploration in the Owyhees to come up with a solid guide of hiking, mountain biking, driving and camping adventures for the public to enjoy. All of these trips are landbased adventures. We wholeheartedly recommend that you try boating the Jarbidge-Bruneau and Owyhee river systems because this is a wonderful way to experience the Owyhee Canyonlands. We didn’t include any river-guide material in this book because we feel the existing BLM river guides are very well-done. If you don’t 13


have your own whitewater boating gear, consider exploring the rivers with an Idaho outfitter. There are several companies such as ROW Adventures, Far & Away and Wilderness River Outfitters that provide outstanding trips on those rivers. Considering the vastness of the Owyhee Canyonlands region, our menu of 55 hiking and mountain biking adventures and a mile-by-mile driving and biking guide to the Owyhee Backcountry Byway is really just scratching the surface. If you get out and explore all of those routes, you’ll become very well acquainted with the Owyhees in a general sense, and you’ll be more than capable of finding more adventures on your own. A little trivia: In case you’re wondering, the word “Owyhees” comes from a different spelling of the word Hawaii. Several explorers from Hawaii were tagging along with Donald Mackenzie’s Snake River expeditions in 1819, searching for beaver for the North West Company in the Pacific Northwest. Three of the explorers ventured into the Owyhee Canyonlands region in the winter of 1819-1820 to explore the completely unknown area. And guess what? They disappeared and never were found. In memory of those men, British fur trappers started to call that uncharted region the “Owyhee” and the name and spelling stuck. History: Be sure to visit the Owyhee County Museum sometime in Murphy when you’re out and about. They have some neat displays and lots of great information about how the county got settled. You’ll see some of the old mining projects in our hikes and bike rides in the Silver City area, and some of the old homesteads in a very cool hike in the West Fork of the Bruneau River canyon, where you can see old rock shelters and a large log cabin. And you’ll think about how tough it must have been to haul all the equipment and supplies necessary for those endeavors by horseback and pack stock, and then somehow make a living out there. A lot of them didn’t succeed, but you have to admire the pioneer spirit. How to use the guide: All of our hiking, biking, camping and driving adventures contain all of the details for a successful adventure. But because many of these explorations involve driving on primitive roads “in the middle of nowhere,” you may feel “lost” even though you’re following the directions to a “T.” It’s a good idea to supplement the book resources with BLM big-picture maps, hard-copy topographical maps, or print-outs from Google Earth color landscape maps. All of our routes contain GPS points for the trailhead. You can pre-program those points into your GPS before you go. If you do some of this research before you go, it’ll help you understand what to expect, and it’ll make you feel more comfortable when you’re out exploring in the Owyhees at the ground-level. 14


Watch your odometer: Probably one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is just getting to the trailhead. Almost all of the primitive roads out in the Owyhees are not marked, so you will really need to follow your trip odometer readings in your vehicle, and when you come to a turn, and you see a grassy or rocky two-track road branching off to where we said you should turn, have confidence that this is your road to follow. For example, I blogged about the “Between the Creeks” hike in Stueby’s Outdoor Journal, and I got this feedback: “Just did this hike last weekend. The 10 miles on the unnamed dirt road felt like a 100 miles. The hike was great though. Thanks!”

Do I need a gnarly 4WD vehicle? Yes and no. We made notes in the trail descriptions as to what type of vehicle is best for the trip. We tried to be as honest as possible about how rough the roads are and whether a 4WD highclearance vehicle is necessary. In many instances, a lower-level 4WD like a Subaru AWD or the equivalent may work OK. But if we say a high-clearance 4WD is required, we mean it. In these instances, the access roads are chockfull of gnarly rocks, there may be steep approaches to a wash or a creek, and if your vehicle doesn’t have enough clearance, or doesn’t have 4WD low-range 15


climbing ability, you could get high-centered, bust an axle, put a hole in the oil pan or just get stuck out in the middle of no where. Make the most of your Owyhee adventures: Some of our hiking and biking trips can be done easily on a day-trip basis, but a lot of them are fairly farflung, with long drives to the trailhead, so if you can bring your camping gear and stay overnight or several nights, that would be ideal. Be sure to bring a wildflower and plant guide in the spring months. I recommend the “Backpack Guide to Idaho Range Plants” by the University of Idaho Rangeland Center and the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission because it has information about flowers as well as plants that you’ll see out there. You’ll also want to bring your camera to photograph your adventure, and binoculars to watch for wildlife. Watch for birds of prey flying overhead or perched on the canyon rims, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, toads, frogs, snakes and lizards. Most of all, we hope you have fun out there in the Owyhees. There’s just something special about a place that is so huge that it makes you feel small, really small in the whole scheme of things. You’ll be awe-struck by the many box canyons and the variety of caves, spires, honeycombs, and unique rock formations you encounter. With each new adventure, you may find yourself touched by the Owyhees in a way that will make you want to come back for more. If that happens, we will feel that we’ve done our job. - Steve Stuebner and Mark Lisk

WIld Iris in the Pole Creek Wilderness

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CHAPTER 2 Owyhee County Survival Guide I’ve always admired and respected the message that Jackson Hole Ski Area posts in the lift line for the tram that takes you more than 4,000 feet to the top of Mountain Rendezvous. It says, “This mountain is unlike anything you have skied before.” And they’re dead serious. Jackson is very steep and challenging, with lots of natural hazards such as falling rock, avalanches, and roped-off snow-covered hazards throughout the mountain. Driving out to go hiking, biking and camping in the remote areas of Owyhee County, Idaho, and Malheur County, Oregon, present similar challenges for the

general public. You’ll be amazed at the beautiful, vast open spaces, but trust us when we tell you that there are no public services out there for hundreds of square miles. There is very little to no cell service either. You must come prepared to deal with any issues, medical emergencies and vehicle mechanical breakdowns that may occur. To that end, we recommend the following: 1. Tell family members or friends where you are going, when you’re 18


going and when you’re expecting to return, and send them a map of your destination. If you don’t return home on time, then they’ll know where to begin looking for you. 2. If the weather forecast looks wet and rainy, postpone your trip. Check on the weather ahead of time for the days when you’ll be out in the canyonlands. If it gets wet out there, the unmaintained dirt roads will turn to “gumbo” and you’ll be stuck until things dry out. 3. Carry a solid first-aid kit. You may encounter rattlesnakes (don’t mess with them) or someone in your group may have an accident that will require medical attention, such as scrapes, twisted ankle, broken bones, etc. Take a basic first-aid and CPR course, if you haven’t already, and consider taking a more advanced wilderness first-aid course. 4. Make sure your vehicle is mechanically sound. The bumpy and uneven dirt roads in the Owyhee Canyonlands test the toughest vehicles available (4WD trucks) for that kind of rough travel. Take a reliable vehicle on your adventure, not one that has known weaknesses that could lead to a breakdown 50 or 100 miles away or more. Each one of our trail descriptions provides recommendations on what type of vehicle is best for accessing that particular trail. 5. Make sure your vehicle has good steel-belted tires. Your best defense against a flat. 6. Carry a solid jack in case you get a flat tire. 7. Carry two spare tires on long trips in the desert. You might need both of them to return home safely. 8. Carry flares and a signal mirror for an emergency situation. 9. Bring extra food and water in the case of a breakdown or emergency. 10. Carry a space blanket or emergency bivy sack in your day pack in case you get lost or stuck out overnight. 11. Use these emergency numbers in case something bad happens and you need assistance: Owyhee County Sheriff ’s Office, call 911 or 208-495-1154; Malheur County Sheriff ’s Office in Oregon, call 911 or 541-473-5125.

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Springs rains cause dangerous conditions in the Owyhee backcountry


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CHAPTER 3

Backcountry Ethics

This list of backcountry ethics is compiled from the recommendations of our friends at “Leave no trace” http://lnt.org, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Backcountry Horsemen and Bureau of Land Management: Plan and prepare -- Always prepare for extreme weather and hazards. As mentioned in the Owyhee Survival Guide in Chapter 2, check on the weather ahead of time for the days when you’ll be out in the canyonlands, and postpone your trip if the weather looks rainy and wet. The unmaintained dirt roads will turn to “gumbo.” Keep your group-size small -- Visit the Owyhee Canyonlands and wilderness areas in small groups (six people or less). Many of the canyons have small campsites suitable for small groups. This also will keep your impact to a minimum. Camp in existing campsites -- Good campsites are found, not made. It’s better to use an existing site than make a new one. Pack it In, Pack it Out -- Be sure to pack out your garbage, micro-trash and anything else you take on your trip. Yield the Trail -- Be a good trail ambassador no matter if you’re hiking, biking or riding on horseback. Yield the trail to other users, particularly uphill traffic and horseback riders. Talk to people on horseback when they approach so the horses don’t spook, and step off the trail on the downhill side to let them pass by. Mountain bikers should keep their speed down to avoid running into other trail users on blind corners. Use of soap near live water -- The best practice is to walk at least 100 feet above a stream and dump any soap above the high water mark. Human waste - If you’re car-camping, and you have a portable toilet, please bring it and pack out your waste. If you’re hiking or backpacking, dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from streams. Respect wildlife -- Observe wild animals from a distance. Don’t chase them or cause them to run particularly in the cold winter months; you may cause them to use important energy reserves that they need to survive. Be considerate of other visitors -- Give other people plenty of “elbow room” if you want to camp nearby. Keep your music tuned down if others are in the vicinity. 22


CHAPTER 4 Welcome to Cattle Country Since the initial gold rush in the Owyhee Mountains in the 1860s, cattle ranching has been a big part of the culture and economy of Owyhee County. At one time, there were almost as many sheep grazing in the Owyhees as there were cattle, but over the years, ranchers switched to primarily cattle for their operations, particularly in the post World War II-era. Today, there are more than 100,000 head of cattle being raised in Owyhee County, distributed among many family-owned ranches and feedlots. The Simplot Company also runs a lot of cattle on Owyhee County rangelands. The total value of these operations exceeds $30 million in terms of the positive economic impact to the county. We bring this up to make recreational visitors aware of the importance of the livestock industry to the Owyhee County economy. But it’s also to give folks a head’s up that you’ll likely see cattle grazing on public lands and you’ll likely encounter cow pies as well. These activities have been going on in Owyhee County for approximately 150 years. Hence, it’s important to respect the ranching community and livestock when you are visiting the county. This is open range. The Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission (IRRC) has developed a program called Care/Share with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The theme of the campaign is “Care for Idaho’s rangelands and share them respectfully with others.” “Idaho’s rangelands make great playgrounds for outdoor recreationists,” says Gretchen Hyde, executive director of IRRC. “They are also important workplaces for ranchers. There is plenty of room on Idaho’s rangelands for all of us if we take care of the land and treat each other with respect.” 25


What to do if you encounter livestock? If you see cattle as part of your hiking or biking adventure, try not to drive them away from the areas where they are grazing. If cows are standing in a road while you’re driving to a remote trailhead, go very slow when you approach, and the animals will move off the road. If you’re hiking or biking on a two-track road, and you spook cattle in front of you and cause them to run up the road, stop hiking or biking for a few moments, wait for the cattle to stop and get off the road, and then continue your hike or ride. If you keep moving forward and the cattle are on the run, you are unwittingly driving them away from where they should be grazing. If you stop, cattle will move off to the side, and you can continue your adventure. Background: Just so you know, ranchers have to obtain permits from the BLM to graze cattle on public lands, and they pay grazing fees to the government according to how many animals are involved. The permits set forth how many animals can use the range over a given period of time. There are sideboards on when ranchers can release cattle on the range in the spring, and when they must come off the range in the fall. Many ranchers are subject to particular utilization standards -- how much forage cattle can consume -- to leave enough vegetation for sage-grouse nesting cover and brood-rearing habitat. Sagegrouse are considered a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act. Public lands are an integral part of a year-round ranching operation. During the winter, the animals typically are kept at the base ranch, where they’re fed hay and new calves are born. In a typical cow-calf operation, the mother cows care for the calves out on the public range during the summer, and then the calves are rounded up in the fall and shipped to market. The mother cows are kept to provide for a new generation of calves; a separate herd of bulls are kept handy to impregnate the cows in the fall.

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CHAPTER 5

The Owyhee Initiative

A ground-breaking collaborative approach to land management (Excerpted from the Owyhee Initiative (OI) web site)

The Owyhee Initiative is a consensus agreement reached by a number of national, regional, and local stakeholders to promote the ecological and economic health in Idaho’s Owyhee County. The agreement was crafted by local ranchers, Owyhee County representatives, conservationists, outfitters, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe and others to address long-standing public lands issues in southwestern Idaho. The agreement addresses concerns ranging from regulation of off-road vehicles, permanent protection of wilderness study areas, recognition of a traditional ranching way of life, voluntary livestock grazing retirements and preservation of tribal culture and values. While the OI agreement provides a framework for resolving these concerns, the Owyhee Initiative Implementation Act introduced by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo provided the necessary legal vehicle for implementing and enforcing the agreement. The legislation was passed in March 2009 and signed by President Obama. Taken together, the OI agreement and OI Implementation Act achieved the following: • • • • • • • • •

Designation of 517,000 acres of wilderness, including 55,000 acres of wilderness that will not be grazed by livestock. Designation of 316 miles of National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Closure of 200 miles of motorized trails in candidate wilderness areas and initiation of a travel planning process to establish a designated system of motorized routes for all public lands in Owyhee County. Better regulation and enforcement of indiscriminate and illegal ORV use in Owyhee County. Increased protection for Shoshone-Paiute cultural sites and resources. Initiating of a county process to abandon all of its RS 2477 road claims in designated wilderness. A commitment by those involved to seek support for research and conservation projects in Owyhee County. Scientific review of data and information used in BLM decisions on livestock and other management issues by an independent, balanced panel of experts. Opens closed roads across private land to provide better public access to 28


Deep Creek-Owyhee RiverWilderness


•

public lands. Resolution of decades-old public land conflicts that will allow groups to move forward and address other important issues.

What type of lands and rivers are protected? The landscape within the wilderness proposal is diverse, ranging from river canyons over a thousand feet deep to vast expanses of sagebrush and grassland plateaus that provide habitat for sage-grouse, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, songbirds, raptors, and numerous rare plant species. More than 230,000 acres of lands proposed for wilderness are upland plateaus and 224,000 acres are classified as low or moderate hills. This high desert, sagebrush-steppe habitat is not included in existing designated wilderness in Idaho and is generally underrepresented in the National Wilderness Preservation System. The river canyons in Owyhee County have been called the largest concentration of sheer-walled volcanic rhyolite and basalt canyons in the western United States. Many of the canyons are more than 1,000 feet deep, nearly twice as deep as the Washington Monument is tall. River enthusiasts come from around the country to challenge the famous white water rapids of these rivers and experience the solitude of the remote canyons. How does Wilderness designation in the Owyhees impact access to public lands? In addition to the 517,000 acres of Wilderness and over 316 miles of National Wild and Scenic Rivers that will be protected in perpetuity for future generations, the legislation authorizes acquisition of seven public rights-of-way across private lands. These rights-of-way would provide access to significant federal lands that were previously difficult to reach because they were surrounded by private parcels. The legislation directs the BLM to develop and implement transportation plans for public lands outside wilderness areas. The plans are to establish a system of designated roads and trails and limit motorized and mechanized vehicles to designated routes. Until the date that the BLM completes the transportation plans, all recreational motorized and mechanized vehicle use shall be limited to roads and trails in existence before the date of this act, i.e. cross-country travel is prohibited. The OI enjoys widespread support from the local community for a variety of reasons: •

Under the existing unmanaged recreation scenario in the Owyhee area, ORV users illegally cross private lands without permission. The OI would 30


• •

provide more resources for monitoring and regulating ORV use, curtailing illegal ORV trespass. Designation of wilderness and wild and scenic rivers provides ranchers, the recreation community and the community at large more certainly regarding future land use decisions and tourism marketing. The Conservation and Research Center created under the legislation will initiate landscape-scale programs to review, recommend and coordinate landscape conservation and research projects. The Center could provide opportunity for jobs for the area, as well as important regional ecological data. Additional economic opportunities will be available through cooperative agreements with Owyhee County regarding search and rescue programs and the enforcement of transportation plans.

In 2011, the City Club of Boise honored the Owyhee Initiative Committee with the Dottie Stimpson Award for Civic Engagement. The award was presented in view of the eight years and literally hundreds of hours that committee members put into the OI process. The group stayed the course to a final resolution that many outsiders thought would never be possible. Mark Lisk and I tip our hats to all of the OI committee members. The voting members of the Owyhee Initiative Board of Directors include: • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Owyhee Cattlemen’s Association Owyhee County Soil and Water Conservation District Owyhee Farm Bureau Owyhee Borderlands Trust The Nature Conservancy The Wilderness Society The Wild Sheep Foundation Idaho Conservation League Backcountry Horsemen of Idaho Sierra Club Idaho Rivers United Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association Southwestern Idaho Desert Racing Association

The Owyhee County Board of Commissioners and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes are non-voting delegates to the Owyhee Initiative Board of Directors.

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Deep Creek Confluence with the East Fork Owyhee


Chapter 6 Native peoples of the Owyhee Canyonlands By Wendy Wilson Please respect the petroglyphs, pictographs, pit-houses and all artifacts left by traditional stone tool-makers found throughout the Owyhees. Arrowheads should be left where they are; it is extremely bad luck to do otherwise. These artifacts are part of an ancient culture that includes sweat lodges, sun dances and other contemporary Native American ceremonies. The Owyhee Canyonlands are sacred to the Shoshone and Paiute people who have lived there from time immemorial. Far-flung bands of related tribes

spanned the Great Basin and the lands of the Snake, Payette and Salmon Rivers. These tribes had a peaceful reputation during the mid-19th Century era of the Westward Expansion, including helping the wagon trains cross the Snake River. They lived in earthen, willow and sagebrush wickiups and, for food, depended on digging for roots, collecting rice-grass (and other tiny wild 35


seeds), grasshoppers, small game, antelope, the occasional elk, spring Chinook and other salmon runs. The met periodically for huge tribal gatherings, one of which attracted over 10,000 people to the Boise River in 1860. The discovery of gold in the region forever changed the traditional lives of free living people in the Owyhees. The Snake Conflict of 1864 to 1868 was a harsh guerrilla war spanning Idaho, Nevada, eastern Oregon and northern California. The Snake Conflict had few war correspondents, but the highest body count of any Western Indian War. The well-kept U.S. Army records document 40 soldiers, 122 civilians and 985 Indians killed. In comparison, the Nez Perce War of 1877 killed or wounded 418 and the long-lasting Apache campaign killed or wounded just 136 people. The Owyhees were a major part of the battleground, but today bloody sites such as Three Forks, Battle Creek and Owyhee Crossing (where more than 50 unarmed Chinese miners were ambushed) blend into the sage without a trace. The Canyonlands proved an invaluable retreat for native peoples from the Snake Conflict. Eventually, on the upper Owyhee River itself, today’s Duck Valley Indian Reservation was created for the Western Shoshone tribe and the Northern Paiute. Those captured during the Bannock War of 1878 had been sent on a “Trail of Tears” to Fort Simco, Washington. After 5 years in prison, 180 survivors were released to work their way back to relatives at Duck Valley and settle into the small-town, ranching and farming lifestyle you see there today. Today, Duck Valley is a self-governing reservation on the Idaho and Nevada border and home to 1,700 sovereign native people. The tribal store and tribal police are important resources for visitors. In much of the southeast portion of the Owyhee backcountry you can get cell service from the reservation. Tribal emergency assistance is available by calling 911 or 775-757-3624. Visitors interested in camping or fishing on reservation reservoirs are encouraged to make arrangements at the tribal store.


Chapter 7 - Geology of the Owyhee Canyonlands By Steve Stuebner Deep inside the Bruneau River gorge, a short walk from the river’s edge leads to a secret side canyon. Just 50 feet away from the river, the sound of moving water surrenders to complete silence ... until a great horned owl screeches and flushes from its perch on a rock spire. Much like the incised Bruneau canyon, the grayish-blond rock walls of this side draw rise abruptly some 750 feet, ending with a level rim at the top, as if some force of nature trimmed it with a hedge-cutter. A thin foot trail leads into the canyon through a carpet of grass, sage and thorny wild rose bushes. Around each bend, a new set of tall rock spires come into view. They almost seem gothic, the way they line up so uniformly along each wall, ominously hanging there like icons of power. Around the next corner, several dark holes in the canyon walls come into view. Upon closer examination, the holes lead into a series of caves. Inside the arched doorway of a large cave, the floor -- a firm pile of white volcanic ash -- rises steeply and then branches in each direction. Late-afternoon light pores through a crack in one branch, indicating a possible passage-way into an adjacent cave. The crack is just wide enough for a person to squirm through, but a sheer dropoff of 30 feet awaits a foolish explorer. The air is cool in here -- sound collides off the tall ceiling so easily that anything more than a whisper forms an echo. Thousands of little nuggets of bat dung identify the most common modern-day residents. Farther up the draw, more caves and rock arches punctuate the views of this secret place. Finally, the draw comes to a head at a 30-foot rock cliff, a mini-grotto that turns into a raging waterfall during rainstorms and snowmelt. Let us call this draw the “Valley of the Caves and Spiritual Wonders.” Like many hidden treasures in the Owyhee desert, this magical side canyon is virtually unknown to most Idaho residents, even people who live in nearby towns or ranches. It is still secret -- like so many side canyons in the Owyhees -- because it’s nearly impossible to find, much less get there. But it provides hints about the geologic forces that formed the Owyhee Plateau. It seems fitting that the wonders of the Bruneau, Jarbidge and Owyhee river canyons can be traced to the first volcanic eruptions that occurred in the western Snake River Plain some 15 million years ago. Geologists trace the origins of the Snake River Plain and Yellowstone hot spot to an eruptive center in the heart of the Owyhee River canyon, near the Idaho-OregonNevada border, and another as the hotspot migrated east, 12-8 million years ago in the core of the Jarbidge/Bruneau watershed. These were explosive 37


events that sent molten rhyolite, a mixture of dissolved water vapor and silica, spewing forth into the air much like the impressive blast of Mount St. Helens in 1980. “The volcanoes erupted in great explosive clouds of hot, gas-charged rhyolite ash that shot 5-10 miles into the sky,” geologists Bill Hackett and Bill Bonnichsen wrote in the book, “Snake -- The Plain and its People.” Repeated eruptions in the two eruptive centers laid down extensive layers of rhyolite lava rock throughout the plateau. Later in geologic time (5-2 million years ago), the reddish-orange rhyolite lava rock was overlain by numerous, less-explosive Snake River Plain basalt lava flows. Although many parts of the surface landscape of the Owyhee Plateau are dominated by dark brown basalt lava rock, the down-cutting action of the Owyhee, Bruneau and Jarbidge rivers have preserved the geologic wonders of the rhyolite eruptions in perpetuity. The underlying remains were not fully exposed until about 2 million years ago, when the ancient Lake Idaho -- an immense body of water that covered much of the western Snake Plain from Baker City, Ore. to Twin Falls -- drained through Hells Canyon. From that point forward, the down-cutting forces of wind and water carved a spectacular display of spires, honeycombs, monoliths and hoodoos in every canyon in the Owyhee Plateau. Just north of the Bruneau canyon, North America’s tallest sand dunes crest at 470 feet in the shape of a small mountain with a sharp spine. Formed by airborne sand accumulating in an abandoned meander of the Snake River, the dunes are the most popular tourist attraction in the Owyhee Plateau. In Eastern Oregon, in the Leslie Gulch, Sage Creek, Three Fingers and Carlton Canyon region, clearly something a bit different occurred there because we see some evidence of the extensive Columbia River basalt lava flows in the caps of some of the mountains, including the top of Three Fingers, but we also see much more colorful sedimentary and volcanic ash formations in the Leslie Gulch, Carlton Canyon, Painted Canyon and Honeycomb areas. The Columbia River basalt flows occurred approximately 14-16 million years ago, covering much of the Pacific Northwest, including the SE Oregon area between the Steens Mountains and portions of SW Idaho. The flows oozed out of the ground in layer upon layer, according to geologists, and the layers eventually were more than a mile deep in the Hells Canyon region. During the same period, a series of volcanic events called the “Oregon-Idaho Graben” occurred, coinciding with rhyolite volcanic events in SW Idaho. Large amounts of sediments and ash-flow tuffs were deposited into the Eastern Oregon region during this geologic era. During Stage 2 of the Oregon-Idaho Graben, 12.6 to 14.3 million years ago, “fine-grained tuffaceous sediment derived from glassy rhyolite and pyroclastic deposits and basalt tuff cones 38


interbedded with rhyolite ash and lapilli-fall deposits and locally erupted basalt hydrovolcanic deposits predominated during synvolcanic subsidence,” wrote Michael Cummings and three other authors in a scientific paper about the Oregon-Idaho Graben. All of the geologic activity that occurred in E. Oregon in the Leslie Gulch, Sage Creek, Three Fingers and Carlton Canyon region is far too complex to

explain here, but the short story seems to be that those series of volcanic events laid down a lot of sediment and ash flows in the area. One can see that easily erodable sedimentary rock and ash-flows tuffs are “stacked” on top of each other, creating columns, honeycombs, hoodoos and other fascinating rock formations. You can take your fingernail and scratch the rock, compared to basalt and rhyolite, which are more like hard or igneous rock. Portions of this chapter were excerpted from the book “Idaho Impressions” by Steve Stuebner and Mark Lisk (Graphhic Arts Center Publishing Company, 1997) For more information, we’d suggest the following resources: “Roadside Geology of Idaho” by David Alt and Donald Hyndman “Roadside Geology of Oregon” by David Alt and Donald Hyndman 39

Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventer Guide  

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