Owyhee Rendezvous IV

The top of the grade down to Three Forks

My portion of the Rendezvous started in the middle of a hot Friday afternoon in late spring, taking the westerly route to avoid the possible cattle drive on Mud Flat Road. Circling back from west of Jordan Valley, the gravel road over the top of the plateau was smooth, mostly flat, fast, and (for me, at least) air-conditioned. The overlook in the middle of nowhere gives a nice teaser of what's to come: dramatic canyons cut into the rhyolite underneath the sage and grass-covered steppe.

At the end of the easy part of the road, a couple of curves reveal the view down into Three Forks, where the middle and north forks of the Owyhee river join the main flow. The sign says "Four-Wheel drive vehicle recommended. Three Forks grade is steep and rough with sharp switch backs. Grade is extremely slick and hazardous when wet." On the other side of the sign, Three Forks Dome dramatically punctuates the confluence in the foreground, and the Owyhee canyonlands stretch to the horizon behind it.

The confluence of the north fork and main Owyhee

The considerable population that had arrived before me suggested it was likely I'd get down in my Windstar; things were as dry as can be, and rain didn't seem likely in the near-100 degree heat. I crawled down in 1st gear, dodging a few modest rocks left from the recent grading without a problem. A bike tour of the campsite turned up a reasonable parking spot, and then it was time to get in the river and duck the heat.

It was a good afternoon to be in the water, and the river has eased to something swimmable in spots, wadable elsewhere. That shady canyon upriver had a magnetic pull on me, the hot sun goading me against the current. Around the bend, there was cool shade, solitude, silence but for a few birds and a gentle riffle. I splashed to keep the bugs off, swam a quiet breast stroke, laughed to imagine the transition from Friday morning cubicle to Friday afternoon float deep in the shade between two 500 foot rock walls. The start of a fine weekend.

The rest of the pictures are linked to larger versions of the images, which will open up in a separate window.

Rancher Mike Hanley, talking about the history of the Owyhee Canyonlands The geology talk, after dinner Friday

Local rancher Mike Hanley, carryin' on about the history of the Owyhee Canyonlands, and ready to sell copies of his book, "Owyhee Trails", and our geology professor, two of Friday evening's after-dinner speakers.

My parking spot at Three Forks Sunset over the North Fork of the Owyhee

The North Fork bottom was deep in rye, not quite high enough to hide my "secluded" parking spot, and last light looking up into the roadless canyon of the North Fork.

Sunrise from my car window at Three Forks Morning in the deep canyon

My driver's side window had a nice view of the canyon on the main. I took this picture shortly after sunrise, without getting out of my sleeping bag. Hiking through the canyon after breakfast, it was wonderfully cool on the east side.

Owyhee River meanders, view from the hot springs Warm soak on a warm morning Warm Springs canyon pools

Two fords and two bends up river, there's a wonderful not-too-hot springs. This is the view looking downriver from the lower pools, the view of our party snuggling in, and of the warm springs creek bouncing down its canyon.

A sego lily, Calochortus spp. Three Forks Dome; the east side of the steep canyon

Hiking back the hard way, cross-country to the top of the rim, two of us made our way through cheat grass, bluebunch wheatgrass, sagebrush, rabbitbrush, rhyolite boulders and a hillside dotted with sego lilies. Coming back down the "Military Grade," we got to see the deep canyon from the other side, and Three Forks Dome in its stand-alone splendor.

Morning view of Three Forks, on my way out

After the hot hike back down, I did another wade/swim up into the canyon. I splashed back down to the group refreshed and with enough time before dinner to ride my bike up the one and a half mile grade, just for fun. Up on top, the road is flat and fast for bikes, too, and I rolled some miles on the plateau, enjoying the distant view of the upper North Fork canyon, and the locale of last year's Rendezvous. We had a great communal dinner, as is the custom, followed by talks from speakers of the region on conservation topics. Some thunderstorms were scattered about the region, but left only a few drops where we were, along with a glorious sunset streaming fingers through the clouds over the west rim. (Sorry, I left my camera back in my camp Saturday night.)

A two night stay seemed much too short, but this was a weekend trip, after all. One last look at the campsite Sunday morning, from the rim, just before the morning shade ran out below Three Forks Dome. You can see the North Fork's confluence with the main in front of the Dome, and a few of our vehicles scattered around the camp area. (Remember to click on the small image for a bigger view.)

On the way into Leslie Gulch, from the road Rock face in Upper Leslie Gulch

Driving home on highway 95, I decided I'd gone past the turnoff to Leslie Gulch enough times, and this was the morning to check it out. In spite of the uninviting name, and the 20+ mile detour across the sagebrush steppe, I found it well worth the trouble. Coming down the road and seeing these spires lining up on either side was a real jaw-dropper.

I stopped at the first likely-looking trailhead, and took a hike into Upper Leslie Gulch. That little doodad on the left side of the 2nd picture was just about over my head where I had lunch in the shade of this massif, but happily it was not its day to tumble down.

From the shadow under that rock face, looking up Upper Leslie Gulch Vertical/overhung wall, two climbers at the base As close as my camera could get to those climbers

This was the view from my shady lunch spot, looking up the drainage to hoodoos and higher forest. This mushroomy face is at the bottom end of Upper Leslie Gulch, and when I got there, a second vehicle had joined mine. Since no one had passed me along the trail, I wondered where the occupants were, but soon heard and then saw them -- at the base of the overhang, getting ready for a challenging climb. The tiny specs in the middle view are enlarged to the right.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Saturday, 29-Jun-2002 15:51:32 MDT