Friday, May 21, 2010

the Owyhee trip

I left Portland around 3 am last Friday morning (after about 2 hours of restless sleep), and headed east on I-84, stopping every once in a while to add gas, delete pee, and add munchies, eventually arriving in Rome, OR (via western Idaho) around 11:30 am.

It was a beautiful ride, going past several places last traveled/viewed on Cycle Oregon in 2003.

Eric and David arrived in Rome (from Santa Cruz) around 1 and Ann (and her dog) arrived (from far-northern CA) around 2. We rigged up the boats and organized food and gear for a couple of hours. By the time we were ready to launch, it was after 4 pm, and we decided to spend the night at the boat launch in Rome, rather than hit the river with all of us tired and brain-dead.

It was a wise choice. We had pretty-good sandwiches at the Rome cafe (wifi available), and Friday night in Rome was peaceful, with a zillion stars visible. Saturday morning, we had a quick breakfast and headed down the Owyhee, Eric and David in one boat and Ann, Lamu-the-dog, and me in the other.

The first few miles are a gentle float thru farmland, gliding by occasionally-interesting formations. Here's a photo from about mile 4:

Since we had a very early start, we planned on a big-mileage day for Saturday. It was very hot and sunny.

We stopped for lunch and a brief swim (brrrrr) in one of the first big canyons we encountered, then continued down to 'Weeping Wall', where we camped for the first night (about 18 river miles). Very peaceful, totally nice, and Eric's dinner of charcoal-broiled tuna steaks (Trader Joe's), (instant) mashed potatoes, and salad was just right.

Sunday morning, we continued thru varied scenery. The formations grew more eroded and exposed, sort of similar to Bryce Canyon formations of sedimentary rock. We camped at the base of Pruitt's Castle, a formidable formation of multi-colored and fancifully-eroded, crumbly mud and rock.

After setting up camp, I went for a walk up to the castle, taking lots of photos and wandering around under the towers. It was pretty darn cool. Here's a photo of Lambert Rocks, just downstream from Pruitt's Castle - typical of the formation.

I was on for dinner Sunday night, and my menu was a big pot of Cajun Red Beans and Rice (with added canned diced green chiles and canned tomatoes) and a frying pan full of sauteed onion and green beans, with Trader Joe's seafood mix (shrimp, scallops, and calmari) tossed in, at the last 2 minutes. Everyone seemed to be pleased with the results.

Did I mention that there was beer, too?

After dinner, the 4 of us walked back up to the Castle, where we took more photos and climbed around on the hills, getting great views up and down the river. It was pretty wonderful.

Back in camp, I broke out the Trader Joe's (see the recurring theme here?) Lemon Bars, which were pronounced very fine.

Today's river mileage: I think just about 6.

Monday morning: a hearty breakfast at Pruitt's Castle (scrambled eggs with veggies and leftover beans-and-rice folded in flour tortillas, and lots of coffee), before we pushed off.

Great rock formations (see the above close-up of Lambert Rocks), a variety of cliffs and canyons, and a few nice rapids. We stopped for lunch at a cave that Ann had remembered, just immediately upstream from Green Dragon Canyon.

This canyon is astonishing - thousand-foot cliffs rising up from the narrow, rushing river. I took lots of photos. Here's one - really, this canyon was the most-impressive one of the entire run.

We found a campsite in the heart of the Green Dragon and set up camp. It had been a sunny, warm day and, after pitching my tent, I went for a 5 minute swim in the pretty-cold-to-start Owyhee, emerging totally refreshed and happy.

About an hour later, the wind came up, and it started to rain a little. Then a lot. We all retreated to our tents as the gale increased to a wild level. The wind-gusts were so strong that I was actually holding down the floor of the tent, and hoping that the water leakage would be minimal.

This went on for maybe 45 minutes before the storm abated enough for everyone to emerge and compare notes. We all agreed that it was quite a storm, and hoped that the evening would be a little more calm.

It was still windy, though, with dark clouds visible in the slit of sky that we could see (remember, we are at the bottom of a very deep, narrow canyon). We decided to try to cook some dinner, and Eric did a great job, under the circumstances, delivering some instant kim-chee, rice, and a veggie stir-fry (onion, mushroom, eggplant, etc) with both tofu and tempeh. It was hearty and satisfying, as the evening came on, dim, still a little windy, and still threatening more rain.

We went for a brief walk after dinner, then had dessert (Trader Joe's creme brules, served, without plates or utensils, directly onto our outstretched palms - it was a unique approach to camp-dining!).

It did rain a bit more during the night - nothing too major - and Tuesday dawned, chilly and cloudy.

After a mile or so, we emerged from Green Dragon Canyon into a wide-open section, still with high cliffs on either side, but no longer deep in a narrow, enclosed space. The day was improving.

A few more riffles and rapids. We stopped for lunch in Jackson Hole, a broad valley with long vistas in all directions. It was turning into a nice day. One of the maps promised a couple of petroglyphs in that area and we found a couple of small ones.

Later in the afternoon, we pulled over at a sandy beach on river-left, based on Ann's intuition that there was something there, and found an amazing group of petroglyphs - the largest collection I had ever seen - a couple of dozen at least. Here's one group - pretty darn cool to be visualizing the ancient people, bent over these boulders, and publishing the news of the day.

It was time to pick our final campsite. Looking at the map, we saw a marked camp at the base of a formation called "Devil's Tower". It was impossible to miss Devil's Tower, and we stopped at a camp-site that was probably not the one on the map, but having a great view of the Tower and surrounding hills.

We set up camp, and it turned out to be the best one of the trip. The afternoon was warm and delightful, and the scenery was wonderful, as the late-afternoon sun and clouds bathed the surrounding hills with shifting shadows and highlights.

Here we are getting ready for dinner. That's Devil's Tower on the left (only a passing resemblance to the real one, in Wyoming). Can you find the wine bottle?

It was my turn for dinner, and my menu was (after appetizers of smoked oysters and other leftover veggies and dips) cheese tortellini (with a sauce of fresh spinach, two kinds of pesto, and Trader Joe's Red Pepper Spread, with eggplant and garlic) and the rest of the steamed green beans. There was wine. There was joy in camp.

After dinner and scenery appreciation, we all went for a walk on the expansive sagebrush plateau directly behind the camp. It was lovely and peaceful.

Then, it was back to camp for my dessert (which I had made a couple of hours earlier and placed in the cooler): Jell-O No-bake cherry cheesecake. It turned out great - how could you go wrong?

We went to bed. It had been the last full day of rafting, and everyone agreed that it had been pretty good.

Wednesday morning, we packed up the last camp and headed to the take-out - about 5 miles.

We stopped briefly at the hot springs at Greeley Bar, then continued on. It was a hot, sunny day. I took lots of photos. Here's one from the final stretch - can you see the white raft (it's pretty small)?

We got to the take-out, at Birch Creek, around noon, and packed everything up in the two vehicles that had been shuttled there from Rome. We left Birch Creek around 1:30 and, as we were told it would be, it took an hour and a half of steep, twisty, bumpy dirt-road to get to highway 95, just north of Jordan Valley.

We had a minimal lunch at the JV Cafe (we were looking a tad grubby, after 5 days), then drove on to Rome, where my trusty Subaru had been waiting for my return. I threw my dirty, disorderly gear into the back, we said our good-byes, and I took off. It was around 4 pm.

Great trip, eh?

I drove the long, straight miles, north and west, towards Burns. It was a lovely afternoon and the endless miles were mostly deserted. I saw roads I had last traveled on Cycle Oregon 2001 - September 11, 2001, to be exact. That was eerie.

Got gas and a sandwich in Burns (where I finally found cell-phone coverage and could call Karen). I headed west towards Bend, arriving there around 7:30. I stopped for more gas and then decided there was no way I had the energy to drive all the way to Portland.

I stopped in Sisters and got a motel room. First hot shower in almost a week. Clean sheets. Good.

Woke up early Thursday morning - there was a dusting of snow on my car and the motel roof. I grabbed an indifferent breakfast in Sisters and headed home.

It began to snow hard just outside of town, and there was a blizzed blowing as I ascended Santiam Pass. Traffic was slow, but that was OK.

Eventually descended into the familiar, green Willamette Valley, and drove up to Karen's office around 10:30. Arrived in our lush, beautiful yard around 11 - said hello to the dog - unpacked a few things - went to bed.

There's no place like Home, and there's no place like the Owyhee.

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