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Trip Reports

                                                            Trip Reports

My latest adventure! A Dual Sport motorcycle tour of Death Valley National Park and the surrounding area. What a great time! the trip report is titled Dinosaurs in Death Valley, and you can read it here.

Update!  I am back from hiking the John Muir Trail with my 17 year old son. A dream of a lifetime and a hike of a lifetime. Read
the full trip report here. Warning, it's long, but it needs to be to cover all the 200 miles of adventures that we had.

My latest adventure was a run in the desert on Jan 21 in the Wilson Creek area using the trail system. The write up was a short piece for the Boise Weekley. You can read it here. My original version is here.

The Lower Owyhee
in early season. This trip was off the chart amazing. We were the first group down the canyon that year (2009). Here is my trip report from that float.

 First on the Owyhee

  We've all been watching the river charts and flow throughout the winter months. We keep hoping that this year we will finally be able to get on the Owyhee. The spring is coming fast, there is relatively little water in the snowpack and we all wonder if its going to be a bust of a float year. The last week of March and we just decide we are going no matter what. The flows are fair, but it’s really early. I can’t think of a single trip to the desert where we didn’t have a day of snow, or rain or sleet or hail, or? Even on the beautiful weather trips we seem to always encounter at least one day of crazy weather. This is the Owyhees!

  I have been searching for a boat; raft or cat to buy and have had three sold out from underneath me. It’s been frustrating to say the least. I really want to start floating some of the longer and bigger sections of water, but its difficult without a boat! For this trip I am borrowing Ted’s cat to check it out. I keep going back and forth between a cat and a raft. I love the performance of the cat, but really want to be able to haul all my stuff and my family for some multi-day trips as well.

  The gear list is pretty simple for just one. Early trips like this with iffy weather always seem to end up with just the serious desert rats. For this trip its Jeb, his son Nathan, a co-worker Drew, and I. No beginners to contend with, just us. Trips to the desert can turn sketchy in a really quick way, so we all appreciate that we won’t have to spend any time babysitting. I’ve never piloted a cat down the bigger water before, so this should be a great way to get my introduction. I only have two small dry bags of gear, a chair that I’ve strapped to the side, and a big cooler that is mostly empty. 5 days of food and gear for someone who is used to putting it all in a backpack doesn’t take up much room! Jeb will be on his cat, and Nathan and Drew will both be in rafts.

  We keep watching the flows and as the last week in March comes around we are at 1200cfs. We were hoping for a bit more water, but we get what we get. By mid-week a storm has come in and it starts to rain. Then it rains some more. The water levels begin to climb, and before the end of the week is on us the flows have jumped to 5,000cfs. Jeb and I look at each other and just shake our heads. No matter what you do, try, or plan for, the Owyhee always wins.

  I convinced my daughter and one of her friends to follow us out to Rome for the put in, and then to bring the truck and trailer over to Leslie Gulch so we didn’t have to shuttle. The early season flows have not hit the reservoir yet, so the water hasn’t really begun to pool up. This allows us to float all the way to Leslie Gulch without the need for a tow across the slack water. It also means we can hit the hot spring as well.


  The weather is actually great as we finish breakfast in Jordan Valley. I’m a bit nervous as the river flow just keeps climbing. I wasn’t really expecting to jump right in and do “big” water for my first trip on the oars. The road winds down to Rome off the canyon plateau and we can see the Owyhee for the first time. Brown and stretching bank to bank, its moving with a hidden power that is quite subtle. The launch site is empty. Who in their right mind would head down the canyon in March? The season is still a month away!

  We begin to pull out all the gear, begin to inflate boats, change into river clothes, wet suits and life jackets. There seems to be one big pile of stuff for such a small group. As we are about done I walk over to the BLM board to fill out a permit, and the BLM ranger pulls in. We chat for a few minutes; he asks about our itinerary, double checks some of the regs with us. I ask him if he has seen the latest flows. He looks at me, then says, “It was between 7,000 and 8,000 this morning.” I try to keep my poker face on. Inside I’m wondering what I’ve gotten myself into! I was hoping for 1500, maybe 2,000; you know a nice regular obvious flow. Well, like most desert trips, this one was shaping up to be epic.

  Saying goodbye to the girls, we push off into the current. The sun is out; the sky is actually blue as we begin to float downstream. The current is suprisingly swift. I have my GPS inside my vest net pocket and I take it out. We are going between 5 and 7 mph. Wow won’t have to do much work at this rate. The old road and bridge come up on us quickly and we slide by. It seems like before we even can get a real feel for our boats the flats are behind us and we are about to go into the canyon.

  I keep playing around with my boat, maneuvering, backpaddling, just trying to get a feel for the boat and my abilities. I really like the stability and the quick turning that this cat gives me. I feel pretty good about tackling some of the rapids we will have to deal with. As the canyon begins I can’t help but feel the excitement coming on. It happens on every desert trip. That sense of unknown that only this wild and lonely desert country can bring on. This is after all, the most remote spot in the lower 48. Once we are in the canyon, we are truly on our own. There isn’t any way out, and there really isn’t any way in to rescue or help us in case of trouble.

  The canyon walls begin to grow on each side of us. I’ve dropped in a few of the waypoints on my GPS to help me prepare for upcoming rapids along the river. I don’t’ know exactly where they are, but this at least helps me pay attention. The first rapid that we come up on is called Long Sweetwater. We never see it as its just one long wave train that is mostly washed out. My GPS says that next up is Upset. Noth sure what I think about that for a name! It comes up quick and I can see that river right is a nightmare; it looks like a mogul field down there. Right in the center is a large flat spot, with a pour over. So river left it is. I begin a forward stroke to push me to the left and never make it. I have no idea and no feel for just how fast the river current has quickened. I see Jeb going over the rock, and then I’m busy with my own survival. The river has swept me down and to the pour over before I can hardly even begin to make my way left. I keep thinking I can push the boat over and around when the next thing I know my cat is standing on end, sideways! I instinctively climb the high side and I fall off what must be 20 feet of rock, and then turn and run up the other side as the rest of the boat follows over and rocks the opposite way. The banks are flying by as I gather my wits about me. Adrenaline is coursing thru me; all I see is foaming water and rocks on my right. I’m grabbing for oars as I try to just get myself pointed downstream again. I can see Jeb in front of me, and he is in the water! I watch him climb back up onto his cat, and then he’s yelling that he has no oars! Holy Crap! One rapid and we are already into the fire. The river is still ripping, and I can’t catch up to Jeb. Drew and Nathan didn’t really see any of our acrobatics, they went river left and were fine. Trying to oar over to Jeb while the river is moving at 12mph is not simple. It takes a few minutes for all of us to re-group. We see one of Jebs oars and with some more effort we catch up to it. The other oar is gone. We pull out another spare and set Jeb back up. One other slight problem, Jeb lost his glasses when he went into the river. Great, now he gets to do the canyon blind! We decide that when we go thru the other rapids we’ll go with Jeb in the middle so he can at least see where the boat in front is going and try to match that line.

  We are all a bit pumped up from the excitement. I’m looking downstream thinking that everything in the river is out to get me. It takes another half-hour before we really begin to settle down and appreciate where we are once more. The canyon is spectacular, the walls towering above us; the plants are almost green with spring so close. Bulls Eye rapid is next but I don’t really remember much about it. The river is just moving along with a power that is hard to comprehend. We pull off at big sandy beach that has a large Hackberry tree on it. All of us are ready for some down time. With the current running this fast, we will not have to be on the water as long to make the same mileage as at slower flows. The weather is still holding and we set up camp and begin to share all the emotions and excitement from our first day.

  River time is just that. Not everyone can adjust to it. Not everyone can accept it. I for one love it. I tend to leave my watch at home, get up when it gets light, go to bed when it gets dark. Eat when I’m hungry; drink when I’m thirsty. Not often do we have the chance to slip into that kind of mentality. I think its good for our souls when we can. We take our time in the morning, enjoying where we are, what we are surrounded by. There is not another soul in the canyon, probably not on the river either. Breakfast over we load up and push off. I’m feeling a bit nervous again, but I have a better grasp of the water today. It is all about being ahead of what I think I need to do with the boat.


  The Weeping Wall comes up on river right and the water is so high we could probably reach out and fill a bottle without getting out of the boat. Its spectacular, ribbons of water sparkling in the sun, long trailing lines of green growth as it drapes itself down the wall like a lace scarf. We continue to float along quickly, going thru rapids that sometimes we can recognize and other times we don’t even see. We ride thru Artillery, big waves and an easy line. We stop to check out old ruins, steaming water from a hot springs, and finally pull up to a camp in the beautiful and spectacular Chalk Basin. I looked at the peak behind us and knew I had to hike up there. Drew and I wandered up the dry creek bottom to the base of a maze; the rocks were a dazzling display of columns, eroded holes and wild spires. We hiked and scrambled up through an ever-changing landscape and finally broke out above the canyon. Climbing higher we crested the eroded flat top of the peak to a panorama of wild desert vista. The setting sun cast shadows and shafts of light all around. Below and in the distance we could see the colored shapes that were our tents, shelter for the night in this huge and lonely land.


  Our third day started out with threatening skies and cold temps. Brief rain showers in the night had rattled our tent flies and we wondered just what kind of flows we would see as our trip progressed. Today was the day we really entered the dragons mouth. The canyon here is called Canyon of the Green Dragon for the colors that dot the tall volcanic walls. We faced a series of our biggest technical water through this section. Rapids named Dog Leg, Whistling Bird, Rock Trap, Squeeze, and Montgomery. Both Whistling Bird and Montgomery were noted to be the real deal. We were all a bit nervous as to what to expect. Floating from our camp we came up to Potters Cave. We pulled off, scrambled up and explored the old cave entrance. On a rock in front of the cave were a pile of bones and other rocks that hikers and floaters had piled.


  We had pulled off at a section where the steam from a hot spring beckoned to us. Looking upstream we saw a single raft coming down the river. The BLM ranger pulled off alongside us. He visited for a few minutes, letting us know we were the first team down the Owyhee this season. He was going thru pretty quickly to Birch Cr to see what the river looked like and to prepare for the season. Jeb asked him if he had any updated river flow info. Still seemed to be between 7 and 8,000 cfs he said. Jeb asked him “as what flows do you tell people to stay off?” The ranger looked up, “oh, around 7-8,000” he said. We all looked at each other and just kept quiet. Inside we were all cracking up with smiles! He told us to be safe and got back into his raft and was gone. We never saw him again on the river.

  The big water was now in our sights. First up was Whistling Bird. We actually pulled off river left and scouted it. With the water at this level it actually was a very obvious line. There was enough water to stay right in the flow and bypass the big fallen slab. We went thru quickly, with no problems. Rock Trap and Squeeze flowed by, mostly big waves, holes and obvious lines. Then we heard the roar of Montgomery. Here the river takes a bend, and goes left then back right. But the entire river looks like it goes left, and then hits the canyon wall and bounces back right. It was an enormous wall of water. There was a good line, just river right of the biggest hole. There was no way you could out paddle this section. Just too much power. I dropped into the line and began with my nose pointed at the left-hand wall. The river was just raging! The waves were huge, and I came up to the big hole and pulled with all I had to try to skip just to the right edge. The river pulled me into the hole anyway but I was lined up perfect. The smell of air filled water filled my nose. The boat dropped into the hole. I went down and down and down, then looking up I saw an enormous wall of green in front of me. The boat started to climb and just kept going up, finally cresting as I was shot out and downstream. Unbelievable! I was so busy with keeping the boat straight I didn’t have time to freak out. Drew had gone first and said when he looked back I went into the hole and my entire boat disappeared for 2 or 3 seconds before he saw it come back out. I did some calculating, a 14 foot boat disappears for a couple of seconds, hmm, that’s a big hole and a big wave!


  The main canyon begins to widen after this section. The way is still dramatic, the route still remote, pristine, and turbulent. All of the smaller rapids now are monster wave trains, with waves from 3 to 6 feet high. It’s a never-ending roller coaster. I feel like I have my river wits about me, and I enjoy all of the paddling immensely. I feel comfortable, in control, and at one with my boat and the river. We pull off at Jackson Cr and set up camp in a cool sandy bench. There are petroglyphs here, all around our camp, next to our tents. We are not the first to see that this is a wonderful campsite.


  Floating along today is a joy. We are in swift water; the pace is quick, our work on the oars little. We stop and explore a myriad of historical sites. Ranches, a waterwheel, hot springs, ruins, a magnificent rock arch. All in all it’s a cornucopia of sights to see and to experience. The river continues to race towards the reservoir, but we have still one more camp. We pull off at the Pinnacle Ranch for our last evening. The ruins are extensive, and we ponder what it must have been like to live and to make an existence in this landscape. The pioneer people were of hardy stock for sure.


  Last day on the river. We float down thru wave train after wave train. The current is still swift and we take only a few hours to cover the miles before we begin to see and feel the pool up of the reservoir. We oar over the beginning of the flat water to a large cove. Hiking up hillside we wander around an array of beautiful petroglyphs. Large and well preserved they are only accessible from the river or from a brutal cross-country approach from above. We snap pictures and are quiet. What were “they” thinking?



  Another pull at the oars and we beach below a worn trail up the hill. The hot spring waits. We pull off neoprene and settle into the warm water. The trip is almost complete, but this luxury is not to be missed. It is with regret we decide to leave and make the final effort to reach our take out. As in all my Owyhee trips, the last leg is always against the wind and hard work. We have about a 3-mile oar over the flat water to reach Leslie Gulch. Even though the water has barely begun to pool, its still flat and we put our backs into it. I hike up the gravel road and see the truck and trailer. Driving down to the waters edge we pull apart gear, stack boats and make ready for the drive back to town. Five days on the Owyhee River and no other boats except the few minutes with the BLM. This has been a dream trip for me. The experiences are stacked inside, and it will be many weeks before I unravel and process all of my emotions and thoughts. But one thing I know for sure. I cannot wait to get back out into the desert again.

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I did a short write up slash trip report on one of my last races of 2009. It was a lot of fun, and I actually took fourth place in my class. Racing is such an adrenaline rush!

                                                                  Bar to Bar 2009

  It’s been a couple of months since my last ride, but I bite the bullet and sign up for the last desert race of the season.  Bar to Bar is usually a fun and wild 65-mile course that wanders through various sand washes, OHV trails, single tracks, and rocky canyons outside of the Hemingway Butte OHV site in the Owyhee desert.  A favorite because of its rider friendly format; two riders side by side, hence the “Bar to Bar” handle, go off each minute and race the course and the clock.  It’s basically a motorized time trial.

  The field is over 150 riders as I dress and make myself ready. I have an additional incentive today, as I am now 50 and able to ride in the class known as “Masters”!  What it really means is that I am racing with and against “old men”!  No pressure, right!  I start my bike, warming both it and me up slowly.  I stretch a bit, ride down some outlying trails, and then head over to the line of riders ready to start.

  Wow!  Beside me and on my minute is a 72-year-old rider.  Amazing!  We watch the riders ahead of us reach their minute, start their bikes and take off.  On the line I listen as the starter counts down to zero and I kick my iron horse to life and race off to do battle with the desert.

  Through a series of berms and turns the course winds around so spectators can get a look at us before we are swept out into the desert.  The first sand wash is upon me quickly, and being familiar from previous rides I twist the throttle hard.  At 60 mph the sage begins to blur and the adrenaline rushes thru my body.  This need for speed is tempered by an upcoming canyon, complete with rocks that can end my ride quickly.

  I settle into my rhythm, pushing where I can, but careful in the tight and twisty turns of the small washes I follow.  My eyes are constantly scanning ahead for the tape that marks the course. Turns are marked by tape being on the side of the turn.  In desert racing, blue tape means DANGER.  Every time I see it I slow down, searching carefully, preparing for the worst.  Rocks and holes are the norm.  I see a sign for the infamous Canyon of Whoops, and prepare for a beating.  Whoops are the ski moguls of the desert.  Up and down, deep and rough, they pound your bike and your forearms until fatigue and arm pump can cause you to crash.

  Mile after mile I follow the tape.  There are no mileage markers, but as I crest a rise of lava rock littered with stones, I see a large gathering of RV’s and trucks ahead.  The finish line.  I race as hard as I can to the end, a huge dust encrusted smile on my face.  Another personal victory for this old man!


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                                     Murphy National Hare & Hound 2010

I had the opportunity to cover this race and do a short article for the Boise Weekly. Here is the write up that came from the race, and here is the
link to the online version.

                                                            Tracks in the Sand

They call it the Bomb Run. It’s either the most anticipated or most feared portion of the desert race they refer to as a Hare and Hound event. A hundred dirt bikes line up, side-by-side, silent. A large banner is raised, and from just behind the line I see the riders tense, and with adrenaline skyrocketing, it’s dropped. A dragon-like roar erupts as the bikes start and race at speeds close to 80mph across a trail-less expanse to the START of the course? This is the FIRST mile of a 100-mile race. Get the picture?

  April 21, 2010, and I am somewhere near Murphy, Idaho. RV’s, trailers, trucks and hundreds of people are milling amidst the sage. 175plus riders of all ages and abilities are the participants. Dirt Inc. is the promoter. The event: Round 4 of the National Hare and Hound Series, the 2010 Rabbit Creek 100. The very best riders from the West will all converge on Owyhee County to do battle for over 100 miles of sage, sand, and rocks.

  A race of this magnitude and quality is a huge undertaking. Dirt Inc., the hosting club has put in untold hours with the Bureau of Land Management, State of Idaho, and local landowners, working to map out a course that is challenging, but also responsible. Dirts’ President Bill Walsh was ecstatic about the cooperation with the locals.

   “It was incredible. Everyone worked together. We are having a national race here in Idaho, and BLM totally supported what we wanted to do and accomplish. It couldn't’t have gone any better working with them. The course is just incredible.”

  Added to the list are the many volunteers who work the sign ups, tech inspection, checkpoints, tape and mark the course, and then when finished, have the added burden of going back and cleaning up so that nothing is left behind over the 100 miles of course.

  Desert racing in Idaho is popular, and well attended. The local sanctioning body, Southwest Idaho Desert Racing Association has been involved in the promotion and staging of race events for more than 25 years. Phil White, better known as  “Howlin Phil” was at the race and he spoke of the early days, “We weren’t happy with the state of desert racing back in the day, so a few of us got together, started our own association, incorporated it in 1983 or something like that, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”

  A typical desert race is about 100 miles long. The course is run either on one 50-mile loop, with two laps being ridden, or like in today’s national, on two separate 50-mile loops, with the pits being at the center. The action in the pits is non-stop. From the beautiful and fully equipped factory race semis, to the local pickup truck, tools, parts, fuel, (lots of duct tape!) and good-natured banter all flow freely. Competition is fierce, but everyone helps each other in this family of riders. A local 16-year-old, Nathan, or Nuclear Nate, as he is known in his club, the Desert Rats, has just found a small hole in his engine case. A quick stop at the factory truck of National Points leader Destry Abbott’s and the full time mechanic hands over some instant weld to get him ready for race time.

  Today’s course will wind its way north from the Old Stage Road behind Murphy, catching single track trails, winding sand washes, and rough terrain until it reaches the OHV trail head at Hemingway Butte. From there, riders will wind their way back south to the pit area and a NASCAR-type fuel stop. Specially designed gas jugs and tanks cost thousands of dollars, but let riders take on gallons in mere seconds. This is serious business, and time means positions. Off to the south for another 50plus miles, this time dropping into the tight and rocky canyons of Sinker Creek and finally turning north again near the Fossil Creek OHV trail head. The folks at Rekluse Clutch (manufacturer and sponsor from Boise) have named one such technical area the Rekluse Canyon. Barely wider than the handlebars, it boasts a sandy bottom and rock ledges that drop 5 feet in places. Riders are warned of upcoming dangers by flagging and signs. Blue means danger, and “down arrows” indicate how dangerous. One arrow, no problem (yeah right!), two arrows, serious, and three arrows, you better watch it no matter how good you are. The rock ledge I’m at has two arrows. I watch the pros ride off, landing below on two wheels. The lesser riders roll over slowly, almost going vertical onto the front wheel, and some dismount and “bulldog” the bikes over. It’s not for the faint of heart.

  Local rider David Kamo, a Fruitland native, began riding at 4, and at 12 entered his first desert race in Murphy. Now 23, he is ranked 3rd nationally, has raced all over the world, and is now a full-time factory rider for KTM motorcycles. “I train hard, do cardio, eat well, and ride almost every day.” Finishing in the top three nationally the last couple of years has made Kamo a well-known rider on the tour and in the industry.

   “My greatest accomplishment?” he thinks for a moment, “probably riding and winning the Vegas to Reno 1000 with teammate David Pearson. We were ahead, and then with about 50 miles or so to go, I took this really bad crash at like 80mph. I just wrecked the bike, but I limped it in to David and we were able to fix it enough to finish the race and still win.” Would he have a home field advantage here in Idaho?

   “I’m hoping; my goal is to win!” he smiles and holds up both hands with fingers crossed.

  The course is set with checkpoints, and as each rider passes thru they are marked on a scorecard taped to the front fender of their bikes. Electronic transponders are attached to the chest protectors of each rider, and at the end of each lap they are electronically timed and then scored instantly.


The wind blows a dusty plume from under the tires as the line of cars, trucks, vans, and motor homes make their way from the pits and race finish area, leaving the desert. It’s quiet with the smell of sage, and rain threatens. Today’s race is over, many have done well, and many are disappointed. Some have broken bikes; a few have broken body parts. Local rider David Kamo has placed 2nd overall, 10 seconds behind race winner Kendall Norman of Santa Barbara Calif. Ten seconds after 104 miles. David is now in 2nd place in the national points tally, seven points behind leader Norman, and one point ahead of 2009 champion Destry Abbott. The 4th round is behind them, and five more rounds await.

                                    My friend Josh Knerr after a hundred miles of desert!
 For more info on desert racing, and upcoming events, visit the SIDRA website at

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We never expected this trip to morph into what it did. We are really a very small part of this universe...

Preaching the Gospel (Hump) and ending up in Hell(s Canyon)

Couldn’t resist writing a recount of our latest adventure here in Idaho. Its long, but with the weather and season turning, we have time to hang out and read more. Besides, I’m a writer, and its what I do, and trust me, its worth it… J

Did anybody else read the latest issue of Backpacker mag and see the blurb about trail #16 under “best trails we’ve never covered”?  There it was, Idaho’s Gospel Hump Loop trail. 68 miles of pure bliss; a sure fire best thing, I mean it made the top 20, almost top 15, got to be a sure fire winner!  Problem was, I’ve never even heard of such a trail. I’ve logged probably a thousand miles or more  here in Idaho and that’s the first I’d heard of it.  Talk about waving a red flag in front of a bull. Once again I threw out the idea to my other two crazies, Pete and Brian, and we were all about it getting it done before the winter hit.

I called the Nez Perc National Forest and asked about info on the loop trail. Silence on the other end. Nobody had ever heard of it. They didn’t have a “loop” trail. OK, what the?  I mean come on, that was printed in BACPACKER mag! Wink wink.  Searching online was a fruitless adventure. I could buy some info on, but who knows what I’d get. I finally found a reference to a book on backpacking in Idaho. Seems the “loop” trail was a combination of trails that the author took liberties with and viola! A loop trail.

The weather was fast moving towards winter when the three of us finally were able to put together a four day span to try and get the deed done. There was a big storm on the way but the rangers said that there was still no real accumulation of snow up high, and the road access was very good. We left on Sunday at 3am trying to get a head start on the 5-hour drive to the trail head. We had to be back in Boise by 5 on Wednesday. The roads into the Gospel Hump were simple, go to Grangeville, head out on the 221, and then turn onto the 444 and you end up at multiple trail heads and then roads end. It’s about 12 miles of really good gravel to the end of the 444. We made it almost 5 and we hit snow. We drove a short ways before it was obvious that the rangers weren’t really up to speed on conditions.


Before and after shots at the truck! What a difference 24 hours can make!

We left the truck with about 20lbs each for the four days we expected to be out. I had a base weight of 14.6, and we had decided to share a larger pyramid tent, and a cannister stove instead of our usual smaller shelters and alcohol stoves. I wanted to be able to cook inside and to have enough room for all our gear if the weather really went bad. Punching steps the whole way down the road was really draining. A storm front was hitting Idaho and we were hoping to bust through the high country and drop enough in elevation to avoid being buried in fresh snow. As soon as we started hiking the snow and sleet started coming down. Seemed like strike two! We continued on the road for about 6 miles before we finally hit Moores Station. A forest service cabin, we were surprised to see it was unlocked, had bunks, wood stove, and gas range. A note inside said it was open to all and sponsored by some snowmobile clubs. Way cool!


We left the road here and hit the trail proper. It was another 2 miles or so to Anchor meadows. The snow varied between a few inches and a foot. We were all in basic footwear, not winter boots. The trail wound south and would eventually hit the Salmon river in about 15 miles, and drops a huge 6,000 feet in elevation. We had hoped we could reach Black Butte LO about 14 miles away. With the snow and the added road hiking that was not going to happen. Darkness was getting close before we found ourselves on the backside of Sheep Mountain and we began to look for a camp. It was storming hard and we were pretty hammered from the long day.  Seemed like strike three was about to hit us. We went off the trail a hundred feet looking for a hollow in the trees to pitch the pyramid tent.  Getting it up and ourselves installed before it became really dark was all any of us wanted. The weather had made it difficult to eat or drink properly all day, and I was really feeling the bonk. We had only done about 10 miles, but all of it was breaking trail in the snow.

It stormed pretty much constantly as we got snow melted, made food, and finally drifted off. It was pitch dark by 5:30 thanks to daylight savings time. The snow would build up on the outside walls and we would reach up and beat on the sides to shake it loose. By morning we had our own snowdrifts all around the perimeter of the tent.


We realized that the storm pretty much had shut down our hoped for loop hike. We could probably punch through and get down the trail and lower in elevation, but then we would still have to hike back up another 6,000 feet, with snow to deal with. We were discouraged about pulling the plug but cool with the decision. We thought about spending a night in the Forest Service cabin just for fun. When we packed and pulled the tent, the weather was still iffy, close in, foggy, spitting snow and sleet.

Our tracks were almost completely covered in from the previous day, and at the trail was another set. This time of the four legged kind. Wolves had come down the trail in the morning and their footprints were crystal clear. Awesome to see them. We followed them back pretty much all the way to the cabin before they headed off in a different direction.

I wear a size 11 shoe, and the tracks were as big as my entire fore foot.

Meanwhile we had decided to continue our hike by driving down to the Snake River in Hells Canyon and hiking in the canyon. Elevation being key, we would just hump it out, and then drive down to the canyon and hike for another day! We pushed thru another 6-8” of new snow, reached the cabin where we turned on the gas range, boiled water and drank hot drinks and had lunch. We busted our butts and made it back all the way to the truck in about 3 hours of hiking on the road. What was dry road on the way in was now 6” of snow on the road almost all the way to Grangeville.



This lake was snow free and looked fine when we left the truck and then, 24 hours later! Half frozen!

Dinner in town and a darkness arrival in Hells Canyon were of no concern to us; we still had two days before we had to be back. We decided that in the morning we would day hike into the Kirkwood Ranch.

Walking into the Kirkwood Ranch along the Snake River Trail of Hells Canyon

The Kirkwood Ranch was one of many ranches along the river back in the early days of sheep ranching and farming. Remote, it boasted a museum, and an array of stuff to look at and enjoy. It was 6 miles in so we thought it would be a great day trip after our winter wonderland excursion.  The trail contours above the Snake River and it’s quite an amazing journey. Up and down, in and out, it isn’t what you would think. For such a basic trail it’s quite an eyebrow. Any one of a hundred or a thousand places you could literally die by stumbling, or taking your eyes off the trail to stare at the staggering scenery. Jet boats negotiated rapids below us, chukar partridge exploded and flew over and around us, and across the river Oregon beckoned. Almost 9,000 feet from top to bottom Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in North America. The Snake River Trail goes 29 miles up the river one way before ending. A multitude of trails breaks off from this trail and accesses the Seven Devils country as well. So much more to explore!


We hiked up to the Kirkwood Ranch, explored a few of the other historical buildings, looked at artifacts, photos, and old farm equipment before having lunch on a bench along the banks of the Snake. As we were preparing to leave, the caretaker asked us if we would like to see the Sterling House, which is where the volunteers live. We said sure, and as we walked up she quietly said to me, “There’s someone here I’d like you to meet.” I looked up, a bit surprised. I peered inside to see a figure sitting in a chair. As we entered, a face shrouded in a green, yellow, and red Rastafarian style shawl greeted us. Flowing dreadlocks spilled from below the scarf. A long, dark curly beard streaked with gray hairs covered his face. He stood and said hello and as we introduced ourselves he shook our hands and said his name was “Thumbs”. Thumbs? Of course, because our new friend showed us his thumbs, which were both graced with an additional section of joints that made them basically equal to the length of his index fingers. So began a two-day visit with an amazing individual.

Thumbs and the local pet turkey, “Henrietta” in front of the Sterling House.

Thumbs had been hiking in the high country and had hitched a ride from a jet boat driver earlier in the day. He had been searching for a missing hiker from a local community who had not reached a pre-appointed meeting spot with his partner. A massive search had ensued, but both the hiker and his dog were not found. Three and a half weeks later the dog wandered back, but still no sign of the hiker. Thumbs felt that he should help, and so he had. Multiple trips into the backcountry had produced no further results, and with weather coming in (the same storm that stopped our trip) he had headed down to the canyon and a hopeful ride downstream. Now he sat quietly munching some cookies and drinking water. He still needed a ride to Riggins, his home. Well, not quite. Thumbs lived in a cabin along the Salmon River, off the grid, and had been there for over THIRTY YEARS! Right before us was truly a man who had gone his own way.

We took our leave, letting him know that if he couldn’t find a ride, that we would love to have him hang out with us and we could take him into town in the morning on our way home. We hiked back to our camp and the truck, talking about Thumbs and what it might be like to live outside what we all know for such a long time.  Just before dark Thumbs arrived and joined us at our fire, sharing food as we all made dinner and began the process of learning about each other.

The short version of Thumbs life.   A life filled with education, including graduate studies, and an emphasis on plants and their genetics. Turning his back on society and all its ugliness had led Thumbs back to the Idaho wilderness where a long time lease turned into caretaking a large private piece of land that ultimately became a home. No dependents, no drivers license, and no responsibility to a society that didn’t understand him. Living on $2,000 a year or less, living with the land, his lamas, and within his means gave him a perspective that made all of us, Pete, Brian, and myself turn our heads and stare more than once.  Articulate and passionate in his beliefs, Thumbs led us down many paths as darkness deepened and the fire burned low. Could any of us have left behind what he had? Could I have chosen such a path? Could I have lasted as long as he has? Would I have accepted my life and lived it according to those terms? The three of us, did we have the courage to do that? Sobering to think it through to say the least.  Thumbs shared with us anecdotes and experiences that had shaped his time in the wilderness, and thus his life. We found him to be deeply spiritual and a very compassionate human being. We were grateful for our time spent around the fire. Pete and I talked long into the night after we had retired to the tent before finally succumbing to sleep.

The morning brought an additional bonus. As we prepared to leave, we went over and had Thumbs give us a thorough and verbal walk thru of his backpacking gear. Thumbs is a true practitioner of the concept simple and multi-functional. His equipment might not have been the most modern, nor the lightest, and in fact some of it was hand made, or even hand woven, but he was probably more comfortable in the wilds with his plastic tarp, no stove, and woolen articles than most of us ever will be.

I could not help but compare and contrast this individual to the ongoing debates that flow so freely on the BPL forum. But I felt that here was a foundational experience that really wasn’t up for debate. Truthfully, how could any of us tell Thumbs that what he was doing was “wrong”? I had a hard time even considering any word that had a negative connotation. It wasn’t about right, wrong or even about a methodology. This was an actual life defined. Could we or I legitimately deride this mans choice of clothing, his shelter, packing style, pack frame or even food?

Thumbs backpack and packing style was based on a long piece of canvas, sandwiched with some wool, a couple pieces of wood, some rope, a couple of square plastic boxes, and a woven macrame shoulder strap and waist belt. We actually taped his sequence of loading, and then constructing his pack with Pete’s camera. It was quite incredible to see how everything went together. We will get it posted on here soon.

Here is the sequence of Thumbs packing his pack.  Folding the back. Note the woven hip belt.


The pack folded and the woven shoulder strap attachment shown. Wooden pieces are at the edge of the pack to give it an “edge” to which the plastic boxes are “secured” against. The pack was put together with a "speedy stitcher". This unfolding arrangement is also the basis for his sleeping “pad”. Notice the first picture how it’s unfolded to form this pad.


Thumbs is now using a “manty” to collect and cinch his boxes to the pack “frame”.


Almost finished packing, the “top pocket” and shelter still to go. Woven by hand, shoulder straps and hip belt.

 Finished and ready to pack. Lighter than we anticipated, I bet his overall weight was around 20-25 lbs! He was out for a week. His gear included a wiped out 20 year old down bag, a scottish woolen blanket he called a Filamore (sp) a couple pairs of gloves, food, tarp, a flashlight that operated by shaking, and a few other items. No stove, and actually I don't remember seeing a pot or a mug to cook in!? He did own a nice digital camera that belonged to his father I think, and was given to him when he passed away.

 Driving back to Riggins, we listened to Thumbs sing some Bob Marley to us, followed by a few of his own songs that he had written. I was mostly silent, listening to a very interesting and intelligent person. When we dropped him off in town, we took some pictures, exchanged some info, and made plans to visit Thumbs on the river when the winter was over.

 Hard to really put into words what Pete, Brian and I really experienced. What started out as one trip, one adventure, ultimately turned into something that no one could have ever expected.  I came away thinking that I should remember that it’s truly about the journey, not the destination.

Worth thinking about…



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                                                 Sawtooth Romp

 In September, Pete, Brian and I headed up into the Sawtooths to run around and see what trouble we could get into. We did a big off trail loop with UL loads, and covered more ground than I ever thought possible. This trip pretty much sold me on the UL approach! 

                                        Big smiles and big miles in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho

Here’s the latest trip report from a mad trio of new ultra light hikers. This is my first season as an ultralight hiker, and it’s been an amazing transition. After 35 plus years of lugging a pack and then a pack filled with climbing gear, it’s been a true liberation of my spirit! This method and mindset has allowed me in one year to do things I truly thought were long past my reach. Enough waxing poetic, on with the trip report!

Brian, Pete, and I were intent on getting in one last romp thru the Sawtooths. I put the plan together based on one single question; just what, where, and how fast could we go if we had light loads? I had the knowledge of where to go, how spectacular it was, but I also knew how hard access, and the terrain was. Nevertheless, I put it out to the other two crazies and we decided to go for it. I’m going to give the actual descriptions of where we went, and where some of these “secret” routes are located. Typical backpackers will never try these routes, so I feel safe in spilling some of my hard-earned secrets.

I took my first Sawtooth trip in 1978, and over the years I’ve wandered pretty exclusively through the range. Still to this day there is nothing that beats the boat shuttle across Redfish Lake. Huge, brilliantly clear water, with peaks towering all around it, it’s the best and most fun 5 miles of non-hiking that your $8 can buy! We were hiking around a crazy schedule of work that Brian had. So we were leaving Boise at 2:00 PM, driving to Stanley as quickly as possible to catch the shuttle across Redfish. Our return was just as abstract; two days later we needed to be back at our truck before noon to be back in Boise by 3 PM! Kind of like a two-day trip over a three-day window?

Our first goal was to get across the lake, then hike up to Alpine Lake where we would really start to wander. From Redfish Lake it’s about 5 ½ miles to Alpine on a good trail. A mile and a half before the lake 20 switchbacks take you up and to the lake proper. Stepping off the boat at 5:30PM we bombed down the trail, full of energy, never stopping until we hit the lake just under two hours later. A quick break for water and a bar and we left the trail to the south, headed for Upper Redfish Lake basin. We were chasing the sun to get up into the higher basin, over a rock and talus filled pass, and down the other side before nightfall. We were off trail now, and wouldn’t hit another trail for two days. We hiked fast, but never so fast that we couldn’t hold a conversation. We hit the first of the Upper Redfish lakes just before dark, and settled in. I had made my first gram weenie style stove, and for this trip was trying out a Heine pot set up. My base weight with fishing gear was right at 10.9 lbs. I was still “heavy” on two fronts. I was using an SMD Starlite, which was over kill, but light years ahead of my older packs, and an SMD Lunar Duo, which I wanted for the ability to bring my wife, or son on other trips. I left the stays out of my Starlite, and I was using a GG thinlite pad in the back panel. The pack has performed brilliantly all summer for me. We all brewed up for dinner, and relaxed. Tomorrow would be a full on day where we hoped to traverse and travel some pretty serious country.

Up relatively early, we could hardly eat because the fish were rising like crazy everywhere in the lake. We caught fish on almost every cast. It was stupid with fish. Once you get off trail in the Sawtooths, the fishing is pretty much incredible. Beautiful Cutthroat Trout, their brilliant colors flashing hit our ultra light spinning gear and Petes' flies. I had brought my ultra light spin set up, as its fast to fish, but was really wishing I had brought my fly set up after helping Pete catch a couple right off the bat.
climbing to Lake Kathryn
We made ourselves move on, fishing the second lake, but finding only small fish (8-10”). Next stop was Lake Kathryn, tucked into a cirque above the Upper Redfish basin.
Pete arriving at Lake Kathryn

We scrambled up and then traversed a granite-studded ridge to another gem of a lake, Lake Kathryn. More fish rising everywhere. We fished a portion of the lake until we were under a low spot in the ridge to the west, and then headed up to traverse the ridge and drop into the Packrat Lake drainage. Packrat sits in one of two drainages in the Sawtooths that is entirely without trails. It’s one of the most remote spots in the range. We had to climb and traverse talus and scree before we finally topped out only to find we had steep cliffs below. Traversing south on the ridge we finally found a wild spot to slide and ski the scree down until we could begin to hike back north to the lake. Packrat was filled with more hungry trout, and we fished for about a half-hour, catching fish up to 15”. Time to move again! We hiked down the outlet stream to Oreamnos, only to laugh as about a million 6-8” trout swarmed everything that hit the water.
x country to Oreamnos
Hiking back up to Packrat we started up one of the hidden passes I had hiked years before. It was hidden because it was just nuts to think it was usable to cut across one drain and into another. It went by what I think is the highest lake in the range at about 9400’. It’s nothing but huge talus, and scary granite slabs where you can get in lots of trouble if you aren’t watching where you’re going. Slogging up and thru the pass is nothing short of spectacular.
hiking to hidden pass
approaching the top of the hidden pass
One minute you’re surrounded by granite spires, and then the next, the entire Goat Creek drainage is under your feet.
Brian and Pete at the hidden pass
The Grand Teton of the Sawtooths, Warbonnet Peak sits over this drain, flanked by the Verita Spires, Blue Rock Dome, and a host of other granite formations that you could spend a lifetime climbing on. In addition to the climbing, the upper basin holds 8 lakes, with most offering more incredible fishing. We needed to drop down to Blue Rock Dome, then turn back up the drain to finally get to a camp under the final pass that splits the Warbonnet lakes from access back to Redfish canyon.
the descent to Blue Rock Dome
This would leave us one hard pass for the morning, and then an additional ten miles to make it back to the car. We had foregone the shuttle across the lake because they didn’t have a pick up time that meshed with our schedule. So we had to hike the length of the lake instead of ride.

Camping in the Warbonnet area is truly inspiring. The granite formations tower on all sides and everywhere you look brings more ooohs and aaahhhs. You truly cannot take a poor picture! But with these rewards come the risks. There is no easy way into or out of the Warbonnet area. It’s reached only by a wicked and treacherous ridge and pass that is followed by a steep and loose descent into it. It sure keeps the riff raff out!

sunrise on Monte Verita ridge
It was cold, but no frost greeted us early the next morning. We were up, packed, and climbing with the sun up the steep loose face.
Brian above Pete on the steep face hiking out
The high pass to the east gave us an eagle eye view of the Baron lakes, and of Big Baron Spire to the north. We found a braided goat use trail, and we plowed up to the ridgeline. Traversing across a steep hanging scree and talus slope brought us to a point high above Alpine Lake, where we initially started. None of this terrain is for the faint of heart! We descended to the lake, completing a full clockwise loop of travel over the last two days. Only 10 miles to go! We blazed out and were back at the car with a total hiking time of 4 hours from camp. What an amazing hike! I would never have thought that we could cover that kind of ground off trail in the Sawtooths. It used to take us a day and a half just to get our climbing camp into Warbonnet, and here we just backtracked it in 4 hours!

I can only say that taking a lightweight approach has changed my whole outlook on hiking. At an age (I’m 51 trying to keep up with these two youngsters!) when many are giving up on multi-day hiking, I’m planning more and longer adventures.

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 The Lost Trail of Cougar Canyon

 Epic adventures don’t start out that way. Typically, they start out innocent, and steadily progress until they become fireside classics. Ours was destined to be such a tale.

 It started as a different way to make the river shuttle a bit easier, a bit more scenic. What happened along the way eventually pushed it right into the center of the epic category.

 Floating down any stretch of the Owyhee River is an undertaking. There are few access points, and even fewer roads lead to them. Additionally, the window of floatable water is short, the roads sketchy, and a recipe for adventure is sure to be in your future. We decided to run a vehicle out to a remote take out a week ahead of our float trip. This would solve a couple of problems, mainly that we could bypass some nasty rapids and portages that would entail carrying boats and equipment around them. It also curtailed the long day necessary to do the complete shuttle on put in day. We would pile the dual sport bikes into the trailer, haul them out with us, and then ride them back via some scenic backcountry roads. There was a bit of time spent pouring over the maps, loading GPS info and data into the unit, printing a couple of maps of the area, and voilà we were golden.

Juniper Mountain is a big place in the Owyhee landscape. A history made up of cowboys, outlaws, horse thieves, and rough country. Our ride was going to take us completely around the mountain, following the less traveled roads. Much of the area around Juniper Mountain is private. We contacted the local ranchers, and were given permission to travel through certain areas of private land. We spent a cold night near the rim of the Owyhee Canyon, and as the sun rose we ate a quick breakfast and began to unload the bikes and make ready to ride off.

 Dual sport is just a new name for a motorcycle that is capable of traveling both on and off highway. As with all new technology, we reap the benefits of high tech materials, dependable machinery, and creature comforts. Our bikes were equipped with panniers, or bags that held all our gear; remember it was shuttle. Oversize gas tanks so no re-fueling necessary. Handlebar mounted GPS units with real time tracking and map features. No way to get lost here! Comfortable motorcycling clothing, boots, gloves, food and water. All the comforts of home at our fingertips.

 Warming up the bikes, we consult our maps, and head off into the cool morning sun, generally traveling west along the Owyhee rim. We hope to visit a few of the more remote landmarks along the Owyhee River as we circle back towards civilization. 

One of the first spots is a beautiful canyon that feeds into the river. We hit the roads end, and stare down into a lush setting. Steep canyon walls rise above a glistening creek bottom, willows and Juniper glow green with the spring moisture. Beautiful and remote, we leave reluctantly. The road continues on, usually a good double track, rough but quite passable. Occasionally a weathered BLM sign will appear at an intersection, giving us destination arrow and mileage. The famed Crutcher’s Crossing of the Owyhee is ridiculously steep, with rock steps that jar us as it literally falls off the canyon rim and down to the river. Settlers and immigrants used this crossing to move through the Owyhee country. The rock foundation of a long ago structure sits quietly above the river. This is another put in and take out for modern day river runners. 


The ride out and into Bull Basin is incredible; we ride amongst an explosion of spring wildflowers. Yellow daisies, larkspur, purple Penstemon, and paintbrush carpet the ground. The trails become more rugged and less traveled here. A few lonesome ranches pass by and then the skeleton of an ancient car, maybe a model A, complete with steering wheel and wooden framed doors. We stretch and take some pictures. A river crossing is ahead of us, and we are not sure if it will be passable. If its not, we are looking at a long ride backtracking to get around. We are pleasantly surprised to find it full, but fordable. Splashing across we begin homing in on the highlight of our ride. Cougar Canyon (real name withheld to protect its location) splits an offshoot canyon of the Owyhee and takes us down, across, and then back up the other side. The GPS says its there. We ride along a perfectly flat table, with a faint track under our wheels. The track fades and we find the canyon rim in front of us. No trail. Back to the GPS, we have overshot it, so we backtrack, then angle off farther to the west. At the canyon rim we see an over grown grade change. 


This is it! But it looks like nothing has been down here in 20 years. Ten-inch diameter Juniper trees are growing in the middle of it. We bounce down, following our instincts and the whisper of a road. The bottom of the canyon comes close. Stop. Scout. Ride. Repeat. We are laughing like kids, but we are worried that we won’t be able to get back the way we came if the road doesn’t continue past the creek. The trail is now covered with big rocks, and the creek is ahead. Splashing and bouncing thru boulders gets us across but there is another big rock pile ahead. We can see a road cut up the canyon wall, but we can’t tell if we can actually ride it. Bikes fall over, we pick them up, they stall out, and we start them up again. Sweat pours off hot faces inside even hotter helmets. There is no turning back now. Banging off rocks like a ping pong ball, we keep the momentum going and push up the canyon side. It is easier the higher we get. The rim is in sight. The worst rock pile yet looms ahead, but we slam thru it. On top we joke about our effort. Cougar Canyon is not for the faint of heart!


 The day is far from over, and we are exhausted. Another hour brings us to another Owyhee crossing. We drop into the canyon, filter water, eat and take a break. We’ve been on the bikes for almost 8 hours and we are still 100 miles from home. The roads ease, as we are approaching Jordan Valley. We refuse to take the pavement home. Cutting across the Owyhee Mountains we ride through beautiful farms, green with spring run off, fat cattle and working ranchers. Overhead signs announce names from a lost time. Hatton Ranch, established 1907, Jess Ranch established 1902, they flash by along with the dust and the dirt. There is still snow on the north sides of the Bachman Grade, and with heavy muscles and sore butts we roll into the old town of Oreana. Our ride is now onto the pavement. Two hundred miles plus, and untold hours in the saddle before home, but the only thoughts that prevail are those of the lost trail of Cougar Canyon. Here’s to many other rides to many other Cougar Canyons.



                            Coming up to the spectacular Three Forks of the Owyhee River Canyon

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 We had a great day checking out some early homesteads outside of the Bruneau/Grasmere area, and here is a recap of our wanderings. We finished up by joining the Owyhee Historical Society for a field trip to the Hall Ranch. It was incredible, and I would recommend these trips and membership to the Society for all who are interested in the Owyhee area.

                                                                                Parade of Homes(steads)


 The Owyhee desert is full of past reminders of those who have gone before us, those who settled, and tried to scratch out a living. Various degrees of success were achieved, evidenced by long-standing, multi-generational families who continue the tradition of ranching, and farming. But many of those who came long ago quietly faded into obscurity and the only evidence left on the landscape is silent ruins of a fallen, and forgotten homestead.


 The Wickahoney Stage Stop is located south of Bruneau, near Grasmere. It was once a thriving stop along the route from Mountain City Nevada, to Mountain Home Idaho. The Dunning family settled here in 1887, and by 1895 they began to build what is now left of the current structure. It was a sprawling rock house, two stories tall, with large windows and a giant hearth. Today, the hearth and windows look out upon a vast and lonely prairie of sage and windblown rangeland. In the 1930’s, the stage developed a different route, and the Wickahoney Stop fell into non-use. The dependable water of the springs, the orchards, the irrigated fields, slipped back into desert. Today, the ruins sit silently. Dark against a wide-open landscape, like the introduction to a movie thriller, the volcanic rock that makes up the walls sits starkly against the lighter tones of sage, cheat, and wild grasses. The wind blows through the windows, and inside you can still see the plaster covering on some walls. The large rocks that span doorways, and windows are laid bare, mortar missing, but the size, the presence is still here. Outside is a circular oven, used for baking, to feed the travelers that were on their way to points unknown. At the far edge of the property, a makeshift marker lists some of the family; Joshua Dunning 1824-1909, Margaret Dunning 1863-1913, baby Dunning 1894. What would they think of our cities now?


 The rough road we are driving on leaves the Stage Stop, and travels across rocks, ruts, and slippery sand. The road leads us to other homesteads, ruins of a past long gone. There is the “Cottonwood Site”. Sitting at the base of the foothills, the remnants of steps, some old concrete, a spring and reservoir are all that are left. A rattlesnake is curled up on a discarded shard of metal, too cold in the early morning to be active. Along the top of the hills, another lonely structure stands vacant. The “Harvey Place” is covered with penciled notes, signatures from long ago visits, and cattle drives. In a deep canyon near the Big Jacks wilderness area lies the “Buncel Place”, a tremendous feat of building using mud, pounded firm, filled with sticks, straw and what have you to hold it together. The mud structure, roof fallen in, now sits next to a traditionally built wooden shack, a hole in one wall leads to a wood box outside. The roof is made up of gallon-sized tin cans, pounded flat and laid out as shingles, overlapping to keep out the weather. The corral and barn are made from thousands of rocks, stacked painstakingly into a secure and usable form. The sheer effort, the labor to build these structures is a testament to the desire for permanence, to own something that belongs or maybe it is just to leave a legacy, but we will never know.

 One ranch that has stood the test of time, and has left its legacy is the Hall Ranch. The tall man in jeans and cowboy hat stands on the tree shaded, and well-groomed lawn in front of his neat and tidy home near Bruneau. “Welcome to the Hall Ranch”, he speaks clearly, slowly, eyes taking in the small group from the Owyhee Historical Society who are gathered around.

 “I’m Tom Hall. This is the Hall Ranch, we’re kinda proud of it, we really are. The ranch has been in the family since 1917, we’re proud of that. My wife and I”, he pauses, “nobody will have the love for this place that we do. I can look out across the fields when the sun comes up in the morning; I get a tear in my eye every time I look at it because I think how beautiful it is.” This is our introduction to a man who still lives in the house he was born in. He raises his arm, pointing, “I was born in this house, right through that window right there. What’s it cost to have a baby now? Five thousand dollars, six thousand dollars? It didn’t cost anything when I was born! Not a dime!” he says with a smile. We all laugh. In his mid-eighties, Tom Hall keeps us entertained with his historical information, his stories, and his one-liners.

 “We have a policy here, nobody lays around the Hall Ranch, everybody works!” he continues, “Our Great Uncle was the first settler here in Bruneau. My mother was born in Arkansas, thought they could have a better life here. They said that when our relatives left Arkansas and moved to Idaho they raised the intelligence level in both states.” The laughter is loud as Tom smiles. Tom sits in an old stool, almost like a high chair, and gestures, “Oh, this stool I’m setting in… I set in this stool when I was 3 years old. I’m still setting in it.”

 For the next hour or so, the son of pioneers, rancher, husband, father, and historian regales us with tales from the past.

 “The reason we bought this place, is my folks homesteaded out in the Grasmere area, had a school, dirt floor, the teacher only lasted about a month. My mother said my kids are gonna get an education, there not getting it here. Bought this place in 1917 cuz there was a school down here a ways. I didn’t get along too good in school. When I first started school, they sent me to Church School” he looks at us all in disbelief, “then I got kicked out for swearing! Then they sent me to public school, and I got kicked out for praying!”

 As the afternoon progresses, Tom takes a group for a tour of his little “museum”, a collection of interesting and historical items from the area and from times past. From pocketknives to blacksmith tools, from saddles to barb wire, the rancher turned historian is an encyclopedia of information. This field trip was sponsored by the Owyhee Historical Society, and as we sat around and enjoyed the potluck lunch, Tom made his rounds, thanking and encouraging all to visit again in the future.

 Some last words of encouragement; “Behind every successful man is an astonished mother in law.”  Well-said Tom.


My thanks to the Owyhee Historical Society and to the Hall Ranch for their hospitality.


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 The floating season in the desert for 2010 was terrific, with a huge flush of late season water. We were able to get back out to the East Fork of the Owyhee before the season ended, and were rewarded with above average temps, spectacular spring wildflowers, and no other human beings for miles and miles. Here is the trip report.


                                                                                    Lonely on the River
The Owyhee River is one of the most lonely river systems in the west. You can float for about 200 miles, and go thru parts of 3 states if you have the time and the ability. The river system starts in Northern Nevada, and flows north thru NV, OR, and ID. It travels through some of the most remote area in all of the lower 48. There is nothing and no one out here. The nearest paved road is close to 100 miles away. It goes without saying you must be totally self-sufficient.

 Our trip became a full on adventure when we decided that after doing one section of river, we would return in a couple of weeks and do the East Fork. The East Fork of the Owyhee is a very remote but technically easy section of the Canyonlands. In what seemed to be a stroke of pure genius we took our shuttle vehicle out to the take out on private property the week before our trip. This saved us a long day of driving, and allowed us to get on the river at a reasonable time on day one. 


The following weekend, the weather systems started rolling in. We finally pulled the plug on the trip the night before departure, as snow and rain fell heavily all across Idaho and Oregon. A call to the rancher letting him know we weren’t out there was met with laughter. “Well, I’ve got sixteen inches of snow at my place right now!” We counted our lucky stars and planned for the next weekend. Some conflicts with dates, and it was two weeks before we could again try. The weather in Owyhee Nevada was just terrible over Memorial Day weekend. Snow, rain, wind, sleet, hail, it was all happening. The access road is near the Nevada border, at a place called Garat’s Crossing. We made it within two miles before the roads became impassable. We could see the canyon, but the roads were literally running with water and the mud was so slick we could hardly even walk on it. Another call to the rancher, another set of dates.


 A brilliantly clear blue sky, wildflowers in full bloom, and no rain in sight made us smile as we bounced down the incredibly steep and rough 4wd road to Garat’s. We pulled out gear, unloaded the boats and began stuffing dry bags. Saying goodbye to our shuttle driver we were finally on the river after a month of waiting on the weather.

 The East Fork runs about 27 miles down canyon to our take out. The truck (we hope) is waiting patiently. The recent rains have dumped precipitous amounts of moisture all throughout the desert and our trip is in the middle of full on spring growth. Everywhere is green and greener. The water is flowing swiftly, and it is with little effort that we glide down the canyon, heads swiveling to marvel at the unbelievable scenery all around us.

 Technically the river is very simple. There is no true whitewater, but the remoteness and logistics demand that boaters be capable and self-supporting. We paddle through many twists and turns, many riffles and a few beaver dam drops.
Our first goal is to reach a creek called Yatahoney on river right. It’s near 5 o’clock as I watch it appear on my GPS screen. We poke our boats thru a hole in the thick willows and haul our one canoe and four inflatable kayaks up into the rocky creek bottom. Searching around for a camp we find level ground and grass up against a rock outcropping. We haul our gear bags up and settle in for the evening.


 Dinner is cooking, pasta, fresh peppers, onions, chicken and red sauce. The evening is warm, but we still decide that a hike is in order. The BLM river guide marks a mysterious waterfall and pool up this side canyon. We are intrigued, and can’t resist the urge to explore. We hike up the canyon, climbing slowly, pushing through willows and slippery shale slopes. After 40 minutes we hear running water. The creek bottom so far has been mostly dry, a few pools now and then. 


We climb up and over a large pile of boulders, ending up fifty or sixty feet above the creek bottom. A large canyon wall faces us. Split down the middle, a fissure, and out the bottom of the fissure is a waterfall, cascading down into a large pool of water. What an amazing sight.

 We are up early, coffee brewing; eggs, bacon, and hash browns cooking on the stove. River food is so nice! More creature comforts and fresh food loaded into the boats and not on our backs. Our goal today is to make some miles, to try and reach Piute Creek, close to river mile 20 before stopping. Along the way we hope to explore a few spots that are noted on the maps. The first of three homesteads appears soon on river left. We pull off and hike up to investigate. 


Rocks piled into the shape of a small structure, complete with fireplace are all that is left. No roof, but a small iron plate rests inside the hearth. What did these early settlers think life would be like here in this wild and lonely land? Paddling downstream we slow as we approach Battle Creek. Named for a battle in 1864 with some Bannock Indians, Michael Jordan, one of the original members that discovered gold in the Silver City area was killed. 


The willows are very high, and we try to peer inside to find a water wheel constructed for irrigation use. We look high and low, but we can’t see anything. We give up the search, and continue down to the next homestead, the Wiley Ranch, for lunch. In contrast to earlier ruins, the Wiley Ranch is almost modern. Rusted metal panels have fallen into the rock structure; an ancient propane stove, bedspring, and scattered debris litter the site. Over bagels, salami and cheese, we ponder the lifestyle of the former inhabitants. The canyon is remote, rugged, but incredibly beautiful.


 The river unfolds beneath our boats as the miles continue to flow by. In places the walls tower above for hundreds of feet. The colors vary, reds and tans, with green and yellow lichen, darker patches of volcanic make up, geological forces in constant upheaval. Fatigue is starting to set in as the long miles and bright sun work on our paddling muscles. We fight the late afternoon winds as they blow up stream against us, making many of the flat sections a battle from one paddle stroke to the next. Our patriarch member, 71-year-old Shorty, is really feeling the effort. We encourage him and near the 5 o’clock witching hour we arrive at Piute Creek. There is a big bench, flat and open with grand views all around. We are suffering from the heat, but when the sun goes behind the canyon wall we grab coats, pants, and warm hats. The desert cools off very quickly.

 Our final morning dawns with a heavy and cold frost. We dress, eat, pack up, and launch. Our journey today will be short. We travel the last of the East Fork, reaching the confluence of a major tributary, Deep Creek, and here I would say the East Fork finally becomes the Owyhee. The water flow is considerably less, this our third day on the river. Rocks are more common, the water more shallow, more clear. As we enter another section of high cliff walls, the sound of rock fall alerts us. We scan the walls frantically and are rewarded with a sight few get to see. The scrambling legs and bodies of over twenty California Desert Bighorn sheep; they are rushing to escape our intrusion into their lonely habitat. We watch spellbound as they climb, leaping up and over spectacular rocky outcroppings on their way to the canyon rim.

 We reach our take out and begin the arduous task of carrying all of our gear and boats up a steep trail and out to the waiting truck. This last quarter mile is the icing on the cake. We are done with this lonely section, but there is more to be explored, and we are already discussing next year’s options as we load up the truck for the long drive out. The truck, yeah, she was fine.


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  Here is another trip report from Owyhee country. This float is from a small tributary of the Owyhee River; Deep Creek. Its a cool float that goes thru an obscure canyon with beautiful scenery. The story also ran in the Boise Weekly here.



  I’m lying flat on my back. Three hundred-foot vertical walls seemingly surround my vision on all sides. The river bends so sharply here that it feels like there is no way out.  It is day two of our three-day float. We are camped at what we call the bend, an absolutely incredible oxbow in the canyon of Deep Creek. The high canyon walls are covered in shades of green, yellow, and chartreuse lichen. The contrast is remarkable against the underlying and darker volcanic rock.

  Deep Creek is a tributary of the Owyhee River. It travels more than 30 miles before emptying into the main Owyhee. Rarely does the creek exceed 30 feet across, and with a plunge of my paddle I can feel the rocky bottom almost everywhere along its length. The paddling season is short, usually starting by April, and finishing in May. It is entirely dependent on the spring snow melt and runoff. Some years there is no season, as the water levels never rise enough to float a boat. Timing is everything. There is no whitewater per se, but its sinuous track forces a never-ending navigation of current, rocks, and steep canyon walls. Banging off these obstacles happens regularly. Access, take-out, and the shuttle are as much an adventure as the paddling. Rough roads, uncertain weather, and private property stall all but the most determined adventurers.


  For me, the desert rivers transcend time. We paddle, we stop, we explore, we joke, but often we are very quiet as the landscape slides by. River otters play in front of us, geese honk angrily as we approach. If we are fortunate we will see bighorn sheep on the canyon walls, watching us as we watch them. I remember my first float here; three bighorn ewes swam in front of my kayak not 30 feet in front of me as I sat astonished, dripping paddle held still. They climbed out, shook themselves, and walked away.


  The confluence of Deep Creek and the Owyhee is a magical place. As one canyon ends, another begins anew, on an even larger and grander scale. The creek adds its volume and power and I can feel the change under my boat. Canyon walls are now immense, and the river broadens and quickens with its own purpose.


  The wind always seems to blow upriver as we fight the final miles to our take out. Our trip would not be complete without the character building hauling of boats and gear to the canyon rim and the trucks. No park and float here! Looking up canyon from this rare river access point hammers home just how remote this area is.

  As we leave, painstakingly bouncing over rocks, scraping thru sage, and sliding into wet muddy holes, we are intensely aware that just a few days spent here often has an ability to bring restoration in a person. The world moves forward at breakneck speed, screaming for attention. Here in the Owyhee Desert, our trip has given us another magical experience, forcing us to slow, to smell the sage scented air, to hear and feel the rushing water, to be quiet amidst the clamor.





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 This short article appeared in the Boise Weekly and was entitled "I Got Your Goat". You can check it out here.

I Got Your Goat 


 Summer is finally here. I call the Stanley Ranger Station every week, and all I hear is snow; the trails are closed up high. My wife, Jan and I have a break from the school year, and with kids out of town, we have a chance, just the two of us, to go on a backpacking trip.
With the onset of family, career, and ugh! age, the prospects of heading off into the woods can be a bit daunting. We aren’t in the stellar shape we used to be in. We also don’t have the burning desire to hike 15 miles in a day. What we really want is a nice hike in the woods.

 I decided to bring Jan to a trail I originally hiked back in the late 70’s. Back then it was a rarely used route following Warm Springs Creek, from Bull Trout Lake, all the way to the Bonneville hot springs. The trail is in better shape now, maintained regularly. We planned on a mid-week trip of 3 days, hoping to have the trail to ourselves.

 Wednesday morning we hit the road by 10:00 a.m., and reach the trail by afternoon. We aren’t planning on doing the entire trail, just looking to stretch the legs, get the feel of the pack again, camp, read and otherwise enjoy.


Right out of the gate, the trail climbs past the Warm Springs Airstrip, and tops out high above the river canyon. I can tell that the effort is working on Jan. We take a break at the top to drink. The temps are cool; a few scattered raindrops hit us. The forest is green, breathtakingly alive from the wet spring. I let Jan lead, and she moves along slowly, but steadily.

 We have hiked a couple of miles when the trail takes us back down to the river again. Just off trail is an elk camp. There are stumps for stools, and a chain-sawn table. We can’t pass up this luxury, and decide to take full advantage of the accommodations. At the waters edge is a small hot spring, and across the creek we see steam from another seep. Hey, hot water in camp! The night is clear, and bundled in down we sleep late, letting the sun finally drive us from the tent. After breakfast I head down to the river to rinse dishes. Movement catches my eye.

 “Jan, come here quick!” I whisper loudly. Jan rushes down. Across the river is a mountain goat. He is looking at us. We stand and stare back. Rocks roll down; we look up. More goats. We quietly slide down behind a rock at the creeks edge, and watch, as six mountains goats come down the mountainside. They consist of what I deduce are two nannies, with their babies, both fat and brilliantly white, a yearling, and a billy who acts like the ringleader, his coat shabby as it sheds winter thickness.


 For the next hour, we watch them nibble and graze in and around the hot spring seep. Minerals abound, and they paw and roll rocks, eating and drinking from the seep. Jan can’t take her eyes of the young kids, as they eat and play. Finally sated, the group slowly walks back up the almost sheer canyon sides, and disappears from view. Jan and I are beyond words. Never would we have expected such a display so close.


We walk out early Wednesday, passing by our first camp, re-living our close encounters with the goats. We drive home, watching as the holiday camper’s stream past us. We look forward to another trip very soon, knowing it will be hard to top this one.



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