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Mud and Solitude - Owyhee Outback #1

We've visited the Owyhee region of Oregon (and Idaho) several times, each time discovering something new, something special. Looking on a map, the region - located in southeast corner of the state - seems to be an empty wasteland. I assure you, nothing could be farther from the truth! Surely, it is remote, and from any single spot the landscape can seem monotonous - but all it takes is a little looking to find the gems hidden in plain sight. With a few days to explore, I decided it was time to look for remote areas we'd never before visited.

Plus, another benefit of a trip to the Owyhee Canyonlands was that it is reasonably close to home - at least compared to what we become accustomed to during our long drives south during the winter months. At only 9 hours, we could probably even do a little exploring on the first day of our adventure!

Stringing together a series of roads that I hoped would simply exist, I plotted a course that would lead through deep canyons, to petroglyph carved rocks, and along the edge of thousand-plus foot cliffs. All - hopefully without seeing another soul - in the remote Owyhee Outback.

With rain forecast for the area on Wednesday night - our usual departure day - and through Thursday morning, I suggested to @mrs.turbodb that we delay our start by a day and head out at 3:00am Thursday so we'd be there a few hours after the rain had stopped. Hopefully that would allow us to avoid the worst of the mud, which can turn the roads in the area into a slick, slimey mess. That was just fine with her, and we found ourselves pulling out right on time Thursday morning.

We'd made it three hours into our drive when things went sideways. @mrs.turbodb had forgotten that she'd scheduled something for Sunday, and there was a mad dash to figure out whether it could be fit into the plan. Needless to say, it wasn't happy times in the Tacoma when we turned around and headed for home so I could drop her off and do the trip by myself; seven extra hours added to the "short" drive.

As such, it was 4:30pm when I arrived in the Owyhee area, with Succor Creek Road being my entrance into the canyonlands. The sky was ominous - scattered showers still in the area - but the sun was starting to poke through in places as well. I knew the roads could be...interesting.

Hitting dirt and airing down to some really nice light.

Succor Creek Road itself was in good shape.

I planned to spend as little time on Succor Creek Road as possible - the point of this trip being to get into the outback of Owyhee - so after only a mile or two, I turned onto Camp Kettle Creek road and quickly found myself at Devil's Gate, and spent a few minutes wandering in the rocky outcropping.

Not a gate to anything.

Could use more blue sky.

I'd considered camping here, but the ground was extremely slippery and a group of eight cows had taken up residence in the same area, so I decided to press on, my tires doing their best to pull the Tacoma over the terrain as chunks of mud pelted the roof.

Oh, joy.

The top of Devil's Gate.

Like much of the Owyhee Canyonlands, this area is largely BLM land leased to ranchers. As such, there are numerous barbed wire fences, and gates to navigate - usually not any sort of problem when the weather is dry. Today however, the mere act of stepping out of the truck immediately added two inches or more of mud stuck to the bottom of my shoes and I found myself hoping that each gate I'd approach was already open.

None of them were.

Through another gate. By this point, I'd sort of given up on not having a bunch of mud in the truck. At least the weather was continuing to clear up.

Heading south now, a short stint on McIntyre Spring Road shuffled me over to an unnamed road that passed the trailhead we'd taken on our very first trip to the Owyhee's, when we'd hiked The Honeycombs. From this point on, it was going to be new territory and the unknown for me - something I found myself relishing, even as I could tell that it was time to start looking for camp.

Slipping and sliding, I followed the rolling hills, looking for a suitable spot to call home as the clouds made for a wonderful canvas on which the sun could work its magic.

And then, just before the sun fell below the horizon, it found a small opening through which it could illuminate one of my favorite features of this area - Three Fingers Rock.

I've never seen Three Fingers from this side before.

The light on the rock lasted only moments, and soon, a pink glow behind it was all that remained.

I pressed on, still looking for a "less muddy" spot to open the tent. At one point, I passed two Prius' - the ground tents of their owners set up in what I can only call a mud pit - nearby. Cooking dinner over a propane stove, they seemed content enough, though it looked like a miserable way to spend the night if you ask me. Perhaps what you get for driving such a vehicle into this area in the middle of a rainstorm?

Eventually, I spotted a short side spur to the to of a knoll and knew I'd found my site. Still muddy, at least the terrain would dry out "first" from the overnight winds and morning sun. Not that "first" would necessarily be "fast."

I made a quick dinner and got the tent deployed before retiring to the cab of the truck for a bit of reading and a bit of work on photos. It'd been a reasonably calm evening to this point, but just as I wrapped and got myself ready for bed, the winds picked up. I was glad to have oriented the truck in such a way that the tent wasn't trying to fold up on itself, and with earplugs and a cap, I cozied down in the comforters - hoping for a good night sleep and a drier day in the morning.

 

The Whole Story

9 Comments

  1. Kenny
    Kenny April 19, 2021

    Across from Devil's Gate is Kettle Falls, this time of year it is just a small amount of water coming down the wall. In the winter it can be an 80' frozen waterfall. I have traveled almost every single track and two-track trail/road in the Owyhees. I have located well over 50 homesteads in the Owyhees especially in the area when you visited Indian Hot Springs.
    I will be heading down to my camp this week to camp and ride for a couple of weeks. Great area, just very remote. This is why having an emergency locator (DeLorme InReach) is essential.
    Be safe and enjoy one of our best kept secrets.

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 19, 2021

      Never knew about Kettle Falls, but make sense given the road name there. Is it to the east or west of the Gate? (I'll need to check it out next time.) I'm nowhere near having travelled all the roads, but I got to some spots this time that I really enjoyed and that are "more" off the beaten path. Was really great, even if a bit muddy here at the start.

      Curious: have you explored a bunch of the roads west of the Lake Owyhee and the Owyhee River, north of 95? I've never been on that side, except for Chalk Basin, and I think I'll try and check it out in the future. 👍

  2. Kenny Millhouse
    Kenny Millhouse April 20, 2021

    I have not run out many trails on the west side of the reservoir, some rock hounds run that area. I have run some of them out of Jordan Valley. Stay away from Lambert Table, very, very rocky even for an ATV. Cow lakes are a cool place to visit and you can catch dinner.
    30 miles south on HWY 95 you can go West to the little spot of Arock, there is an old post office and if you go back north there is a small reservoir and dam, won't likely be much water in it this year as it was very dry. My ex-inlaws ranch there, wonderful people in the area.

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 20, 2021

      Ahh yes, we've been to Cow Lakes - camped right on the edge of the lava flow there one night; was fantastic! I'm wondering more about visiting the area south and east of Freezeout Mountain, down to Rome. Really, from 20 south, staying west of Owyhee River and east of 95 seems like an interesting triangular area to just wander.

      • Kenny Millhouse
        Kenny Millhouse April 24, 2021

        Looks like an interesting area, haven't ever been off-road in that area. I know some of the Rome area, had friends who ranched there. I have walked into the river there at the White ranch next to HWY 95, donned my waiters, and fished downstream for about two miles. None of the ranchers fish so the fishing was spectacular. I caught over 40 smallmouth bass in one hole and finally moved on, I have walked up to deer watering on the water's edge. I did take two rancher friends once and they loved it.

        My ex-wife grew up in Arock and had a pet deer just like a dog. Then one day it never showed up again and they figured he was dinner for someone. Any of the ranches in the area are accessible if you just ask. I have driven across HWY 20 west to Eugene many many times but never stopped for anything as I was a truck driver then.

        Happy trails!

  3. Marc Charbonneau
    Marc Charbonneau May 1, 2021

    You're not kidding about that mud! I was exploring the west side of the canyon a month or two ago and got stuck fast on my way out. I drive a Jeep with front and rear lockers, MT tires, it didn't make a difference. Ended up stuck for over 24 hours before someone could help me winch out.

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 1, 2021

      Oh man, glad you were finally able to get help out! Where were you exactly when you ran into trouble? I'm curious because (a) I was there about six weeks ago, and (b) I'm just curious if I've been where ever you were when you got stuck. 👍

      • Marc Charbonneau
        Marc Charbonneau May 1, 2021

        You might have been out there across the canyon the same time I was! The spot I ran into trouble is west of North Table Mountain, an area called "big mud flat" (in retrospect the name alone should probably have given me pause 😂). I didn't think much about it since I had driven in on the same road and it was fine. Either the wind shifted the water during the two days I was down in the canyon exploring or I'd just gotten lucky the first time I crossed. I had a few self-recovery tools I tried, but in the end I would have been walking out if I hadn't had a satellite communicator with me.

        • turbodb
          turbodb May 2, 2021

          Ahh! So yeah, I was on the other side of the canyon (as you realized). I've always wondered about the west side of the canyon - seems like a lot of "wild" to explore over there. I've only ever been west of the river south of 95 (Three Forks area, over to Alvord Playa) and a very little bit north of 95 at Chalk Basin.

          Is it just as cool over there on the west side, as it is on the east? It looks - perhaps - even more remote to me!

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