Camping in the Owyhee Canyonlands

Jeff Moore lives on the Oregon Coast, but he has for years made regular trips to the state's east side, both with family and as a trip leader with high school students. Here, he shares his wonder for Oregon's Owyhee and why he feels it's time to permanently protect it.

My first camping experience in the Owyhee Canyonlands was as a family over the 4th of July in 1994 at Three Forks, which is accessible by road and yet feels like the center of nowhere. We drove the road along the rim of the Owyhee River Canyon and descended the canyon on rutted roads. There, we waded across the river to the waterfall hot springs, followed the remnants of an old military road and explored numerous canyons and creeks. In the evenings, we lounged in camp enveloped in the sublime beauty of evening, river and stars.

Since then, my attachment to the Owyhee has only grown during numerous expeditions over the course of the 20-plus years with family and friends. The attraction is the remote and unique aspects of the place. A stark contrast to much of Oregon's other more popular wild areas, the Owyhee is unique for its beautiful and harsh solitude. It's a place that cultivates affection and appreciation if one is willing to take the time and effort to experience it. The history of the native peoples, pioneers and ranchers is also fascinating and noteworthy.

More recently we have camped at the reservoir, hiked the trails and experienced the colors of Leslie Gulch, watched the raptors and camped at Succor Creek, hiked the Honeycombs, and this spring rafted the Owyhee River. All were wonderful experiences and unique in their own right.

The area is clearly under more pressure, particularly from the Boise side. It was pretty much a free-for-all on our last camp out at Succor Creek -- what with 100-plus people sharing one to two portable toilets, numerous ATVs running wild and not a ranger in sight. If it goes up for oil and gas development, the roads, lights and traffic would further harm what’s wonderful about the Owyhee.

Not everyone will want to visit this remote area, but increasingly people will seek out the opportunity to enjoy the quiet beauty the Owyhee offers, just as we have. Permanent protection would help maintain the wonder of this place while also preserving the ranching tradition of local residents. And now is the time to do it.

-- Jeff Moore