Childlike wonder in the Owyhee

Kyle Smith resides in Salem, Oregon, and works to preserve North America’s rivers for the enjoyment of future generations. Kyle spends the majority of his time daydreaming about cold fall mornings spent on steep scree slopes hunting chukkar with his dog, Sawyer. When not lamenting a season that is far too short, Kyle enjoys fly fishing, backcountry skiing, cycling and exploring Oregon with his friends and family.

In the time I’ve spent outdoors hiking, fishing, camping and hunting, I’ve come to appreciate a certain mystique possessed by only a few special places around the U.S. It’s the power and beauty of a place you can feel welling up through the soles of your boots. It’s the punched-in-the-gut breathlessness you get when you look up at a diamond scattered night sky. It’s the deeper laughs and wider smiles of your friends around the evening’s campfire. The Owyhee Canyonlands is all of those things and much, much more.

Not many places on Earth demonstrate the geological diversity and evoke the childlike wonder you find in this southeastern corner of Oregon. From the rocky curiosities of Jordan Craters to the 15 million-year-old soaring sculptures of Leslie Gulch, the scenery alone is enough to keep a curious outdoorsperson occupied for a lifetime. Add to that pronghorn, chukar and bighorn sheep, and it’s a wonder that you can go there in the peak of hunting season and still manage to find solitude.

As I write this post, my hands grow increasingly clammy and I can feel my heart rate quicken at the thought of getting myself back to this magical place. I can smell the morning’s touch-too-strong coffee as it mixes with the crisp, sagebrush soaked air. I can see shadows fleeing as the sun crests over the eastern skyline. I can feel the excitement well in my belly in anticipation of an evening soak in one of the prolific hot springs sprinkled across the landscape. I can hear my dog’s panicked pacing as I strap on her collar and lace up my boots to head out in search of wild birds. Perhaps the strongest sensation I have as I think on the Owyhee Canyonlands is a desperate need to protect this place so that my grandchildren can share all of the wonders I’ve been lucky to experience.

— Kyle Smith