Diary of the Owyhee

Bonnie Olin and her husband, Mike Quigley, believe a trip to the Owyhee Canyonlands is rewarding on multiple levels. The duo put together the words and images for the recently released book “The Owyhee River Journals.” Below are Olin’s thoughts and Quigley’s images.

Over the many years that Mike and I have been exploring the Owyhee canyons we sometimes see a float party or two on the river, but rarely have we seen people hiking the area. Granted, hiking the canyons is not easy and presents many challenges for people. It is not a walk in the park. However, if you are physically fit — even moderately fit — getting off the river, exploring a side canyon and gaining some elevation will reward you with views and new perspectives of the river, the canyon and sagebrush steppes of the plateau.

Ditto for the hiker that has only experienced a rim hike. Nothing wrong with hiking the rim, as the views are stunning!

Always be safe, of course, and carry the water, clothing, food and first aid kit that you will need for the amount of time you plan to be exploring. But think about dropping over that rim into a drainage. Follow it along for as far as you are comfortable. You’ll be amazed at what you find there. Perhaps an ancient rock shelter or a mini ecosystem of lush grasses, water, shooting stars and croaking frogs. Hunting blinds along game trails that are so old they will spark your imagination and respect for the people who built them and knew how to live in this rugged and magnificent landscape — a landscape that remains a sacred place for the Shoshone Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation and was, in part, responsible for the survival of their nation.

Most importantly, take the time to know and understand where you are, physically and historically. In all the years I have enjoyed exploring the Owyhee, I knew little of the Native American history of the canyons and I was guilty of thinking that it is an ancient history. Not so. Ted Howard, cultural director for the Shoshone Paiute Tribes at Duck Valley Indian Reservation, told me that many of his people still hold to their native beliefs and go to the canyons to seek guidance from the spirits that reside there. They seek the same solitude, quiet and beauty that we all love.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the Owyhee Canyon country, then a good place to start for a mini course on the subject is at the website for the Duck Valley Indian Reservation (click HERE). After reading the one-page history, there are three short videos you can view — all of them of excellent productions. The Shoshone Paiute History 1 video will help you to understand why the Owyhee Canyonlands will forever remain a sanctuary to this group of Native Americans, and is yet another reason to respect and protect the cultural sites we may stumble upon when visiting the area. I know that personally for me, having a better understanding of the Owyhee’s recent past was a real eyeopener. I believe it will touch your heart and help you to see its importance to all people in a new light and enrich your Owyhee experience.

— Bonnie Olin

Below is an excerpt from “The Owyhee River Journals” about a hike to Chalk Basin. For more on the book, go to: www.owyheemedia.com.

Later in the afternoon, after setting up camp and a tarp for shade, we hiked into the box canyon behind camp, then up and above the eroded layers of white, pink, rust and black chalky sediment onto the plateau above. The slopes were abloom with a profusion of purple sage, scarlet paintbrush and creamy balls of cotton buckwheat. And when we reached the highest point, our 360-degree view was a panorama of desert beauty with the Bull Run Mountains in Nevada; the snow-laden peak of Steens Mountain in Oregon; Lambert Rock, the lava flows that cap this basin in black and burnt sienna; the spires of Chalk Basin, layers of multicolored sediment laid down over time and stripped away by wind and water into sculpted works of art; and the green-brown ribbon of water, our highway on this simple adventure that never disappoints.

On our return to camp however, I was reminded of our vulnerability in this harsh but beautiful landscape. Mindful of my step, I had just seen Mike slip on an area of loose rock on our narrow path. I stepped quickly there but fell on the steep slope and landed hard on my right thigh, knocking the wind out of me and creating a sickening momentary pain. Nothing appeared broken, but the abrasion was large and nasty and beginning to swell. Mike would be able to put that first aid kit to use at long last. The remaining hike back to camp was not painful. In fact, it was better to keep the leg moving. Once in camp, Mike put antiseptic on the abrasion, wrapped my leg from top of thigh to the knee, and we continued on with our evening.