Out on the end of Owyhee's Tongue was one of the windiest nights I've ever spent in the tent. I think things calmed down for about two hours - between 10:00pm and midnight - but for the rest of the time, it was like sleeping in a washing machine. For how windy it was, I still slept relatively well - waking up now and then when the entire truck was rocked on its suspension, but always dozing back to sleep within a few minutes.
I woke up an hour before sunrise and snapped a cell phone photo before zipping up the tent again and sleeping for another 90 minutes!
Having known that clouds were scheduled to roll in after the previous beautiful blue day, I figured there wasn't really any point to being up for sunrise, so I hadn't even set my alarm. My hope for today was that the weather-guessers had gotten it right - clouds but no rain - and that there'd be enough contrast in the clouds to provide a little drama to the day's photos. Only time would tell, but the windy morning in camp - when I got my first real view off of The Tongue - seemed to get off to a good start!
Just a peek of sun for the day, streaming in under the clouds that would only grow thicker.
The rain fly was definitely getting a workout!
I decided that before having breakfast - I knew it would be "interesting" to try and pour/eat Cheerios in 40mph gusts - I'd do my best to get the tent put away. I've found that having the side of the tent oriented into the wind seems to result in the least wind noise at night - unintuitive to me, given that it presents a larger surface area - which meant that I didn't have to fight the wind to fold everything up, a small win that I was grateful for!
Fifteen minutes later, I was inadvertently distributing Cheerios across The Tongue as a gust of wind carried several of them over the edge of my bowl. Determined not to lose any more, I headed for the edge of the plateau, where I hoped to eat in peace. It was truly amazing how calm it was just below the rim - if only I'd been able to park here the evening before!
Looking south, the Owyhee River winding its way toward me.
Directly across from the tip of The Tongue, colorful walls rose a couple hundred feet above the water.
To the south, Lake Owyhee. Just visible in the lower right, I completely missed the metal roof of a cabin I'd visit just a few hours later!
Breakfast consumed - and the wind driving me from my camp - I had three out-and-backs planned for the day, in addition to the and-back that I still had from The Tongue itself. And so, I set off on my first - a bit to the east - down into Spring Canyon.
Dropping down off of the plateau, the landscape below me looked promising!
Soon, I was driving into the landscape I'd seen from above.
It was as I was making my descent - or rather, that I was out of the Tacoma photographing it - that I heard a roar overhead. "Strange," I thought, "it sounds like I'm in Death Valley." Sure that I'd look up to see a passenger plane, I was stunned to see a couple F-15s engaged in a simulated dog fight! Having only seen my first dog fight a few weeks earlier, I was pretty excited to see another one, so far away from the first.
After watching the air show for as long as they remained in the sky above, I climbed back in the truck and continued on my way - my spirits high with the day off to a fabulous start.
Owyhee geology. I don't know what it is, but it's all volcanic.
Before long, I found myself at a gate. This isn't all that uncommon in Owyhee - after all, the entire place is used by ranchers for grazing - and as I was opening it up to pass through, some names etched into a rock next to the gate caught my eye. I went over to investigate.
The names didn't turn out to be that interesting - likely fakes given the "1820" date, but I did really like this detailed elk; to my knowledge, not a local beast.
A few minutes later, I caught my breath as I reached the bottom of Spring Canyon. Below me, a grassy field spilled up and down stream, the absence of cows allowing it to thrive. The road continued both directions, meaning I had a decision to make - not that it mattered, as I was sure to investigate both directions before I was done!
Wow. And already the sky was doing a good job of adding a bit of drama.
I decided to head down-canyon first. I'd heard from Kenny ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ - a friend who knows the Owyhee area well, perhaps better than anyone - that there was a locked gate at the bottom of the road, and I wanted to check it out. Sure enough, as I neared Lake Owyhee, a gate presented itself - to keep boaters with UTVs nearer the lake, I assumed. I parked the Tacoma and carried on, on foot.
My satellite research hadn't suggested that there was a cabin here - and I hadn't noticed it from The Tongue - so I was excited to find one when I arrived.
The cabin was in great shape, and is still actively used. No Trespassing signs and surveillance equipment are present, so I just took a shot through the window.
I couldn't resist making it all the way to the edge of the lake!
With the lower trail in the bag, I headed back up the canyon to see what else I could discover. Already, I'd seen another relatively well-constructed cabin a little further up the access road, but I wasn't sure what to expect as far as occupancy was concerned and I had no idea if the road would continue to more cabins as it wound its way north - over Mahogany Mountain and toward Leslie Gulch.
I can totally see why folks - at least at some point - would want to live here.
From a distance, the cabin looked pretty official - especially for something this far out in Owyhee.
Looks like I found the MacKenzie place. A joint venture with both brands!
Not currently occupied or even totally finished, there were building supplies that looked decades old - hauled out and then never installed.
The cabin was by far one of the nicest I've seen, and I did a bit of trash pickup around the place - leaving it nicer than I found it, something I hope the MacKenzie would appreciate - before climbing back into the Tacoma to continue up the trail.
What a view from the front yard. The green grass - unchewed by cattle - was flowing in the wind.
I continued up the trail for several miles until it really started climbing up Mahogany Mountain. While I could have continued following it, I knew - from previous adventures in this neck of the canyonlands - that the road was gated and locked on the opposite end. Between myself and that point - somewhere - was wilderness, so there wasn't really any point in pushing forward when I knew I'd have to turn around anyway. Instead, I slowly made my way back to the main valley, soaking in the views as the upper canyon looked down on the lower.
A little spot of sun seemed to highlight the rock face below.
I really liked the layered look of this basalt. It is not - as it appears - sedimentary rock.
Back in the valley, my first exploration of the day was complete, but I found myself dragging my feet rather than hurrying on. The views down here - and the wind blowing through the long(ish) grass was just fantastic, and I spent 10 minutes doing my best to capture it.
Wind in the grass. Captured poorly.
Wrapping up the out-and-back Spring Canyon, my next out-and-back wasn't far away. In fact, it was just on the opposite (west) side of The Tongue, and soon I was once again dropping off of the plateau into the valley below. I was headed into Blue Valley.
Despite their proximity, the feel of the two canyons couldn't have been more different. While both were green with spring, Blue Valley had very little of the orange rock that I'd been immersed in all morning. Rather, rolling, folded hillsides stretched out as far as the eye could see - only broken by distant buttes and the meandering flow of the river below.
Down into Blue Valley, the clouds continued their dramatic contribution to the landscape.
Red Butte, looking a little green in the spring.
At the bottom of Blue Valley, the road forked. I'd be taking each fork - both out-and-backs as it were - before the day was done, but I decided that I'd head east, first, to the old Watson Cemetery and to some petroglyphs I hoped to find. It turned out that this section of trail was rather narrow and rocky - mostly designed for, and travelled by, ATVs. Having discovered the previous afternoon that I'd forgotten to reinstall my front skid plate - after a Shop Day at Zane's - I decided that it'd be prudent to hike the final mile, rather than risk a cracked oil pan.
Cross-country travel at its finest.
Look at those layers!
The Watson Cemetery still sports a reasonably fancy gate.
There were only six headstones in the entire place, two of which were blank. I wonder if others have been completely lost to time.
I was excited to find the petroglyphs I'd been after. Their style seemed to match others I've found in the Canyonlands, though I've never seen a rainbow here before!
There were quite a few petroglyphs at this site, but my favorite was this tree surrounded by dots.
Unlike my slow pace in Spring Canyon, I kept up a reasonably quick pace in Blue Valley. There were a couple reasons for that, but the most important at this particular time was that I was getting hungry. There'd been a perfect lunch spot near the Watson Cemetery - and I could see my kitchen - but alas, it was a mile upstream.
If only I'd driven, I could have been enjoying lunch rather than hiking towards it.
The other reason I found myself speeding up a bit was that the clouds overhead seemed to be a little more... threatening than they had in the morning. I didn't feel any real worry - yet - of actual rain, but I did find myself wishing that I'd checked one of the ham radio weather stations for the forecast prior to dropping down out of broadcast range.
The Owyhee Canyonlands are no place to be when rain turns the roads to a mucky mess!
With only a mile to cover, I was back at the truck in no time, and headed west on the second fork of the Blue Valley route. Ultimately, this fork would take me to Hattie Harrell's Island Ranch, but first I had more draw-dropping scenery and lunch to enjoy.
The sky isn't looking great, but that mountain-of-volcanic ash sure is!
Winding my way along the river, wondering how long the rain will hold off.
When the sun poked through - for the last time it would turn out - I seized the opportunity and assembled lunch in a rather perfect location.
I've seen this arch before.
It was a little after 1:30pm when I spotted Hattie Harrell's ranch in the grove of cottonwoods ahead. We'd first seen this ranch from the other side of the river - almost exactly a year earlier - on our Owyhee West trip, and I'd wondered ever since, what it was.
Curiosity - nearly - satisfied.
It turns out that - like the Griffith Ranch a little further upstream on the west side of the river - the creation of the Owyhee Reservoir led to its demise. From a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sign:
The Harrell family earned a living raising cattle and horses. Two waterwheels irrigated alfalfa hay grown on their fields. The farmstead contained a stone house, bunkhouse, shed, stables, corrals, and storage cellars. In 1927 Harrell's 139 acres were purchased by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for $3600 as a buffer for the soon-to-be-constructed Owyhee Reservoir.
The ranch house was built in two phases it seemed - likely with the wooden structure being added to the stone one - and connected by a hallway - as the family grew.
A ranchers home.
A nearby dugout looked quite appropriate under a dead cottonwood.
In the yard, an old thatching machine lay rusting under the gray sky.
One of two waterwheels that irrigated alfalfa hay grown in the Harrell family fields.
Well, with a bit of my curiosity satiated by visiting this homestead I'd been wondering about for more than a year, it was time to scratch another itch that had been bothering me for approximately the same amount of time. On that same trip - along the west side of the Owyhee River - I'd spotted a road high up on the eastern escarpment of the canyon. A series of switchbacks, I made a note to investigate when I got home.
I year earlier when I spotted this zigzag I thought, "Doesn't that look intriguing!"
Now, with a bit more knowledge, and a lot of history, I couldn't wait to investigate this trail. That is, assuming the rain held off!