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A Plane, a Military Mockup, and a Sunken Dozer | Idaho-wyhee #1

With the warmer weather finally making its way north, and the Tacoma at home for a bit of maintenance after the last several months of living in Las Vegas, @mrs.turbodb and I thought that it would be fitting to mark the anniversary of our very first trip in the Tacoma by visiting the Owyhee.

We wouldn't explore exactly the same spots - we rarely do - but we'd find ourselves in wonderfully similar surroundings, the fleeting green grass of spring welcoming us back. This time we decided to explore the Idaho side of this amazing wilderness, setting off on a warm Wednesday morning for the 12-hour drive south.

I must say - in the six months we've stored the truck in Las Vegas, we've been spoiled. Not long ago, a 12-hour drive would have seemed like child's play to us, a mere footnote on and adventure. But with two-hour flights now the norm, we were both ready for bed when we arrived in pitch darkness and a bit of rain - our first camp site along Sheep Creek, a location we hoped would afford a dramatic view the following morning.

The Owyhee always looks so flat...

...until you're right up on the edge.

Luckily the rain didn't last long and by the time we woke up in the morning, the tent was dry. More importantly - as the mud in this area can be notorious - the roads were dry as well, or at least as dry as they could be with all the extra moisture that'd fallen out of the sky as white stuff over the course of the winter.

We took a short stroll to the big bend of Sheep Creek so we could peer down to the bottom.

Having slept for a couple more hours after my initial pre-sunrise photos, it was nearly 11:00am when we finally rolled out of camp. As much as I am usually an early-morning riser, I have to admit to welcoming our slower pace on this particular morning as I recovered from a head cold that probably should have kept me home anyway.

The clouds were looking fantastic as we headed out across the grassy plains.

Blackstone Reservoir had plenty of water in it from all the snow melt.

It was as we were cruising along - at reasonably slow speeds - that I heard the first light screeching noise coming from the front passenger corner of the Tacoma. Pretty sure that the culprit was simply a rock stuck in the brake dust shield, I didn't think much of it. Over the next few minutes, the sound became louder. Eventually, when @mrs.turbodb commented on it, I stopped the truck and backed up a few dozen feet - usually enough to dislodge any debris that's found its way into this annoying location.

Unfortunately - despite several more attempts at dislodging the rock - the noise remained. Not only that, but it got worse. Within a few miles it was worryingly loud, and I began to question my initial diagnosis - could it be that my wheel bearing was going out? That would certainly be a problem.

Resigned, we decided to get to the highway - the direction we were headed already - before digging into the situation any further. That way, if it turned out to require a tow, at least we'd be on pavement and save ourselves a few bucks.

Minor surgery.

While I jacked up the front of the Tacoma with the Hi-Lift - an easy job given the jack points cleverly built into every @RelentlessFab bumper - my copilot took the opportunity to make turkey sandwiches for lunch on the tailgate. These would have been welcomed under any circumstance, but in this particular case they afforded me a celebratory meal when a small rock fell from the brake dust shield a few moments after I removed the front wheel! My original diagnoses had been correct, and I wasn't going crazy!

Our spirits lifted and bellies full, we crossed the highway towards a series of locations that seemed interesting. It's here that I should note that we owe much of what we experienced on this trip to Kenny - a fellow explorer of the Owyhee region who has spent decades combing the roads and compiling the history of this amazing place. In fact, Kenny and I had tentatively - finally - hoped to meet up on this very trip, until his excursion was delayed a week, resulting in our departure on the day before he arrived!

The stone ruins of the old Sego Place. This family built the first Grasmere station on Duncan Butte Road, then built the new (now abandoned) facility on highway 51

When the land looks the same all around, the view out the back door is the same as the front - fabulous!

We're always up for a good homestead ruin - and we'd get plenty of those on this adventure - but what caught our eye as we pulled up to the Sego Place was a compound in the distance. Really, there wouldn't have been anything noteworthy about it, but for the fact that we'd seen another unexplained - at the time - compound less than ten miles away on a previous trip to the area with Mike @Digiratus, Zane @Speedytech7 and Ben @m3bassman, a few years earlier.

Even from a distance, we were pretty sure this wasn't a pig farm.

A little bolder than we'd been on our last visit, we drove right up to the gate.

Sure enough, the information we'd been provided as a result of the previous foray proved correct, signage on the fence alerting us to the fact that this was a government facility, and that we'd better not get too close, as the entire place was a laser range used for target practice by the planes that were constantly buzzing us overhead.

I was ready to turn around when @mrs.turbodb pointed out the "windows" to me. Suddenly, I was even more intrigued.

The air conditioning probably didn't work too well, either.

"Chimneys." Perhaps these have similar radar signatures to brick-and-mortar construction?

From one military installation, we set off towards another - more somber - attraction. Somewhere west of Grasmere - out in the middle of the desert - a plane crashed decades earlier. Strewn over a half-mile, several components of the aircraft remain on site, a testament to those who lost their lives in the service of our country.

Follow the green grass road - it's spring out here.

Streamside bluebells were plentiful along our route. (Mertensia ciliata)

Not many people visit this site, the road petering out as we arrived.

On October 2, 1969, RF-4C #65-0889 took off from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, for a night-time, low-level navigation training mission. The aircraft was with the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. In the pilot's seat was Major Walter Biolley, and in the rear seat was navigator First Lieutenant James Coleman.

Their instructions were to fly east to Idaho Falls and back, following several checkpoints along the way. If weather and fuel allowed, they were instructed to make one practice photo run at the Saylor Creek bombing range before returning.

At 9:30 p.m. the flight radioed the wing command post and was cleared for a pass over the range. Shortly after this 65-0889 encountered bad weather, and at 9:51 p.m. the RF-4C collided with terrain about 35 miles south of the base. The aircraft was completely destroyed and both men were killed instantly. geocache at site

Both turbo-prop engines in their final resting place.

Just off the edge - and inaccessible due to a steeper-than-it-looks snowbank - of the plateau, the fuselage of the jet lay in a mangled heap.

Luckily, my longer lens was able to get us a little closer.

We wandered for a while, trying to gain access to the fuselage, but the snowbank and thicket of trees were enough to keep us from reaching the final piece of wreckage. And, while we noted a road that accessed the area from the opposite direction, we ultimately opted to continue along our planned route, rather than taking a 26-mile detour to end up in approximately the same location.

Instead, our route would take us south - along the edge of the plateau and the never-ending snowbank - as we set our sights on something relatively rare in this neck of the wilderness - rock art!

Before reaching any petroglyphs, we attempted to visit the ruins at Wild Horse Spring, but were turned back by what still remained of winter's 187% snowpack.

Knowing that we'd be flirting with snow if we got much above 5,600-feet, I'd done my best to keep us at elevations of 5,100-feet and lower throughout the trip, but I'd missed the fact that this part of Owyhee climbed to just over 6,000-feet.

Except for potentially blocking our path, the snow itself wasn't really a problem. Rather, it was the melt - and resulting high-desert Owyhee mud - that had us keeping a sharp eye out as we continued along the road. We've been stuck in the Owyhee muck before, and experienced the mess that it can create more than once; neither of these were situations we wanted to repeat.

A quick look on the topo map suggested that one northerly-facing rock art site would likely still be hidden by snow drifts, while the other - facing south - stood a good chance of being exposed. Of course, the roads themselves were anyone's guess.

Natural reservoirs were full as we wound our way through the high desert.

Colorful wildflowers were making it known that winter was over. Long-leafed phlox (Phlox longifolia).

It was 3:00pm - and only a few tense sections of trail - when we reached the first site. Sure enough, a snowbank covered many of the rock faces, but we were elated to discover that the petroglyphs themselves were already exposed.

As if anticipating our arrival, the snow retreated in all the right places.

A close up of dotted circles, which we thought looked like lady bugs.

More lady bugs.

The circle around a starburst on the right side of this panel caught both of our attention.

While there weren't a lot of recognizable figures, the dot motif was evidenced on nearly every patinaed surface.

Excited that the first set of petroglyphs had been accessible, our spirits were high for the second set. In hindsight, this may have been a bit of chicken counting-before-hatching, but you know what they say about hindsight and all that.

@mrs.turbodb was opening and closing gates the entire trip. 28 gates in all.

Skirting the snow again, we eventually found ourselves parked along the escarpment between the two levels of the plateau. It was time to start our search.

Several seasonal creeks threatened to make the roads impassable as they carried snowmelt into the valleys.

Found one, and it's a - rare in this area - anthropomorph!

I had no idea what this meant, but I like the story that the dots tell, between the two figures.

Running man.

So many feet.

Only recently exposed.

Needless to say, we were thrilled with the petroglyphs we'd seen at this second site. While there'd been more snow here than we expected, so were the number of glyphs along the boulders of the escarpment. And then - as I made my way around the corner of a protruding rock, I spotted something totally unexpected - a pictograph panel!

I've never seen pictographs in Owyhee - though we have discovered a few a little further west - so I was super excited to see the red pigment still easily visible on the wall. Amazing how something like that can survive for so many years.

Signature of an artist.

This sun figure was a super cool discovery.

Strangely, the pictograph panel ended up being just another panel in a long series of petroglyphs, and after calling @mrs.turbodb over to check out the amazing discovery, I continued down the line.

I really liked how this panel wrapped around the corner of the rock.

I don't know what this panel represents, but it's being invaded by...

Millions of immature Mormon crickets!

Flush with success from finding two rock art sites, we threaded our way through the sage to the Tacoma and pointed ourselves east. It was getting on to 5:30pm at this point and we knew that it was going to take us a good couple of hours - along some rather bumpy-and-slow-going roads to reach our final destination of the day.

Not that we'd have anything to do - except set up camp - once we got there, rather this destination would strategically position us at the trailhead to Cave Draw - our first foray of the following day. And so, with the sun at our backs - always the best way to travel - we followed a familiar series of roads that have twice delivered us to Indian Hot Springs.

The combination of a green high desert, deep canyons, snow-capped mountains, and puffy white clouds - there's not much nicer than Owyhee in spring.

The ultimate Owyhee-lander. Pretty soon, we'll see the vanlifers and insta-tubers rolling around in these land trains.

This little guy - only about half-grown - looked on curiously as we cruised through Louis S. Eastman's place.

Having always taken the same route off of Rowland Road to access Indian Hot Springs, we opted for an alternate approach on this fine, sunny evening. This turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. The roads shown on our map had been long reclaimed by the desert - making for a longer detour than we expected, but we also found ourselves reasonably near a big lake, which turned out to be a lot more interesting than we could have imagined.

Actually, what we noticed from a distance wasn't the lake itself, but an old semi-trailer parked along its edge. The trailer turned out to be uninteresting, but as we gazed out across the lake, we realized that the entire thing was a completely dry playa. Not only that, but - out here in the middle of nowhere - there wasn't a track to be seen on the surface. It was like our very own, very private, Alvord Playa.


Technically we weren't the only powered vehicle, but this bulldozer wasn't in any shape to make tracks of its own.

Still half an hour from our planned destination, we seriously considered setting up for the night right here.

After contemplating camp, we opted for our original plan - the convenience of camping at the trailhead and being able to get an early start on our hike the following morning - even without breaking down camp - outweighed the opportunity to camp in this unusual place.

After several more miles of "flat," we spotted the signature surprise of the Owyhee - just a hint of something much larger, below us.

As color splashed across the sky, we set up camp and prepped dinner at one of our favorite places - the very end of a long, lonely road.

It'd been a fabulous day exploring a new area in a region we love. And, as the 80°F daytime temperature dropped into the low 50s °F with a gentle breeze overnight, we couldn't have asked for better weather.

That's not to say everything would go to plan. By 8:00am the following morning, we'd be scrapping our plans and looking for alternatives.




The Whole Story


  1. Verlan Stephens
    Verlan Stephens June 19, 2023

    I lived in Boise while in college, and fished in the Owyhees before the snow melted further north. We too an overnight field trip for a geology class to visit an active open pit gold mine down there as well. Very cool area with very few people.

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 20, 2023

      I've often said to others that if you're into exploring the outdoors, Boise is a pretty good place to call home - so central to so much good stuff! I'm curious about the open pit gold mine - if you remember any details - as it seems like a place I might like to check out! Was it by chance the Delamar?

      • Verlan Stephens
        Verlan Stephens June 29, 2023

        Based on the dates of operation I think that you're right this was the DeLamar gold silver mine. One of my kids has a geode that I found in the mine as we toured it.

  2. Kenny
    Kenny June 20, 2023

    Another fine trip to my stomping grounds, lots of old homesteads to see and beautiful views everywhere you look. The Air Force facility you came across is one of three sites that the A-10s use as low-level laser bombing targets. I have seen the A-10s there many times flying low and slow, and they always do a wingtip rock to acknowledge your presence.
    The F-15s in the area generally fly high and fast and often break the sound barrier. I have seen the F-15s flying low and fast and it scared the daylights out of me. This is part of the Saylor Creek bombing area that the Air Force uses for training missions.
    The Seiko (Sago) place is a friends great grandfather's homestead and his great uncle built the first Grasmere station on Duncan Butte road, then built the new facility on Hwy. 51. After he sold the second station the guy eventually walked away and left everything behind due to a lack of business. Over the years it has been pilfered through leaving only trash behind.
    The jet crash you came upon is, debris is that of a USAF Phantom F-4D. The tail number was 65889 and the accident date was October 04, 1969, as I recall both pilots ejected and survived.
    Be careful exploring this area as it is very remote and no cell phone service anywhere unless you have a satellite phone or an InReach emergency locator. I recently had to radio for a life flight rescue for a fellow rider that crashed on her ATV, took 40 minutes to get to her from Boise, Idaho. She ended up being okay with just three broken ribs. Another caution like TurboDan mentioned is the Owyhee gumbo mud, it sticks like glue and will bind up your suspension after a while and render you stuck.
    Thanks Dan for the great photos and story, glad you were able to find the petroglyphs.

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 20, 2023

      Kenny - as always, I'm in awe of your knowledge of this place and I want to thank you again for everything you share with me about it. Being one of the first places (really, the first place) that @mrs.turbodb and I set out to explore back in 2016, I continue to be amazed by all it has to offer and find myself pulled back all the time. I know we missed each other on this trip, but I really do hope we can hook up there in the future! Stay safe out there and enjoy the wide open!

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