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Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway - Owyhee #1

In all of our trips to the Owyhee area, we've only ever really explored the western half - the Owyhee Canyonlands. Of course, there's some really cool stuff there - Three Forks, Coffepot Crater, the Honeycombs, Snively Hot Springs, and Juniper Gulch - but the Owyhee area is quite a lot larger than its Oregon acreage. With this trip, we were going to change all that - and then some!

Our plan - at least at the beginning - was to hit up the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, a ~100 mile journey from Grand View, Idaho to Jordan Valley, Oregon, exploring several areas along the way. From there, we'd find our way to places we'd been before - finally (hopefully) getting to soak in Three Forks Hot Springs and see the south side of Jordan Craters. And then we'd head even further west and south - out of Owyhee - to the Alvord Desert and Pueblo Mountains, in search of a B-24 Liberator crash site from 1945.

We departed on a Wednesday, planning to return on Sunday - and within an hour of hitting the freeway, @mrs.turbodb had found a what looked to be a cool addition to the trip as she perused Backcountry Roads-Idaho in the passenger seat. Just a few miles south of where we'd planned to start, we called an audible and set our sights on Zeno Canyon, home to what looked to be an amazing waterfall that we could hike to in the morning before setting out west along the byway.

At that point, it was just a matter of ticking away the paved miles to get to our adventure. Traffic was light, and the whole thing was reasonably uneventful as we made our way through Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The day still had a few highlights of course - we saw the parts of an ginormous windmill being trucked to its final destination, we enjoyed some Wendy's on the tailgate, and sunset was nothing to scoff at.

A little larger than windmills of the old west.

No eating in the truck.

Purty.

It was 10:00pm by the time we made it to the Zeno Canyon trailhead. Unable to tell much about our surroundings, we leveled out the Tacoma as best we could and climbed up into the tent - happy for a bit of shut-eye before what would be an early morning hike into canyon.

The wind picked up through the night, and was quite gusty by morning.

Surrounded by rolling hills, we didn't get much of a sunrise, but the view down into the canyon was exciting to see. Apparently there are a few ways to access Zeno Canyon, but the two most popular restrict access to the falls. Luckily for us, this less popular access route - which was cross country and trail less - made access possible, as long as we were willing to scramble down a 60° scree field into the canyon.

Enticing view from camp.

The access route into the canyon took us through a couple mucky springs and across a few feeder creeks, making me glad I was wearing my Arctic Sport Muck Boots. After less than a mile, we found ourselves at a gap in the canyon wall, and scrambled our way down through mini scree-slides.

And with that, Zeno Canyon opened up before us.

Could spend all day exploring here, I bet!

The small creek we'd been following down into the canyon turned out to be the one feeding the falls, and a quick jog to our north revealed the water cascading over the 70-foot drop. Unfortunately for us, despite the rain the previous day, it'd been a dry spring, resulting in a volume of water that was a little underwhelming. Still, we could see how this would be quite the experience on a hot summer day - the mist billowing at the bottom, the vegetation a brilliant green under the sun.

Zeno (mini-) Falls.

A twenty minute climb got us back to the Tacoma, and after a quick breakfast we stowed camp and headed north - all by 8:30am or 7:30am by our Pacific time body-clocks. We'd definitely gotten an early start to the day! The road into Zeno Canyon had been some 30 miles or so - all travelled in the dark - which meant everything on the way back out was new-again to us; a nice side-effect of our late arrival.

As the sun and clouds jostled for superiority of the skies, the green of spring was clearly making its way to this part of usually-golden-brown-Idaho.

As we arrived at the eastern end of the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, it was immediately clear that the various books and research we'd done prior to setting out were - to put it mildly - dated. While they'd mentioned that the road was graded, they'd also suggested that travelling the byway could be treacherous after any amount of rain. And, having rained nearly the entire previous day, we were initially concerned that we might find ourselves in a muddy situation.

Clearly, that wasn't going to be the case here.

Into the mist.

Sure that we'd have plenty of ungraded dirt roads in our future, and with expansive high desert views to keep us entertained, we made excellent time as we headed west. And that of course meant that whenever we saw something interesting along the side of the road, we had no trouble stopping to take a closer look.

Being relatively early in the year, and right around 5000', we could also see snow higher up on the plateau. We hoped there was little of that in our future - various legs of the trip touching on 6000-7000' levels.

Speeding along at a cool 30-to-40 mph, we used a combination of the Backcountry Roads-Idaho book and a BLM guide to the byway to educate ourselves along the way. A cool sounding side-trip up Antelope Springs Road to see some old mining ruins was enough to make us forego forward progress for a while.

Even higher on the plateau than we'd been, the views of Quicksilver Mountain and Hayden Peak to the north were quite the treat, and spring was obviously in the air, even as the clouds threatened from above. While we never found the mining ruins - likely off one of the plentiful side roads along the way - it was still a nice change of pace from the byway.

Nestled in the distant mountains is Silver City, Idaho - a place we'd never been...

Spring struggle. Keep at it little buddy.

Our stomachs still not sure whether we should be on Pacific time or Mountain time (technically at this point, we were on mountain time), as we returned to the Owyhee Uplands Byway, we figured it didn't really matter - if we were hungry, we should eat. That worked out well because within the next half hour or so, we crossed Deep Creek and the mouth of Deep Creek Canyon. While @mrs.turbodb whipped up sandwiches, I took a few minutes to pop up the side of the canyon for some photos of the situation.

Not a bad place to put in a canoe or eat a little lunch.

Deep Creek Canyon.

It always amazes me how - out here where everything looks flat for miles and miles - the interesting features of the terrain dive thousands of feet down rather than the more typical up that I'm used to with mountain and ridge tops.

Lunch was a quick-ish affair which we completed well before noon, the warm rays of the sun now really starting to kick the clouds where it counted, giving us more and more blue sky as the day wore on.

From Deep Creek, the next bit of route I'd planned was a side trip off of the byway. Actually, it was one of two possible side trips, since we weren't sure we'd have enough fuel to do both. Our decision was between turning southeast toward a point on the map labeled "Dickshooter," or turning south and climbing up to the top of Juniper Mountain. After less discussion than I think either of us expected, we decided that with a name like Dickshooter, we had to give that a looksee.

Or not.

Earlier, I mentioned the rain that passed through the area the previous day - its effect nearly imperceptible on the well-graded Uplands Byway. Well, we'd been having sprinkles - mostly of hail - through the day as well, and as we turned southeast, another flurry came through. That, along with the previous day's rain turned the road into a slippery mess and before long we were in 4WD, mucking our way around turns and through low-lying spots. We'd made it all of 5 miles when we decided to call it quits - after our last muddy foray to the Eastern Mojave, we didn't really want to deal with the same situation again on this trip.

So yeah, we still need to get to Dickshooter sometime in the future.

The sun started to shine as we pulled back onto the main road, and it wasn't but a mile or two before we reached the southern turn towards Juniper Mountain. Up we went, our fingers crossed that we wouldn't encounter the same mucky roads as we set our sights on the summit.

It turned out that the roads here were in much better shape - perhaps the result of better drainage off of the mountain, rather than pooling on the road in a valley - and as our speed picked up again, we rounded a corner to see a very well maintained cabin nestled into a grove of Junipers.

Clearly, this is a place that's still commonly used, though no one was home on this early spring day. That fact allowed us all the time we wanted to explore, but in a less in-depth manner than if the resident had been there to show us around. Mostly because the cabin was tightly locked up!

A turn or two later up the mountain we plowed into our first snow drift. It wouldn't be our last - and luckily for us, it was easily passable... not something that would be true of future drifts in the coming days!

The Juniper Mountain Road is a 70-mile long, lollipop-shaped, road - one where you drive out the stick, then around a loop, and finally back down the stick again. In planning the route, I'd assumed that the loop portion would take us around the mountain - never achieving the summit - but as we reached the junction in the road we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves already at the highest point, and the top of the mountain!

A few quick photos and a bathroom break and we decided that there was little reason to continue on - the views from the top were largely blocked by the Junipers that gave this mountain its name, and the snow drifts were beginning to get deeper and more frequent as well.

Instead, we found ourselves a nice series of puddles, and clicked away for a few minutes as the truck washed off some of the mud we'd picked up on our failed attempt to reach Dickshooter. Not that we'd have skipped it even if the truck was clean...

Entering wash zone.

"Lower jet spray" beginning.

Technically, this was cleaning the Tacoma.

The Tacoma cleaner than it'd been in the last 2 hours, we pointed ourselves north and headed back toward the final 30 miles or so of the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway. As was the case with much of the road, these miles went quickly and before we knew it we were crossing into Oregon. Not long after - at perhaps only 2:45pm in the afternoon - we found ourselves pulling into the little town of Jordan Valley with plenty of fuel to spare - none of our side-trips off of the Byway as long as we'd envisioned, and the condition of the Byway itself good enough that we'd never even aired down.

All the time left in the afternoon meant only one thing - we needed to do more exploring! So, we filled up at the local Sinclair station - for what I think was the cheapest price we've ever paid there @ $2.21/gallon - and cleaned all the windows of the remaining mud. The truck wasn't clean by a long shot, but at least now we could use the windows without scratching the glass and sending fingernails-on-a-chalkboard shivers up our spine every time we rolled them up and down.

Fueled up and with visibility high, we set out - our next destination a landscape altogether different than the one we'd just left - we were headed for the remains of one of North America's youngest volcanoes - the southern border of Jordan Craters...

The Whole Story

8 Comments

  1. John Moore
    John Moore May 12, 2020

    Fantastic adventure. Great write up and photos. I could live in that cabin.

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 12, 2020

      Thanks John! Someone is clearly enjoying that place, that's for sure! 🙂

  2. Greg
    Greg May 13, 2020

    I’m curious as to why you started at the east end rather than Jordan Valley. If you were coming from Wa. would’nt Jordan Valley have been closer to start.

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 13, 2020

      Hey Greg, we started on the east end because we wanted to end up even further west at the end of the trip, which you will see in the upcoming posts. So, we could have Dunn the entire trip in the reverse order.

      Hope you're enjoying the story, and enjoy the next few parts as well!

      Really though, it doesn't matter which end we start at and which end we finish at, because either way, we're either driving to WA from the east end or to the east end from WA

  3. Jeannie
    Jeannie May 14, 2020

    Oh, what is that lovely purple flower with the bright yellow center?! Actually, it doesn't matter. The important thing is it wowed me!

    Curious and interesting to hear of terrain "diving down" instead of rising up as happens in mountainous areas. Liked that.

    And what glee to splash through all that mud - can just imagine!
    Lastly, I'm vying for that cabin too. 🤩

  4. Jim Battagin
    Jim Battagin May 17, 2020

    Satin Flower UJ

  5. Mike
    Mike May 19, 2020

    Hmm, what magic is happening with the difference in wheels in the last pic?

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 19, 2020

      Hahahaha, was wondering if anyone would catch that. I didn't have a pic of Jordan Valley from this trip, so I used one from a previous trip that we took down there. Here's the story: Idaho Epilogue: We Found the Overland Trail

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