Moby goes with ONDA to the Owyhee

This post is a long one. Stick with it if you like fish, rocks, flowers, and wide open desert spaces. LC


1-Rine ranch and pond The Rinehart Ranch. Located in the heart of SE Oregon’s Owyhee country, (near Crowley if you want to look for it) this ranch was established a century ago. In this land of little rain, it was no doubt sited here due to the awesome spring that gushes 100’s of gallons a minute of 70°F sweet water. The pond never freezes even in the coldest winter.

2-rinehart cabin No longer an active cattle ranch, it is owned by a serious chukar hunter from Bend, OR. I have hunted chukars in the area, but had never been to the ranch. So when the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) set up a work party at the ranch I signed up. Last summer a 19,000 acre fire swept around the cabin and burned out the creek bottom, which serves as important wildlife habitat. So about 20 folks gathered from all over the Northwest to plant thousands of cottonwoods and willows to speed up the restoration.


3-rine planting So like I have done so many times with my students in the past, I was once again out doing my tree hugger thing. In small patches we cleared the weeds that have sprung up after the fire, laid down weed matting, planted willow and cottonwood shoots, and then built a fence around each planting site.  Deer and elk view such plantings as a feast just for them. Even with all prep work and fencing a 25% survival rate is considered quite good. ONDA is a true grass roots organization dedicated to preserving Oregon’s desert landscapes. I have long been a member. You should join too if you love the high desert.  Check them out at


But ONDA is about more than using volunteer labor. Part of what they do is to help people experience the desert country, in hope that people will then be more likely to care for it and join the efforts to help protect it. So after working a good full day on Friday we were done with our good deed, which left Saturday for play. Some folks went of on a short hike with a naturalist, while the rest of us went on a longer hike down to the river. We followed the canyon rim as seen here for about 4 miles, then dropped down to the river just above where it goes out of sight here in this photo.


I took my fly rod and found a bunch of smallmouth bass eager to be caught. But of more interest were the extensive petroglyphs we found. The Owyhee canyon is filled with numerous such rock art.

I took my fly rod and found a bunch of smallmouth bass eager to be caught. But of more interest were the extensive petroglyphs we found. The Owyhee canyon is filled with numerous such rock art.


Near a petroglyph I found a nice arrowhead.  Rather than taking such artifacts it is now PC and the law to leave them behind. But what I like to do is share them with whatever people I am with, and then hide it in a distinct spot nearby. If anyone from the group returns they can pull it out to share with whomever they are with, and then return it to the land once more. Better than letting it sit in a box back home.


The hiking day done, most folks spent the night and headed back to civilization on Sunday. But I had a favorite  secret stream to return to, and trout to catch, so I headed north. This is the view back toward the Rinehart Ranch and the Owyhee canyon. Perhaps one or two rigs had driven this road all spring, but Moby’s were the only tracks in the dirt on this day.


As you can see, the ruts on this road are pretty well grown over for desert country. After a long dry winter recent rains have brought out fresh spring growth.


Moby likes to stop and smell the flowers once in a while.


Such as these flox. They were everywhere.


I am used to seeing the Arrow Leaf Balsamroot, but these high flats were filled with this curly leaf variety. Perhaps Hooker’s Balsamroot?


And bursts of these little Oregon Sunshine everywhere too.



After an hour of driving I had made it a whopping 4 miles across this treeless landscape, with the Owyhee canyon now off to the east.


Darkness came after many more miles of rocky road. But the beauty of Moby is that “home is where you park it”. I found a flat spot and called it a night.



Up the next morning and on the dusty trail once again I finally had my destination in sight. By this point I had made it about 25 miles in five hours of driving. Not exactly freeway speeds. Of course on a freeway you do not have to stop to open barbed-wire ranch gates every mile or two. I did pass one empty ranch house, but did not see another vehicle.



Up til now just slow and very rocky roads. Then the last mile got interesting, starting with this mud bog and hill that is much steeper than it appears in this photo. After that come some steep sidehill slopes, and more mud bogs.

The folks at Sportsmobile build rugged rigs. But Moby came from the factory with a few flaws, some of which I have already fixed. But one I had not got around to fixing was to relocate the recepticle for the trailer wiring plug. Moby has damn high clearance, but I knew the recepticle was too exposed under the back bumper, and could be broken off if drug over some rocks. Crossing this ravine proved me right. No serious damage, nothing that a half day of custom metalworking couldn’t fix once I got home.



But at last I made it to my secret stream. Surprise, nobody else here to share it with!  I had been to this creek several times over the years, but always miles upstream from here. I had hoped to find a good place to camp. This creek-side spot fit the bill.


1-actual streamflowFinally, it was time to do what I came for, to look for some trout. The creek’s actual streamflow is quite small, only a few gallons per minute. In some places it goes dry altogether on the surface, flowing only underground.



The trout hide out in the shadows of the undercut stream banks.


3-ten fish pool

Every 50 to 100 yards there are pools, some quite large like this first one I came to. They are usually filled with trout. This one most of all, as I landed nine trout here. A fine way to start the day of fishing.



These are known as Redband Trout, a subspecies of Rainbow. Generally speaking they are fish that have been cut off from the ocean since the last ice age, residing in remote desert streams. This one displays how they got their name.


5-red side shiner This little guy is called the Redside Shiner. They are usually too small to be hooked, but it was his unlucky day.


6-red rocks and lichens
There is a lot of red in this canyon. Red volcanic rocks everywhere, covered with various shades of lichens.
7-red rock lichen in grass
Sometimes the rocks are a mix of red and black volcanics with lichen accents.
8-rocks and lichens 2
Or all black rock with rust colored lichen accent.
9-red rocks and trout
I think the rocks look best with trout accents.
10-canyon water
Farther upstream the canyon narrows, the creek filling deep pools below 100′ cliffs.
11-spotted trout
Lovely spotted Redbands lurk in these canyon pools as well.
12-red and black meets white pumice
Having spent the day with mile after mile of hopping rocks, jumping the stream, and stripping down to wade deep and wet past impassable cliffs I was ready for a change. So I climbed up out of the canyon to walk the uplands on the way back to camp. Here I saw white pumice rocks to accent the black and red ones I had seen all day, and I spooked a pair of Peregrine Falcons from their nesting area.

They were pretty grumpy, swirling around doing a lot of squawking, and not holding still to be photographed.  But it was a rare sight for me.



13-black meets red rock
This is where the red and black rocks hang out before moving down to the river.
13.1 Indian Paintbrush
The Indian Paintbrush nicely accented the green volcanic ash.
14-black ant hill on red
I liked how the ants brought up black sand to make their hill on top of the red surface rocks.
15-obsidian bits
The black sand was actually obsidian, or volcanic glass. But here it was in pebble form, compressed into larger rocks.
16-mars surface
In places, on a small scale,  it looked like the surface of Mars. Had Janene been along she no doubt would have been posing Spaceman Doug in some Martian landscape shots.
17-no fee camping
Back to Moby at the end of a fine day of fishing. No new campers had arrived to join me for evening cocktails, so I drank alone.
Boulder road
A new day, time to move on to a new camp. I had hoped to find a drive up coffee shop, but I guess since this road consists primarily of a single lane cow path meandering back and forth it doesn’t have the traffic volume to support a Starbucks.
24-Big flabby rattler
This route was a good one for wildlife spotting. Plenty of big bull snakes and rattlesnakes were out to catch the early morning sun. It had dropped to 24°F overnight, and they were not exactly quick to move out of the way. Several of them  did not move at all even when Moby’s tires were inches away. I had to back up, park, get out and prod them with a stick to get them safely out of the way. This flabby four foot rattler looked sort of deflated, with a lot of loose skin, so I think he was hoping for the sunrise special all-you-can-eat rodent platter.
23-American Avocet
Desert cattle country is full of little check dams built by ranchers to catch a bit of snowmelt runoff or spring rains. They usually go dry before the end of summer. But in the spring these little reservoirs are a magnet for migrating birds like this American Avocet.
The Cinnamon Teal were spectacular, with the males sporting thier springtime-only trademark breeding colors. But they were too spooky to catch on camera, so I snagged this pair off the internet.
Likewise for the Black-necked Stilts.
18-owl burrow
Right on the shoulder of the road was this apparent rodent/badger hole. But as I drove slowly past out burst a Burrowing Owl, nearly broadsiding Moby.
19-owl valleyWhy nest in the ground? Well, as you can see there aren’t a lot of nest trees to chose from in this little valley.
20-owl 1
But she(?) didn’t go far, landing just 30 yards away.


She gave me the evil eye as I checked out her nest site. Were there babies underground? I once had a whole flock of babies come walking out of the nest right in front of me while hiking near here.



The blue Camas are thick near the creek. The bulbs of these plants were an important food staple for Native Americans throughout the NW region

27-death camas
Death Camas
This close relative grows in the same area. Once the flowers are gone the two species are hard to tell apart. As you might guess, eating the bulbs of the Death Camas is not a good idea. Be real sure of your of how your relationship is doing if your partner serves you up a big dish of Camas bulbs.
25-swimming hole
Who would think that hidden in the Owyhee desert would be such a beautiful, winding oasis? Trout, wildlife, geologic curiosities, swimming holes and more. All to myself. That is why I keep going back. And why I keep looking for more secret streams.

12 thoughts

    1. Patrick – travel out there is always a crapshoot, especially in early April. My trip in early May of 2014 was fine, but I have run into serious mud that time of year. Even the main roads can have their soft spots. A big 4×4 rig might get you through, but come at the cost of destroying the road , leaving big ruts for everyone else the rest of the year. That is a rude thing to do. This has been a dry winter so far, and I had no trouble out there just last week. Assuming we don’t get much more snow, what there is all melts off early, and there isn’t rain just before you go then April should be ok. Keep an eye on the weather, and call the BLM recreation planners in Vale or Marsing for an update before you go. Drop me an email and let me know how it goes for you.

    1. I am sure there are plenty of obscure desert plants out there just waiting for you to identify, Rick. Your truck could make it out there no problem, but not so with your trailer house.

  1. Larry: just drove from Ontario to Winnemucca today via Jordan Valley. Jordan Valley is almost a metropolis compared to my last visit 8 years ago. So, came in late to Winnemucca and got up this a.m. to read your post. I looked at all that Owhyee country and wondered and now I get some idea thanks to your post. Lovely. Great timing and I had a wonderful time reading and looking.

    Phlox. (tiny spelling error) Tell Janene.


  2. Larry, Sounds like you know the area “like the back of your hand” but can you recommend your favorite map? I have been to the Alvord and parts West of the the Steens but hope to soon wander the Owyhee country in my 50 year old Willys wagon. It is my time machine – when I take off across Oregon, time disappears and I live in the now.

  3. sounds like a great trip . One question thou———When you have to drink alone- does Happy hour last longer then an hour? Gary

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