This post is a long one. Stick with it if you like fish, rocks, flowers, and wide open desert spaces. LC
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.
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.
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 http://onda.org/
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.
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.
Finally, 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.
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.
This little guy is called the Redside Shiner. They are usually too small to be hooked, but it was his unlucky day.
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.
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
I’m considering heading here in early April. Do you think the roads will be passable at that time?
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.
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.
Wow. You’ve got a book here. Am sending links to naturalist friends. Cheers!
In the time warp that is the end of the school year, you took me to the possibilities that are Summer. Thanks!
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.
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.
That was fantastic, Larry!
Such beautiful wildlife, flowers and the pictures were great!
sounds like a great trip . One question thou———When you have to drink alone- does Happy hour last longer then an hour? Gary