Oregon's Owyhees 

The Border Connection

The Owyhee desert covers a lot of ground--about 6.5 million acres--and living in the southwest corner of Idaho has some distinct advantages. Specifically, a few spots just over the stateline in Oregon.

Ironically, we as Idahoans living along the border are realistically the only population near these one-of-a-kind recreational resources. The actual border town of Ontario, Ore., is relatively close, but the Treasure Valley area is much larger and closer to many destinations in the Oregon Owyhees.

While the Owyhee Reservoir is well known locally for its small mouth bass and crappie fisheries, there is also a blue ribbon trout stream below the dam. When the reservoir is at capacity, sightseers travel to witness the water as it goes down the "Glory Hole." The Glory Hole is like a drain in a bathtub--water drops down the 300-foot-plus vertical shaft and then travels out through the dam abutment.

The dusty gravel road that leads to Succor Creek Canyon and State Park can be accessed from near Homedale, or from Highway 95 as it leaves the small town of Marsing heading south toward Jordan Valley, Ore. Driving alongside the tumbling Succor Creek are towering canyon walls.

Rockhounds from near and far visit this canyon searching for a variety of thunder eggs, picture jasper, petrified wood, fossils, opals and agates. You can explore deeper on rough four-wheel-drive roads leading out to places with tantalizing names like the Honeycombs, Painted Canyon and Three Finger Rock.

It's never easy to get near the Owyhee River. Leaving pavement, the long gravel road travels west and climbs slowly to Runaway Hill, where a sign tells the sad story of Hiram Leslie. Seems like Hiram was in the wrong place at the wrong time; a lightning bolt ended his life but cemented his place in history.

Leslie Gulch is one of the most spectacular locations in all of the Owyhee desert. Outrageous rock spires and hoodoos tower alongside the road with colorful rock faces. Green and yellow contrast remarkably with rust and red surfaces in an explosion of color. Erosion pockets dot the faces like Swiss cheese. Keep an eye out for the California bighorn sheep in residence here. Pick a narrow draw and hike it. Each draw is one of a kind, a hiker's cornucopia of choices. Finally, at road's end, the still waters of the upper Owyhee Reservoir are found.

Driving down that last stretch of Hwy 95 before the quiet ranch town of Jordan Valley is a nondescript BLM sign: Jordan Craters 25 miles. Craters? What? Where?

Truly one of the most unique and infrequently visited sites of the Owyhee desert, the Jordan Craters lava field fans out over almost 30 square miles. Solid lava stretches as far as the eye can see. Venting, splatter cones and other volcanic activity are all on display. Experts estimate the lava field to be between 4,000 and 9,000 years old. The highlight is Coffee Pot Crater, reached by vehicle and then a hike into the crater itself.

Silva is the author of Get Lost! Adventure Tours in the Owyhee Desert.

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