Owyhee Canyonlands inspire awe and appreciation

The Owyhee Canyonlands are some of the most remote and beautiful country in the lower 48 states. Photo by Mark Blaiser

Those who experience the Owyhee Canyonlands understand that this network of rivers is as special as it is remote. They understand how lucky we are to live so close. And they understand it needs continued and further protection. Last week I was lucky enough to run the lower part of the Owyhee River from Rome to Birch Creek. My bucket list has been updated.

Floating through majestic canyons, camping in the shadow of ancient geologic formations that made me feel insignificant, drinking beer with good friends while the river sang its deep refrain, I thought: why don’t I do this more often? One year I spent more nights sleeping in wilderness than my own bed. At the moment, those days seem as ancient as the lava that’s sandwiched in the chocolate-striped Lambert Dome along the Owyhee.

As the river miles drifted by, the layers of rat race peeled off like an onion. The deeper I peeled the stronger the understanding of why we as a society need organizations like Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League, The Wilderness Society and others. As the noise that infiltrates our daily lives gets louder and more obnoxious, it becomes easy to forget that without a collective and strong voice for wilderness and river protections, places like the Owyhee Canyonlands will continue to be exploited for reasons other than beauty and solitude. 

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, which designated 517,000 acres of wilderness and 325 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers in Idaho’s Bruneau and Owyhee river canyon country. Idaho Rivers United played an important role in this effort. The final wilderness and wild and scenic management plan was finalized in April 2015 following years of feedback from wilderness and river users, including input from IRU.

Today, our friends in Oregon are trying to broaden the scope of designated wilderness and wild and scenic rivers, connecting the network of incredible canyon rivers with much needed protections before it’s too late. Wild rivers don’t abide political boundaries and nor should our efforts to protect them.

Sitting at camp our final night of the trip, quiet contemplation covering the circle of chairs, a big rock awoke us, crashing down the steep face of a hill across camp. The smack of rock on rock boomed hundreds of feet before coming to a rest on the riverbank. We looked up. Blended into the hillside was a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep drifting and browsing across the face of the hill. 

The few wild and remote places in America left unprotected will be exploited, eventually. If we let them. The Owyhee Canyonlands is one of them. Let’s help our friends in Oregon get this done. After all, Idahoans probably recreate in this rugged and remote landscape more than anybody from any other state . To get involved, start by signing the petition to protect this gem. As always, thanks for being a partner in Idaho Rivers United. Your voice in river protection matters now more than ever.