Friday, March 26, 2010

spring break in owyhee, but not hawaii

  
view of the dam (note the tiny discharge area for the water to get downstream)

Anxious to get back in the kayaks, Dave and I headed out to Eastern Oregon to do some paddling/camping in the Owyhee Reservoir.  As with most places in Eastern Oregon, the area has an interesting history. In the early 1800's, three Owyhee (an old spelling for for Hawaii) fur trappers were looking for beavers in the vast, uncharted area for the North West Company. Mysteriously, they vanished and were never heard from again-- most likely killed by Native Americans living in the area. Because of their disappearance and the fact that most of the members of the exploring camps of this region at the time were Hawaiians, the name Owyhee River was adopted.

In 1933, a dam was built on the Owyhee River (thus creating the Owyhee Reservoir) to be used for irrigation for the surrounding potato farms and is now also used for electicity generation.  In addition to its local human benefits, it also served as a prototype for the soon-to-be-built Hoover dam on the Colorado River.

     
pipes pulling water from the reservoir to nourish the dry fields surrounding the area

It was about a 8.5 hour drive from Corvallis to the reservoir.  Outside the windows we watched the landscape evolve from a wet, soggy valley filled with inhabitants to the dry, seemingly forgotten desert. It felt like going back in time. After finally arriving, we loaded up everything we would need for the next four nights and five days into the boats and started off looking for a suitable place to make camp for the night. Because the area was essentially flooded by the dam, we were mostly surrounded by steep, rocky cliffs.  We pulled into the first "beach" area that we found, which was actually an eroded hill uncovered by the lowered water levels for this time of year. Exhausted from the long drive, we pulled the boats ashore, set up the tent and hunkered down for the cold night amidst the towers of rhyolite.

first night's camping spot. this was my favorite place we stayed during the trip.



enjoying some wine and dinner during the last of the sunlight

view from campsite #1

The next morning we set off and headed further "upstream" of the dam and admired the dramatic scenery while searching for another place to camp for the next night.  We ended up finding a relatively flat area where we were able to do a bit of hiking before dinner as well. The campsite was a little exposed to the weather, but since the cliffs around us concealed what was heading our way, we didn't see the worry.
white and red banded cliffs. i'm not sure if the white was due to the highest water level or a type of rock...
 
we camped near this huge, weathered feature for the second night. i wondered how big it must have been before being slowly carried away by water and wind.

sage brush as far as the eye can see...

it was rare to see a tree on this trip. here was one of 10. 

the view from one of the hills behind our campsite.

dave checks out a gully--one of the main contributors to the eroded shapes of the hills around us. 


and then the storm rolled in

By late afternoon when the clouds didn't roll away and the wind picked up a substantial amount, we started to get concerned about inclement weather. The material we were camping on was also extremely dry and powdery so the tent stakes would often pull out when a strong gust came through.  Dave had the idea of staking them down the long sticks that we found lying around the sagebrush--it seemed to do the trick. 

What happened for the next for the next ~30 hours was pretty phenomenal....bands of a storm would repeatedly blow through bringing rain, hail, and strong winds.  These winds also picked up the dried out, dusty earth and tossed it into the tent and throughout our bags. However, in between these bands typically lasting for 20-30 minutes, the wind would die, the sky would clear, and the sun would warm the air around us.  We knew it was only a tease when we could see another wall of clouds looming in the background.
   
dave tying down the tent to sticks pegged into the ground

 
one band moving out (this is behind the tent)

When we awoke the next morning after the start of the storms, the skies appeared calmer and we were hopeful that they would clear by the afternoon.  Deciding to take our chances, we went out on the water for a day trip farther up the reservoir after breakfast. 

Unfortunately, a combination of the beautiful scenery changing around each twisting bend and our short-term memory got the best of us and we forgot what we had witnessed the day before. Needless to say, we went farther than we should have.  Another wave of storm bands rolled in fast! We were cruising along on the water and I looked up to see that the peaks of the mountains being smothered by low, hazy clouds!  About 5 seconds later strong gusts hit us from behind, creating white-capping waves all around us.  We pulled in behind an outcropping of rocks and had lunch to weather out the storm.  While it provided a little protection from the wind, it did little to shelter us from the snow.  Of course, I was totally unprepared for the poor weather...no spray skirt for the kayak, no heavy clothing, and no rain gear (besides a paddling jacket).  Luckily the precipitation didn't last long and once the storm blew through we made a run for it and tried to paddle back knowing that it wouldn't be long before another was on it's way.

We got about 2/3 of the way back to camp when the next band rolled in.  This one seemed stronger than the first with winds gusting at ~25mph.  It got to the point when I couldn't fight against it anymore and we had to beach ourselves behind another outcropping and wait for the storm to pass before heading back the rest of the way. 

  
the morning after the storms began

   
red tide and blue lagoon before heading out on the water

 
me making breakfast 

 
view from the tent

 
getting ready to set out

  
this was probably the shallowest part of the water we crossed. i could actually see the rocky bottom as we squeezed through this inlet (to the left).

 
civilization! ...well...sort of. these must have been vacation homes or something, although they didn't seem to have electricity.

beached for lunch

these little guys were all over our socks and pants everywhere we went!

we finally made it back to camp just as another storm rolls in!! 

although faint, the final storm we experienced left with a rainbow!  he was forgiven. haha

The last two days we were at the reservoir, the weather cleared and we had beautiful blue skies, warm weather (mid 50's in the sun), and better yet....no wind!!  The water surface was like glass reflecting the worn peaks of the ancient mountains around us and we started heading back down the reservoir for the car. We camped one additional night halfway there in our landscape forgotten by time and paddled the rest of the way to the car early the next morning--back to rain, back to green landscapes, back to communities, back to busy schedules, back to soap and showers...back to the present. 
  
the weather i wished for all week...spectacular

more reflections

map of the path we took. for reference, idaho is to the right of the white line and oregon is to the left. the green space in the upper right corner is near boise, idaho.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, that area is eerie and beautiful at the same time! I love reading your blog in the morning with a cup of coffee. I get so absorbed with the pictures and story that it is almost like I'm making the discoveries myself! You describe things so well that the reader can hear the silence of the desolation and then hear the fury of the winds against the tent fabric and sagebrush. Beautiful!
    Love you!!
    Mom

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  2. Nice photos, Erica! We've rafted the river upstream of the reservoir, and experienced the same stormy weather.

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