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Virtual OmniBus Tour heads to Idaho wild lands

Owyhee travels: Don’t forget your compass
By John McCarthy

Getting out into the Owyhee Canyonlands can easily become getting lost — if care and compass are not taken.

Every year when I lead hikes to introduce groups to this wildest and roughest of lands, my main goal is to make sure everyone stays together and everyone gets back to civilization.

The new half-a-million-acre Wilderness in southwest Idaho is a land defined by rivers, cutting steep canyons out of high desert, sagebrush plateaus. It’s also a landscape of no trails and only rough roads to gain access to empty, open land.

Hiking cross-country — without trails — requires a focus on landmarks, a compass or GPS assisted sense of direction, a good map and an interest in scrambling.

If these cautions don’t capture one’s attention, note the Owyhees (O-why-hees) were named after three Hawaiian trappers who got lost back in the 1800s. Owyhee-Hawaii, the original “Lost” – not seen on TV.

While hiking along rivers is straightforward, you either go upstream or downstream. Again there are no trails and stomping through creeks is often the only way to go. Even hiking canyon rims requires a compass to track loops of squiggly meanders.

Check out place names: Poison Creek, Rattlesnake Creek, Riddle, Crab Spring, Jackass Creek. This is the wild West, rugged and raw. Of course Pleasant Valley, Hidden Valley, and Grassy Ridge may be more appealing.

The attractions are many: fields of lupine; stark bitterroot flowers; a cougar springing from a canyon crack; bighorn lambs running across rock faces; a prairie falcon wheezing past your head; pronghorn bolting across creeks. In the open desert you see things.

Take the OmniBUS along the Mud Flat Road, or Owyhee Uplands Scenic Byway, starting in Jordan Valley, Oregon and ending in Grandview, Idaho — to bounce across the one actual gravel road to traverse this country. Stop off at any of the three proposed wildernesses areas — out of six Idaho areas in wilderness legislation now being considered by Congress — to see North Fork Owyhee Wilderness; Pole Creek Wilderness and Little Jacks Creek Wilderness. Take a hike off the road into wild country.

Carry a compass and water.


TWS Idaho Forest Campaign Director John McCarthy spent more than five years working on the Owyhee Wilderness bill — focused on mapping with the welcome opportunity for many exploratory field trips.


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