September 6, 2019, Day 2
North Sheephead Spring to Juniper Gulch, ~16.9 miles, ~26.2 miles total
So far, it rains every day here in eastern Oregon. But rain sounds more dramatic from the inside of a silnylon tent then walking outside in it. We packed up and were walking just after day break.
The air pungent with the scent of sage after a good rain. It’s one of my favorite smells, what great way to start the day. We enjoyed walking old two track road as we watched clouds roll over the hills with mist rising off wet vegetation. Amid sun breaks and ominous clouds we started traveling down a wash. Met a gopher snake warming up on a cow trail in a bit of sun. (Reminding us of a friend’s experience in Owyhee country where he often encountered snakes on trails in the morning.) We’ll stay alert!
Then we made a turn down canyon in what looked like an unassuming wash. And like so many magical canyons, this one, Painted Canyon, began to reveal its wonders. Colorful rocks of pink, red, maroon, turquoise, yellow, robins egg blue, purple. Boulders and pour overs in lovely swirls and stripes. Fun scrambling and terrain reminiscent of much beloved canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (ALL 1.9 million acres BTW).
We were thoroughly enjoying the canyon! Then delighted as it opened up into a world of honeycomb formations. Volcanic tuff with pockets, domes, and swirls of deep red rock, oranges and browns topped with black desert varnish. We took a break to have some breakfast, just as the rain came back. Yesterday’s sun umbrellas are today’s rain umbrellas.
Near the end of breakfast thunder boomed and we watched lightning dance across the sky. Flash after flash. The storm was maybe 10 miles away but I HATE being out in lightning. So my nerves were raddled quickly. We kept moving down canyon in the rain. Even amid the storm it was amazing country to walk through! Gabriel and I started thinking up scenarios to hike into Painted Canyon with enough water to explore around for a day or more. This being a thru-hike, we took in as much splendor as we could and kept a-walking onwards to our next water source and next canyon. And I tried not to be unsettled about the thunder booms and lightning flashes in the distance.
Just after noon the clouds gave way to sunshine and we were drying out our wet gear while eating lunch in the shade of our now sun umbrellas-another new experience thanks to the ODT.
As we walked into Three Fingers Gulch to find water, the rock walls soared 500 feet above us and the sweet descending trill of canyon wren song welcomed us. Red walls towering above of us, trippy lava rock under foot, groves of willows and serviceberry, and distant patches of poison ivy. Only halfway through the day and we were starting to understand why the Owyhee canyon country is so revered.
With enough water to get us through snacks, dinner and breakfast, we wandered up horse-made trails to our next canyon while another round of thunder rumbled in the distance. Again, I was a bit on edge, but again the landscape distracted me. The steep sloped canyon with orange-red spires and honeycomb formations rising out of the grass. This majestic little place is unnamed on our maps, but Friends of the Owyhee refer to it as “Let ‘er rip Canyon”. It was a spectacular surprise along our way!
The storm cell passed and it was back to clear skies and glorious clouds with late afternoon light. We gained our last rise and descended by The Yellow Jacket formation into Juniper Gulch.
Wow! Wow! Wow! An extraordinary place of honeycomb towers, caves, spires. Beautiful red rock formations akin to those of Upper Muley Twist in Capitol Reef National Park. Groves of juniper growing in between. A marvelous world of red and green aglow in the setting sun. Mahogany Mountain’s golden hillside glowing to the south. Waxing gibbous moon rising above us.
What a place to camp for the right! We ate dinner with bats flitting about and the stars starting to flicker into view. The lights of Boise and surrounding communities some 50 miles away lighting the sky to the northeast.
A rainy, stormy, hot and sunny beautiful day on the ODT. We’re excited to be here!
Pictures from my camera – added to this post in April 2020.
The ground stayed dry underneath our tent.