September 14, 2019, Day 10
Rome to a grassy rise near Dry Creek (OC 98), ~17 miles, ~108.2 miles total
At last, we’re back on the Oregon Desert Trail!
And enjoying all of its charms. Very warm temps (90+ degrees). Heavy packs (6 days of food). Knowing the weight of water as pack straps pull down on shoulders. Sweaty backs and salt rimmed everything: face, neck, shirt collars, hats, bandanas, pack straps. Flying ants on posts with rusty barbed wire gates (new ODT thrills!). Cows. Rattlesnakes a rattling. Pronghorn racing. Lizards scurrying. Jackrabbits and coyotes loping. Rabbitbrush glowing. Bunchgrasses dancing. Views of the Owyhee River, its waters rippling in the sunlight. Sunsets with a palette of pinks, peaches, golds and twilight blues. Peaceful starry nights.
But before we started walking, we first we had to get back to the ODT.
We didn’t feel like trying to hitch out of the suburbs. The process seemed too confusing, could take all day (or days?), and inflicted unnecessary uncertainty. At 90 miles from Nampa, Rome is just barely in the radius of the permitted service area to use Lyft. We were able to make arrangements with a Lyft driver who was willing to accept our ride request and we tipped them well to compensate for the two hour drive back to Boise. Our driver was wonderful! Time on the road filled with conversations about Idaho, snorkeling, and growing gardens. Before we knew it, Gabriel and I were back in Rome. Back on the ODT by 10:30.
Soon enough, we were back to the familiar sights and terrain of the Owyhee Uplands. Views across long sightlines of bunchgrass rises, sagebrush thickets, and cattle-grazed rangeland. Today and tomorrow entail covering the 40-some miles to reach Three Forks, the canyonlands confluence of the North Fork Owyhee, Middle Fork Owyhee, and Owyhee Rivers. Along this stretch, the ODT is an overland route with much road walking and some cross country travel. Some might say these 40 miles are the connector country to get to the excitement of the river and the canyons. But there is still much to take in along the way.
Every hour of walking had some sort of “excitement” and plenty of roadside attractions, from coyotes loping in the sagebrush to rattlesnakes near our feet. Checking out the water status of cattle troughs. Glimpses of the Owyhee River and its stunning canyon.
Today’s highlights of particular note:
- Flying ants. At one gate we went through, the post was covered in flying ants. Opening and closing a gate is usually a small feat to strain taunt rusty barbed wire over a post. But this gate was advanced. It had ants crawling all over the post and they became agitated by our disturbing their spot (sorry ants, we had to re-hitch the gate). The ants flew into our mouths, hair, shirts, and eyes. We were picking out pieces of flying ant from our gear, clothes, and (my) hair and sports bra for the rest of the day.
- Cattle vibrations. Where there’s water, there’s cows. We’d decided to fill our water bottles for the next 25-or-so miles at a source along the aqueduct. Great water! And we hadn’t had to carry it for 13 miles! The trough was less than a mile off the ODT route. While getting back to the “official trail” we found ourselves approaching a herd of cattle that were congregating at a different water trough (ours was so much better!). As soon as we realized our paths were intersecting, we tried to give them a wide berth, but apparently it wasn’t wide enough and we had cows running ahead of us in the exact direction we were trying to go. Argh. It was warm. Our packs were heavy. We just wanted to keep going. Some of the cattle just stood watching us from a distance. As we’d take a few cautious steps – all of the steers (50+) moved in unison. The ground rumbled and we could feel the trimmering vibrations of their weight under our feet. Having a herd of cattle staring you down is kinda intimidating. It took awhile, but eventually we got away from the herd and back to the gravel road that doubles as the ODT.
- Pronghorn zooming. As the heat of the day was breaking, we entered the late afternoon hours when light goes from harsh and blaring to soft and golden. We looked across a rise and saw a pronghorn trotting along ahead of us. The buck was headed in the direction of a water tank. Alas, we could see from the distance that the tank was rusty and probably dry. The buck stopped near it, looked up, saw us, turned tail, and bounded off. After charging in a sprint for 30 seconds or so, he stopped, turned around, looked at us for a few seconds, and then raced off running over the rise. I love watching pronghorn zoom freely across a landscape. Thankfully this little basin and rise had less barbed wire fencing to impede his movement.
As sunset neared, we stopped for the night near the top of a grassy rise and made camp. Sitting out on our sleeping pads, eating dinner, cool from the sweat on our backs, shoulders relieved from the weight of food, water, and gear. We relaxed, admiring the purple silhouette of distant mountains. Watching the sky turn pink, gold, and twilight blue. The stars come out. In the distance, we could see red blinking lights of towers and transmission lines along Hwy 95. While we’d spent the better part of the last 8 hours covering 17-some miles, we were only 7.5 miles (as the raven flies in a straight line) from the highway. All the same, a beautiful night to be back on the ODT.