Roadside attractions

September 14, 2019, Day 10

Rome to a grassy rise near Dry Creek (OC 98), ~17 miles, ~108.2 miles total

Gabriel’s Day 10 pictures are here.

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.

 

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Hwy 95 crossing of the Owyhee River. We’re headed up the hill and back to the uplands.

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Looking out across the Owyhee River to Rome Station.

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Warm day of road walking. But there’s lot to see if we pay attention.

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A coyote trotting off in the cover of the sagebrush. Can you spot it?

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Warm days like today are ideal for long-nosed leopard lizards. These lizards are so cute! Though their spots make me think of giraffes – not leopards.

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A rattlesnake resting in the shade along the road. We’d just been saying that it was nice to look out at the views when we saw this snake ahead and remembered even while road walking we have to pay attention to what – or who – is at our feet.

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A glimpse of the Owyhee River and all its water.

 

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Checking out a cattle trough to get a sense of the water situation. Even though we have pretty good beta about water (THANK YOU DNR!), this is still an exciting roadside attraction.

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Dry rangeland walking.

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This aqueduct is the source of water filling the various cattle troughs out in these parts. Where the pipe leaks there’s a mini corridor of green vegetation – sorta like a riparian area. Albeit invasive species like Russian thistle and knapweeds grow around them too.

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At last, the water trough of intrigue from DNR’s water notes! Description: “Good water flowing from a pipe. Crawl onto metal grating to access.” Thanks DNR for all the beta! Notes like this – be they on our maps or water beta – can stick with a hiker for days or even years… (“I once saw three sheep on the ridge”… CDT hikers of a certain era know what I’m taking about.)

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Gabriel’s long arms helped facilitate water collection.

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From the aqueduct water source we needed to head south to rejoin the main route. The challenge of being near a water source is that we’re not the only mammals who like to congregate near water.

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Yes, we try to avoid them! But – as we learned – at this point we were already too close and the cattle were wary of us. When this many cattle are alert to you – you can feel the ground rumble beneath your feet as they move in unison.

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Gabriel sees something in the distance. What could it be?

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A pronghorn! Trotting along to check out a water trough. Alas, this tank was dry.

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My camera’s super zoom observed that it was a pronghorn with his tongue sticking out.

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He turned and ran off once he saw us.

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Storage buildings and water tanks in the distance – scenes like this can be very exciting on a day of road walking.

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Rabbitbrush aglow. When the evening light illuminates the grasses, shrubs, and rises – it’s a time of transformation. The day cools and senses heighten.

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Camp for the night on a grassy rise near a feature called Dry Creek. Photo by Gabriel Deal

A peaceful place to watch the sunset, eat dinner, and see red blinking lights from distant Hwy 95. It’s great to be back on the ODT.

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