September 18, 2019, Day 14
Louse Canyon beneath Rawhide Pocket & Section 16 Reservoir (~OC 57) to Louse Canyon near Andersons Corral (~OC 31), ~23.7 miles, ~181.5 miles total
Morning. Overcast skies. Time to carry out mission: Exit Louse Canyon.
One knee deep pool wade, 500 feet of walking and we found a suitable exit ramp! Sigh. Of. Relief.
We got out our map and water beta to figure out how much liquid we needed to pack out with us for the day’s overland travel. Water needs satisfied. Then we hiked up the steep grassy gully. Less than 10 minutes of effort and we were in a whole other world.
Goodbye towering cliffs of rhyolite, willows and deep pools with only partial views of the sky. Hello sagebrush sea, sightlines for miles, and plenty of cows. And distant rain clouds.
We headed over Rawhide Pocket to intersect the aqueduct road that’s noted as an ODT alternate for situations like ours. Dusty road walking for miles, sharing the rough jeep trail with tracks of coyotes, beetles, kangaroo rats, and of course cows.
The day stayed cool. Puffy jackets worn during our breakfast break. Rain jackets worn as a steady mist turned to rain. Walking out in the big wide open as it rains, when one is suspicious of thunderstorms (slight chance in the forecast), introduced me to a whole new concept of exposure. This country felt more open, exposed, isolated and remote than trips in the Grand Canyon or the backside of the Kaiparowits Plateau. This stretch of the Owyhee Uplands feels remote in ways similar to the Canadian Rockies or the BC Coast Range. High lonely country. It’s one thing to read the words in a brochure. It’s another thing to know it, because you are standing in the middle of the vast landscape.
Remote and stunningly beautiful! As we walked cross country over the volcanic plateau of Horse Hill the day’s storm cell moved on and blue skies with dramatic puffy clouds took its place. Now we could see out to Nevada’s snow capped Santa Rosa Mountains. Basin and Range peaks! Distant mountains that tell us we are on the cusp of transitioning ecoregions.
We’ll soon be going from the undulating plateaus and canyonlands of the Owyhee Uplands (that connect to the Snake River and greater Columbia River watershed) to Basin and Range country. Lands comprised of fault block mountains frosted in snow with melt waters that flow into the desert, never reaching the Pacific.
But we’re not leaving the plateau just yet, and this part of the Owyhee Uplands feels particularly special to me for its beauty, remoteness, and intact wildlife habitat. The Upper Louse Canyon vicinity is a focal area for greater sage-grouse recovery, while the species isn’t listed under the Endangered Species Act, its population has declined across the interior of western North America as the condition of its sagebrush habitat has declined. But here in Upper Louse Canyon the high quality of the habitat feels apparent to even an untrained eye. The land is thick with tall bunchgrasses, dried forbs, and sagebrush dancing in the wind. Upper Louse Canyon’s wet meadows and year-round flows are nearby. This area feels like it has the habitat components needed by sage grouse and apparently it has the highest number of sage grouse in Oregon. And it was here that we saw our first grouse hen of the trip!
Soon after the grouse sighting, we dropped off the gentle slopes of Horse Hill and returned to Louse Canyon. But this part of the canyon is a long ways away in miles and character from the start of the day. Broad open grassland, wet meadows, and a stream flowing along the 30-foot rock wall.
We set up camp in a low, protected spot as thunder rumbled. The rain started as we were soaking our dinners. It rains 7 out of 14 days on the ODT.
As we’re getting ready to leave the magical Owyhee Country, there’s a fitting song by Ian Tyson about this special part of the sagebrush sea. I love it save for the idea of sagebrush fires (only have camp fires in fire pits in designated campsites) and feral horses. Quick aside, Ian Tyson lives in Alberta these days and is a friend and mentor to Corb Lund!
Oh, and some natural history basics. I couldn’t resist adding some footnotes:
- More information about the Greater Sage-Grouse:
- All About Birds-The Cornell Lab – https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Greater_Sage-Grouse/overview#
- Audubon Guide to North American Birds – https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/greater-sage-grouse
- Oregon Public Broadcasting story from March 2019, sage grouse status update – https://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-sage-grouse-plans-continued-grazing/
- Nature: The Sagebrush Sea, Season 33, Episode 16 – ***HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS DOCUMENTARY!*** https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/sagebrush-sea-full-episode/12341/
- Pocket Guide to Sagebrush Birds – http://www.sagestep.org/pubs/birdguide.html
- SageCon – https://orsolutions.org/osproject/sagecon
- Ecoregions: Areas similar in natural resources and processes. Within an ecoregion, we can identify natural communities that contain particular species of plants and animals that live in a given area. Geomorphology is highly influential to ecoregion composition.
- Owyhee Upland Ecoregion: This area occurs within the Columbia Plateau physiographic province, also known as the Columbia Intermontane province. The Owyhee Uplands Section is part of southwest Idaho, southeast Oregon, and northern Nevada. This area is an uplifted region with doming and block-faulting common. It is deeply dissected from erosional processes. Lavas are older than that of the Snake River Plains. The Owyhee Mountains are made of granite; however, most of the uplands are rhyolites and welded tuffs with silicic volcanic flows, ash deposits, and wind-blown loess. Elevation ranges from 4,000 to 8,000 ft (1,200 to 2,500 m). Vegetation types are sagebrush steppe withand small areas of wheatgrass-bluegrass. (Source: US Forest Service Ecological Regions of the United States)
- Basin and Range Ecoregion: This area occurs within the Basin and Range physiographic province. Northwestern Basin and Range Section is located in the northern portion of Nevada, southeastern Idaho, and south-central Oregon. It extends into northern Utah also. Nearly level basins and valleys are bordered by long, gently sloping alluvial fans. North-south trending mountain ranges and few volcanic plateaus rise sharply above the valleys. Large alluvial fans have developed at the mouths of most canyons. Elevation ranges from 4,000 to 7,200 ft (1,200 to 2,200 m). Vegetation types include sagebrush steppe with saltbush-greasewood communities. (Source: US Forest Service Ecological Regions of the United States)