The Owyhee Plateau
The Owyhee River Wilderness Area
Photography: Chad Case
Serendipitous thrills and challenging turns define an under-explored plateau in Southwestern Idaho that encompasses a wild landscape of high desert plateaus and deep gorges carved by the Owyhee, Bruneau and Jarbridge Rivers over thousands of years of wind, water and flood.
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On the eve of day four on the Bruneau River, we’re camped above the much-respected Five-Mile Rapids, a set of continuous Class IV rapids that, once navigated, represent the crowning achievement of this spectacular wilderness white-water journey. Tonight, we deal with the stress of Five Mile by partying heartily while the poor souls on cook duty prepare spinach-salmon lasagna in the Dutch oven. The remainder of our 10-person river party kicks back in river chairs amid big sage and knee-high bluebunch wheatgrass, chatting about surf waves, the day’s Class II-III rapids and, oh my, the breathtaking vertical walls of the red-and-brown incised canyon.
For a moment, the chatter surrenders to the serene silence of a wilderness river. I look overhead, some 750 feet above this narrow chasm in the Owyhee Plateau, to the rocky rim adorned with vertical columns of basalt and below that, horizontal bands of bright pink rhyolite. Just above it, my eyes lock into a golden eagle gliding at the cliff’s edge, hunting for dinner against the cerulean sky. I take a deep breath and release it slowly. I know I’ve got only one more day to soak up the grandeur of this place, but for now, I feel a wonderful sense of peace permeating my soul, knowing that I am one with the spirit of the Bruneau Canyon.