As another month rolls in, I couldn’t help but think that January just wasn't going to end. Between the cold temperatures, the sun teasing us but rarely coming through, and a case of good ol’ cabin fever, I was fit to be tied! Then, a funny thing happened on the FOTO website: a mid-week hiking club was announced! Could this be a way to fight that telltale crinkling inside my nose as all the moist areas freeze instantly the moment I step outside? The Owyhee Hiking Club was just a wonderful example of perfect timing and serendipity. I signed up for as many hikes as I could. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been able to not only join multiple hikes, but also enjoy the area personally.
The Watchable Wildlife Area just off the road to Lake Owyhee is well-signed, and there is a pretty good-sized parking area with a basic restroom and some informational signage. My first foray with the Owyhee Hiking Club started here on a cold Wednesday morning. A handful of us old guys along with Sammy wandered up and up and up to gain the higher ridge, which offered an incredible view of the canyon along the river. Thanks to the maps that Sammy had drawn up, I realized how much fantastic hiking was here, just under an hour’s drive from Ontario—this really is a great hiking area close to home, especially during the cold early season! We wandered up and along the ridges, staying high, working our way south, and finally down along a continuous trail of unending geological highlights. It’s certainly a challenge to not fill your pockets with rocks! We could see the steam from the hot springs as we walked, and after reaching the road a mile or so from our rigs, we walked back.
A couple of days later, I was back, this time with my hiking partner Arbor and her two littles. We crossed the road, and just started to wander—I mean, it’s like herding cats! We let the small trailblazers choose the directions at some of the junctions, offering encouragement when the trail wasn't obvious. Our pace was slow as there were many rocks that had to be investigated! The sun was warm and the exposure was oh so nice! We continued to hike, ultimately ending up at the top of a steep “road” that ended at the enormous water pipe that climbs up from the river. The pipe is truly ginormous! We were all amazed at the size and scale of the pipe and the work to make it up the mountainside. The kids were having an absolutely great time! All in all, I think we spent over 2 hours hiking and exploring, wearing out all involved. We had lunch back in the parking lot as we told stories about the day’s adventure.
A few days later, I walked down to the river's edge and watched the steam rise from the water as I gently stepped into the hot springs. The hot water instantly drove the 12-degree ambient temperature to the back of my mind. I found a nice rock to lean against and settled in for a lovely soak. With a dubious history at best, Snively Hot Springs is a well-known piece of local lore, but all I knew was that, with only a few folks in the pool, I felt like I was floating in my own private piece of Oregon. I understand that places that are accessible are often “loved to death”, but that just means we have to try harder to reduce our impact, or at least manage it. Hot water has always been a salve for the body, and for me, this was no exception. The tightness, stress, and cold all melted away while I soaked, enjoying conversation with new friends. It seems like timing is everything, even with hot springs.
I was running late to the Owyhee Hiking Club meeting on Wednesday, and as I pulled up to the parking lot, I saw there weren’t any cars—uh oh! Realizing they were probably driving to another location to start hiking, I continued along the road and found the crew a mile or so down the road. Sammy planned for us to hike to Pinnacle Peak, so our group of six headed off up the two-track and along cow paths, aiming for a high point in the distance. Walking in the Owyhee can lull you into a false sense of security. The road or trail just plods along until you realize as you look around, everything looks the same! Landmarks are rare since everything blends into one gigantic landscape. The beauty of this though is that it not only vitalizes your spirits, but also reminds you of just how small we are. Our path went in stages: flat and easy, then stepping up to another layer, and repeat. The rocks became larger, standing tall around us, and just below the high point, we gathered to catch our breath. A few moments later, we landed on top of the point, with an incredible 360-degree view all around us. There was little conversation as I think we all found the spot mesmerizing—I know I did. I kept spinning in circles, just soaking in the view.
While we descended, our group, which varied greatly in age, was in agreement that these outings were key to both enjoying the area and meeting others that share interests and passions. I was thrilled to be able to take a few minutes with each of the other hikers and share who I am, what I enjoy, and express how thankful I was to be out there with them. I cannot express how often I hear the words “I hike alone because I can never find anyone who wants to go.” The folks at FOTO are taking a real stab at remedying that, and I for one am super excited. Not only are there opportunities to share things and places that I love, but I hopefully will get to experience the same sharing of spots from others in the group! Truly a win-win.
Hiking with the Owyhee Hiking Club has really been a great start to this year, and I'm looking forward to many more trips.
Until next time, I hope you get sand in your shoes!
After starting technical climbing at age 12 and backpacking at 14, Steve Silva has been an avid outdoor adventurer his whole life. His constant chasing of bigger and bigger climbs has led him all over North America, from the gargantuan walls of his home in Yosemite to high-altitude volcanoes in Mexico to chilly peaks in Canada. Steve's love for backpacking adventures has taken him throughout most of Idaho, along the John Muir Trail, the High Sierra Route, and a large section of the Hayduke Trail. He's been a long-time fan of the Owyhee desert, having boated through most of the main canyons and tributaries of the Owyhee River. Steve's passion for this landscape inspired him to write a guidebook titled Get Lost!: Adventure Tours in the Owyhee Desert. Now an expert in off-trail hiking, planning, and logistics, he loves teaching more people how to hike easily and more comfortably than they've ever known.