One Photo, One Story: Kayaking the Owhyee River

By Michael Lanza

“This is one of the most special places in Idaho.”

Tim utters these words reverentially as we drift languidly on our third morning through the enveloping silence of Lambert Gorge on the East Fork of the Owyhee River. Lying back in our slowly revolving kayaks, we gaze hypnotized at cliffs shooting 400 feet straight up out of the water on both sides. Hundreds of freestanding pinnacles—exclamation points of eroding rock—punctuate the walls. A goose, honking aggressively, flaps its wings and splashes alongside Geoff for several minutes, a distraction intended to draw us away from its camouflaged nest.

We follow this amazing stone corridor for about 10 miles. Geoff and I agree it reminds us of the Grand Canyon’s Inner Gorge: not nearly as deep or long, but just as severe, dark, and spectacular, and much tighter.

Four of us are making an eight-day, 82-mile kayaking descent of the upper Owyhee River, which carves narrow canyons of sheer rhyolite and basalt walls hundreds of feet deep into the sagebrush and grassland high desert sprawling over southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon. Four times the size of Yellowstone National Park, the Owyhee Canyonlands are the loneliest corner of the West. This is the kind of forgotten place that was never remembered to begin with. In a busy year, fewer than 50 people see the upper Owyhee canyons. From our put-in at Deep Creek to the takeout at Three Forks on the main Owyhee, we will see no one else for eight days, until our final evening on the river.

Whether you’re a whitewater boater or just someone who appreciates a good tale about a very remote wilderness, you may enjoy my story, with more photos, about our adventure on the Upper Owyhee.



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