Magazine article Sunset

Owyhee Canyonlands: Rivers Wild along the Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada Borders

Magazine article Sunset

Owyhee Canyonlands: Rivers Wild along the Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada Borders

Article excerpt

"This is the meanest ass-kicker on the Bruneau," says guide Paul Werner as a dozen of us examine the churning drop of Five Mile Rapid from the safety of the riverbank. He has to yell to be heard over the roar of the water. "We'll want to stay left of that hole," he shouts, pointing at a wave curling behind a foam-scoured boulder. "And away from that wall."

Five Mile is bigger than I expected. Then again, I had been underestimating Idaho's Bruneau River ever since the Wilderness River Outfitters van picked me up in Boise at the start of our four-day float trip. Winding between nearly vertical volcanic walls that soar more than 800 feet to the rim, the Bruneau flows through one of the West's most spectacular - and least-known - canyons.

The Bruneau and its tributary, the Jarbidge River, define the eastern flank of more than 3 million acres of high-desert plateaus and deep-river gorges known as the Owyhee Canyonlands. Administered by the BLM, the canyonlands are at the heart of a controversy that becomes all too apparent our first night on the river.

After dinner, we watch three hawks playing on updrafts above the canyon rim. Then, almost before we hear the sound of thunder edged with a high-pitched whine, the shock wave hits us. Three large fighter bombers blast over the canyon and are gone in an instant. So are the hawks.

No wonder wildlife advocates, environmentalists, and hunters are up in arms over a plan by the Air Force to expand its bombing range and create a supersonic battle training zone in the Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada skies. "This is the most important range for California bighorn sheep in the United States," says Herb Meyr of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep. Opponents of the Air Force expansion want the BLM to designate the river canyons as wilderness and protect the plateau as a national conservation area. …

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