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Oregon Desert Trail Section 10: Rome to Lake Owyhee (2022 Thru Hike Journal)

Day 40: Pillars of Rome to Lambert Rocks

June 20th

After another big breakfast, we started hiking around 11am. This is typical for Donny and I, no hurry leaving town.

We begin walking a dirt road out of Rome. There’s a small plane flying overhead, about 200ft above us. He makes one pass perpendicular to the road, then another directly over the road. Then, a truck comes down the road from a nearby ranch. He tells us the plane is getting to land on the road, so we hop on the back of his truck bed while he drives us a couple hundred yards down the road to his ranch, so the plane can land. Never had that happen before, pretty cool!

The next section passes by a waypoint on our ODT route map marked “aggressive dogs”. The route we are walking is actually the alternate ODT route now, apparently ONDA rerouted this section just because of the dogs. The new route is longer and involves more cross-country, including a steep climb and a legit river Crossing. Just to avoid dogs? We’ll take our chances.

After crossing a bridge over the Owyhee River, we pass the bad dog house, and two black dogs run up to us. They don’t bark or growl, and barely seem interested in us. I’m instantly reminded of the movie Stand By Me, the scene with the junkyard dog “Chopper”. Chopper has a reputation for being a mean, killer dog, but in reality he nothing to be afraid of. Same here in this case.

We climb up a road to reach the plateau above the Owyhee River. Back to Sage-Kansas. Occasionally, we get a distant view of the snow-capped Steens Mountains to the east, but they look more nicer through my zoom lens than with the naked eye. It’s pretty boring overall, but the fact that we’re finishing this hike in a few days motivates us. Plus, we know there are some incredible landscapes ahead in the next few days hiking the Owyhee Canyonlands, but right now, we’re up on the high plateau that separates these many of these canyons and gulches.

At one water through, there are a bunch of cows that don’t want to leave and run away, like usual. There’s barely a trickle of water coming out of a pipe, and the cows are all competing for it. Donny wants some of this water, and uses a Gatorade bottle to collect it from the dripping pipe. The cows are 6ft away, watching intensely. Inching closer. It’s pretty comical to watch, I’ve never seen cows surround a human like this.

Next, Donny and I take different routes to get to the same place; Bogus Creek, our next water source. I take a route that has more miles below the rim in Owyhee Canyon, while Donny stays high on some roads.

First view of Owyhee Canyon, since last section, is impressive as always. Here, I enter an area called Lambert Rocks. The roads fade, becomes a faint trail, turns into xc and then becomes a road again. A fairly decent road, too. Strange.

We meet at Bogus Creek, which had some water. However, it’s not deep and is kinda crummy water. More like a bog. There are a lot of tannins in the water, staining it yellow. The color mostly filters out, but it still smells like pond scum.

We camp next to Bogus Creek. I take a spot in the middle of the road, because it’s flat and clear, and unlikely to see any traffic. Nobody comin’ down here.

ODT Day 40 Map

Day 41: Lambert Rocks to Willow Creek Canyon

June 21st

Donny and I broke camp at 8am. Now, in mountain standard time, 8 is the new 7. We cross Bogus Creek and hike about a half mile, and start looking for a route up to the top of the rim. There is a bit of a path to follow for the first 200 ft. After that, we’re on our own.

Back up on the rim, it’s Into the Sage Kansas once again. However, on the opposite side of Owyhee Canyon, the land is higher. There’s this really cool backdrop of cliffs that contrast against the flat plateau that we’re hiking on this side of Owyhee Canyon. I like it.

Soon enough, our backdrop of cliffs fades. Most of the day will be on dirt roads, and without much of a view. There are occasional views of a distant Owyhee Canyon, but usually, we aren’t that close to the edge.

Our map says it’s a 26-mile water carry, with a possible source halfway in between. Indeed, about halfway, we find a tanker truck full of water which drains into a kiddie pool. We scare off the cows, and fill up with fairly decent water.

We find more water along the way, both in reservoirs and old tires. I almost never drink from these cow ponds. But I do drink from old tires. Gotta have standards. There are some occasional good views over Owyhee Canyon now, late this afternoon. But canyon is still somewhat distant.

I jump ahead of Donny early evening, hellbent on reaching Willow Creek tonight. Donny isn’t sure he’ll make it that far, so we prepare to meet up tomorrow in that case.

I cross a huge flat plateau, taking a series of dirt roads instead of the cross-country hiking the ODT suggests. Near glover Reservoir, I realize why ONDA has us going xc; to avoid the private ranch property I am currently hiking. However, there are no homesteads or people to be found here, just cows. No harm, no foul.

After the ranch property, I reach grasshopper spring. I am pleased to see cold, clear water running from a pipe. This is the best water I have seen in a while. I stopped to filter a couple of liters, and clean myself up while I’m waiting for my gravity filter to work.

Next, I find myself at the top of Willow Creek Canyon. I can tell it’s going to be a beautiful hike. The scenery improves as I drop down In elevation. Wow!!

Now down in the canyon, I’m surprised to see an actual flowing creek here. It’s 8:30, so I start looking for a campsite. I find the perfect backdrop, some hills with really cool rock formations running along the top and the slopes. Yeah, this is it. In fact, it’s the most scenic campsite yet for me along the Oregon Desert Trail. Donny arrives about an hour later.

ODT Day 41 Map

Day 42: Leslie Gulch, Juniper Gulch & Three Fingers Gulch

June 22nd

Like most days, Donny gets an early start, and is ahead of me by the time I break camp. I walk down the canyon and hear an engine in the distance. A four-wheeler approaches from behind, it’s a Rancher looking for cows. I tell him about the two cows I saw last night near where I camped, on the other side of the gate. He heads back up the canyon to investigate.

The road through Juniper Canyon eventually turns and goes up over a small pass which drops into Spring Creek. The official ODT route continues down Juniper Canyon as a bushwhack, but the road through Spring creek provides a much easier path to follow. The downside? It’s private property. Donnie and I had decided yesterday to take a chance and go for this road to avoid the bushwhack. Having just seen the local Rancher on his four-wheeler, I was a bit apprehensive, but continued on with the plan.

The scenery was outstanding here. In fact, coming down the pass into Spring Creek was one of the most spectacular canyons I had seen along the ODT thus far. Upon entering the private parcel, signs stated “No Hunting”, not necessarily “No Trespassing”. The vertical rock walls that formed the western side of the canyon were stunning. It appeared that there was a landing strip in the canyon, as well as a home of some sort. It was unclear whether it was currently inhabited, but it certainly didn’t look dilapidated and abandoned. Needless to say, I walked quickly down Spring Creek Canyon in order to pass through this private parcel as quickly as possible.

I pass through the private parcel right where Schoolhouse Gulch dumps into Spring Creek. I walk this for another mile before reaching another private parcel right on the Owyhee River. There is a fairly modern looking cabin here, and it’s clear that it’s used somewhat frequently, and probably not all that long ago. Donny is sitting on the porch In the shade, taking a break.

From here, we walk the shoreline of Owyhee River. Only now, it’s referred to as the Owyhee Reservoir on the map, from here to Leslie Gulch. The water level is low enough to make passage possible along the shoreline. In the spring, water levels are higher, which could make this traverse a lot more challenging. The scenery here was stunning as well, especially on the opposite shoreline.

We stop and filter water from the Owyhee Reservoir when we reach Leslie Gulch. The water here is pretty disgusting. In fact, it’s solid green, choked with algae. But, It’s the only water around, and it filters Just fine.

Next we hike up Leslie Gulch. There is a well-maintained dirt road here. I have visited Leslie Gulch about 5 years ago, my only prior visit to Oregon before hiking the ODT. I knew how stunning it was, but somehow, it was even better today. Just Incredible. Hard to describe how majestic this canyon really is. Both sides of the canyon are flanked with unique and impressive rock formations. Very jagged, and otherworldly.

Next, we leave Leslie Gulch and hike up Juniper Gulch. It’s getting hot now, temperatures forecast to be in the low to mid-90s today. Not only that, but it felt very humid. The hike up Juniper Gulch was outstanding as well. Surprisingly, pretty good trail leading most of the way up to the top. It was a 1000ft climb to the ridgeline, and the final 500 ft were brutal. The terrain was steep and the dirt was loose, causing me to slip and fall a few times. And the heat, man was it wearing me out.

Now on the crest, I walk the ridge line for a while and see Donny taking a break. There’s no shade, but we need the break either way.

Next we drop down into an unnamed canyon. The upper reaches are not all that impressive as we bushwhack our way down hill. So far, it’s quite a pain. But then, we see signs that it will be an interesting hike, as the canyon narrows a bit.

Once we really get into this unnamed canyon, it really begins to impress. More incredible rock formations; hoodoos, spires, pillars… whatever you want to call them. Large “fins” seemed to protrude vertically into the sky, and we weave in and out of them. Progress here is slow, because of the bushwhacking and because of the incredible scenery. The canyon fights us the whole way down to the bottom.

We hiked over a small hill and find a large tire filled with water. It’s pretty disgusting though; chocolate milk colored filled with algae and bugs. Still, we need this water. We are hot and thirsty, and it’s a long ways before the next water source. Unfortunately, I lost my pre-filter earlier on this hike. Since I practically never use it, I didn’t bother to search for a replacement. Well, now would be a great time to have it. The water is so dirty that my filter needs to be back flushed every quarter of a liter. It takes two hours to filter 5.5 liters.

The sun is dropping lower in the sky now and it makes the walking more bearable in the heat. Next, we hike over to Three Fingers Gulch, which boasts some pretty impressive typography on the map. And in-person, it does not disappoint. Very sheer vertical rock walls form the entrance to this canyon, and damn is it stunning.

We enter Three Fingers Gulch and do a bit of bushwhacking to pass through the deepest, most narrow part of the canyon. After a half-mile or so, the canyon opens up a little bit and the terrain becomes flatter. There is good camping here, so we stop for the day. Another excellent campsite, our last of the Oregon Desert Trail.

ODT Day 42 Map

Day 43: Painted Canyon & Finish at Lake Owyhee

June 23rd (finish)

The mood Is different this morning. The finish line is immediately on my mind, and a calmness comes over me. It’s a good feeling to know the end is no longer weeks or days away, but mere hours.

The hike out of three fingers Gulch is rather easy and pleasant this morning. There is a surprisingly good trail running through here. Most likely, a cow path. In fact, it looks like an old road used to run through here at one point. Whatever the case, we have something to follow.

The route turns up a side canyon leading out of three fingers Gulch up to a pass, and then drops us down into Painted Canyon. Wow! Another stunning Canyon. None of this was a surprise to me per se, anyone with the ability to read a topo map would have seen this coming. But seeing it with your own eyes in person is never exactly what you envisioned by looking at the map. Somehow, it’s always more impressive when you see it in person.

The hiking becomes more challenging in Painted Canyon, but still, not a terrible bushwhack. In fact, there is a halfway decent wash to walk, mostly clear of vegetation. Excellent scenery.

Towards the upper end of painted Canyon, there is a short section of a little bit of scrambling over a few small boulders and pour offs. Personally, I really enjoy this type of canyon hiking. Donny, though, not so much.

We climb out of painted Canyon and hiked up to the top of a saddle. I scare up a deer in the wash, one of only a few deer I’ve seen along this hike. South sheephead spring is here, and there are only a few small pools of disgusting water left in the footprints of cows who have trampled through the mud. Naw, I’ll wait. Near the spring, I see a badger. I had seen three others in the Steens Mountains, but this time, I was able to get a great photo with my zoom lens before he retreated into his hole.

Next, we climb up to Sheephead Ridge. The suggested route is pretty annoying here; instead of gaining the ridge and walking the top, the ODT route has us sidehilling below the top. There are no horse trails here or anything, it’s just a bushwhack through sagebrush and a bunch of scattered rocks. Very frustrating. Just climb slightly higher and walk on top of the ridge, instead of sidehilling around it.

I crest the top of a ridge and see Pronghorn antlers about 40 ft away. He scampers off downhill. Probably the closest I’ve been to a pronghorn on this trip, and perhaps ever.

Now I descend to Rookie Canyon Spring. There is a herd of about 200 cattle gathered around it. As I approached, I scare off the cows, but only enough for them to walk about 20 ft away. They moo like crazy, not happy that I’ve moved them away from their water source. They stare at me while I get my water, and are quite vocal. Eventually, the majority of the cows disperse, but a few stragglers refuse to leave.

Donny arrives and gets his water, and together we leave the spring behind for a road. The official ODT route has us about 7.5 miles from the finish line now. It would be all bushwhacking to the end, but I see on the map that there is an option to take old 4×4 roads all the way to the finish line. This would add three miles, but would certainly be easier and almost certainly would take the same amount of time, or be faster. Gladly! The terrain between here and the finish line just wide open Sage Kansas, and the bushwhack actually parallels the road. Seems pretty gratuitous to me, and as far as we know, most ODT hikers take the road route over the bushwhack anyways. It just makes sense.

At the top of the hill, I check my cell phone signal. Still nothing. I use My Garmin inreach Mini to contact the Friends of Owyhee, who pick up Oregon Desert Trail hikers from the Eastern Terminus at Lake Owyhee. We give them a time, and they said they could be there tonight to pick us up. Excellent!

We walked a few more miles through Sage Kansas, and eventually reach the road that drops us down along Birch Creek. The views from this road are outstanding, an elevated view above the canyon as well as Lake Owyhee which is now clearly visible. It’s hard to understand why the official route suggests that we bushwhack through the bottom of Birch Creek, through a lot of poison ivy according to other ODT hikers, but Donny and I are glad that we chose to avoid it. Good call!

It’s about a five-mile walk down this road through a winding canyon. With the end in sight, I begin to reflect on the journey, and all the emotions that come with finishing a thru-hike begin to rush in. My fourth long-distance hike, coming to an end. While nothing can compare to the feeling of completing my first thru-hike, I do notice one similarity; there are no combination of words that can accurately describe what a hiker feels at the end.

After descending the canyon, I reach a paved road, walk through the boat launch area, and over to the final outcrop of rocks that jet out into Lake Owyhee. These rocks mark the eastern terminus of the Oregon Desert Trail, and the end of my journey. Lake Owyhee itself is beautiful, surrounded by massive cliffs. The sun is shining and reflecting on the lake. It’s perfect. It’s exactly what I envisioned at the end of a long hike, for once. I certainly didn’t get this kind of ending on my CDT thru hike, in 2018.

I climb out to the farthest, highest rock. I hoist my pack above my head, and scream at the top of my lungs. What a feeling it is to be done with this hike!

Donny arrives a few minutes later. We congratulate each other, snap a few quick photos, and head back to the day use area where we relax in the shade, sitting on a picnic table and drinking cold water from a spigot. Little luxuries, but the kind that one can only appreciate after a long hike, like this.

Sammy from the friends of the Owyhee is there to pick us up just after 8pm, and we begin the long but very scenic drive through the Owyhee Canyonlands to the town of Ontario, Oregon. Great guy!

I suppose the rest of the details don’t matter much to the average reader. Donny and I split a hotel room for the night, and I take a Greyhound bus to Boise the next day. Then I stay in a hotel near the Boise airport and fly home the day after that.

And just like that, another long hike is complete, another journey under the belt. Back to the world, where no one else understands what I’ve seen, endured and accomplished. At least on this one, I had Donny to share the experience with. One person that gets it. That’s more than I can say about my last few hikes. And for that, I am thankful. ODT complete.

ODT Day 43 Map

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