Thursday January 21 2010
You could live here for a lifetime and not see all this Owyhee country. You could live here for years and not know what's in your back yard. I sort of have an excuse - I've been here only almost 3 years; Carol has no excuse; she's been here almost ten.
"You know," she said as we made our way on Jose and Suz, on another ridiculously mild winter day, up the Hart Creek drainage on our usual trail, "I've never ridden along the base of those bluffs."
Well? What were we waiting for? We're always riding either down by the creek and crossing it, or up on the rim looking down into it. Why not explore something new?
"Let's follow this little wash up to the bluffs."
The rim rises ultimately about 400 feet above the wide drainage of Hart Creek. The closer we got to the bottom of the bluffs, the more they became cliffs, and the more amazing it got. "This isn't a wimpy version of the Badlands of South Dakota, this is the Real Badlands of Owhyee!" We rounded the side of a hill, where a surprising big box canyon opened up in front of us. Boulders fallen from the rim over time littered the ground like shrapnel from a volcano. We topped a little rise in this canyon to see a deep little wash lined with rye grass and a patch of quail bush, which could mean only one thing - a spring! There wasn't any standing water by the grass (the quail bush was too thick to see underneath), but the wash was quite muddy.
All these years, and we never knew this was here.
We thought we might be the only humans on the planet to know about this spot, but we did ride past an old (or maybe not so old) wine or moonshine jug. There is an old Homestead near here.
And of course it's fun to ride a horse who seems to enjoy exploring, and who definitely likes to stop and look at and appreciate the beautiful scenery. Jose especially likes to take in the sweeping views from the tops of hills.
We rode up a narrow ridge to look down into the box canyon, then turned around and climbed back down, and rode on to the Homestead. On the way, there's a dirt road that goes off to the south by some old corrals; Carol said, "I've never taken this road either - let's see where it goes!" It wound up the hill a ways then stopped at a lookout over Hart Creek - the REAL Hart Creek. Up until last year, we always thought (sadly) we were riding up to the Hart Creek Notch in the cliffs on our regular trail. But no, after consulting a map, we realized that was Little Hart Creek. This narrow cleft in the cliffs we were now looking at is Hart Creek. The notches are about a mile apart. Too narrow to ride a horse in, but I must come back on foot one day. There is supposed to be a historic golden eagle nest in this Hart Creek notch anyway, more than enough excuse to hike into it.
And all these years, we'd just ridden through and past the old Homestead on our Hart Creek trail. I've never stopped to explore around it. (The main structure washed away into Oreana in a flood in the 1960's.)
I didn't get off to go in this structure today, but, crossing the creek, I wanted to look at the old corral we always turned at and rode away from.
Carol said "There must be something over there, because there's a locust tree. It didn't get there by itself." The homesteaders always planted locust trees, because they grew quickly and provided good shade and windbreaks.
Carol held Jose while I climbed the little rise and crossed the fence - old wooden boards lay in the middle of the pen - probably part of a barn. Further on: "an old wagon! And a plow!" And a little further on, "Another dugout house!" This one still has a stovepipe in it, well-preserved stonework, and there are still pieces of willow branches on the roof that were used for thatching. These partial underground homes were an excellent idea for this area - to stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
We then followed our usual path, past the Little Hart Creek notch, up the Knife Edge trail back onto the rim. The same view of the Owyhees as they emerge above the ridge never fails to impress; and the same question always pops in my head, about the lone juniper tree that lives on the steep side of the hill between the ridge and Hart Creek. How the heck did it get there? Where the heck does it get its water from? There must be some sort of water source reaching it at this odd spot, or, maybe, as Carol suggested, "A Raven planted the tree there, and Ravens come and water it." You do see a lot of Ravens cavorting in the updrafts along this whole rim.
Who really knows?
All the trails here are great, but sometimes it pays to leave the beaten path and follow your whims in this fabulous country. There are mysteries and surprises waiting to be discovered.
More photos of the Hart Creek Hidden Spring Box Canyon ride