Hiking and Photographing the Owyhees

May 13th, 2010 / 9 Comments

In the last five months, I’ve done more hiking than I have in the last 15 years. I find trekking the wilderness inspiring.

Most of the time, I hike alone.  My days are typically filled with interactions with numerous people. I like that. But getting away occasionally rejuvenates me.

My favorite places to hike are the Owyhee Mountains of southern Idaho. I can get to them and start hiking after a 35-minute drive.  There are benefits to living in Idaho!

I typically head out to hike in the early evening. I have several objectives for this kind of adventure. I’ve already mentioned one: I need solitude from time to time.

I also spend a great deal of my time taking photos when I hike. The “perfect” days for hiking photos have wild weather. I look for swirling clouds or sunrays shining through darkened skies. Great clouds and varied light make all the difference!

Part of my motivation to hike is exercise. I typically hike steep hills and mountains, and I often break a serious sweat. I prefer stair stepping in the wild to stair stepping at the gym.

Sagebrush, rock, and desert ravines motivate me to hike. Perhaps my experience growing up in the open spaces of eastern Washington State draw me away from forests and toward open deserts.

A couples days ago, my hike was especially enjoyable.  In previous weeks, the rains have descended in uncharacteristic May fashion.

The upside to rain, however, is that diverse desert flowers bloom. I don’t know their names, but their colorful hues appeal to my sense of beauty – especially when those flowers mix with green and golden crabgrass and green and gray sagebrush.

Two does scampered away from behind rocks while I hiked up a steep grade that day. The deer bounced off and paused after reaching a safe distance of about 60 yards. They disappeared after briefly glancing back at me. Unlike the deer I see while jogging near home, these does aren’t accustomed to seeing people.

I typically avoid trails when I hike – unless I think the trails are narrow enough to have been cleared by deer. There’s something about trekking on virgin soil that enlivens me. I could have been a fossil hunter or anthropologist if my earlier life had been different.

Sometimes I imagine finding an old miner’s campsite or Native American granary. I watch for pictographs and scan the rocks for caves. I’m also looking for animal dens and rattlesnakes. Exploring is second nature.

Last week, I followed the edge of a cliff that must have been 200-300 feet high. Rocks jutted out at weird angles. Portions of the edge had eroded. A half a dozen ravens circled below me.

While walking along the rim, I spotted a small pocket of water on a ledge.  I eased my way down to the pocket to take photos. I felt especially vulnerable – like prey exposed to an eagle’s eye and talons.

That evening the wind was especially brisk. Being on a cliff ledge makes the wind feel even stronger.

Despite the gale, I sprawled out next to the pocket of water.  I put on my wool hat and gloves, and buttoned my jacket tightly. Folding my arms on my chest to keep warm, I relaxed and enjoyed my perch.

I sat for about a half hour. The sun disappeared over the mountains in front of me. The ravens flew near to check on my status. And the wind swirled incessantly.

I lay suspended over the deep ravine, and I marveled at the beautiful creation.

Time well spent.

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Hans Deventer

Thanks for sharing, Tom! Beautiful pictures too. I share your enthusiasm, but the mountains are too far away for me. I live in the wrong country 🙁


I’ve hiked some of those places, too.  Thanks to a childhood in C. WA and sagebrush, everything is beautiful away from the crowds!

Phil’s brother hikes the Owyhees often.  Do you know him?  He’s the biologist at Crater’s.

The Lord bless your quiet places and times!

Tim Good

Great photos and thoughts; thanks for sharing. Everyone needs a sanctuary, a sabbath place, to go and un-be and re-be.

John Grant

You have a very good eye.  The photos are amazing.  And by the way, the solitude is why I enjoy (need) those long quiet morning back-roads runs.


Amazing pictures, and a time well worth spending! Just like Hans, I live in the wrong country…

Dan Smitley

Simply beautiful! I don’t have any mountains in Ohio you are making me want to get out and hit the trails. Thanks for posting.

Carol VanSlageren

Your pictures remind me of the great columnar basalt of the Columbia Ntnl. Wildlife Refuge…hiking to Black Lake in the Potholes and going on hikes with Dad to abandoned cabins, garbage dumps and looking for petrified wood.  Being out in the “wilderness” brings peace and the appreciation of desert beauty to my heart and soul.

Jonathan Privett


I love the Owyhee River canyon. I love fishing for the big browns but I find myself loving to photograph the blue heron, the otters, the deer and the monster fish. It is one of the most relaxing things in the world to drive 2 hours and fish for 10 hours and drive 2 hours back with a sunburn and a story and a photo.

Sharelle Seward

Wow, beautiful pictures!  Hiking by myself is something I really enjoy too but do not do enough of.  I always feel so close to God and am able to really clear my mind and open my heart to His words.  I love being surrounded by such beautiful creation.

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