Owyhee River: The Final Stretch
Day 4: Andy Dons a Shirt
Day Four begins with a little fly fishing from the banks by a few of the guests while the crew packs up camp. Today is a party day, the last full day of rafting on the trip. We have 11 miles of peaceful river to drift and drink. Chad and I take a little change of pace today and finally ride a drift boat with boss man Ken Helfrich.
Ken is so relaxed, so easy-going and his drift boat feels like an extension of him. The stress and burden of running a trip seems to have passed to his daughter. He is a man to be respected, but also a man at play, enjoying the river. We attach a mic to him and chat for a little bit before pulling out to enjoy the hot springs near Upper Greeley.
Most of our group can only put their feet in the springs due to the volcano-like heat the springs emit. Fifty yards away we come across a rattlesnake, about eleven years old. Being that we’ve found it such a high traffic spot this time of year and that the species is so plentiful in the Owyhee, the outfitters make the decision to kill the snake. Kelsey’s husband, Kidd Youren, skins the snake saving the skin as a souvenir and the meat to cook up later.
After the hot springs, we jump back into our raft, only this time it’s not Sena driving, but Kelsey. She has given up her drift boat on this calm stretch of river to allow Sena to get a feel for how the drift boat operates. We chat with Kelsey a little more about the lure of the Canyonlands and the politics down here as we head to Birch Creek for lunch, passing the historic Birch Creek Ranch and Waterwheel along the way.
At Birch Creek takeout we grab some motors for the long reservoir stretch ahead the next day, and continue down the river another three miles to Griffith Homestead, the site of our final camping spot. Fitting with the variety of the river and our trip, Griffith Homestead is yet another completely unique camping location. With big trees for shade and the remnants of the huge ranch around us, it’s a reminder of the rich history of these canyonlands.
The real story of today though, starts in the evening. It’s the last night of the trip and it’s time to celebrate. The Helfrichs call it “Fiesta Night” though I contend “Tequila Night” is an equally fitting name. Kelsey pulls out bottles of tequila for cocktail hour and the night starts with the whole group making layered enchiladas in the dutch ovens together. The twist is that every time you add an ingredient to the dutch oven you have to take a drink, or get your designated drinker to take a pull. It’s not hard to see where this night is going.
Shortly after enchilada making, the group takes bets on when Andy will put his shirt on. Andy has been the notorious “guy without a shirt” on this whole trip. Members of the group take turns trying to persuade him to put a shirt on, making comments about how cold the night is getting, or how much they would love a sweatshirt. Finally around 9:00, Andy emerges from his tent wearing a shirt, sending the whole group cheering and Andy’s Dad running up to him for a big hug: “You just won me fifty bucks son!” Andy has no idea what’s going on and won’t until the next day.
After we’ve devoured the enchiladas, George grabs his guitar and starts playing classic rafting songs in front of the fire. Kelsey plays the tambourine and the group jams out late into the night. Kidd fires up the rattlesnake. It’s delicious and tough, comparable to beef jerky. We spend our last night under the stars, listening to George rock out on his guitar until the sun starts to come up.
Day 5: Epilogue
Day Five is a quick one. About a mile into the river, the drift boats tie themselves to the rafts, who in turn attach a motor to the back of their boats as we begin our cruise through Lake Owyhee and the reservoir. Civilization returns ever so slightly as we see people on the banks catching catfish, and trucks kicking up dust on the horizon.
Our only stop is a hot springs just after mile 63. We stay at the hot springs for a little while as people take the time to bathe before the bus ride home. At mile 67, at Leslie Gulch, we take out for the last time. A final lunch occurs at the take out followed by a group photo. Guests and guides exchange hugs and promises to keep in touch and see one another again. After a bumpy bus ride back to Caldwell, the group says farewell to each other, the adventure over.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most. Many will not make it back to the lower Owyhee. It’s remote, and there are countless more places to see in this world. But there’s no doubt anyone will ever forget the canyon.
Helfrich River Outfitters were back on the Owyhee the week after us, guiding another group down. That was the end of their Owyhee run though, just two short weeks. If you ever get the opportunity to hop aboard a boat heading down the Owyhee, I recommend you take it, because you never know when it will run again.
The last of “Behind the Float”:
Thank you again to Helfrich River Outfitters! Our float down the Owyhee was unforgettable and we can’t wait to get back on the river with these guys. Ready to book your own trip with them? Register here!
*We are lucky enough in the West to still enjoy remote pieces of wilderness like the Owyhee Canyonlands. Unfortunately though, places like this are fast disappearing in the wake of development and other threats. Sign here to help permanently protect this unique treasure.*
Text and video by: Jonathan Conti
Photos by: Chad Case