The Owyhee River
Map of the Owyhee River watershed
|State||Nevada, Idaho, Oregon|
|Source||Near Wild Horse|
|• location||Elko County, Nevada|
|• elevation||6,860 ft (2,090 m)|
|Canyon County, Idaho/Malheur County, Oregon|
|2,185 ft (666 m)|
|Length||280 mi (450 km)|
|Basin size||11,049 sq mi (28,620 km2)|
|• location||Owyhee, OR, 1 mi (1.6 km) from the mouth|
|• average||1,146 cu ft/s (32.5 m3/s)|
|• minimum||3.2 cu ft/s (0.091 m3/s)|
|• maximum||29,000 cu ft/s (820 m3/s)|
|Designated||March 30, 2009|
The Owyhee River is a tributary of the Snake River located in northern Nevada, southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon in the United States. It is 280 miles (450 km) long. The river's drainage basin is 11,049 square miles (28,620 km2) in area, one of the largest subbasins of the Columbia Basin. The mean annual discharge is 995 cubic feet per second (28.2 m3/s), with a maximum of 50,000 cu ft/s (1,400 m3/s) recorded in 1993 and a minimum of 42 cu ft/s (1.2 m3/s) in 1954.
The Owyhee drains a remote area of the arid plateau region immediately north of the Great Basin, rising in northeastern Nevada and flowing generally northward near the Oregon-Idaho border to the Snake River. Its watershed is very sparsely populated. The Owyhee River and its tributaries flow through the Owyhee Plateau, cutting deep canyons, often with vertical walls and in some places over 1,000 feet (300 m) deep.
The watershed of the river was part of region inhabited by the Shoshone and Bannock Indians. The name of the river is from the older spelling of "Hawaii."It was named for three Hawaiian trappers, in the employ of the North West Company, who were sent to explore the uncharted river. They failed to return to the rendezvous near the Boise River and were never seen again. Due to this the river and its region were named "Owyhee."
About one-third of the men with Donald MacKenzie's Snake Country Expeditions of 1819–20 were Hawaiians, commonly called "Kanakas" or "Sandwich Islanders" in those days, with "Owyhee" being a standard period spelling of the proper Hawaiian language name for the islands, hawai'i, which then was otherwise unused in English. The three Kanakas were detached to trap on the river in 1819 and were probably killed by Indians that year. It was not until the spring or early summer of 1820 that MacKenzie learned the news of their deaths (probably at the hands of men belonging to a band of Bannocks led by a chief named The Horse). Indians led other trappers to the site, but only one skeleton was located. The earliest surviving record of the name is found on a map dating to 1825, drawn by William Kittson (who was previously with Mackenzie in 1819-1820, and then with Peter Skene Ogden in 1825), on which he notes "Owhyhee River" [his spelling]. Journal entries in 1826 by Peter Skene Ogden, a fur trapper who led subsequent Snake Country Expeditions for the Hudson's Bay Company refer to the river primarily as the "Sandwich Island River," but also as "S.I. River," "River Owyhee" and "Owyhee River."
The discovery of gold and silver in the region in 1863 resulted in a temporary influx of miners and the establishment of mining camps, most of which have long since disappeared. The initial discovery was along Jordan Creek, and mining activity rapidly spread through the Owyhee watershed. This activity involved not only placer operations, but also underground mines and mills, resulting in a prolonged history of mining in the region.This invasion of Native American territory set off the 1864–68 Snake War.
In 1866 the son of Sacagawea, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, died near Jordan Valley after catching a chill upon crossing the Owyhee en route from California to new gold strikes in Montana (one of the gold strikes, near Bannack, Montana, was just a few miles from where he had traveled as a toddler with his mother in the company of William Clark). After almost a century of neglect, his grave is now well marked, off Highway 95, near Danner at.
The source of the Owyhee River is in northeastern Nevada, in northern Elko County, approximately 50 miles (80 km) north of the city of Elko. It flows north along the east side of the Independence Mountains of Nevada, passing through Wild Horse Reservoir and then cutting northeast past the north end of the range. The river runs through the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and then past the communities of Mountain City and Owyhee in the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. It then enters southwestern Idaho, flowing northwest for approximately 50 miles (80 km) across the southwest corner of the state through Owyhee County. It is then joined by the South Fork Owyhee River from the south, approximately 10 miles (16 km) east of the Oregon border. The main tributary of the South Fork is the Little Owyhee River.
The Owyhee River then enters extreme southeast Oregon in southern Malheur County, generally flowing north in a zigzag course west of the Idaho border. It merges with the West Little Owyhee Riverfrom the south, then receives the Middle Fork Owyhee River and North Fork Owyhee River from the east at a location known as "Three Forks." It then passes through the Owyhee Canyon between Big Grassy Mountain and Whitehouse Butte, then turns north, flowing east of Burns Junction and then west of Mahogany Mountain. In this area the Owyhee River receives the tributaries of Jordan Creek, Rattlesnake Creek, and Crooked Creek.
The Owyhee River enters the Snake River from the west on the Oregon–Idaho border approximately 5 miles (8 km) south of Nyssa, Oregon, and 2 miles (3 km) south of the mouth of the Boise River. The final stretch of the river, below Owyhee Dam, emerges from the Owyhee Plateau and enters the Snake River Plain.
|Jordan Craters North|
|The Hole in the Ground|
|Beaver Charlie Breaks|
|Beaver Charlie Breaks|
|Bull Basin Camp|
|Piute Basin West|
In northern Malheur County, approximately 20 miles (32 km) upstream from its mouth on the Snake, the Owyhee River is impounded by the Owyhee Dam, creating the serpentine Lake Owyhee, approximately 52 miles (84 km) long. The dam was constructed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation primarily to provide irrigation for the agricultural region in southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho, onions and hops are the staple crops in this region. Lake Owyhee State Park and scenic Leslie Gulch are along the eastern shore of the reservoir. Owyhee Dam was built in 1933 and eliminated anadromous fish such as salmon from the Owyhee River basin.
In 1984, the United States Congress designated 120 miles (190 km) of the river as Owyhee Wild and Scenic River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 to preserve the river in its free-flowing condition. Part of the designation includes the section of the river downstream from the Owyhee Dam, where the river flows through a remote section of deeply incised canyons surrounded by high canyon rims that are habitat for mountain lion, bobcat, Mule Deer, California Bighorn Sheep, and a large variety of raptors.
The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 designated 323,274 acres (130,824 ha) on and around the Owyhee River in Idaho as wilderness. The bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 30, 2009. The new wilderness areas are:
After negotiations involving Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, the Owyhee Act introduced in November 2019. It would preserve 1 million acres (400 thousand hectares) of Owyhee canyonlands as wilderness, while calling for improvements to loop roads to bring in visitors. It also designated 14.7 miles (23.7 km) of the river for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It was supported by both ranchers and conservationists, as well as the Northwest Sport Fishing Association.
The Bruneau River is a 153-mile-long (246 km) tributary of the Snake River, in the U.S. states of Idaho and Nevada. It runs through a narrow canyon cut into ancient lava flows in southwestern Idaho. The Bruneau Canyon, which is up to 1,200 feet (370 m) deep and 40 miles (64 km) long, features rapids and hot springs, making it a popular whitewater trip.
The Salmon River is located in Idaho in the northwestern United States. The Salmon is also known as "The River of No Return". It flows for 425 miles (685 km) through central Idaho, draining a rugged, thinly populated watershed of 14,000 square miles (36,000 km2) and dropping more than 7,000 feet (2,100 m) between its headwaters, near Galena Summit above the Sawtooth Valley in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and its confluence with the Snake River. Measured at White Bird, its average discharge is 11,060 cubic feet per second. It is one of the largest rivers in the continental United States without a single dam on its mainstem.
The Malheur River is a 190-mile-long (306 km) tributary of the Snake River in eastern Oregon in the United States. It drains a high desert area, between the Harney Basin and the Blue Mountains and the Snake.
The Powder River is a tributary of the Snake River, approximately 153 miles (246 km) long, in northeast Oregon in the United States. It drains an area of the Columbia Plateau on the eastern side of the Blue Mountains. It flows almost entirely within Baker County but downstream of the city of North Powder forms part of the border between Baker County and Union County.
The Payette River is an 82.7-mile-long (133.1 km) river in southwestern Idaho and is a major tributary of the Snake River.
The Jarbidge River is a 51.8-mile-long (83.4 km), high elevation river in Elko County, Nevada and Owyhee County, Idaho in the United States. The Jarbidge originates as two main forks in the Jarbidge Mountains of northeastern Nevada and then flows through basalt and rhyolite canyons on the high plateau of the Owyhee Desert before joining the Bruneau River.
The Imnaha River is a 73.3-mile-long (118.0 km) tributary of the Snake River in the U.S. state of Oregon. Flowing generally east near the headwaters and then north through Wallowa County, the entire river is designated Wild and Scenic. It follows a geologic fault to the Snake River, and in addition to land in the Wallowa–Whitman National Forest and private land, its corridor includes parts of three special management areas: the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. The Imnaha flows by the unincorporated community of Imnaha, the only settlement along its course, and enters the Snake River roughly 4 miles (6 km) from the larger river's confluence with the Salmon River of Idaho and 192 miles (309 km) from its confluence with the Columbia River.
Succor Creek is a 69.4-mile-long (111.7 km) tributary of the Snake River in the U.S. states of Idaho and Oregon. The creek begins in the Owyhee Mountains in Owyhee County, Idaho. After flowing for about 23 miles (37 km) in Idaho, Succor Creek enters Malheur County, Oregon, where it flows for 39 miles (63 km) before re-entering Idaho for its final 5 miles (8.0 km). It joins the Snake near Homedale, about 413 river miles (665 km) from the larger river's confluence with the Columbia River.
The Owyhee River Wilderness is located on the high basalt plateaus of Owyhee County in southwestern Idaho in the western United States. The wilderness area is named after and protects the upper Owyhee River, its tributaries, and the surrounding desert canyon landscape. Whitewater rafting is a popular recreational activity in this wilderness area. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, it is the second-largest U.S. Wilderness Area that is not located within a National Forest, National Park, or National Wildlife Refuge. The BLM's Black Rock Desert Wilderness, located within Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area, is larger. About 67.3 miles (108.3 km) of the Owyhee River is classified as a wild river.
The North Fork Clearwater River is a major tributary of the Clearwater River in the U.S. state of Idaho. From its headwaters in the Bitterroot Mountains of eastern Idaho, it flows 135 miles (217 km) westward and is dammed by the Dworshak Dam just above its mouth in north-central Idaho. Draining a rugged watershed of 2,462 square miles (6,380 km2), the river has an average flow of over 5,600 cubic feet per second (160 m3/s), accounting for a third of the discharge from the Clearwater basin. The river drains parts of Clearwater, Shoshone, Latah, and Idaho counties. Most of the watershed is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Some of the fish of the river include westslope cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, mountain whitefish, and the threatened bull trout. It also has smallmouth bass and a kokanee salmon run, both from Dworshak Reservoir. The North Fork drainage is home to grizzly bears, cougars, deer, moose, black bear, elk, grey wolves, and osprey. The river used to have a large steelhead run before the implementation of Dworshak Dam. The North Fork of the Clearwater is located within the Clearwater National Forest
The Clearwater River is in the northwestern United States, in north central Idaho. Its length is 74.8 miles (120.4 km), it flows westward from the Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho-Montana border, and joins the Snake River at Lewiston. In October 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition descended the Clearwater River in dugout canoes, putting in at "Canoe Camp," five miles (8 km) downstream from Orofino; they reached the Columbia Bar and the Pacific Ocean about six weeks later.
Salmon Falls Creek is a tributary of the Snake River, flowing from northern Nevada into Idaho in the United States. Formed in high mountains at the northern edge of the Great Basin, Salmon Falls Creek flows northwards 121 miles (195 km), draining an arid and mountainous basin of 2,103 square miles (5,450 km2). The Salmon Falls Creek valley served as a trade route between the Native American groups of the Snake River Plain and Great Basin. Today, most of its water is used for irrigation.
The North Fork Malheur River is a 59-mile (95 km) tributary of the Malheur River in eastern Oregon in the United States. Rising in Big Cow Burn in the Blue Mountains, it flows generally south to join the larger river at Juntura. The upper 25.5 miles (41.0 km) of the river have been designated Wild and Scenic. This part of the river basin offers camping, hiking, and fishing opportunities in a remote forest setting. The lower river passes through Beulah Reservoir, which stores water for irrigation and has facilities for boaters.
West Little Owyhee River is a 63.1-mile-long (101.5 km) tributary of the Owyhee River in the U.S. state of Oregon. The source of the river is at an elevation of 6,508 feet (1,984 m) near McDermitt, while the mouth is at an elevation of 4,373 feet (1,333 m) in the Owyhee Desert. West Little Owyhee River has a 310-square-mile (800 km2) watershed.
The North Fork Payette River is a river in western Idaho in the United States. It flows about 113 miles (182 km) southwards from the Salmon River Mountains to near Banks, where it empties into the Payette River, a tributary of the Snake River. It drains a watershed of 912 square miles (2,360 km2), consisting of mountains and forests, and valleys filled with large lakes and wetlands.
The Middle Fork Kings River is a 37.2-mile (59.9 km) tributary of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park, California, in the southern Sierra Nevada. Draining 318 square miles (820 km2) – almost all of it wilderness – the Middle Fork is one of the largest wholly undeveloped watersheds in the state, with no dams or paved roads within its basin. The entire length of the Middle Fork is designated a National Wild and Scenic River.
The North Fork Owyhee Wilderness is on the high basalt plateaus of Owyhee County in southwestern Idaho in the western United States. The rivers within it offer whitewater rapids up to Class IV. The upper 20.8 miles (33.5 km) of the North Fork Owyhee River, from the Idaho–Oregon border to the upstream boundary of the wilderness, are part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Of this total, 15.1 miles (24.3 km) are classified as wild and the remaining 5.7 miles (9.2 km) are classified "recreational".
Sheep Creek is a 63-mile (101 km) long tributary of the Bruneau River. Beginning at an elevation of 6,126 feet (1,867 m) east of Owyhee in northern Elko County, Nevada, it flows generally north into Owyhee County, Idaho and the Owyhee Desert, where it is roughly paralleled by Idaho State Highway 51. It then flows to its mouth in the Bruneau – Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness, at an elevation of 3,415 feet (1,041 m). In 2009, 25.6 miles (41.2 km) of the creek were designated as wild by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, which also created the Bruneau – Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness.
The North Fork Owyhee River is a tributary, about 30 miles (48 km) long, of the Owyhee River in Malheur County, Oregon, and Owyhee County, Idaho, in the United States. It begins on the east flank of the Owyhee Mountains in Idaho and flows generally southwest to meet the main stem at Three Forks, Oregon, 161 miles (259 km) above the confluence of the larger river with the Snake River.
The Middle Fork Owyhee River is a tributary of the North Fork Owyhee River in Malheur County, Oregon, and Owyhee County, Idaho, in the United States. It forms along Juniper Mountain, south of the Owyhee Mountains in Idaho. From its headwaters, it flows southwest then curves northwest to and beyond the Idaho–Oregon border, then turns north to meet the North Fork at Three Forks, Oregon. The confluence is less than a mile upstream from the North Fork's confluence with the Owyhee River. Below Three Forks, the main stem Owyhee flows 161 miles (259 km) to empty into the Snake River.
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