Family Float

Owyhee River, Oregon and Idaho

Owyhee River

Paddling the Owyhee     Photo: Brandon Sawaya

At the put-in on a gloomy April morning a few years ago, the landscape was sagebrush bleak, the air was livestock smelly, and the spouses were skeptical. The Owyhee is one of those rivers you think you’ve heard of but really haven’t. Whitewater guidebooks refer to it as “Oregon’s Grand Canyon.” To other folks, it’s the loneliest river in the U.S.—as it sneakily slices its way below the Oregon-Idaho state line’s foam-green cattle country, the lower Owyhee never once crosses a road. But if my three old paddling buddies and I were ever going to convince our wives that float trips were more fun than the beach, this river needed to start smelling rosier real soon. Then, ever so slowly, we started ­descending. The sun came out at the end of day one. The canyon walls began to close in, darkened to a deep red, and, as advertised, were soon towering 2,000 feet above us. By day two, our flotilla was leapfrogging down the Class I–III rapids in good style: first nimble kayaks and sturdy rafts, then a flurry of paddle signals, finally the persnickety canoe. Eventually, the once-towering cliffs turned pale yellow and the rapids began to wane. But our wives were so punch-drunk on Restorative River Trip Love that there was talk of floating the actual Grand Canyon. Nicole, my wife, suggested we buy our own raft. At the take-out, I lingered at the river’s edge. “Dude, can you help me deflate this raft?” someone asked. Yes, I thought. But I won’t change out of my wet shorts. Or turn my phone back on.

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