Heeding the Call

Of Something Larger

Story and Photos by Mike Cothern

Hoping to see more of the rugged landscape below me, I edged closer to the point of the rim between merging canyons in Idaho’s Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness. The main drainage on my left rumbled with a chocolate current that combined mountain snowmelt with recent rainstorms that had soaked the high desert. My focus down on the Jarbidge River lasted only a few moments, as the union of the two gorges pulled my gaze back up to the horizon. Cautiously, I turned in a circle to absorb the panorama.

After retreating from the drop-off, I relaxed on a boulder and marveled at the various rock formations laid bare by eons of erosion. Multiple flows of horizontal grey basalt composed the rimrock of the Jarbidge and Poison Creek canyons, resulting in an almost impassable barrier between the plateau above and the steep country below. The lower depths were painted with red rhyolite that offered a variety of arrangements from compressed curves to vertical cliffs sometimes plunging down to the river’s edge.

Two motives enticed me to Owyhee County’s canyon country. First was the need for a challenging physical test after a wintertime hip replacement and a minor complication. Laid up longer than expected, I felt overdue for an extended walk. The other yearning arose after I attended a class held earlier in the spring at the College of Southern Idaho. Sponsored by the Idaho Humanities Council, the five-session “Wilderness Considered” course offered a variety of topics and speakers brought together in celebration of last year’s fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The discussions, which focused on Americans’ evolving views of nature and the country’s wildest landscapes, had been inspiring, but at some point I starting craving less theory and more practical application.

The Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness not only fit my needs, but also was the closest official wilderness area to my home. Castleford lay just forty miles away, yet with no hint of civilization in any direction I now felt like I had entered another realm. It’s not always easy to find places with enough isolation to provide an almost complete loss of self-awareness, but some of the Owyhee desert country does just that. With the escape from any internal dialogue comes an intense, almost primal connection with the landscape.

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