In the Wild Heart

Where the Lifeblood Flows

Story and Photos by Emma George

The water washes the numbness from my legs as we drag the kayaks behind us up the river. Despite it being the start of June in the Owyhee Mountains, early summer in the high desert has brought temperatures that make me regret leaving my gloves on the kitchen table at home.

The thought of handling metal tent poles with bare hands sends a shiver through my body and I’m glad that four miles of the Owyhee River flow between me and the campsite.

I push the cold from my mind and admire my surroundings instead. Sheer canyon walls of rhyolite hide us from an endless horizon of sagebrush and juniper trees above. Willow bushes litter the bank of the river, where a trout leaps from the water in pursuit of a bug. I feel splendidly isolated from the outside world and far away from the stress and worry of everyday life. The only visitors from beyond the walls are a family of ducks who swim in formation behind their mother and a herd of bighorn sheep showing off their cliff acrobatics. And of course us, four botanists on a hunt for Owyhee flora.

The trip is part of a collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Harold M. Tucker Herbarium at The College of Idaho. The herbarium’s curator, Dr. Don Mansfield, has invited two of his students, myself included, to collect plants for the herbarium and his work on an identification key to the Owyhee flora. These collections will help identify the locations and distributions of rare or endangered plant species and increase our understanding of this unique desert ecosystem.

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