Where were we? Oh yes, we'd just visited an overlook of Sheep Creek and we were on our way towards Bruneau Canyon where it was time for something very special. And I was doing my best to prep my co-pilot for what was ahead.
"I think this is going to be similar to the steep road down into Indian Hot Springs," I warned her.
As always, the approach to the edge gave few clues to the glory were about to witness.
No matter how many times we find ourselves at a grand vista over one of the canyons that make up the Owyhee, we always find ourselves catching our breaths as the earth drops away in front of us, the distant rushing of white water filtering up from far below. Even so, the view we found on this afternoon was one to rival them all.
It was @mrs.turbodb who noticed the problem first. "Are we going to be able to make it down there?" she asked.
"Road looks OK to me," I replied, hoping that though it was steep, rocky, and overgrown, that there wouldn't be any large rockslides that would require our reversing our way back to the top.
"No, I mean, will we fit?" she said, pointing to the gate that blocked the beginning of our path.
The top of this gate - mangled over time - dipped down to approximately the height of our Tacoma.
It was a good question, and one that I didn't know the answer to - or a solution for - as I walked over to take a closer look.
Initially, I was pretty sure that we weren't going to fit. It was a lot like the situation we'd found ourselves in a couple months earlier as we were headed into the Mojave National Preserve's Macedonia Canyon, except that this time there was no soft sand that we could extract in order to eke out a few more inches of clearance.
Evaluating the situation, we wondered as to several possible plans. The gate didn't look all that sturdy, but a closer inspection revealed that we weren't going to have any luck bending the top back into its original shape. Perhaps instead we could move the entire thing out of the way. Or, maybe it was time to let significantly more air out of the tires - taking them from 15psi to something closer to 5psi in order to give ourselves a bit of wiggle room.
In the end, I decided that it was worth trying the easiest solution first - pulling the Tacoma closer to understand exactly what we were working with.
Low and behold, we fit - with three whole inches to spare!
While we were both elated, I must admit that we were also a little worried about what we'd find on the remainder of the road. A road that clearly sees very little vehicular traffic - and seemingly nothing wider than ATVs these days - it had been carved into the canyon walls, descending steeply through the rocky terrain.
In 4-lo, we soldiered on, the views beckoning us forward.
In several places, I got out and walked the trail - both to ensure that there weren't any rockslides and just to make sure the narrowest-of-all-Tacomas would fit.
Continuing down into the canyon, we finally caught a glimpse of the Bruneau River.
It was a surreal experience dropping down amongst the green canyon walls. With every turn, anticipation and apprehension fought an endless battle, neither of us quite sure as to how far we'd make it. Eventually - once it became clear that we'd made it far enough, even if we had to hike the remainder of the way - we both relaxed, excitement and elation winning the day.
Any other time, an overlook near the bottom of the canyon would have made a nice camp site.
Now, less than 20 feet above and 30 feet away from a Bruneau River that was bursting at its seams, we covered the final - relatively level - mile to the destination that we'd braved the treacherous descent to reach - an old homestead.
The main cabin.
Originally settled by Manuel ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ , a Portuguese immigrant with the name behind the TM brand that is so prevalent in the area, ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ settled in the JP Country [essentially, the Owyhee area] some time before 1880 with his wife, and ran sheep until selling the property in 1900 to retire to California. That same year, the homestead was sold to the Bruneau Sheep Company which would develop the property further, adding buildings, meadows, and a road for access down the 1000-foot descent to the bottom of the canyon. The developed homestead was then traded to Homer ▮▮▮▮▮▮ in exchange for his homestead on nearby Cat Creek. The land was eventually sold to George Rizzi in 1930, and again in 1946 to the Alzolas.Owyhee Outpost #48 (2017)
Wandering around, we soaked in our surroundings. Nestled along the bottom of the canyon, seven structures and several old farming implements dotted the lush lower hillsides. A fire had come through at one point, but with only low grass - and no brush - to burn, it had mercifully spared the wooden structures from harm.
I wonder how many times these steel wheels helped to hay the fields down here?
An old stable and workshop, constructed with wood once the stone ran out.
It's not often that roofs are largely intact.
This homestead wasn't the only one we'd come to visit along the banks of the Bruneau River. Further north, a second homestead was once accessible by a narrow shelf road that climbed halfway up the canyon before dropping down again. Today, the two-mile route is accessible only by foot - something we briefly considered before deciding that we'd much prefer an early afternoon nap in these wonderful surroundings.
Nap time in paradise along the Bruneau River.
It was 7:30pm when we climbed out of the tent - a warm breeze having lulled us to sleep for a couple of hours - to make dinner and enjoy the fading light in the canyon. We aren't generally ones to stay put when we're out and about, but I mentioned that this was the kind of place where I might be able to spend a day reading and relaxing, looking up at the sheer walls around us.
A new favorite camp site.
With sunset only a few minutes before 9:00pm - and a dinner time nap - we went to bed relatively late for a couple of folks who are usually vertical immediately after dinner. Even so, it wasn't dark-dark when we zipped up the tent for the last time.
With such a dramatic landscape - and not knowing what phase of the moon we were in - I'd setup the camera for a series of night photos, hoping that when my alarm went off at 12:30am, there'd be a bit of moonlight to illuminate the canyon.
Turns out - as I looked up at the sky - there was no moon at all. Not only that, but I couldn't see the Milky Way, either. Still, not wanting to have awoken in vain, I turned setup the intervalometer on my camera and let it click away for the next four hours.
It was a perfect example of my rule: If You Take Enough Photos, Some Are Bound to be Decent.
Half an hour after starting the series - and for the next four hours - the Milky Way started it's trek across the southern sky.
Owyhee - Camp Under the Milky Way.
The next morning...
If it was possible to be even greener in the morning light, our personal slice of paradise, was.
Naturally, I had no idea of what'd transpired above our heads until we woke up the following morning, 30 minutes before sunrise. As we had the previous day, we'd decided that our hike downstream would be much more pleasant with cooler temperatures, so after a new battery and a quick scroll through the photos - and then a whoop of joy at what I saw - we gathered up our water and a few snacks before starting up the old road behind our camp.
Some parts of the road were still passable, but many were off-camber and only a few feet wide.
As we climbed higher, the rushing of the Bruneau River thundered up from below.
As the sun crested the horizon, we looked back along a road that - like many in the old west - must have taken enormous effort to construct.
Two miles and 400 vertical feet later we found ourselves at the end of the road, on the northern edge of a large pasture. Our destination - along the river - still hidden from view by the sides of a steep ravine. From here, we'd be bushwacking our way down, following game trails down to the Bruneau.
Along the edge of the pasture, building materials that were never utilized.
Down there, our final destination.
Losing elevation quickly, we followed a series of switchbacks toward the river. It seemed strange, really, given the road that'd traversed this far, but eventually we spotted a few structures across the river.
"Bad news," said @mrs.turbodb as she looked at the map on her phone, "The homestead is on the other side."
I kept quiet, keeping my pre-trip Google Earth exploration of this area to myself. But I knew otherwise.
Across the Bruneau River, you can just make out the first ruins that we saw from the hillside.
A little closer.
The most interesting structure of all - unexplorable given current water levels.
Frank ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ immigrated from Portugal in 1900 to work for his brother, Manuel. In 1903, Frank filed for a homestead in the canyon. He later moved to a larger homestead at lower Black Rock and continued to buy up other property, amassing a substantial cattle operation in JP Country. [JP Country is essentially Owyhee]
Frank was blessed with many talents as he was a natural builder. He also possessed the proverbial green thumb and raised the finest garden, orchard, and hay crops in the area. Other accomplishments were his unique irrigation system with diversion dams, cement ditches, and flumes that were very efficient.
One can but wonder how he managed to do what he did when you consider that there was no other access to his property than a pack horse trail that zigzagged over 1,000 feet down to the floor of the canyon. Everything he needed from the basic necessities for living, farm equipment, cement, lumber, tools, and all the many items required to run a ranch had to be packed in by animals. One must see this old canyon homestead to appreciate this good man's work.
In later years, Frank took in Ray and Dorrana Rizzi as partners until eventually selling the land to George in 1929.Owyhee Outpost #16 (1985)
After admiring the distant structures via binocular for a few minutes, we continued down - around the final bend in the ravine - until several more buildings came into view, this time on our side of the river! @mrs.turbodb - now in the lead - looked back up at me with knowing eyes; I'd been holding out on her.
Three more structures belonging to the homestead.
Unlike the first homestead we'd visited, this one had clearly been impacted by the fire that swept through the region. Though the building walls were constructed of stone, the roofs had been flammable, their spans supported by large wooden beams. Charred and collapsed, we found ourselves wishing we'd visited a few years earlier - to see this place in its full grandeur.
Little was left of the original roof structure.
A center cabin was constructed of large chalk blocks, similar to the building across the river.
Lighter and significantly less dense than the more plentiful volcanic stone, numerous nails were driven directly into the stone walls.
The main cabin, with a once-elegant plaster interior.
A six burner range.
Thick walls and an amazing view down river.
As with the homestead upstream, ranching and agriculture were the staples along this section of the Bruneau River. Overgrown with 8-foot tall grass, several rusty old implements sat idle along the riverbank - each of them seemingly ready to go with a little oil and a moment's notice.
Some sort of cutting implement?
Perhaps used to turn hay while it is drying?
After spending a good half an hour poking our heads in and out of the cabins on our side of the river - and wondering if there was any way to get across - we set our sights on the long climb to the high road that had delivered us to this place. Putting one foot in front of the other, we were thankful for our early departure - the sun not yet high enough to chase away the shadows that were keeping us cool.
Eventually, in the distance, we could see the Tacoma, now bathed in mid-morning sun.
Though it was still early, @mrs.turbodb set about prepping our last lunch of the trip, and I climbed into the tent - once again relishing a view that I'd have been happy to enjoy for another day - to get it packed away, ready for the next adventure. From there, we headed back upriver and then along the steep, narrow, rocky road to the top of the canyon, our heads on swivels the entire time in order to soak in the last few moments of this paradise we'd found over the edge.
We'll definitely need to come back to enjoy this a bit more.
A quick stop with different light; it was already getting warm enough that we didn't linger long.
On our final ascent, the local ptarmigan clucked their farewells.
Up and out, the gate closed behind us.
Behold Owyhee - the land of grand, hidden canyons.
Before we head home...
After airing up and pointing the Tacoma northwest, we had a final stop to make before the ten-hour grind that would deliver us to our own bed just after 9:00pm that evening. Located out the aptly named Missile Base Road, an old Titan I Missile launch site.
I can only imagine the tension that must have permeated this place in the early 1960s.
Peace Through Deterrence: the Titan ICBM Program
At the height of the Cold War, Mountain Home AFB served as an alert base for the Strategic Air Command. With tensions rising between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the base gained a new mission. In October 1960, construction began on three Titan I missile complexes near Bruneau, Oreana, and Boise. The initial construction cost was $28.9 million, but the budget swelled dramatically to over $51 million due to labor shortages, material shipping costs, extreme weather, and extensive design modifications. Water wells used in the construction varied in depth from 950 to 3,030 feet and the water required special filtration. Three workers died in accidents and several labor strikes delayed the work. Despite these problems, construction ended before the deadline of 1 April 1962. These sites were not a secret back then, even to the Russians. Peace through Deterrence was the goal, with the mutual understanding that instant retaliation would occur should either side strike first.
Two of the caps on the old silos.
Each of the three sites in Idaho had a short-lived existence. In May of 1964, Defense Secretary McNamara directed the accelerated phase-out of the Titan I weapons, replacing them with the more efficient Titan II. As a result, the 569th Strategic Missile Squadrons sites in Idaho closed down and the personnel moved to join two Titan squadrons at Lowry AFB, Colorado. All Titan I squadrons were deactivated in June 1965. The missiles, most of the equipment, classified information, wiring, and salvageable metals were removed from the sites. These and some of the other sites around the country are privately owned, with the occupants living above ground or in the refurbished command centers.
Three small buildings cover ventilation shafts for the underground complexes.
The sites themselves are engineering marvels, buried deep in the dry Idaho dirt and designed to withstand earthquakes and nuclear missile impacts. The silos are 160 feet in depth, built in groups of three, and supported by propellant and equipment terminals, a powerhouse, control center, and antenna terminals. Reinforced concrete 3 to 4 feet thick protects the sites from impact. Shock absorbers built into important areas protect delicate wiring and instruments from vibration. Self-contained, the sites were on alert 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Launch crews conducted exercises constantly and were able to raise each missile into position in 15 minutes. If launched, a missile could reach its target 5,500 miles away in just 33 minutes. There were several instances in which the only thing holding the nation back from full-scale nuclear war was a launch order from the Pentagon. Fortunately, none of the 3,800-pound warheads were unleashed.Idaho Architecture Project - Titan I Missile Silos in Idaho
And with that, we were headed home.