Friday, August 28, 2009

Owyhee: Wind Caves Trail

Thursday August 29 2009

Riding in the desert invariably makes you think of water: either you crave it, or you can imagine craving it; and you can always see the artistic handiwork and the results of great forces behind water - scare as it may be - after it has been there.

After reading Craig Childs' The Secret Knowledge of Water, I've never looked at the desert the same way again.

It was another day of exploring the Owyhee desert, another day of wandering about, and wondering about the secrets of water in the desert.

Three weeks ago some heavy summer rains in the Owyhee desert brought some flash floods through some drainages around here, and scoured some of the washes and canyons, uprooting sagebush and even some trees, and ironing out this particular wash that we rode up into a smooth, firm, sand highway.

Side washes left miniature alluvial fans that poured into the big wash. New rocks and roots were exposed; patterns were still left in the now-dry sand from swirling water, gouging water, pools of water. Channels of water - forces of weight and gravity and whimsy - sculpted extra-miniature carvings in the sand: shelves, bluffs, gorges, hills, cliffs, grooves - mirroring the desert landscape all around. One deep, winding wash revealed a 4-foot high shelf over a mini-amphitheatre - an awesome waterfall during the rains - now dry, waiting for the next gully washer.

Over the eons, water and wind have carved some of the rock/sandstone/rhyolite (I am coming back in one of my other lives as a geologist!) into Wind Caves or Gnome Homes... use your imagination.

At another place, water has tunneled a route through the rhyolite rocks to make a high-walled canyon. Right now it's overgrown with weeds - which naturally sprung up from the heavy rains a few weeks ago. Jose was obsessed with the tall clover-grasses (in another life, I'm coming back as a botanist!) - eating his way along as we bulled our way through the mile or two of narrow canyon. We crossed running water in the creek in some places; the water disappeared in other spots - and consequently, the weeds weren't so obnoxious there.

If you drove by this desert on the highway, you'd think it was mostly flat with a few hills. You wouldn't have a clue how much is out here.

Maybe it's a good thing to keep these treasures a secret, keep these secret places hidden except for special occasions.

Come ride the 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands in September-October, or the 2-day Hallowed Weenies ride October 31-November 1, and maybe we'll show you the Wind Caves trail and some of the secrets of the desert.

More photos from this ride at

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