Monday, July 19, 2010
The Wild & Scenic Bruneau
The Nature Conservancy’s Will Whelan recently joined friends on a four-day float trip down the Bruneau River in southwest Idaho. He brought back photographs of one of the most stunning and remote canyons in Idaho.
Will has a special link to the Bruneau because he has spent the last several years working with the Owyhee Initiative, a collaborative effort with ranchers, county government, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, conservationists and recreationists dedicated to improving public lands management in this five million-acre corner of Idaho. Last year, the Owyhee Initiative worked with Senator Mike Crapo to pass federal legislation that designated the Bruneau Canyon a wilderness and wild & scenic river. This was Will’s first visit to the Bruneau since these new protections were enacted into law.
The Bruneau’s steep walls create a shady and relatively cool oasis along the river. The canyon bottoms support surprisingly lush plant communities, including the Bruneau River prickly phlox, a cliff dwelling flower that exists only here. The canyon is also home to the reclusive canyon wren, which serenades visitors with its distinctive descending scale of notes. Most boaters stay close to the water, but numerous side canyons offer rugged hikes that lead to caves, slot canyons, and vast desert tables high above the river.
The easiest way to see the Bruneau Canyon is from the scenic overlook a short drive off of the Bruneau-Three Creek Road, about twenty miles south of the town of Bruneau. The overlook is perched on the edge of the canyon and provides a breathtaking view nearly 1,000 feet straight down to the river below. Floating the Bruneau during the short boating season in late spring involves long hours of travel over rough roads and challenging Class IV rapids.