What a magical place! The area is named Three Forks because the north fork and middle forks of the Owyhee come together and flow into the main fork of the Owyhee River. It is used mostly as an access point for floaters but also sees a few fishermen. It is also known for one of the best hot springs in the northwest. The hike to the hot springs on the Owyhee River the first evening combined with the hike along the middle fork and through its slot canyon the next day is one of my favorites. The scenery is spectacular!
Three Forks is well known to desert rats but the middle fork seems to be more of a secret. I've never read about it in any hiking guide and I just happened to stumble across it while researching the area. This might be due to the fact that most of the area is private with parcels of BLM scattered throughout. The hot springs are on unposted private property and within the Wild and Scenic River corridor. The middle fork is also on private property and I saw one “no trespassing” sign on a gate three miles from the entrance to the slot but nowhere else so I'd check before you go.
|Three Forks Hot Springs|
There are several places to camp near three forks even though there are no designated campsites. There is a pit toilet but bring your own drinking water. Notice the old road coming down the opposite side of the canyon. It is amazing what our forefathers accomplished. Can you imagine taking a team of horses down that thing?
On the drive out I saw a Loggerhead Shrike which is always a treat. It is known as the “Butcher Bird” because it impales its prey such as lizards and insects on thorns or barbed wire before eating it. It doesn't have talons of the larger birds of prey. I also saw Sage Thrashers,Willet, Lark Sparrows, and a Swainson’s Hawk which I don't see very often along with a Coyote.
|Loggerhead Shrike – I took this photo with my camera through a pair of binoculars|
I followed the jeep trail over to the hot springs to find a delightful setting. Several hot springs on both sides of the river but one really stood out. I was amazed by how awesome it was. You first have to cross the river when the river is low enough. This is a low water year so I was able to cross in May in waist deep slow moving water. You are then greeted by a rope to help you climb up to two very nice clear, clean flowing pools. One of the pools is three feet deep and about 95 degrees. It is a quaint setting overlooking the Owyhee river canyon and its waterfalls. There is an old road that comes down to the spring lined by stacked boulders in the steep sections - another masterful feat of architecture that added to the experience. I had the company of an American Dipper that took a dip in the hot spring not ten feet away.
A view of the Owyhee River on my hike to the hot springs.
Speaking of being soaked, while I was sitting there I noticed some ripples in the water below me. I looked up stream and soon found the source. A Beaver made its way downstream just below me not having the faintest idea that I was ten feet above it. If it would have smacked its tail like they do as a distress signal, I’d be soaked. I continued on the rock until it got dark wondering what creatures were making many of the sounds in the canyon. I recognized the swallows, bats and a very large toad but many sounds escaped me.
The north fork Owyhee River as seen from the bridge.
Day 2 – Middle Fork of the Owyhee River
Today is the day that I stepped inside a different world seldom visited or known by man. A place that I found while researching a photo I had seen on the internet. A place so beautiful, that it even caught me off-guard even after seeing a couple of my favorite photos that I found to be from this area. This is a section of river that is so spectacular that it will rival the best in any national park plus you get the solitude. Welcome to the Middle Fork of the Owyhee River – the Owyhee Canyonlands at their best!
The confluence of Pole Creek with the Middle Fork Owyhee River
I found one of the photos I was looking for that inspired me to make the trip but the other photo still eluded me - but I knew where it was. It was the entrance into the canyon, three miles away. There were no shortcuts to get into the canyon on the return trip back to the truck like I had hoped. The thought kept crossing my mind that I didn’t finish what I set out to do. Six miles seemed like a long way under my current condition but that thought kept repeating itself that I wasn’t finished. It would make a twenty mile weekend if I decided to pursue the last leg.
I soon found myself lacing up my boots and shaking my head at what a fool I was. The hard work paid off and I was rewarded with the best photo of the trip. I entered through what I called the “guardian pillars” – a dramatic entrance into the canyon and photo I sought. The best photo of all, however, lie just upriver around the corner. All I can say is hard work pays off!
The “Guardian Pillars” as I called them and dramatic entrance into the slot canyon.
Here is a list of birds: May 2-3, 2013 (from Owyhee Backcountry byway to/around Three Forks):
Sage Thrasher Bushtit Say’s Phoebe Golden Eagle Kestrel Swainson’s Hawk Canyon Wren American Dipper Willet (reservoir) Western Kingbird Lark Sparrow Chipping Sparrow Savannah Sparrow Song Sparrow Cassin’s Vireo Black-billed Magpie Lazuli Bunting Yellow- Rumped Warbler Nashville Warbler Meadow Lark Horned Lark Mourning Dove Violet-green Swallows Belted Kingfisher Chukar Long-eared Owl Loggerhead Shrike Violet-green Swallows