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  September/October 1996 Features:
Newt's Game
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Does He Deserve Your Vote?
Adios Amigos
Natural Allies
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Sierra Magazine
Adios Amigos

Easy trip, they said. Piece of cake. But our man on the Owyhee gets a wilder ride than he bargained for.

by Page Stegner

The put-in for the lower section of the Owyhee River is about a quarter-mile past Rome on Highway 95 in the extreme southeastern corner of Oregon, easy enough to find if you don't blink going through town. We haven't seen another vehicle since we passed the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation on the Nevada border, but there is a cute little quarter moon descending on the elongated shadow of Steens Mountain that gives me something to focus on.

I turn on the radio and fiddle with the dial, getting a clear signal from Del Rio, Texas, until we top a low rise and begin a gradual descent toward the river plain. A station from Elko fades in--news and a weather report about a freak storm yesterday that dumped four inches of snow in the higher elevations of Humboldt National Forest. Snow? In May? It was 85 degrees when we stopped in Winnemucca.

Through the rearview mirror I can see into the dark recess of the van where my two companions sleep among disarrayed piles of gear. In addition to the personal items strewn all around we have one 15-foot Achilles raft, one oar frame and three oars, one cooler, two dry-boxes of food, a firepan and a grate, a 55- millimeter rocket can with toilet seat to serve as a WC, and the collective experience of three prior river trips. All of the rowing experience is mine, all of it gained following practiced boatmen through perilous rapids that alone I might have found mystifying (if not crucifying).

Well, no problem. The Owyhee, according to my research, is a float trip, a mild three-or-four-day bump- and-grind down a class II stream more sportingly challenged in a rubber ducky than in a big, heavy-duty, hypalon raft capable of negotiating Grand Canyon-size whitewater. According to the Bureau of Land Management river guide, the stretch below we plan to float is "the best choice for family groups and parties with inexperienced members," and the ideal water flow levels are between 1,000 and 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The ranger I spoke with at the river forecast center a few days before we left California indicated a week's average somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. "Things could change," he said. "They say we might even get some snow. Probably not, but I'd have some warm clothes just in case."

Snow? Why are all these idiots talking about snow? The launch site east of the Rome bridge shows no sign that precipitation, frozen or otherwise, has ever fallen on this high, intermountain desert, this volcanic wilderness the BLM classifies as a rhyolite canyonlands/sagebrush-bunchgrass ecosystem where the pronghorn and mule deer play.

In the van headlights the launch-site camping facilities advertised in the guide look like a pretty hardpan pallet upon which to lay one's bones, but it's past midnight and I'm so tired I don't care where I sleep. Neither, obviously, do my compadres, since neither of them stirs when I cut the engine and go around to the back to dig out my sleeping bag. I lay it down beneath a kindly juniper and stretch out, lulled by the sound of the nearby river rolling in its banks. I do not get in the bag. My last conscious thought is that the air temperature must still be in the 80s. "Snow," I think. "What a joke."

Bud has made a pot of coffee, hauled the deflated raft out of the van, and is blowing it up with the Carlson pump when I wake and crawl out from under my tree. He greets me with a gesture--a backward thumb toward the river I could only hear last night, not see--and offers the opinion that it seems a little higher and faster than he'd imagined a bump-and-grind class II stream would be. "Maybe it's real shallow through here," I say. "There's supposed to be a gauge at the bridge."

"I checked it."


"And I didn't believe it so I went to the ranger's trailer over there and talked to him. He said it was 8,000 cfs last night; it's 10,000 this morning."

I consider this news in light of my own expectations and find no place to accommodate it. River flow is relative. Anyway, Bud has always been a bit of an alarmist when confronted by the unforeseen. "Well," I say, "The Mississippi is 650,000, and it didn't worry Huck Finn."

"I don't believe there's any rapids in the Mississippi," Bud says.

"Well, there won't be any rapids in the Owyhee either," I argue. "They'll all be under water."

"We'll see," Bud says.

My wife, Lynn, loads food into the dry-boxes and the cooler while I finish inflating the Achilles and securing the rowing frame. We pack our duffel in waterproof Bill's Bags and lash them in the rear compartment of the boat on a cargo sling suspended above the floor, and then Bud takes the van across the bridge to the gas station in Rome and leaves it with the woman who will shuttle it to our take-out point at Leslie Gulch. When he returns he volunteers the information that the gauge by the bridge now reads 11,000 cfs--a thousand cubic feet per second increase in less than two hours. "I been looking at that BLM pamphlet," he says, producing the very document all rolled up from his back pocket. "It says here, 'though the lower section has been safely boated well above 12,000 cfs, extreme caution is advised. Huge holes, standing waves and fierce hydraulics begin to develop at levels above 7,000 to 8,000 cfs.' What do you think?"

Onward. Charge. Ready, Fire, Aim. Never apologize, never explain. That's what I think.

Both the main stem and the south fork of the Owyhee begin in a mountain range that lies 100 miles east of here along the Idaho/Nevada border. Tributary streams from the western slope of the Owyhee Mountains contribute to the general flow as it carves its way through 200 miles of switchback canyons to its ultimate demise in the silt pond called Lake Owyhee, but most of its water comes from the Humboldt National Forest drainage north of Elko--Elko, origin of the weather report that ate Del Rio. Origin of those rumors about snow. The same snow that seems to have actually fallen and has now been subjected to 80-degree temperatures for two full days, that is now coursing down every crack and crevice in those headwater mountains, is now trickling, running, gushing, pouring, surging, flooding down every fissure, furrow, ditch, gully, gulch, ravine and canyon, is overflowing the Wild Horse Dam above Mountain City, is ripping down banks, tearing out trees, washing away livestock, cow and cowgit alike, women and children, little does and lambsy-divey. Well, perhaps I'm losing it. Perhaps it's enough to say that an unusually late winter storm dumped a lot of snow that unusually early summer temperatures have been melting. Naturally it takes a while for the runoff to arrive 150 miles downstream. But the highest flow ever recorded in May--25 years ago, on the first of the month--was 14,000 cfs. And was safely boated too, I feel sure. Of course, at this point we don't know any of the above. But we will, as advised, exercise caution.

The three of us are horsing the heavily loaded raft down to the water when a BLM ranger saunters down to see us off. "Name's Jim," he says, shaking hands all around. "Welcome to the Owyhee." He wears only a pair of canvas shorts, flip-flops, and a green baseball cap sporting the BLM logo on its forepeak. We pump him for information about rapids, and he tells us that except for "Septic Tank" and "Adios Amigos" (names changed to protect the innocent) we're not likely to run into anything too serious. "Septic Tank is a no brainer," he says, "but Adios Amigos can be a little dicey because it is around a sharp bend in the canyon and you can't see or hear it coming. But hey, this is just a little bump-and-grind river. No problems."

"It says here," Bud observes, holding the spindled guide in one hand and a copy of William McGinnis' book on whitewater rafting in the other, "that Adios Amigos is a class three rapid. Class three means Œhigh, irregular waves, obvious holes and rocks but somewhat difficult maneuvering required, advance scouting highly recommended.'"

"Well," Jim says, squirting a stream of Skoal between his flip-flops, "might be a four in high water."

Bud consults McGinnis. " 'Class Four: Very difficult. Long rapids; waves powerful, irregular; dangerous rocks; boiling eddies; passages difficult to scout; scouting mandatory first time; powerful and precise maneuvering required; demands expert boatman and excellent boat and outfit.'"

"Well, we've got the excellent boat and outfit," I say, dragging the raft by the fliplines out into the water.

As we pass underneath the bridge I find that without moving in my seat on the rowing frame I can reach up and touch the steel girders supporting the roadbed. The water mark on the gauge now reads 12,000 cfs, a fact Bud notes as he mournfully regards the receding highway. Lynn, in contrast, is focused on the half- submerged, totally dead steer that has snuck up alongside the left front tube of the raft, bloated, stinking, its hide showing like cold grease through the sparse red hairs on its belly. "Oh puke," she wails, clapping her hand to her mouth.

The main channel is hard to find. The bottomland for a mile below the put-in is so flooded that the rushes and sedges lining the established banks have disappeared beneath the silt-laden water, and when the current splits around a bar or a logjam we have to guess which way lies a grounding, which way a breakthrough. Eventually the canyon walls ascend and the river is confined to the bed it has been carving for millions of years through the Owyhee Uplands, through the rimrock cap of basalt and interbedded sedimentary units, and down through a thousand feet of rhyolite to its present depth.

The walls go higher. Where we stop for lunch on a narrow beach they drop almost vertically some 300 feet, and there is no escape now but down the river, which is continuing to rise. I poke a stick in the sand at the shoreline and retreat to the sandwiches and cold drinks being served on the terrace. The rapid flight of a kestrel draws my eye to the canyon rim, and then above to the soaring testimony of a red-tailed hawk. When I eventually return my attention to earth and the river my little stick has been swept away.

Flood-speed carries us downstream at twice the three- to four-mile-an-hour pace we'd anticipated, and none of the class II rapids indicated in the guide are extant at this water level. Were it not for an occasional landmark along the bank we would have no idea of our location, no notion of our progress, no way to guess our position in relation to the upcoming "no brainer" at Septic Tank. As it turns out, it doesn't matter. We can hear the rapid for almost a mile before we see a nasty incandescence of exploding water where the river slams through a boulder field and churns down through constricting canyon walls, rebounding off one side, then the other, smashing back into itself in a pileup of deranged fury, rushing on through the boiling foam of a gargantuan reversal until it dissipates, finally, in a series of steep-sided standing waves.

We pull off to scout. There are three entrances to the rapid, three "tongues" of slick water leading into the tumult, but it does not take a William McGinnis to figure it out. The first channel leads into an eddy of dead cows; the second into an uprooted cottonwood tree jammed between two rocks. From where we have pulled up to the bank there's no certainty that I can row 2,000 pounds of boat, gear, frail male and female pulchritude across the river in time to hit the third option, but since failure means wrapping the raft around a colossal fang of rhyolite and dumping the whole shiteree into a raging cauldron, I intend to give it my best shot.

Bud pushes us off and springs for the bow tube as I lay into the oars with all my strength, providing a sudden burst of momentum that causes him to miscalculate his leap and wind up six inches shy of his mark--causes him, in short, to fall in the river. He maintains a death grip on the bowline, however, and while I flatten my ferry angle in what proves to be a useless, too-little-too-late attempt to slow our descent, Lynn pulls frantically on his lifejacket to try to retrieve him. Panic starting to set in. We're being swept sideways without forward progress. Pull, I tell myself, pull, pull, pull, it's that last stroke between making it and wiping out, got to keep a downstream angle or we are not going to . . . "I got his hat," Lynn yells over the roar of the approaching maelstrom. Cool, something to remember him by. In the corner of my eye I see the boulder field racing toward us and I haul at the sticks in such a frenzy I nearly topple myself out of the boat when the turbulence tilts us 45 degrees and I grab air with my downstream oar.

All of a sudden we are into the smooth water of the tongue, lined up where we want to be, but Bud is still hanging off the bowline. "Let GO," I bellow at him. "SWIM, damn it." But he only makes another frantic grab for the tube and I'm forced into a desperation, last-second, double-oar pivot and we slide down the V-slick backward to keep from running him over in the mouth of the rapid. Not good, this. Can't see where I'm going. We slam into a curtain of foam and spray thrown up by a submerged rock patch, spin crazily into a lateral wave that half fills the boat, and carom off a pillow on the upstream side of a boulder. The oars are torn out of my hands by powerful hydraulics as we frump into a hole on the downstream side, and before I know it I am slapped off my seat and floundering in a 300-gallon tsunami of dirty river water rushing over the floor of the boat, along with Bud's hat and an empty tuna fish can. Fifty gallons go into my gaping mouth, and my head smacks the aluminum pipe of the rowing frame when I try to regain my seat. Back on the floor I lose all sense of direction, then lose both kneecaps as we are hammered by a submerged rock.

And then things grow strangely calm. I hear cheering topside. "Yeaaa. We made it. All right." Cautiously I poke my head up and peer over the thwart tube at my jubilant crew, Bud re-included. "How'd you get back?" I say.

"Don't know," he says. "What goes around, comes around. One minute I'm out, next minute I'm in. No thanks to you, by the way."

"Listen, man, about my yelling at you like that, most inconsiderate, please accept my . . ." but before the apology leaves my mouth the front of the raft abruptly departs from view, there is a violent shudder from beneath, as if Moby Dick has just rammed the Pequod, and then the bow reappears, high overhead, with Bud and Lynn pasted desperately to tubes that have suddenly been folded in half by the force of a back- curling, standing wave. For a moment they stick there like gnats on flypaper; then the old tub miraculously punches through the keeper, the tubes catapult back, and they are popcorned into the river. Highly comedic, this, until the stern whipsnaps over the wave and I am similarly ejected. We all take a short, post-prandial dip, washing out in an eddy a hundred yards downstream, along with the boat and a decomposed mule deer. "Nice run," Bud wheezes. "Smooth."

At a part of the canyon where the walls pull back and begin to contour themselves gradually to the plateau above, we stop and make an early camp. Widely scattered juniper dot the slope above the banks and Wyoming big sage is thick all the way up to the short vertical pitches below the rim. Except for this sporadic vegetation the landscape looks as if it had been hammered into sulfuric fragments, though where we unload the boat there are some moderate-size cottonwoods providing protection from the late afternoon sun, and the ground beneath them is soft, loamy sand--perfect for reclining against a Bill's Bag with a large whiskey and contemplating the events of the day.

Although these canyons are home for bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lion, beaver, otter, mule deer, and a host of smaller critters, we have seen little in the wildlife department thus far except bovinus rigor mortis, and of course birds--kestrels and hawks, ducks, chukar, and Canada geese with their tiny broods of lime-green chicks. It's probably too late in the spring to see bald eagles.

A yell from upstream distracts my attempts to stone the whiptail who has just undertaken a possibly fatal journey up the barkless trunk of a fallen cottonwood, and I look up to see a yellow Maravia raft coasting along the bank. The river ranger, Jim, just in time for supper. Damn. There goes the extra steak. I take his bowline and tie it off, and he accepts the invitation to a cold can of Old Milwaukee (never waste good liquor on a government official). He has been collecting brand tags off the dead cows floating in the river ("Dumb bastards get trapped against the canyon walls in high water, and just stand there till they drown"), and we engage in a two-beer speculation on just exactly how high the water has actually risen. Clearly it's still coming up. "It was 15,000 when I left Rome," the ranger says. "Never seen it like this."

Which inspires Jim to decline our invitation to supper. "I better take advantage of the remaining light," he says. "See if I can get down close to Adios Amigos before things get too much worse."

Which is perhaps why my companions are a somewhat subdued lot as we shove off on the morning of our second day. Neither has much to say. The pair of golden eagles we see shortly after we put in elicit a few moments of communal excitement, but everybody soon submerges into the murk of private thought, coming up only occasionally to check the river guide in a useless attempt to pinpoint our location.

Tiny mosquito-colored clouds begin to appear high above the plateaus; by noon the sky has turned gray and an upstream wind starts to blow. We pull on sweaters. Bud climbs over me and sits in the stern. Lynn remains in the bow where lateral waves, spanking the front tubes, send an occasional fan of water into her face. She makes an unladylike comment and suggests that I pay more attention to my rowing. The hag. And where's Bud think he gets off hunkering down back there out of the weather? I don't hear anybody offering to spell me at the oars.

The canyon walls have closed in again and now rise almost vertically from rocky banks against which the detritus-laden current swirls and eddies like batter in mixing bowl. All bends appear to sweep to the right; all straightaways to end in promontories that create the illusion of a disappearing channel leading into Adios Amigos. We stop and scout everything, climbing phantasmagoric paths to summits that peer down on just another stretch of unmarred river, on dung-colored water flowing unfettered between desolate shores, on the bobbing blemish of a decomposing steer. No rapid. By the fifth false ascent I realize I am growing tired.

It is immediately apparent when at last we round the proper corner why rafting the Owyhee during a flood is not recommended. Adios Amigos, described as a mild class III drop during normal levels of 1,000 to 4,000 cfs, boggles the mind above 15,000--staggers the imagination, defies reason, surpasseth understanding. We do not know its present volume, as we circle in the eddy, staring at great flumes of water thrown up by massive boulders that choke the river corridor from one vertical wall to the other, but we figure it must now be close to 20,000.

It is a conjecture we will remember as a bit imprecise. We will learn, in time, that today the Owyhee is cresting about 24,000 cubic feet per second, higher than the average daily flow of the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. We will learn that we are witnessing the highest runoff ever recorded on this river. We will learn other things as well, but at the moment we merely gape and pull for safety.

A thick mat of debris in the eddy makes it difficult to maneuver the boat, but the rotational current carries us back upstream along the bank until we reach a place where we are able to tie off, scramble onto the rocks, and climb the steep talus to a vantage point above the rapid. The news is not much improved by the view, but there is evidence of a small passage through all this violence--a passage that, unfortunately, lies clear on the other side of the river. If the fast current (or the condition of the boatmen) causes an early entry into the canyon's constricted throat there is absolutely no question about the outcome. Adios Amigos could flip a Mississippi River barge.

And if one were somehow to survive the initial frenzy, were not dismembered in the ensuing shredder of broken rock, one would find little cause for celebration--a short 100-yard swim in wild, boiling, unmanageable current before being lofted into a 20-foot wave. The wave breaks backward off an undercut wall where the canyon suddenly doglegs to the left; the hapless boater caught in it is guaranteed a pounding ride to the bottom of the river, there to be plastered against the cliff until the re-emergence of a quieter, gentler Owyhee in the lower flows of early summer. There is no need for us to hold a conference. One long stare is worth a thousand words.

The look on my passengers' faces suggests little enthusiasm for what we are about to attempt, but they take their battle stations without giving voice to their apprehension. Lynn coils the bowline, tosses it to Bud, and pushes us away from the bank. Assuming things go as planned, the upstream current will carry us to the top of this huge revolving pond where, with a few hard pulls on the oars, we will bust through the eddy fence and execute a mad downstream ferry across river.

Things do not go as planned. I find that the mat of twigs, straw, branches, reeds, and brush trapped in the eddy is at least a foot thick and it is next to impossible to get the oars in or out of the water. And when we do reach the "fence," that crazy line where eddy current and river current collide, it turns out to be ten times more powerful than I anticipated, deflecting us back into the whirly-go-round so abruptly that for a moment I think we've hit a wall. This is disheartening. From some cave in my brain I can hear someone yelling "pull, pull, pull," but we are drifting quickly downstream now, and if I cannot break out at the top of the eddy I will not have time to ferry this fat, overloaded, plastic toad to the other side. And if I am not on the other side, and lined up precisely with those foaming jaws through which a passage lies, we are going to become fatality statistics in the annual boating report.

I tug us inshore through the muck so that the current can carry us upstream for second try, frustration and anger mixed with uncertainty, the muscles in my arms starting to spasm. I wipe at the sweat stinging my eyes and see that I have torn the calluses off both hands. The oar handles are bloody.

When we reach the upper point of the eddy again I brace my feet against the frame, force the blades through the detritus, and pull with everything I've got. The shafts bend, we lurch into the narrow band of clear water along the eddy fence, and are bounced away like a billiard ball off a cushion. "Pull," somebody screams. "Pull."

I try once more, but it's no good. There's no strength left in my arms, and my hands feel as if they had been skinned, my fingers filleted. I tell Bud to take the bowline and bail out when we go around again, and we abandon ship with a mixture of relief and regret, collapse on the rocks to contemplate the cost/benefit ratio of our setback. We didn't die--yet--but we can't stay on this rock pile either. And there's no way to climb out; the walls are 500 feet high.

There is still plenty of light, but the sun has long dropped below the western rim of the canyon, leaving us in melancholy shade. We know we can't just sit and ponder, yet both Bud and Lynn seem willing to squat on the boulders and stare at the river. My failure to break through the eddy fence has seriously compromised their expectations of survival. "This is totally the shits," Lynn says, then fetches some oranges from the dry-box and passes them around. "What do you think would happen if we were to tow the boat up above the eddy?" she says. "Start across before things get weird."

The only objection to this idea I can think of is that it might work. It will get us right out there where I can screw up and drown three people.

It takes us an hour, but with one of us on the bowline, one on a stern line, and one in the raft to fend off when we're grounded or hung up in the brush, we get the boat above the sucking grasp of the eddy. It is exhausting, shin-bloodying work. Swarms of mosquitoes feed on us in a euphoric frenzy; we are flayed by thorns, tortured by black gnats, and the light is fading. Time is running short. "We better go for it," Bud says, when we finally stand and catch our breath.

My mouth is an ash pit and I can't reply. I nod dumbly and follow the others down through the rocks to the boat, feeling like a condemned man on the last cold dawn. I put on my lifejacket, untie the bowline, coil it, turn back up the slope to give the world a halfhearted wave, and find myself looking straight into the ice-blue eyes of Ranger Jim.

"What the hell happened?" he says.

I gawk at him, uncomprehending. "Where did you come from?"

"I got down here last night just before dark, took one look at that eddy, and decided to take a chance; stayed on the left bank and ran it blind."

"Yes," I mutter, "the eddy . . . forever eddy . . ."

"I hung out in camp this morning. Got worried after awhile when you never showed up, so I worked my way back along the cliffs. Worse than the damn rapid."

"Rapid? Is there a rapid?"

"If it's okay I'll just snag a ride down with you guys. I'm about half fried."

"Sure," I say, "only thing is . . ." There is a strange lag between sound and cognition, as if speech precedes thought. I can almost see the words float out of my mouth and hang in the air. And I sense a tiny subplot beginning to form in the recesses of my mind . . . young Atlas, here, deltoids like footballs . . . ah, how fine to be 25 and in the peak of health.

What is it I want to impart? There is a precarious sense of dignity and self-respect on the line here. But pride goeth before a fall, so let's think this thing out. There are lives besides my own at issue here. I'm in no condition to be doing this. Let us consider the hours put in at the oars, the number of scouting hikes undertaken, the muscle spasms already occurring in the lower back. And there are these raw, bleeding hands . . .

"Jimbo," I say finally, "old buddy. I think you better stick a fork in me because I'm done. You're the man."

Jim looks confused. "What?"

"I say, you're the man. To drive the boat."

"The boat?"

"Down the rapido."

"Aw, well, the BLM won't let me do that in a non-agency craft. I mean, it's a liability thing. I could lose my job."

"Better your job than your life, right?"

"Well, yeah, but . . ."

"I feel sure the agency will understand."

He gives me a long, unhappy look of--who knows what, compassion? Contempt? I don't care which. "Well, okay," he says, perceiving he has no choice, "okay."

The rest occurs as if in a dream. As we slip through the rapid's maw I imagine an inconceivable wall of water towering about our tiny rag of rubber and glue, a fantasy that hangs over us momentarily like a cartoon disaster, then falls with an implosive force that I fancy must surely rip us in half. The fliplines stretch and cut into my hands as I am pounded to the floor and dragged backward under the thwart tube. The raft is swamped. I fight to free myself, to pull myself up and gasp a lungful of air, and as I do, I see a representation of Jim, still upright, still with his feet jammed for support under the tubing of the frame, the tendons in his neck standing out like guy wires to hold his head on as he strains against an inestimable force. Then I am turned sideways and spun around. A gray wall of rock rushes toward us with a great, chocolate wave looping backward. Deja vu, I think. A vision of carnage and death. Adios Amigos, it's been a great trip, a bit unusual . . .

Fortunately nothing is forever, even the interminable wait for the final curtain. Suddenly the pounding stops, and it feels so good it takes a while to realize that I am in a real raft full of real water, upright, not in the river where I ought to be, plastered against an undercut wall for the suckers and catfish to pick at until spring subsidence. I am on all fours on the flexible hypalon floor, bobbing up and down and looking over the front tubes at the beach where we are about to land. Then I feel the sand grind under me and my knees on terra firma, and watch stupidly as Jim leaps out, takes three wobbly steps and falls as flat as the apogee of an adventure thriller with no denouement. No blood, no corpses, no lone survivor wailing at the walls. Just Porky Pig. "Th-th-that's all, folks."

After an introspective pause for attitude adjustments, we take Jim downriver to his raft and make camp for the night. In the morning we are up at first light, so eager to be done with this river that we hardly bother with breakfast. We shove off in a gray dawn, thankful there is nothing between us and Lake Owyhee now but flat water.

By ten o'clock we begin to lose the current. By eleven we are rowing through the marshlands at the upper end of the lake, and shortly thereafter we emerge onto the flat, leaden sheet of the reservoir, only distinguishable from the country beyond by a thin line of mud along the shore. Pallid sky merges with bleached grasslands in a seamless union, and here and there, dotting the lake like dumplings in a stew, are the swollen carcasses of scores of cows, flushed into this great settling pond by the cataract above.

Ten miles across a sullen sea. We make slow progress. After a while time loses its reality and so do we. We are just three fools in a tub, rowers in a monochromatic sequence of absurd conjunctions. Clearly this whole episode has been excerpted from some spaghetti/Swede co-production by Fellini and Bergman.There is certainly no place here for a panegyric to the joys of whitewater rafting. And I wouldn't put it in any Owyhee promo, either.

For Sierra Club issues and outings on the Owhyee, see Saving the Wild Planet.

Page Stegner, when not paddling for his life, lives and writes in Santa Cruz, California.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact for more information.

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