Experiencing Sunrise in the Owyhee Canyonlands

Author: Claire Cekander  |  Published: June 6, 2024  | Category: Where-To

This article originally appeared in The Bulletin on May 31, 2024.


Appreciating dawn in the high desert

I wake up to my alarm going off and immediately feel a chill throughout my body. Without opening my eyes, I can guess from inside my tent that there’s a thin layer of frost. I curl up tighter in my sleeping bag and start to surrender to the gentle tug of drifting back to sleep, when I remember I have only one goal today — witnessing a sunrise in the Owyhee Canyonlands.

The memory of yesterday’s journey floods back as I emerge from sleep. I drove for hours and hiked past miles of sagebrush to find a campsite where I could watch the first light of dawn filter through the rugged canyons.

Enjoy the expansive Owyhee Canyonlands just after sunrise. Photo: Colton Mayberry
The sky awakens

I rolled out of my tent, grabbing my stove and instant coffee, and walked through the dark to the banks of the nearby Owyhee River. After choosing a comfortable spot among the stream-side plants, I turned the soft glow of my headlamp off and let my body adjust to the waning darkness.

The first thing I notice is the noise. The world around me begins to stir with life as a symphony of sounds fill the air. Dozens of water birds and raptors and more than 150 songbird species reside in the region, and I’ve just tuned in to their morning chatter. Even over the sound of the river, I can hear the birds waking up and getting ready to stretch their wings in the morning sun. As the sky grows lighter, the wind picks up, and I hear the rustling of the bunchgrasses and the swaying branches of willow. I look up and the heavy quilt of stars has disappeared and been replaced by a deep violet sky dotted with the outlines of clouds. The sky is rapidly becoming brighter and more yellow to the east as I still see a few persistent stars far behind me in the sky to the west. I scan the ridges for California bighorn sheep, when my focus is pulled back to the river as I hear a splash in front of me. Small river insects have started to hatch and fish are surfacing to fill their stomachs with breakfast.

Wake up to a sunrise on the Owyhee River. Photo: Vince Ready
Light of day

And then it happens. The sun begins its ascent, casting golden rays across the steep canyon walls and illuminating the nooks and crannies of 17 million-year-old rock faces. I now notice the spring wildflowers, including the sunny face of balsamroot, waving in the breeze and adding bursts of color to the hillsides. As the sunshine fills the canyon and dances on the surface of the water, I can smell the sagebrush, and its district aroma floats down to me still sitting at the riverbank.

As the morning sun climbs higher in the sky, painting the area with ever-changing shades of light and shadow, I can’t help but feel a profound sense of awe for this moment of serenity and for this stunning landscape. It’s an experience I encourage others to embark on, using the planning tips and trip guides provided by organizations like Oregon Natural Desert Association. I feel grateful to know dedicated conservationists are working hard to protect High Desert landscapes like this so future generations can watch a sunrise in the Owyhee Canyonlands.

 

Claire Cekander is the donor relations manager with Oregon Natural Desert Association, a nonprofit organization that protects and restores Oregon’s High Desert public lands and waters. She works to deepen relationships with ONDA members by sharing ONDA’s work with our dedicated supporters.

 

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Aaron Tani, Sage Society Member

Aaron Tani, Sage Society Member

“It feels good to support ONDA on a monthly basis, because I know they never stop supporting our public lands. ONDA works to help make our lands a better place for the future, and I feel like I’m a part of that every month with my support.”

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Michelle Frisella, member since 2017

Michelle Frisella, member since 2017

So proud of ONDA and its members and volunteers. Such hard work gets done. To use an overused word, this is patriotism!

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Helen Harbin on Wildlife

Helen Harbin on Wildlife