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It looks easy enough on paper. First head out of Boise, Idaho, hugging the interstate toward Mountain Home. Hook a right onto Route 51, a lonely strip of asphalt that plunges due south, slicing through the prairies toward the Nevada line.
Just past Riddle lies the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, in a huge and desolate expanse of land that has been inhabited by the Paiute and Shoshone Indians for more than 10,000 years.
But the map, as every adventurer knows, is not the territory. That fact quickly becomes obvious to me as our team, in a trio of Chevy Suburbans, bounces out of Duck Valley over a track of dust, boulders, and spleen-bruising potholes.
Here is True West, the wagon train frontier, covered with rattlers and bones. Undulating plains of silvery sage roll away in all directions, like the floor of a limitless sea. There are no gas stations, no power lines, nothing to disturb the naked spread of terrain. The very existence of a map to this place seems a travesty.
Squinting through the dust-coated windshield, I have a difficult time accepting that we're just a few miles from our destination: the Owyhee River, a desert waterway that, thanks to dicey roads and a short season, remains one of the West's greatest adventure secrets.
To those in the know, it ranks among the country's most beautiful paddling runs, a challenging trip through a precipitous, nearly pristine canyon.
At the wheel is Bob Sevy, who will be leading our group on a six-day journey down the South Fork of the Owyhee and onto the river's main branch. We'll paddle inflatable kayaks and a single supply raft, beginning in southwestern Idaho and finishing in southeastern Oregon, 48 miles [77 kilometers] in all.
If we had more time, we could go even farther. "Outside of Alaska, there are only two wilderness rivers in this country where you can put in and have movement for the next 18 daysthe Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and the Owyhee," says Sevy. "And on the Owyhee, you don't see anyone else."
But the solitude and sanctity of the Owyhee Canyonlands are not to be taken for granted. An effort to win national monument status for the region died along with the Clinton administration. The area is now a political and environmental powder keg, and its use is contested by cowboys and conservationists, Indians and the Air Force.
The region's administration is left to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an underfunded agency pinned between shrewd environmental groups and politically powerful ranchers. The Owyhee is America's final frontierand everyone wants a piece of it.
Our truck slows abruptly, and I grip the dash. We negotiate a series of hairpin curves, switchbacking down into a canyon. The 45 Ranch, our put-in, is as desolate as it gets: a log cabin and a stand of snake-infested supply shacks sunk deep into the earth.
Just five hours from Boise, we've reached the ticket booth for Hades. Cold cuts are spread on a folding table by the river; paper plates are weighted against the breeze. I fix myself a turkey sandwich as Sevy and the assistant guidesMatt Leidecker, 28, and Larry McGowan, 54pump up the inflatable kayaks to kettledrum tautness.
Then we spend about 20 minutes squirming into wet suits. It's Maylate in the Owyhee season, which generally lasts about 30 days and can take place anytime between April and mid-Junebut still chilly.
Sevy glances down the river. The wind is picking up, which will slow our progress, but he doesn't seem concerned.
Get the full storyand a travel guide to the Owyheein the February 2003 issue of Adventure.
Forum: Parks of the Future?
What unprotected place would you make the next national park or wilderness area?
National Park War Zone: Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
A few minutes after 1 p.m. on August 9, most of the nation's National Park Service rangers were settling in after lunch: checking campgrounds, responding to reports of tourist-animal encounters, leading interpretive lectures.
But in southwest Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, ranger Kris Eggle found himself dodging through the desert in 110-degree [43-degree] heat, pursuing an armed Mexican fugitive.
Forty minutes earlier, Eggle had heard a radio report that Mexican police had chased a stolen SUV through a hole in the border fence. Eggle and Border Patrol agent Isaac Cohen jumped into a truck and raced east on the dirt road that runs along the United States side of the international border. Cohen struggled into his bulletproof vest as Eggle drove.
A Border Patrol helicopter arrived and started circling over the SUV, which was now stuck in sand about a half mile [0.8 kilometer] north of the border. Eggle and Cohen pulled over and ran toward it. As three other agents approached, one fugitive threw down his gun and was captured; the other disappeared into a thickly vegetated wash.
Eight miles [13 kilometers] away, at the park's visitor center, chief ranger Dale Thompson could hear the commotion over the Border Patrol's radio frequency. The mood on the border had been growing increasingly jumpy of late. Shots had been fired at American officials twice in two weeksonce by Mexican soldiers who appeared to be protecting a drug shipment.
Thompson could hear only the helicopter pilot's side of the transmissions, and he assumed that the men on the ground were all Border Patrol agents. He hunched over the radio for details as he buckled on his gun belt, intending to drive to the scene to provide backup.
Eggle, 28, had been a track star in high school and college and often ran through the desert trails in the early mornings. Now he broke away from his companions and proceeded quickly through the cactus and creosote, sweating hard under his Kevlar vest.
The pilot, John Cochran, spotted the fugitive crouching under a mesquite tree. "He's in the next wash," Cochran radioed to the men below. "Follow that trail to the east."
When Eggle reached the wash, he was at least 100 yards [91 meters] away from the others, who were lagging in the heat. "You're coming up behind him," Cochran radioed. "Go a little more to the north . . . now come around that bush . . . "
Cochran saw Eggle turn, shotgun raised. On the ground, the others heard three shotsnot shotgun blasts, but the distinctive crack-thud of a rifle.
At the visitor center, Thompson was in his truck about to leave the parking lot when he heard Cochran's distressed voice coming over the radio: "Officer down! Officer down!"
Get the full story in the February 2003 issue of Adventure.
Forum: War in the Parks
Should park rangers risk their lives to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border?
How to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling
Money is the root of all travel. And enjoying your trip without worrying about your bundle is all in the mix: for me, a combination of credit cards, traveler's checks, and enough cash to get home if my plastic ends up in the hands of the Chechen mafyia.
Credit and ATM Cards
Notify your bank or credit card company before you set off. It'll give you a better shot at getting cash advances and help avoid having your account frozen due to suspicious hyperactivity. I neglected to follow my own advice on a recent trip to Liberia.
I had hopscotched across Europe and Africa, paying for hotels, food, and duty-free on my card. After two weeks in the jungle with rebel forces, I made my way to Guinea's Conakry Airport, ready to fly home.
When I tried to use my card to pay for excess baggage, it was declined (fortunately, I had my cash reserve). Bring more than one card, and know that unless you're skilled in the bartering that goes on in black-market currency stalls, plastic will give you the best exchange rate.
Their ease of use is exaggerated, in my opinion. TCs are counterfeited in the developing world, and merchants and banks fatten themselves with usurious service chargesif they'll cash the checks at all.
But TCs are still an excellent way to transport large chunks of money. Oddly, when I was buying rugs in Afghanistan during the Taliban era, so much counterfeit U.S. currency was in circulation that merchants actually preferred traveler's checks to cash.
Make sure the bank gives you crisp bills; plenty of vendors assume that tattered C-notes are fake. To protect your cash, get creative: Pack bills flat and conceal them in places like the foam linings of camera bags, which are easy to slit and reseal.
To thwart thieves, stuff old credit cards and a few days' worth of cash into a money belt or neck purse so you've got something to hand over at gunpoint. A twitchy thief won't hang around to find your real stash.
Get more travel tipscourier flights, cargo-ship cruises, and on and onin the February 2003 issue of Adventure.
Among the Lava Junkies:
At Play on a Volcano
A very good lava trek should take place at night. For one thing, darkness makes hot, glowing rock show up as plainly as embers in a campfire. For another, the wee hours have a way of diminishing a human's daylight-oriented sense of power, returning any landscapebut especially a volcanic oneto its primordial mystery.
So under the light of a nearly full moon, my assistant John Wiltse and I point our footsteps toward a sea of lava called the Mother's Day flow. High to our left, an immense mountain slope called Pulama Pali rises a couple thousand feet [about 610 meters] into the mist over Hawaii's Big Island.
It twinkles with a million points of orange: lava dancing in long, runny channels called p'ahoehoe; lava in great chunky piles, known as 'a'a; lava oozing in molasses-like lobes; lava peeking through a cooling surface crust.
To our right, the Pacific surf pounds and the sea sparkles. The lunar radiance casts a moonbow through the thin clouds of a mackerel sky. The trade winds bring a fresh, cool breeze off the endless sea. I cannot remember a night more sublime.
The Mother's Day flow was named in honor of the fact that it burst from the volcanic cone Pu'u 'O'o moments after 9 a.m. on the maternal holiday in 2002. Pu'u 'O'o and this particular flow are relatively small features on the eastern slope of Kilauea, part of a gigantic volcanic complex, dominated by the 13,679-foot [4,169-meter] Mauna Loa, that has helped build the Big Island during the past 500,000 years.
The flow is readily accessible from the end of the Chain of Craters Road, which has created a rare opportunity for getting close to molten earth easilyin some cases easily enough that small children and adults of notably ill-conditioned physiology can reach it.
At the request of a motion picture producer, John and I have come here to film for two weeks. We're professionals, so of course we travel far harder than the casual visitors do: There is the unrelenting daily schedule beginning at 2:30 a.m.; the burned-egg-and-sour-coffee breakfasts cooked up in a stupor; the 25-mile [40-kilometer] drive down the flanks of the volcano as I struggle not to doze; the torturous hikes on rocks heated to several times the boiling point of water; and the comatose collapse into five hours' sleep so we can wake up and do it all over again, day after exhausting day.
All of which has made for 12 of the most extraordinary days imaginable.
Get the full storyand a mini travel guide to accessible volcanoesin the February 2003 issue of Adventure.
Volcano Photos From This Assignment
Braving the world's most active volcano, James Balog gets close to the action to get the shotwithout getting burned.