Today we travelled the road to Birch Creek Historic Ranch. All the way down into the canyon, the trees, birds and animals heard was I…Yi….Yi! “Thank God for the cowboy!” “If we brought our RV down here we would have to live here the rest of our life.” Thank God for the cowboy! I…Yi…Yi!!!! We had switchbacks, very tight corners and very steep down hill roads. There wasn’t any way we could have brought our trailer down this road. We had to put the truck in 4 wheel drive coming back out. Dale kept saying it would take 3 trucks to get us out of here – if we could have pulled the trailer down. The sign at the top of the road said “4-Wheel Drive Vehicles.” And they mean it!
When we finally travelled those 6 miles – down into the canyon – we saw some of the most beautiful rock formations. The photo’s don’t do them justice. They looked like they had just pushed themselves out of the mountains at all kinds of angles. Some looked like catheral pillars or smoke stacks. Just beautiful.
The Stone House of Birch Creek Ranch
Birch Creek Ranch goes back to around 1900, too, when Juan Domingo Lequerica, a Basque, settled at the mouth of Birch Creek.
His tenure was brief, cut short by an accident typical of the times. Domingo Lequerica was driving a wagon and horse team down the precipitous grade into Birch Creek or about the last day of July. Presumably the brake failed, the team ran away, and Lequerica fell from the wagon and was run over. Surviving the accident, Lequerica removed his shirt and stuck a knife through it in the road to mark the place, then dragged himself, with two broken legs and other injuries, over the hill in an effort to try to reach the creek. Searchers subsequently found his body on the hillside and fixed his death on August 1 . (Paraphrased from: “Owyhee Trails: The West’s Forgotten Corner”, Mike Hanley with Ellis Lucia.)
The ranch was sold to Donata Urbuaga and Simon Acordagoitia, also Basques. The Acordagoitia family lived there until 1937, when they sold it. Birch Creek had a number of owners until 1971 when it, too, was purchased by Marty Rust, who operated both ranches as a unit. The BLM subsequently bought the ranches from Mr. Rust.
Birch Creek Ranch Today
Mr. Rust was sensitive to the historic values at the ranch. Although he seeded fairly large areas to grass (surely not a priority for the first occupants of the ranch), he maintained the historic character of most of the houses, outbuildings and features, and he kept them in good repair.
Of the twenty-six buildings and structures at the ranch, nineteen contributed to the property’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, where it is in prestigious company. Contributing elements include stone walls built by the Basques (one of which runs straight up the east slope of the mesa behind the caretaker’s house; look for it); Mr. Morrison’s 70 year-old, 30 feet diameter irrigating water wheel, still in place, but not working; several stone root cellars; the systems of irrigation ditches; the barn; and others.
Birch Creek was evaluated by historian Stephen Dow Beckham of Lewis and Clark College. He nominated it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic rural landscape with Basque ethnic associations. It was placed on the National Register in 1997.
At the Morrison Ranch we found Louise, a volunteer for a 40 day stretch. The maintenance man lives in the Birch Creek House. Beyond the Morrison Ranch is the campground. It is here we let Morgan swim in the Owhyee River and we had a picnic lunch at one of the sites. It is hot out, so we ate under a tree!
Since Morgan needed a bath, we let her get wet in the river and then washed her down. Then we threw a stick to wash off the soap! She always comes out of a bath with a smile on her face. She knows she feels and looks good! Although, in this photo you can see that her face is now dirty – again! She is just the best dog!
After our picnic by the Owhyee River, we went back up to the Birch Creek Ranch and filled up our water jugs. Louise and friends were there and they showed us a water pond the previous maintenance man built for his dogs. So Morgan and Whitey went for a swim. Louise told us about a road to take out of the Birch Creek Ranch that wound back up in the mountains to the second alfalfa field. Being the adventurous type that we are, we took off on this very narrow dirt road. It went parrell with the river. We found a lone pelican that we figured had gotten lost.
This section of the Owhyee River is the take out point for rafters. They put in the Owyhee River at Rome and float down to this point. Mark, the BLM guy, told us that this trip is a 2 day trip and can be kind of dangerous when water is low. We got the feeling this raft trip wasn’t for the novice or fool hardy!
On the mountain on the other side from the ranches we found another arch. We left about 3:30 p.m. to find out way home. We had a very satisfying and lovely day. We stopped at a couple of the creek crossings and put our feet in the cold spring water. The truck temperature reading was 86 degrees!
Tomorrow we move out to find other interestings places to visit!