Audio reading of the Introduction: Hiking Big Antelope Creek
Big Antelope Creek is located in the far southeast corner of Oregon in Malheur County. The stream’s headwaters are on the south slope of Horse Hill, a short 16-1/2 miles from McDermitt, Nevada, as the crow flies, and near the headwaters of the West Little Owyhee. You’d have a hard time pointing out this hill to another person. It does not distinguish itself by rising thousands of feet above the horizon. Rather, the hill is part of the gently undulating sagelands that define the area. Only the infrequent rains know what is hill and gulley and, if not sucked up completely by the clay soil, will gather up and follow the invisible path of gravity downhill. From runoff to rivulet to river, the stream engraves its poem upon the landscape: through soft mud, rhyolite and basalt.
Big Antelope Creek runs north to northeast approximately 41 miles across these rolling sagelands and eventually converges with the main Owyhee River. The first 26 miles of the little stream meanders along shallow canyons that vary in depth from just a few feet to 100 feet, occasionally bordered by rim rock along one bank. Where it merges with a seasonal stream called Pole Creek, tablelands begin to rise up on both sides.
In just over four miles, to the now abandoned ranch of Antelope Corral, the creek grinds out a broad canyon 400 feet in depth. It’s just downstream of the abandoned ranch that the canyon begins to get serious. The creek cuts down through layers of rhyolite to create an entrenched channel, that at its start is a mere 320 feet wide and 330 feet deep. Dirty Shame Rock Shelter lies near the opening of this constriction. And in the last ten miles and over one million years, the little creek has chiseled out a geologic wonder, a magnificent and narrow canyon that will reach 700 feet in depth before it reaches the Owyhee River.
The following hiking stories into Big Antelope Creek are not intended to be a travel guide, and readers must research their way into the area if they are interested in exploring further. This is deliberate — to protect the region, and practical — because more than a little map reading skills and self sufficiency are required to navigate the Owyhee backcountry. And finally, as a courtesy to local ranchers and search and rescue teams, to discourage the casual explorer from going in unprepared.