Thirty years ago Joe Tonsmeire became one of the first guides to offer commercial raft trips on the Owyhee River. Though he's been rafting all over the world he says the Owyhee is still one of his favorite trips. Tonsmeire may be one of the few people who have run the entire Owyhee from the canyon of the East Fork near the Duck Valley Reservation, past Three Forks and Rome, and all the way to the slack water of the Owyhee Reservoir. Tonsmeire's company Wilderness River Outfitters offers trips on various sections of the river but they usually only put together a few outings on the river each year. That's because the season is short, flows are hard to predict and access roads are long and difficult.
The remote canyons of the Owyhee River and its variety of rapids also serve as a great training area for the National Outdoor Leadership School or NOLS. Nearly every year NOLS runs expedition style canoe trips down the Owyhee River. The purpose is to both teach students canoeing techniques and to help them strengthen their leadership and wilderness travel skills. The class we accompanied on the river was a special instructors course. Participants took turns teaching other members of the group different outdoor skills they had learned over the years. It was a unique trip in many ways and probably one of the more difficult television shoots we have done for "Outdoor Idaho". To read our producers account of what was involved in gathering footage for this segment check out "An Owyhee Adventure: One Tough Shoot".