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Bruneau River, Idaho

Raft or hike this desert paradise's secretive canyons -- but don't pass up the hot springs.

Little-Known Fact: The Bruneau River is name after Pierre Bruneau, voyageur for the Northwest Trading Co., who explored the region around 1818.

In 1818, a party of French Canadian trappers was exploring the austere sage plateaus of southwest Idaho when they encountered a deep cleft in the lava plains. At the bottom of the gorge ran a river they named the Bruneau.

As I stand on the edge of the same gorge, the swift stream that fills the narrow slot is clear turquoise, riffling over cobble beds and around bars of blond sand and emerald reeds.

Each spring the high summits of the Jarbidge Wilderness Area, barely visible southward, grudgingly release a few weeks of Class III to IV whitewater, providing the easiest way through these canyons. As I floated into the initial gorge, a river otter slipped down the bank to disappear beneath my kayak. Motivated by riparian paradise beyond comparison, I vowed to return.

So now I have braved the 50-odd dirt and gravel miles from the hamlet of Bruneau, south through the overgrazed plains, past the Saylor Creek bombing range, and along the rough spur road to the rim of the gorge, where the Bruneau suddenly reveals itself.

On the west bank an old road switchbacks up to disappear onto the bench above the inner gorge. Sage-hopping a mile or so downstream, I come to a break in the cliffs and descend to the cool, streamside environs. Here the pools are smaller, and cobble beds allow easy crossing for the several reasonable miles I travel before camping.

Many people would like to see the canyons of the Bruneau become a national park or wilderness area. They certainly contain scenery and habitat equal to any. But don’t take my word for it. Go see for yourself.

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