This is part 2 of our trip thru Washington, Idaho and Montana. Pictures by Paul and Pat de Anguera. If you want to see a picture better, just click on it 8)
We drove east and south from Lewiston, climbing Highway 95 to a high plateau. We stopped in Grangeville to get information from a Forest Service office about the Snake River Trail. After a picnic in our car on the rim of a broad green valley, we descended and turned right at tiny Whitebird to follow the “old 95” road to the trailhead. We followed the crumbling road around many switchbacks, making our way slowly thru groups of cows that stood and even lay on the pavement. Eventually it looped back up the valley to rejoin “new 95,” closing the circle.
Next time around, we turned left at Whitebird and drove westward, where we thought the Snake River must be. Our way became narrow and turned to gravel, a scratch across the faces of the mountains. As we neared the highest ridge, Pat realized we were low on gas. So we turned back, never seeing Hells Canyon, and rolled on down the valley to gas and McCall.
We checked into our condo on Payette Lake. We had a fabulous dinner at Shore Lodge, with a
view of the marina and the mountains beyond the lake. The main course was an asparagus wrap with bell pepper sauce served on quinoa.
We bought groceries at Paul’s Market; and had lunch at the Alpine Pantry Cafe, an organic restaurant and grocery that plays slow, gloomy rock music. (Pat felt a bit nauseous the next day.)
Then we visited the ranger station at the north end of town for a map and hiking advice. As we came in, another tourist was just leaving, having learned of a good trail for walking her dog. The ranger on duty, a patient soft-spoken middle-aged man, pointed out three hikes on his counter map that were suited to our modest abilities and were known to be snow-free and accessible. I bought a map of Payette National Forest from him, and he helped me mark the trail heads on it. As we left, another couple of tourists came in; it was going to be a long day for him. The map is enormous, and it’s printed on indestructible plastic. If it had grommets on the borders, we could also use it as a tarp.
We explored Ponderosa State Park on a peninsula in the lake. It’s quite nice; it has hiking and
bicycling trails, several picnic areas with beaches, and a boat launch. But, aside from a couple of mountain bikers, it was strangely deserted. The unsettled, chilly weather might have been the reason; gloomy clouds drifted near, and a mist fell around us now and then.
One of the bikers talked to Pat; “it’s a good thing you’re from Seattle,” he said. “Most people here are complaining about this rain.”
“What rain?” She replied. (Or she would have, if the biker had stopped talking.)
Pat created a swell dinner with fresh pasta, chicken breast, broccoli, tomato, green onions, garlic and (for me) feta cheese with dill.
We hiked to Boulder Lake, a few miles south of McCall. The road to the trail-head was paved until it reached the foothills; then it downgraded to gravel and finally to mixed dirt and boulders, with sections of washboard and one nasty mud-wallow. We parked in the campground, which had no facilities other than parking spaces hacked into the underbrush; and walked up an even rougher road to the trail-head at one end of an earth and stone dam.
The Boulder Lake trail was only two miles long with a gain of 700 feet, statistics which had led me to classify it as “easy” although the Forest Service handout called it “moderate.” In fact it was quite difficult in places due to boulders, roots, mud holes and many plausible, treacherous side trails. We met a group coming down that talked about climbing a cliff on the final stretch; but the handout merely referred to some steep switchbacks, so I disregarded such talk. Minutes later we met two women who were coming down together. One was limping slowly along with trekking poles; she said she’d sprained her ankle. I noted that she was wearing sneakers, not proper hiking boots, and chalked up the injury to bad equipment.
We found many beautiful sights on the trail. There were trilliums, which bloom only every seven
years. There were wild strawberries. There were many other wild flowers we couldn’t identify; and, sadly, there were also dandelions. Outcroppings of light gray granite, veined with quartz and sometimes glittering with mica, jutted out of the mountainside. Many tiny streams tumbled down from remnants of snow higher up, making little waterfalls; the soil was so rocky that stepping-stones across them were plentiful. Gaps in the forest cut by old landslides were full of sunlight and new, pale green trees. In the valley below, unseen cataracts and waterfalls roared.
After coming to a stretch of solid rock that ended in a drop off, we backtracked to locate the real trail that had seemed like a side trail. It was heading up into steep, craggy rocks; but at least it was heading up. This led us to the outlet of Boulder Lake (by now we suspected the inspiration for its name); a powerful stream rushing down a 45 degree slope. A pair of skinny logs had been tossed over the rocky stream-bed. They led to a trail that disappeared amid the trees, but by now we’d learned to suspect such invitations. Pat tested the logs cautiously; they wobbled.
Our other choice was a solid rock slope about 80 feet high. It was lumpy and creviced, with ledges and terraces and a few unfortunate trees. We saw some pink ribbons tied to tree branches and bushes, and a couple of cairns on ledges. Clearly, this was the official trail.
While I proposed turning back, Pat tossed her pack on the ground and scrambled up the rock face. Later she explained that she’d just wanted to check it to see if i could do it. She seemed to be doing all right; so I put my pack by hers and headed up with just my fleece and my camera. She pointed out a way for me and shouted advice, but I couldn’t hear her due to the roar of the cataract. Once I was over the wall she went back down, moved our packs up to a terrace to improve their security, snagged her own camera, and scrambled up a second time.
At the top we were rewarded with a serene mountain lake surrounded by forest and cliffs and
patches of snow; beyond it lay a snowy peak. After a rest and a stroll around the lake-shore, we headed back down. The hike out was easier than the hike in, with more time and energy for photos, but still it was no cake walk. We returned to our car six hours after we’d left.
Supper was the rest of yesterday’s supper, a treat because it had improved in the refrigerator, and because we didn’t have to make it.
We drove north of McCall on a highway named Warren’s Wagon Road into Payette National Forest. The estuary of the Payette River at the top of the lake made us think of kayaking. (Later we heard that moose had been seen in the area; so maybe kayaking there isn’t such a good idea.) We admired clear, rushing streams. A couple of snowy peaks protrude from the forest, and at one point we saw scraps of snow by the side of the road. We saw the results of the 1995 and 2000 forest fires; broad swaths of blackened trees standing or tumbled in heaps, surrounded by green undergrowth and new little trees.
We parked at the Chinook campground and hiked up Victor Creek on a bike/motorbike trail.
The first part of the trail is surrounded by burnt forest. It’s encouraging to see the new growth; fire is part of a forest’s life cycle. There were wildflowers and lots of butterflies. The ground sparkled with flakes of mica up to an eighth of an inch in size; we even saw some on the creek bottom. Further up the canyon we passed many rock outcroppings; the lack of trees made them easy to see. The trail was smoother than yesterday’s, but the many wheels had worn it into a shallow trough that made walking awkward. The afternoon became hot and stuffy, despite the roaring creek. We’d planned to hike 3.5 miles to a suspension bridge; but we were stiff from yesterday’s hike, and we turned back before reaching it.
We checked out of our cozy condo, and drove back north to try again to see Hells Canyon. Our plan was to drive up Seven Devils Campground road near Riggins to a roadside viewpoint. The 17-mile road is paved half way; the rest is good gravel, though steep and narrow. We passed patches of fir trees; we could smell their hot resin. Cows dotted the steep meadows. We noted fallen trees that had been dragged off the road or cut apart, and scattered sawdust. We saw lots of butterflies, and a bird with red and orange feathers. Some wildflowers were blooming, and Pat thought the hills would be covered with blue flowers soon. Sadly, we found the remains of another big forest fire; entire mountainsides of blackened trees.
At 6500 feet we started seeing scraps of snow in the shadows. At 6900 feet, a ways beyond the 14-mile post, we found a knot of parked vehicles. A man there told us that a snowdrift was blocking the way, but that some people were hiking onward. A truck was said to be stuck in another snowdrift a third of a mile ahead (actually it was only parked in front of the drift). We decided to hike and see how far we could get. Unfortunately, the water bottle that I “knew” was in my backpack turned out not to be there. Pat had a small bottle; still, this limited our range. Also, Pat was handicapped by a blister on her right foot from the Victor Creek hike.
Along the way we met several older folks driving ATVs. A man and his wife were each driving
machines flying American flags. We also met a few hikers, and a cheerful man who was patiently cranking himself up the mountain on a hand-propelled tricycle. (He told us that he lives at the bottom of the hill; so I guess he does this often.). We had a snack-lunch at a picnic table near the campground. It overlooked a snowy slope covered with burnt forest that descended in the direction of Hells Canyon.
We returned to the highway and headed south. By now Pat’s right foot was aching from all the braking on Seven Devils road, even tho she’d descended it in second gear. We climbed stiffly out of the car for dinner in McCall. We drove down to Boise thru hills that looked like a rumpled tan blanket. The sagebrush and tufts of dry grass were back. Here it was 90 degrees at sunset.
Boise seems to consist mainly of an airport, because every motel I could find online was near it. So we drove 37 miles onward to smaller and quieter Mountain Home. An Air Force base is located near this town; so we didn’t completely escape the aircraft racket.
After a leisurely breakfast, we cruised around Mountain Home looking for a shady parking spot–a quest that we would be repeating in this desert region. We happened upon a Forest Service office (in an area with no natural trees) and went in for some advice.
Afterward, while I was waiting for Pat to return from the restroom, I overheard a man and a woman talking. The woman shared that she was from Pennsylvania. He commented, “I would never go there. They’re anti-gun, and I don’t like their politics.” She told a story about a child who’d been traumatized by witnessing a drive-by shooting; but he was unmoved. “There are only two places in the world where I’d feel safe unarmed. One of them is Seoul, Korea.” I noticed he didn’t say “South Korea” or, for that matter, Mountain Home.
One recommendation we’d received was Three Islands Crossing State Park on the Snake River in nearby Glenn’s Ferry. We paid the $5 vehicle entrance fee at the gate to the nearly deserted park. Our first stop was to look at a pair of “covered wagon” replicas (they had no canvas covers, tho they had hoops to support them). Next we went to the Education Center, hoping to find a cool place to work on our plans; it was closed. We found a picnic shelter and its shade was some comfort. On our way out we went to the restroom; it was closed “for construction,” tho nobody was working on it. We had to resort to a SaniCan that had last been serviced in May and was very hot. The park does have a Frisbee golf course.
We headed north toward our next “base,” Sun Valley, Idaho. The desert was sometimes flat, and at other times gently undulating between low ridges crested with basalt columns. Vegetation varied from grass and sagebrush, to just grass, to nothing. As we neared the mountains, the ridges and undulations grew. We stopped at a busy crossroads gas station. The convenience store featured a big elk head mounted on the wall. Two cashiers were doing a land office business in cold drinks, chips and ice cream, with lines three or four persons long. We proceeded thru irrigated farmland; after the desert, it looked emerald green.
Some web searching and phone work netted us a studio condo with a view of Sun Valley’s little lake. The things placed in condos by their owners or abandoned by renters are always interesting. In a cupboard at the McCall place, we’d found a toddler’s corduroy pants. This condo is equipped with a huge bottle of Smirnoff vodka and a box of shotgun shells.
Dinner was at Thai Cuisine in nearby Ketchum. The restaurant looked like a hole in the wall; it was hotter than the outside air, and Thai pop music was playing from the kitchen. The waiter presented each course with visible pride. The dishes were small and beautiful, and my eel sushi was delivered on a little wooden platform on legs. We asked the waiter for directions to a grocery store, but he didn’t understand us. We ran out of synonyms, so I started naming grocery chains. He caught on; “Atkinson’s Market,” he said, and told us how to get there. Unfortunately it had closed for the night.
After shopping at Atkinson’s Market, we wandered into a basement artists’ coop and met Steve Snyder, a local photographer. Steve, a tall bearded man with a self-deprecating sense of humor, has endured temperatures below zero and climbed trees to get some of his pictures. He uses a large Hasslebad film camera, and at the time he was working in black and white. He’s captured some marvelous animal images and local farm and wilderness scenes. He was happy to tell the stories behind the pictures and explain some of his methods to Pat. We ended up buying a picture, and will pick it up tomorrow.
We drove south to visit Phyllis Clapper in Shoshone. Phyllis, John Ledford’s sister, lives with her daughter Dorothy’s family amid sprawling farms north of Shoshone. We petted the three dogs, admired a log playhouse that Dorothy’s husband Vic and the other men are building, and stayed for dinner. Phyllis showed off quilted runners and throws she’d made. She gave Pat a beautiful quilted bag with pockets that she’d made with Dorothy. And she showed us western-style furniture that Vic has made, including a massive log bed.
Phyllis told of Chad’s head injury in a motorcycle accident.
Surgeons had put a metal plate in his skull. One eye was all right, but the other was swollen and he couldn’t see out of it. When the hospital released him, he asked the doctor, “Will I ever see again?”
“Yes, you’ll be able to see out of that eye again.”
“Will I be able to play the piano?”
The doctor reassured him that yes, he’d be able to play the piano.
“That’s funny. I couldn’t play the piano before.”
Laundry day in a tiny, busy laundromat on a back street in Ketchum. We went for a walk around
the campus-like grounds of Sun Valley Lodge. We ventured up a trail on a hillside above it. Here, away from landscaping and irrigation, we could see the true nature of these 6,000-foot mountains; sagebrush, wildflowers, grass and fir trees, a mix of mountain and desert life.
The wind turned icy. Clouds boiled over the surrounding peaks, giving us a shower followed by a volley of stinging hail. We heard a thunderclap and beat a retreat.
Outside of Ketchum, we stopped at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters for hiking advice. The ranger was an older man with a missing tooth and a broad gray ponytail. Due to his arthritis, he knew all the easy trails. A ranger skill I’ve noticed is the ability to read a map upside-down while giving directions across a counter. He had a little trouble doing this, and finally he turned the map to face himself. But he was able to confirm that Alpine Creek, a trail I’d found in a hiking guide, was free of snow and accessible.
We crossed a 8,703-foot pass, paused to take in the incredible view, and drove on to Altura Lake. We picnicked there; and drove on to the end of the road, from which hiking trails radiate in all directions. We hiked up Alpine Creek about two miles to a meadow where the trail approaches the shore of the glass-clear creek. The way was a slight incline, with lots of wild flowers and views of snowy crags to enthrall us. Despite the easy trail, progress was slow due to the need to photograph all the flowers. We didn’t leave until 6:45 PM.
We had a hurried dinner at a big log-walled lodge in Stanley, kicking ourselves for not staying there so we’d have more days in the Sawtooths. “It’s a scouting trip,” Pat concluded. We drove on to our reserved room in Salmon, arriving 10 minutes after the motel office had closed. Julian, the desk clerk, came out of his home in unit 101 when we arrived and checked us in.
We visited the Sacajawea Center in Salmon, and walked around its trails on the Lemhi River. Sacajawea was an informal translator and guide on the Lewis and Clark Expedition of Discovery in 1804. She had been born in this area, kidnapped by another tribe, and married to a French fur trader who hired onto the expedition as a guide. The expedition was searching for a water route from the Mississippi to the Pacific; apparently they didn’t know about the Rocky Mountains. We were sad to read that she was never paid for her service; she died at age 29.
We got lunch to go at the Junkyard Bistro and returned to our motel. Johnny, from Rawhide Outfitters, came to get us at 1 PM. He drove a pickup truck towing a drift boat–a wide-beamed open boat with a high bow, narrow stern and two oars. He took us to a boat launch above Salmon. He backed the boat into the Salmon River, making it look easy, and helped us aboard. We took the two front swivel seats while he took the rear, oarsman’s seat, facing the bow.
Johnny guided the boat down the sometimes-tumbling river for eight miles, talking constantly, nervous but friendly. He knew every gravel bar and island, and the merits of the channels among them. He pointed out many birds and animals on and above the banks. We passed the ruin of a log cabin teetering on the bank, relic of a homestead. The river had moved after it was built, and it had already carried away its orchard. We also saw an abandoned car that had been dumped on a mountainside, much to Johnny’s disapproval. The tips of the Bitterroot Mountains were dusted with fresh snow. Below
the town of Salmon, the river entered a wide canyon with a layered sandstone cliff to our right. Eagles nested and shrieked amid its crevices and ledges. Before we landed, Johnny served banana bread and pumpkin rolls that his wife, Cathy, had baked for us.
We explored the town’s park, which includes an island in the river. Dinner was at Bertram’s, a brew pub with good food, though under-served.