2008 Southwest Tour

Montana and Idaho

Thursday, May 29: Big Sky

Bison jam Osprey

Today was a bit different. We learned by e-mail that some friends of ours were vacationing in the vicinity. Gary and Millie invited us to visit them at their condo in Big Sky, so we headed there via West Yellowstone. On the way we saw some more buffalo. A line of seven strolled down the highway with a line-up of cars a mile or so long behind them. Later we spotted a group of cows with calves north of the park being hazed by a helicopter to return them to Yellowstone. There were also some elk and bighorns, a couple of ospreys, a bald eagle and a sandhill crane. Nice!

Bison outside the park Bison

We window shopped a bit in West Yellowstone and enjoyed a picnic along the Madison River. Gary had told us they were going to be out touring all day, so we took our time, then let ourselves in to the condo, took a shower and read for the rest of the afternoon. It rained and hailed off and on, alternating with brilliant sunshine. They have a spectacular view of a snow-covered peak across the valley through the living room window. The family returned around 7:00, so we ate dinner, talked, played a game of dominoes with the kids, then slept on the sofa bed. It was fun to see Gary and Millie again, to meet the kids and grandkids, and just rest and relax for a while.

Friday, May 30: Virginia City to Butte

Virginia City, Montana Virginia City Old mining town Nevada City, Montana

We played tourist again, with a nice drive through the beautiful Montana countryside to the old gold towns of Virginia City and Nevada City. In the 1860’s and ‘70s this area was a booming gold area. Many of the old buildings have been preserved and others were brought in from elsewhere in Montana. Virginia City is free to visit, with shops and restaurants along the road. Nevada City is more like a museum and there’s an entry fee to see the many old buildings in the ‘ghost town’. I was too cheap to pay the fee, so we just looked at the ones along the highway. It was an interesting bit of history and worth the detour, I think. There was actually little discussion in the information placards about the mining; they were more concerned with the ‘road agents’ and the vigilantes who hung them.

Virginia City

I really enjoyed the drive, first along the Gallatin River, with steep mountains on both sides and a whitewater river, then through the green hills and ranch country, then back to the big boulders and pine forests near Homestake Pass, where we finished our CDT hike two years ago. We drove though Ennis and Whitehall, just to revive the good memories we have of our hike there. The trees show pine borer damage, but otherwise little seems to have changed. We saw some wildlife: deer, antelope, bison (on what was probably a ranch), alpacas and llamas, osprey and more cranes.

Saturday, May 31: Salmon, Idaho

Another beautiful drive though green hills, past snow-covered mountains, with lots of antelope, cows, horses, llamas and sheep. We decided to head to Salmon, Idaho where we spent a week recovering from my injury in 1999. We had good memories of the people we met that week, so we decided to attend church there Sunday morning. We left our motel late and took our time heading west. We stopped at the Big Hole Battlefield, where we watched the video explaining the story of the Nez Perce and again at Chief Joseph Pass. We had planned to do a short hike on the CDT there, but the trail was covered with soft wet snow, so we kept going. The drive was beautiful over the mountains. The ridges are steep and spectacular, the meadows a very lush green, and the rivers are all high with melting snow. I was sorry to reach town. Our motel is in the middle of being remodeled. An artist is painting murals in many of the rooms, though not ours. It’s a bit noisy with hammers and radio blasting, but all in all, it’s a good deal for us.

Sunday, June 1: Lochsa River CG

Campground chipmunk

Going to church this morning was a terrific experience. We got to talk to Mike Palmer, the pastor who picked us up when I was injured, and Kathryn, a woman whom I had met and liked a lot nine years ago as well as Bob, the man who gave us a ride back to the trail after our stay in Salmon in 1999. The church was beautiful. We were there while it was being built, so it was good to see the completed sanctuary. Mike’s sermon was a good one, as I had expected. He’s a good man and a good preacher. Some of the teens participated in a ‘commitment’ ceremony in which they pledged to remain chaste until marriage. It has been a long time since we’ve been in church, but it was a good experience. It was 1:00 before we finished visiting with people. Some of the folks we had hoped to see were out of town, but it was good to see the three we did get a chance to meet again.

We headed north the way we had come. The Salmon Valley is really beautiful. North of Chief Joseph Pass the ridges were badly burned in recent fires, but it is still a pretty area – a mixture of forest and ranchland. I was surprised at how many llama and alpaca farms we passed. There were several log home businesses as well. It rained off and on all afternoon. Like last week, the forecast for next week continues to call for scattered showers every day. I think it has rained at least part of every day since we left Provo, eleven days ago. It’s not cold (63) but this rain is getting very tiresome.

Whitewater River

We headed north to Lolo, then west back into Idaho. Our plan for the next couple of days is two-fold: travel some of the scenic byways in Idaho on our way to Canada and check out some of the towns along the Idaho Centennial Trail to see what resupply options are available, in case we decide to do the trail in the next couple of years. I really wish we had been able to hike it this year as planned, but Jim’s foot is no better, so a thousand mile hike just won’t be possible this year. I’m disappointed, as is Jim, but our back up plan is good (driving to Alaska) so I think it will work out in the end.

We ended the day at a small campground along the Lochsa River. At 6:30 we were the only campers, though someone came in later. There are several other campgrounds along the Lolo Trail, including a hot spring about 10 miles east and a big RV campground 6 miles east. I was surprised to see scattered white trillium flowers under the trees, as well as patches of snow. Near Salmon the lupine and mule ears were in bloom as well.

Monday, June 2: to Winchester SP

Idaho hills Central Idaho

We had gray skies and intermittent showers until mid-afternoon. The mountains were wreathed in drifts of cloud. Fog covered the river. A brief moment of sunshine brought forth a faint rainbow. It’s frustrating because I desperately need to get some exercise, but it’s so wet and threatening, we’ve ended up sitting in the car all day instead. This is beautiful country we’re driving through, very green and lush. I’d like to get out and explore it by foot as well as by car. It’s really steep though; hiking here would not be easy. The river would also be a difficult challenge to kayak, I think. The waves were incredible.

It has been fun to see the country the ICT traverses: the dense forests, the roiling rushing rivers, the steep gray cliffs. We followed the Lochsa River to Koosia, then headed out Highway 14 to Elk City, which I had planned to use for an ICT resupply stop. Turns out it would work, since Elk City has a good grocery and another with a shower and laundry. The motel wasn’t very appealing from outside, but there are other options. The drive there was slow, but beautiful. The road winds as it follows the rushing whitewater of the South Fork of the Clearwater River. We saw deer several times and one moose in a pond next to the Lochsa.

Our other resupply option was a bit more tricky: while Kooskia has everything a hiker needs, it’s 50 miles from the trail. Lowell is closer and has motels and cafes but you’d need to mail a food drop there as there isn’t a big grocery. We decided against checking out the towns to the south: they’re too far. Yellowpine is on a dirt road that is probably a mudhole right now.

Heading north we passed through rolling green farm country, covered in grass, wheat, yellow canola, and Camas Prairie as well as the Nez Perce Reservation. It was a lovely pastoral scene, quite different from the wild mountain country along Highways 12 and 14.

Wolves at Wolf Center Nez Perce wolf

We decided to spend the night at Winchester State Park, which has a large campground beside a lake. Nearby is the Wolf Education and Research Center, which we toured. Several years ago, a filmmaker raised a family of wolves for a documentary. Once the film was done, he didn’t have any place for them and they were too tame to be released into the wild, so the Wolf Education Center was created to care for them. They currently have seven wolves: five rescued from an abusive home in southern Idaho, plus two that were part of the original Nez Perce pack. We spotted several wolves -- white, gray and black--behind their double fence. I also saw a large animal in the meadow in front of the enclosure that I thought was a wolf but probably was just a big coyote. That one surprised me. We suggested they count noses to make sure none of their wolves had gotten out. It has happened before and five of the wolves are new, so more likely to attempt to escape. We weren’t allowed to get anywhere near the wolves but we had binoculars so we watched them as much as we could from a distance. It was fun. I’m a sucker for wolves and bears. I love reading about them and watching them live. We visited a wolf sanctuary in Pennsylvania and the wolf grizzly center in West Yellowstone. I don’t like seeing them caged, but I do appreciate the need for a sanctuary for animals that have become too habituated to humans to survive in the wild. Many people think they’re cool pets, until they grow up and the owners realize that they really are wild animals, not just big dogs.

Tuesday, June 3: Buffalo Eddy, Coeur d’Alene

Buffalo Eddy Petroglyphs Petroglyphs in Washington

We’ve been following the Nez Perce Trail for days, as well as the Lewis and Clark Trail. Signs along the highways and byways explain numerous sites of historical interest. Today we visited the Nez Perce National Historic Site Visitors Center at Spaulding. They have a nice little museum with some beautiful artifacts. We watched a film on the Nez Perce that was less dramatic (and less moving) than the one we saw at Big Hole. They really were treated unjustly, like most of the native people of this continent.

At Lewiston we detoured southwest to the Buffalo Eddy site in Washington, which has several rocks with scattered petroglyphs. It was a bit hard to find since the directions in the tourist brochure were off by four or five miles. I woke a couple of kids sleeping in their car who told us that we had turned around too soon. Buffalo Eddy rock art Petroglyphs

It was fun to finally find the site. The images were mostly people and game animals. Several of the men were holding what looked like dumbbells – maybe war clubs? The drive along the swollen Snake River was a good one, despite the rain. We passed through green rolling hills and pine forest. I spotted a kit fox beside the road and an osprey sitting on a telephone wire. It poured all afternoon so we decided to get a motel in Coeur d’Alene.

Wednesday, June 4: Day off in Coeur d’Alene

The River at Buffalo Eddy

We ended up taking an unplanned day off today, thanks to car issues. Yesterday Jim took the car to Walmart to get the oil changed. We were told they couldn’t do it because the oil pan was stripped. We’d lost a quart and a half of oil since it was last changed in Moab. Too much. The mechanic said we needed to replace the oil pan, but they couldn’t do it. So this morning, Jim found another mechanic very close to the motel who agreed to take care of the problem. This one said it was only the plug that was stripped--the pan was fine--but our ball joints were badly worn and they did need to be replaced. Since Jim was warned about the ball joints by two different mechanics in Maryland, we decided to go ahead and fix the problem before it caused us real problems on the road. The Alaska Highway is not a good place to watch your wheels fall off.

Osprey on a telephone wire

We also replaced our spare tire yesterday, since it was old and dried out and we didn’t want to worry about not having a spare if we have problems on the way north. Some of Alaska’s gravel roads are notorious for destroying tires, as well as for chipping windshields. We’ve been told we should travel with two spares – but where would we put the extra one? We’ll risk it.

It rained all morning, so we were just as happy not to be driving. The forecast continues to be for rain for the next ten days, more or less. I am really worried about this summer. We plan to camp as much as possible – motels are really expensive up north – but camping isn’t a lot of fun in the rain. Once tucked into the back of the truck we’re okay – our sleeping bags and blankets keep us snug and cozy – but lately it has been so cold we have gone to bed early just to get warm. It is hard to get motivated to go hiking when it’s drizzly, and forget photography – grey days just don’t make for scenic shots. We really got spoiled this spring. Arizona and Utah were warm and sunny, just beautiful. Last time we were in Alaska it was a hot dry year, but this year is different. I hate gray skies and non-stop showers. I really hope the weather will change soon.

June 5: Robinson Lake, Idaho

The trail at Robinson Lake Bald Eagle

Heading north, we detoured around Lake Pend d’Oreille to check out Clarks Fork, one of the possible Idaho Centennial Trail resupply stops. (It has a small but useable grocery, a hardware store for fuel, a post office, motel, laundry, showers and restaurants – everything you need. There’s no need for a thruhiker to go all the way to Sandpoint, which is the nearest big town.) Lake Pend d’Oreille was pretty, even under gray skies, and there were bald eagles and osprey flying overhead. We checked out two more resupply towns farther up the trail and decided that Bonners Ferry would be better than Sandpoint for resupply. Both have everything you’d need, but the south side of Bonners Ferry has everything within easy walking distance: grocery, motel, laundry and restaurants, plus there’s an outdoor store not too far away. Sandpoint seemed to be larger and more scattered, so harder for a hiker to deal with. If we ever do hike the ICT, we’ll at least have some idea of what to expect.

Robinson Lake Robinson Lake

A few miles from the Canadian border we saw a sign for a campground and wildlife viewing area. I suggested we check it out and found out that there were a couple of short trails leading out of the campground. We decided to stop for the night and take advantage of the fact that it wasn’t yet raining to go for a most welcome hike. It’s gray and storms are supposed to roll in late this afternoon, but so far it has been dry. We picked out a campsite, said hello to the campground host, then headed up a cascading stream on the nature trail. It had numbered posts, but there were no brochures or maps to explain what they were supposed to be indicating. We reached Robinson Lake and sat looking out over the water for a few minutes. A fisherman in an inflatable boat scared up a bald eagle, which flew low over the water past us, then circled up and away. We went back to the campground, where Jim took advantage of the dry spell to shake out the bedding and air it, while I went back out to the lake to walk another short hiking loop out to a boat dock in the next lake, then along the ridge trail back to the truck. It felt really good to be hiking after spending so much time sitting in the car. I practically skipped up the ridge, I was so happy. It’s a pretty forest with pine, spruce, red cedar and larch trees. I found a small patch of calypso orchids. I haven’t seen those in a long time.

The rain hit while our burgers were grilling so Jim had to stand in the rain waiting to fetch them for us. We ate in the back of the truck, warm and dry. The campground is small, with only 10 spaces; about half are occupied. I'm really glad we stopped here.

Jim: From here we'll head to Alaska, sightseeing in Canada, of course. Anybody who wants to follow that part of the journey can find it using the NEXT button. Otherwise, you can return to the Home page or the Journals page using the appropriate buttons.

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Created: 1 Jan 2009
Revised: 30 Sept 2016
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