Sunday, December 9, 2018

Easley Hot Springs - a great Idaho spot

All the unexpected and unplanned for Idaho hot springs turned out to be one of the big surprises of the road trip I undertook this past summer. Each hot spring appealed in a different way. Easley is one of those places I would consider plunking down at for a couple of days and doing day trips from the camp ground followed by a session in the pool or the hot tubs further up the hill. Wonderful.

Easley Hot Springs was the first one I arrived at. I successfully battled the urge to keep on going so I could get to my destination. Except I did not have a destination. I had six unplanned days of glorious nothing. So I turned left and went up the short gravel road to a marvelous hot springs tucked away in the middle of nowhere on the way to Galena Summit, just a few miles past Sun Valley.

I found three wonderful people, a little dog, and a hot springs. Loved it. I hung out and talked to Pat Ed and Stacey for a long while. Not sure how things worked, but Stacey looked to be my age (50 something) and Ed and Pat were his parents. They were all sitting in the pool room doing their thing waiting for the day's business to walk in. I think I was the first one to come through the door.

Driving a Canyon Edge from Lowman to Banks, ID

I found this picture on my phone and it turned out to be the best one I took showing what a drop it is from the high edge of the canyon that the road is perched on, all the way down to the river that presumably carved out the canyon, which the more I think about it geologically is really an oddity. This canyon should be much wider instead of the slot canyon that it is.
    Regardless of the tectonic forces that made it, I find the Banks Lowman Road to be an amazing and accessible drive along a canyon edge unlike any other I have found in the US.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Western States Road Trip, 2nd Ed. - Hot Springs, Unknown Mountain Passes, and Wide Open Spaces

Back in the day, we took our middle kid out to Utah State in Logan, Utah to start her college career. That was the excuse for my first research road trip in support of the River and Ranch series of books I am writing. Three years later, the youngest child decided on Univ. of Utah in Salt Lake City, so I had a chance to do another research road trip through the same magnificent spaces.

Initially, what I hoped for were big picture views of landscapes fading off into the far away distance. Unfortunately, smoke was my constant companion, so hardly any of those big vistas scrolled past my wheelhouse on this solo road trip across the back roads of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

The gems in this trip were small things in small moments. Post-trip, after a few months of looking at the pictures, I've come to realize that these small bits are every bit as good as the big views that I initially wanted to find. Every single one of these unexpected little surprises brought as much joy to the trip as a big picture view could have.

So here, in one longish post, are the bits and bites of going home the back way, starting in Salt Lake City, Utah and working clockwise through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota.

In reference to the title of this blog entry, here is a list of hot springs and a list of mountain passes in the order that I found and or drove over them:

  • Easley Hot Springs, on the way to Galena Summit; super nice place and great people,
  • Weir Creek is a little gem in the Lochsa Canyon. Little known, so one has to hunt for it a bit,
  • Warm Springs Creek (used to be Jerry Johnson's) newish name but springs s/b the same,
  • Lost Trail Hot Springs at the base of Lost Trail Pass on the MT side; also close to Chief Joseph Pass,
  • lodge in Jackson, MT., middle of nowhere. Remodeling lodge by new owners in September 18 when I visited. Pool looked great!
  • Kirkham - a roadside pullout, close to Lowman, ID; lots of springs leaking out of a hillside,
  • Thermopolis, Wyoming - entire town built around a very large hot springs and numerous smaller springs. Neat place,
  • Hot Springs, South Dakota - also looked like another town lost to times past that is also built around a hot springs,
  • Note that Riggins Hot Springs is on the map just upstream from the town of Riggins. Sadly, it is high end, private, by reservation only.
  • There is also Lolo Hot Springs, which is near the famous Traveler's Rest, a Lewis and Clark landmark. I believe this hot springs is open to the public, but I went by it in the dark of the night and did not stop.
and
  • Galena Summit,
  • White Bird Hill - don't let the name fool you, it's a big one!
  • Lolo Pass - Lewis and Clark passed through back in the day,
  • Lost Trail Pass - also felt Lewis and Clark's footprints,
  • Chief Joseph Pass,
  • Grimes Pass,
  • Teton Pass - between Driggs and Jackson,
  • Togwotee Pass - top of Ten Sleep canyon. Great drive!
  • Continental Divide / Powder River Pass - this went on for 10+ miles before reaching the true pass.

Where does my memory go first?

The Banks Lowman Road (Idaho Route 17) above the South Fork of the Payette River is my Number One place. As a Salmon River whitewater guide about 30 years ago, I crossed this route a couple times while it was under construction. One of those times our loaded down, four door, four wheel drive, truck towing a huge (and overloaded) trailer met up with an even bigger, fully loaded logging truck in the middle of a one way stretch of Grimes Pass on the edge of a precipice. This is still one of my favorite memories. We all got out and watched while the (very nervous) driver backed the truck and trailer up and crammed it into a wide spot on the gravel cut bank. He kept his door open the whole time while doing so, in case the trailer went over the edge, dragging the truck down with it. I had not been back since that eventful summer day in 1989. The road is much improved now, but is showing lots of wear and tear and it still features little to no shoulder, nor does it have any guard rails. As the picture shows, the view over the edge is magnificent. On the Banks side of this valley there is a road way down below right along the river. I was way up high on a cut along the top of the valley, so it was kind of neat to peer over the edge at times being able to see the river and then later on being able to see this road and a few houses down in the valley. This road is really cool and well worth the drive.

As an added bonus, you emerge (or start) at the downstream end of the South Fork near where it merges with the North Fork. The handful of houses that make up Banks is at this intersection. Banks is the home for one of my favorite fictional characters, Bob Lee Swagger. Some of you may know this Vietnam vet from the movie starring Mark Wahlberg, but that movie is based on a great book by Stephen Hunter, in which the MC is from Banks, Idaho.

Number Two is the entire length of Highway 12 going up the Lochsa River Canyon from Kooskia all the way to Lolo Pass. This remote and gorgeous stretch of empty would be number one on my list, except for the fact that I have been up and down this stretch a couple of times over the past 30+ years.

Number Three is Wyoming 116 starting at Upton and going through the Thunder Basin Grassland.

Number Four is the spectacular drive and the set of tunnels Highway 20 goes through heading north on the way up Ten Sleep Canyon and Pass.

Number Five is the southern part of the Black Hills heading towards Wind Cave National Park and Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The hot springs I came across were the big, unexpected and unplanned for pieces of the trip. Easley, Lost Trail, Kirkham, Jackson MT. (not Jackson Hole, WY), Thermopolis, WY., and Hot Springs, South Dakota. All great spots in their own different ways.

Other than scenery, what was the surprise of the trip? How nice the Motel 6 was in Rexburg. Tom Bodette left the lights on for me.

Best breakfast of the trip?  Bighole Bagel and Bistro CafĂ© in Driggs, ID., just east of Rexburg and at the base of Teton Pass. Really good breakfast bagel loaded with all sorts of good stuff. Breakfast in my hand pretty much. Really good coffee made for the start of a great day. Definitely coming back through here around breakfast time someday. I hope.

From what I was told by others, Rexburg is a pretty uptight conservative Mormon stronghold, so not much pleasure to be had in Rexburg. My own eyes seemed to confirm that, I barely even saw a gas station there, much less a coffee shop, but Rexburg was a sleepover town in which I arrived lateish and left earlyish, so I'll save judgment for another trip.

Huckleberries were high on my wish list. I found them in two places: the very interesting and remote Galena Lodge on the way to Stanley and Roadside Java at the edge of Meadows Valley. Bella came out from behind the bar and the mountain bike rental counter and scooped up an epic huckleberry ice cream cone. Thankfully, we were up high on the way to Galena Summit and it was cool and foggy, so I had plenty of time to eat the cone. Tasty. Galena Lodge looks like a really cool place too, by the way.
Stephany at Roadside Java made a great huckleberry shake for me. She and I and her husband (? maybe bf) stood around for a half hour talking about this and that. A great chat over coffee and a shake with strangers in the middle of Idaho. Loved it.

Surprises along the way, you ask? I was surprised at how big Cascade Lake and Lake McCall were. I was surprised at how small McCall (pop. 2991) and Driggs (pop. 1660) were. I was absolutely SHOCKED at the price of real estate in Hailey, part of the loosely defined Sun Valley. By the way, there is no Sun Valley. There is a valley, a ski area, a couple of towns, the Big Wood River, and likely a few more geographic objects, but nothing named Sun Valley.

Best recycled memory of the trip?
There's a sign at the bottom of the Lochsa Canyon (Highway 12) warning the driver that there are no ‘services’ for the next 88 miles. That sign was there when I drove by it as a river guide back in 1989. Glad to see somethings never change! Further up the canyon was the empty Cougar Canyon Service Station, right in the middle of Lowell, population 24 (or maybe 23) as the sign attests.

First place I would go back to, you ask?
Hot Springs, South Dakota and the nearby Wind Cave National Park.

The Black Hills might have offered the most distinct ‘look’ of the whole trip. Very cool and definitely something I want to see more of. Hot Springs, South Dakota is a tiny little town that (I read) was one of the favorite hangout places for Theodore Roosevelt, back in the day. The two block long downtown had a neat vibe and looked to be centered around the hot springs, the only one of the entire trip that I did not stop and at least look at, thus the desire to return and fix that mistake.

I decided that in order to fight the disappointment of the smoky skies, I would stop at every roadside distraction or surprise that I came across. There would be no rush to ‘get there’. In that spirit, the biggest unexpected cool thing was the small detour I took that ended up at the Rapid River Fish Hatchery. Super cool. I arrived at feeding time, just as the staff started driving around and spraying food pellets into the various pools full of millions of various sized salmon, all growing and biding their time until their release into the Rapid River and hopefully out into the Columbia and the salt water beyond.

Best animals of the trip? Critters were not a big part of this trip. I hardly even saw any roadkill. The first animals I saw were buffalo in the meadows going through Grand Teton Nat'l Park. A couple days later, Pronghorn antelope were alongside the road as I drove along quiet WY 116 through Thunder Basin Grasslands. A few hours later, I was on the road in Wind Cave National Park, south of Custer and just outside Hot Springs, South Dakota, and that is where I saw more buffalo and prairie dogs, my favorite little beasts on the whole trip.

First road trip dinner you ask? A meatball sub from Subway. All twelve inches, in the absence of the food sheriff. Tasty. I ate it standing up behind the van in the parking lot on the outskirts of [xx] I think. Not too memorable. Tasty and I was sick of sitting, so it was a good first road trip dinner. This was also when I gave up the hope of clear skies for this trip. The land of fruit and nuts and Canuckland combined to pump mass amounts of smoke into the atmosphere. If there is an upside to being in gray light the whole time, it was that I could not smell it at all and my eyes didn't water. It must have been way high in the sky by the time it drifted over Idaho.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Nancy Hatch duPree - grandmother to Afghanistan

One more research gold nugget, that continues making me love the simple act of pulling loose threads in my loosely defined areas of interest. As usual, I poke around in the dusty, unvisited halls of non-fiction, peopled with stories and truths lived by others ahead of me, in places I have never visited, seeing things I have not yet seen.

Their experiences, fully lived by them, become the story altering gold nuggets of fascinating places, people, and objects, that I love to find.

Nancy Hatch duPree is one of those gold nuggets.

She is from the generation prior, and as such had to content herself with the low ceiling that most women encountered. An early life ultimately landed her in Kabul, Afghanistan as the wife of a diplomat.

I think.

She managed to loosen that shackle and fall in with an archaeologist. That match worked quite well and led to her blossoming as a writer, explorer and swashbuckling woman back in the day, in the society that Pakistan and Afghanistan had prior to the Soviet and Taliban blood stains.

Her writing and life experiences proved quite fascinating. Her words led me to the hoopoe, a bird of which I had never heard, and now is part of my book series. As is Nancy Hatch duPree.

Look above and follow that link. It goes to a fabulous interview that Nancy H. duPree gave to the writer who interviewed her. The site it is on, Afghanistan-Analysts, is nearly as fascinating. Both are discoveries I stumbled upon, that have changed my plots for the better.

I hope.

Also that hoopoe is a fascinating bird. Too cool to pass up.

Enjoy your research! I hope it leads to your own loose threads that become the pleasant foundations of your creation with the written word!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Of Hot Springs and Canyons - Research Road Trip, 2nd Edition

Another road trip happened this summer, four seasons after the first epic dance with long distance driving. On the downside, this trip, like the first one, was marred by smoke from fires, mostly in Canada I'm told, but also from the epic ragers that were flaming in California.

So that makes two trips in a row lessened by atmospheric smoke drifting in the wind, hundreds of miles from where it originated. ah well....such is life in dry western states late in the summer. oh - and rattlesnakes, too. First time I've seen a sign like this in any of the freeway rest stops I've ever stopped at.

Once again, the pleasure is in the details, as well as in the hot springs and canyons. I didn't plan it like I ended up doing, but the trip evolved into more of a road trip through Wyoming than anything else. Day One began with dropping my wife off at the Salt Lake City airport. I then missed a turn and started out driving west on I-80, along the Great Salt Lake. Very cool. Literally. I was shocked at how cool the temps were. Also there was water everywhere, even as I drove through the whitest, brightest desert light I've ever seen. No trees either. I took the first exit I came to (Kemmerer I think), which was highlighted by a giant smokestack off in the distance. The picture I took was overexposed and did not turn out. Did I mention how bright and white the light was?

By the way, this was a trip to drop off our youngest kid at the University of Utah, which turned out to be an unexpectedly cool place. I like Salt Lake City. Turns out it is actually a bit smaller than Madison. In my mind, SLC was a metro area more akin to Chicago than Madison, but I was wrong. It's a smallish feeling city. We stayed at an AirBnB in the Sugar House neighborhood. Lots of oldish one story brick bungalows. Nice. Unexpected. In retrospect, I guess I was expecting more of a stark severe Mormon influenced desert town. What I found was a hip neighborhood, full of coffee shops, people pedaling to work, and the aforementioned bunch of brick bungalows. Reality was MUCH better than anticipated. SLC is well worth a visit. btw, I think the UU campus is gorgeous, with much less Mormon influence than I was anticipating. Campus is built on a hillside, maybe even a mountainside. Fairly rugged, not much flat space at all. Like SLC, I found UU reality much better than I imagined.

And then there's Logan. The first trip, four years ago, delivered our middle kid to Utah State University in Logan. Really like this town and the campus, which is at the mouth of a canyon. It looks to me like the school is built on top of the outwash field that has come flooding out of the canyon over the years. I think. Bottom line is that the school is perched a couple hundred feet above the rest of this small city. Great view. Great campus. Great program if you are looking for biological engineering. We all really like Logan.

After a hike down from the top of Snowbird, a roughish ride to a half empty Porcupine Reservoir, with both kids dropped off and after dropping my wife off at the airport, it was ‘me’ time, which meant six days of roaming back roads, empty spaces, and small flyover towns. Love it. On the sixth day I had to be in New Hampton, Iowa for a project. So this trip really worked out well. New Hampton is right on the way back to Madison. In fact, Highway 18 through Iowa, is close to New Hampton and runs right into Madison. Small world.

Like the first edition of this road trip, the point of the trip is three fold. First, I like road trips through flyover country. I only stay in small motels in small towns. I only eat at ma and pa diners in the same small towns, and I drive the small roads, the non-freeways, the kind with two way traffic and crossroads. Second, I always enjoy returning to places where good things happened at earlier points in my life. Sometimes nothing has changed (Hwy. 12 thru Lochsa Canyon), sometimes it has gone all wrong (neon, casinos, and ugliness of Missoula). The fourth I might add is the driving time to listen to entire CDs that I never have enough time to listen to. Fifth, I stop wherever I see something cool, which never happens on a freeway with wife and kids.

This trip was every bit as good as the prior edition, but for entirely different reasons. I stopped at hot springs and I went on a different route. All good. Can't wait for the third edition!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A small spot in a quiet valley for a giant historic figure

I stood at this spot for quite awhile and imagined all that could have transpired here back in the day. Imagine a 14 year old girl, kidnapped and horsebacked across a 1000+ miles of wilderness and forced to start a new life. She is then sold to an old nasty frenchman, with whom she has the 'life issue' (to be charitable to old nasty frenchman) of having a young child. Lewis and Clark show up out of the blue looking for a guide who can get them to pretty much the spot she was taken from. It all works out and years later Sacajawea shows up back at this very place and is reunited with her tribe and her family. All this happening after guiding a group of men across unknown terrain for that same 1000+ mile journey with a new baby on her back.

Today the Lemhi valley is a quiet spot. Forgotten about in back of beyond Idaho, sitting at the base of the climb to Lemhi Pass. It is pretty even in the heat of a semi-arid summer. Cows are all over the place. So are chukars. Huge scree slopes are all around as you start the climb up through the Agency Creek drainage. It's easy to imagine the presence of those many historic figures passing by, maybe even on the very piece of earth on which you are standing. As for Sacajawea history does not know what happened to her. No one knows where she is buried. No one is sure when she was even born. At least we know where this young woman, responsible for who knows how much of the Lewis and Clark Expedition's success, was born. A granite monument with words etched in stone makes note of this place. Something for the ages.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rivers That Flow North

It's always a trivia question that no one ever gets. 'The Nile' is one rare answer. The question is 'Name a river that flows north?'. Here are some more answers. River and Ranch is set in an area of the country that happens to feature not one, not two, but three river that rise in the south and FLOW to the north. Without further ado, here are three answers to that difficult trivia question.

1) The Lemhi river flows north. It rises near Gilmore Summit (elev. 7,150 ft amsl +/-) and flow generally north where it joins up with the Salmon River in the middle of Salmon, Idaho.
2) The Bitterroot river flows north. It rises in the small waters flowing out of the mountains in around and behind Lost Trail Pass. Trivially speaking everything on the Idaho side of that pass flows south and goes to the North Fork of the Salmon. But the snow that melts on the Montana side flows downhill to the NORTH and ultimately adds a load to the Bitterroot, which ultimately enters the Clark Fork (of the Columbia river - more trivia) in the valley just outside of Missoula, Montana.
Finally, the Big Mama of rivers that flow north - the Middle Fork of the Salmon.
3) Way down in central Idaho but quite high up there is Bear Valley creek, just outside of Stanley. It's a little thing flowing through meadows full of flowers. Once the snow melts. But while the snow is melting it is a big thing that combines with Marsh Creek and creates the Middle Fork. 100+ miles of north flowing beauty.