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.
  • 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 Café 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!