Finally! I’ve been in some pretty remote areas this week, but I’m finally getting the rest of Sunday posted today.
The route took us into Challis National Forest . Once we left Ketchum towering evergreens grew on either side of the road and a brook trickled past. We descended gently until the road evened out at the bottom of the canyon. The terrain was now dry brush, tinder for the fires that have been ravaging the northwest for the last few months.
About 20 miles in, a sign was marked for Copper Basin Road and Wild Horse River. We took that past ranches and trucks toting 4-wheelers until Kenny spotted a pull-off next to the creek. I strapped on my fanny-pack camera bag while he headed towards the stream like a kid trying to be first in line at a roller coaster.
(Side note: Years ago I asked for a Lowepro camera bag for my birthday, and my mom gave me this big huge thing that straps around the waist. That was not what I meant! I never said anything, and I’m glad I didn’t show what an ungrateful whelp I was. After this trip I’m going to hug her super-tight when I get home. It’s the perfect camera bag for hiking. Thanks mom!)
At first, while Kenny stepped boldly from rock to rock, I picked my way carefully around the bank. Then, just like the climb up the canyon wall in Utah, my confidence grew. Soon I was sloshing through the cold mountain water, soaking the mid-calf length hem of my pants and reveling in taking pictures that could only be shot from the middle of the stream. I had to laugh at myself. Less than a week before I had been at the Arkansas River headwaters, and stayed safely dry. Now I was soaked from the knee down, feeling the rush as the water quickened through the rocks and swirled around my ankles.
I quickly lost track of Kenny. He’d snared one trout within ten minutes of his first cast, and he was heading upstream at a pretty quick pace. I was moving about a foot every five minutes, crouching and kneeling. Honestly, I probably could have just held my camera out and snapped pictures, and they’d all be postcard worthy. I wanted more than that.
Photography’s always been a love of mine, but before this trip I hadn’t really played in years. I’ve gotten spoiled by digital and my “good” camera, with the polarizer and the wide and telephoto lenses, is 35mm. I felt my inner photographer growing with the rest of my confidence levels. The first few days I conserved film. Now I was shooting away, realizing that once again I was in a spot I would probably never see again. I wanted to capture this moment, from the broad view of water, trees, and mountains, to the details of a single wildflower growing gently next to rocks and pebbles.
I headed up the bank and came upon a broad encampment, empty except for a stack of skids a field mouse hid in, with empty Mountain Dew fridge-pack boxes discarded on top. A straight branch was stretched between two trees like a clothesline. Kenny headed towards me and we quickly left this human interruption of an idyllic spot.
In the last week I’ve realized that hiking, especially in the environments I’ve had the privilege to experience, is like gambling, with a much healthier payoff. Instead of feeding the slot or placing another bet in hopes of the big payoff, you turn one more corner, climb one more hill. You just know that the next view is going to be even more beautiful. There’s constant anticipation; at the same time, there’s a sense of satisfaction. I’m reminded of my father’s admonition to stop saying “I can’t wait…” By always looking forward you lose where you are. Trying to do both has created an exciting tension, loving the moment and looking forward to the next.
Kenny had caught and released two more rainbow trout, and before leaving he wanted to catch “just one more”. Heading back the other way we crossed under a bridge and went just a little further, just a little further. We finally decided to head back to the Jeep, and on the way passed the remnants of a fire. It wasn’t in a pit and there were no stones around it. It was sitting right next to dry scrub brush. I had seen the burnt mountainsides, the “thank you firefighters” sign in Tully’s Coffee Shop, and I knew that Kenny’s friends were in the path of fires, and I couldn’t believe that someone would be so careless.
Another fire hazard we came across was weeds. When we first entered Challis National Forest , we stopped at a notification board and saw signs for “certified weed free”. I thought that was odd, until we came across these plants that reminded me of milk weed. They’re pale green with fine hairs that make them look soft and fuzzy, and stalks shoot straight up two to three feet with pods of seeds at the top. These weeds aren’t indigenous to Idaho and Montana, and like weeds everywhere are taking over.
Neither one of us knew what time it was, and when we got back to the Jeep were surprised to see it was already three o’clock! We had been out there for two hours, and it felt like 45 minutes. We followed Copper Basin back to the main road (and even that was unpaved) and began to pass ranches and herds of cows. Once on 93 we headed north.
On the way to Salmon we stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Yankee Fork. Two ladies greeted us when we walked in, and they seemed to pop up like shopkeepers in a comedic skit.
This tourist info spot has an actual museum, and the gracious and pleasant women invited us to explore. The permanent exhibits portrayed life in the mining towns surrounding the area, and the collection of relics reminded me a bit of the Stuhr Pioneer Museum in Grand Island. The ladies were also proud to point out they were currently hosting a Smithsonian exhibit on music’s roots in America. Blues, folk and jazz artists were pictured on huge placards placed throughout the gallery. We had a little chuckle when one of the first artists we saw was Bob Dylan, because we’d been listening to him as we pulled into Yankee Fork and I had commented how perfect the music was for this stretch of Idaho.
We took our time because the views along this route truly were amazing, and we finally arrived in Salmon around 6:30. Tarn and Jen had gotten a motel room and had been waiting for, oh, around three and a half hours. They’d already explored the small town and played pool at Whiskey Willies, so we quickly grabbed our bathing suits and towels and piled into their truck.