25th August - 1st September 2008

Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway

Back in Idaho we headed for the town of McCall and its fancy Ponderosa State Park.    It was already late when we arrived but we took a quick tour around the beautiful lakeside park on our trusty, rusty bikes.  En route, we bumped into another proud owner of one of Harvey's relatives.   This Toyota owner was more energetic than us, having just finished a triathlon at the park.

McCall was a lovely but very touristy town on the huge Payette Lake.   We were shocked, however, to find the first library in the USA which charged us for internet access!

Cleaned, washed and restocked we were ready for some more wilderness time and on advice from a helpful NFS ranger, we found ourselves bumping along the unpaved road to Bull Trout Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains.

Peaceful Bull Trout Lake where we caught our own dinner 

(Rainbow Trout)

Early next morning we were fishing on the lake from our canoe.   Having caught dinner, we decided to take a break from fishing to hike to the top of a nearby hill to admire the view.   With no trail laid out up the wooded hillside, we had to pick out our own route up the steep slope.   Of course, we were conscious of the risk of bumping into a bear enjoying the plentiful berries on the hillside, so we were sure to disturb the peace and scare the wildlife, by singing on the way.    

Bull Trout Lake was idyllic, at least until our second night at camp.    It was then we realised that, even in August, it could freeze at 7000 feet.    Even worse for those thin-blooded sailors who had spent too long in the Caribbean, we also realised that we couldn't get Harvey's propane cabin heater to work.    Our only course of action was to have an early night, bury ourselves deep under the duvet and hope to put off getting up again, at least until the sun was high in the sky.

Our hopes were to be dashed.   We were rudely awoken in the early morning by scrabbling noises.    The problem was we could hear the noise but couldn't work out where it was coming from.   Evidently some type of critter, small we hoped, had decided to squat aboard Harvey.  

The second problem was that the temperature outside was still below freezing and inside wasn't much warmer.    So first light found Phil and Christine scampering around in their pyjamas, teeth chattering, trying to find the squatter.   We hunted around the campe's interior, nervously opening cupboards and hoping a raccoon or something worse wouldn't leap out.  

After a while we tracked the noise down to the void under the shower base, which we learned was not sealed off from the outside and also led into our bathroom cupboard and our kitchen cupboards.   On opening the kitchen cupboard door, there was the culprit just sitting staring at us.    It was an enormous pack rat, the size of a guinea pig!   So much for raising the bonnet (hood) to keep them at bay!

In our panic, we tried squirting it with WD 40 (well it worked for most things), hoping it would vamoose.   Not so.    Next we tried ant killer spray.   This didn't bother the rat at all, but nearly gassed Christine as she tried poking around under the shower tray with a hastily fashioned poking device.    The poking, however, did encourage the critter to take flight.   Unfortunately it didn't run out of the hole it had come in through, instead it disappeared under the chassis of the camper, where it seemed to find it an easy commute through the side bumpers from the shower to the engine compartment.    The comedy continued as we chased it back and forth for a while.    By now it was light but still freezing cold.    We kept thinking the rat was gone and then the scrabbling would begin again.    

In desperation we asked our Idahoan neighbours for advice.   They had never even heard of pack rats, another told us a scary story about trying to catch one for weeks.   Finally, in despair, we threw all our gear, including the hastily deflated and frosty canoe, into Harvey and left the campsite, rat still aboard.    We hoped that taking the bumpy gravel road out of the campground at higher than normal speed (Harvey is not fond of washboard gravel) would displace the little monster but hopefully none of the internal fixtures.   Seemingly the plan worked.

The cold and the critter drove us to the very friendly Elk Mountain campground in the town of Stanley.    The staff may have thought us crazy turning up at 9 am for the night, already in our pajamas, but took us in anyway.   We quickly plugged into electric and ran our electric heater until we began to sweat.   Then we indulged in the hot showers,  flush toilets (oh joy) and a big greasy breakfast in their excellent cafe, to help us recover.  It had been quite a morning.

Stanley had been found by serendipity but turned out to be a lovely spot in the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains.   We checked out the National Forest Service Campground nearby but decided to stay put at Elk Mountain.  After all, for only a couple of dollars more each night, we could have the luxury of heating and long hot showers every night and we'd had quite enough close encounters with forest wildlife for a while.     We also had the temptation of the cafe's delicious smoked prime rib, fresh baked pies and ice cream too close for comfort, so we made the most of it all.    The town was also surrounded by wonderful fly fishing rivers, from which the fisherman got maximum enjoyment. 

Next day, settled into our new home, it was time to exercise away some of that food!    We selected a walk to Bridal Veil Falls from our guide, described as "and easy trail, suitable for all the family".    The walk took us through meadow and woodland for about two miles, then we found ourselves scrambling up a steep rocky path through dense trees, so steep in fact that we were glad of the trees to haul ourselves up.    

We were still only about half way up this hill to the Falls, when we decided that maybe we weren't meant to climb all the way to the waterfall on this "easy" trail.   After flopping down wearily for a picnic break, we decided we didn't need to see another waterfall badly enough to continue the perilous ascent.     The downward journey proved even tricker and we were glad of our new hiking sticks, which saved us from accidental rapid descent on several occasions.


All the peril wasn't over when we got back to the bottom of the hill!

The area had been famous for gold and we took a trip along another unpaved road to visit Custer and Bonanza ghost towns, relics of the gold rush era.   Custer had been restored to its former appearance and made a fascinating museum.   

Along the same road we came across the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge.    This was a most curious vessel designed to dig its own trench in which to float whilst sorting through all the removed rock for gold.    Built in location, the vessel was 112 feet long, 54 feet wide, 64 feet high and weighed 988 tons.  The road lined with mounds of rock rubble in strange crescent formations were evidence of its former work.    Now the dredge had been converted into a museum and we enjoyed a fascinating tour.   The dredge was run 24/7, in three shifts, from 1940 to 1952, slowing digging its way up the valley.   

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

All the removed rock passed through a large tumbler which removed all particles less that 3/8" in size.    Any gold particles were sorted from this finer debris using environmentally unfriendly mercury, which still contaminates rivers and fish in the area.    Finally the gold particles were melted down into house brick sized blocks which were taken, unbelievably by car, to the local post office and mailed to the Denver mint.    

Fishing in the stream and ponds near the dredge was like shooting fish in a barrel, the waters were so heavily stocked that you'd get a bite on almost every cast.    However in view of the local environment, we decided it was prudent to release all our catch!


Back at the campground we made a new friend, Norm.    He invited us to see his beautiful log home nearby.   We jumped at the chance as we'd been admiring the local log homes from the exterior but hadn't had the chance to see the inside.     Later in the day Norm and his family invited us along to Redfish Lake Lodge with them to see a friend's band performing on the lawn outside.     We had great fun.   

Norm's family suggested we might want to head to Ketchum, around 60 miles away, the next day, to see the "world's largest non-motorised parade", known as the annual Wagon Days parade.    


Partying with Norm's Family

The day's fun started out with a shoot out in the main street.   Although using blanks, the actors were taking no chances and were sure to aim high or wide of their targets!     Local ladies were colourfully dressed as saloon girls to add to the fun.

Next came the parade with over 90 different entries.   Most were horse powered, with the exception of a number of mules, bulls and even a Welsh corgi powered carriage!  The whole thing rounded off with the "big hitch", a train of old ore wagons drawn by mules too numerous to count as they passed by.     Of course, animal powered vehicles bring different pollution issues to motorised vehicles but pollution control was efficiently managed by the local hockey team, working on roller blades with big shovels!

Scenes from Ketchum and Sun Valley "Wagon Days" Parade.

The Big Hitch

Hiking in the Sawtooth Mountains

Bad weather was forecast starting late the next day.  In anticipation, we visited Stanley's Sawtooth Fish Hatchery next morning.     Salmon and steelhead migrating back up the Salmon River from the Pacific Ocean to spawn, were diverted into the Hatchery, instead of heading further upstream.   Here in the safety of the hatchery spawning took place and the young fish are raised to the age when they are ready to leave for their own trip to the Ocean.  In this way it was hoped to stop the dramatic decline in the numbers of adult fish returning to the river.

Next we took our planned hike along the Fishhook Creek trail to a beautiful meadow which opened onto stunning views of the mountains.   We timed our trip right.   As we arrived back at the trail head, the rain started.

What did take us by surprise was the snow which appeared overnight on the surrounding hills.    It was the 1st September and the snow line was forecast to drop to the altitude where we were camped that night.    We had planned another day in Stanley but decided to err on the side of caution and leave a day earlier.    We liked Stanley but didn't want to spend the whole winter snowed in there!    We had to make the trip over the high and snowy Galena pass to head southwards and stopped at the top to have a quick snowball fight!

It's snowing before Labor Day!

1st September, Stanley, Idaho.

Craters of the Moon after the downpour

In contrast, our next stop was at the normally parched and barren Craters of the Moon National Monument.   A fault area lively with volcanic activity, a major eruption taking place every 2000 years.    The last major activity was 2000 years ago, so we had to wonder if we'd picked a good time to visit!     

The landscape was surreal, lava fields, spatter cones and craters.    We walked through lava tubes, huge tunnels beneath the surface and wandered through the "Devil's Orchard".    A nature trail showcasing the gnarled trees and dwarf plants managing to eek out their survival in this harsh terrain.    We arrived just after a huge downpour, a rare event in these parts and as we took our tour, steam was rising from the hot, blackened terraces of lava as the rainwater evaporated.    

Phil walks the Inferno Cone

Devil's Orchard

We left Craters of the Moon and made our way on a lonely road past the country's first atomic power station towards Idaho Falls, our final destination in Idaho.    It was quite a detour but we just had to go.   Phil had found the only Wal-mart with its own fly fishing shop.    We spent the night in their parking lot and needless to say, the night was far more expensive than a campground in the end!
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