Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Northern Idaho Backroads

We’ve settled into our role as Interpretive Hosts here at Farragut State Park, and now that we’ve established a routine we’ve had a chance to explore the area.  I’ve St Joe Riverbeen wanting to do an evening program on the “Big Burn” of 1910, a wildfire that burned 3 million acres in 36 hours.  Since we’re close to the area where it happened, we decided to make a day trip to see what the area looks like today.  We headed for the western side of the Bitterroot Mountains and drove the St. Joe Scenic Byway along the river of the same name.  Although this area is fairly remote, we were surprised by the number of RVs, either in parks or boondocking, along the river.  It wasn’t until we reached Avery, almost 50 miles from the nearest town, that we entered the National Forest and left the crowds behind.  Aside from a few people fly fishing, the river, beautiful as it wound around through canyons, was deserted. Tunnel We made a short stop at Avery, now a small collection of buildings which was once a vibrant mining town.  From here, we drove a short distance on the road over the mountains to Wallace, but turned around at the old railroad tunnel since we wanted to continue along the St Joe River to St. Regis.  The tunnel is spooky – rough carved rock, no lights, wet, and long. 

St Joe River2Getting back on the road along the river, the river canyon became steeper and the road climbed up, eventually turning into the mountains.  The road was well-used, wide, and dusty, and even though it’s far from anywhere it serves as a shortcut for people coming and going to the Clearwater Basin.  We hit pavement in St. Regis, where we jumped on I-90 for a trip to Wallace.  On the way we passed what was once the town of Taft, wiped out by the fire of 1910.  It’s said that Taft had three prostitutes for every man, and that as the fire approached, the residents decided to drink all the town’s whiskey before they evacuated.  There’s a story about how one drunk, burned and wrapped in  oil–soaked gauze, was ignited when a drunken friend went to check on him, lit a match to see, and dropped it – on his friend.  He became the only casualty at Taft.

We visited Wallace, an old mining town with history and character.  Wallace was the largest town affected by the fire; about one third of the town burned.  Wallace2Fortunately, trains evacuated most of the population and there were no fatalities.  This was the home of ranger Ed Pulaski, a legend in the Forest Service and the inventor of the tool that bears his name.  Original PulaskiThe original “Pulaski” can be seen in the town museum.  Walking around the town is a journey through history – many of the buildings are original and there are some very good restaurants and coffee shops, some with interesting signs. 

Center of the Universe

Twerk Sign

Wallace Sign1

There’s a lot of interesting history in Wallace – if you’re interested, you can read about it here.

Just down the interstate from Wallace we found this sign and memorial of the Sunshine Mine disaster, a little known modern mining event that claimed 91 lives.  Sunshine Mine Sign

Miner Monument

I’ve always been interested in visiting Priest Lake, ever since I saw the posterMoose Poster showing a huge Bull Moose raising his head from the water, high, snow-capped mountains in the distance.  The lake is in the upper corner of Idaho, in what looks to be a remote location.  So off we went, expecting to find a pristine area like the poster.  What we saw when we arrived was Priest Lake1an overcrowded area of resorts, campgrounds, RV Parks, and subdivisions.  The lake was….well, lake-ish, and it wasn’t until we drove around the lake to the North side that it became interesting.  The road turned to gravel as we slowly climbed, with forests on both sides and mountains in the distance.Priest Lake Road

Priest Lake Road2

We finally started to see the scenery that we’d expected as we climbed further into the Selkirk Mountains.  To our east was a vast wilderness area, with a population of Grizzly Bear that have been seen closer to the lake.  We’d kept our eyes open, but only saw a few Mule Deer.  But that was OK because the views were spectacular.Selkirk Mountains1

Selkirk Mountains2

What a beautiful area – cool, clean air, mountain views, and abundant wildflowers.  Along the road we saw Wild Rose, Avalanche Lilly, Bear Grass, and Indian Paintbrush.  Wildflowers

Although we didn’t see any Grizzly Bear on our trip, we returned to find another fierce predator raiding our bird feeder.  This ferocious Red Squirrel had made himself at home, quickly eating his way through our feeder’s supply of seed.  As you can see from the picture, he’s a steely-eyed, bad-tempered monster!

Red Squirrel2

Red Squirrel1

That’s it for now – we’ve more places to see, so check back soon!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Too Busy to Blog

Lake View PanoramaThere have been times in the past when I haven’t updated our blog because, well, we hadn’t done anything “blogworthy”.  This time the reverse is true; we’ve been so busy in our summer job as Interpretive Hosts at Farragut State Park in Northern Idaho that I haven’t had the time to take pictures and chronicle our time here. 

Lake View1We arrived here in late April, when there was still snow on the surrounding peaks, and quickly became engaged in a multitude of projects.   Our job requires us to develop and host evening programs at the park’s amphitheater, teach a Junior Ranger class on Saturday morning, and entertain children during school tours. 

This is a state park on a scale we’ve never seen before.  Over 4000 acres, with four campgrounds of two loops each, dispersed campinTree to Treeg, group camping areas, day-use areas, a beach, a boat launch, museum, Junior Ranger Center,  4 18-hole disc golf courses, a RC aircraft area, a shooting range, and over 45 miles of trails.  And new this year is “Tree to Tree Adventure”, billed as an obstacle course in the trees.  But while today’s park is impressive, its history is truly amazing. 

In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy needed a new station to train sailors and wanted to avoid the West Coast because of a possible attack.  They settled on this area due to the availability of land, inland location, and size and depth (1150’ with deeper areas)  of Lake Pend Oreille  (pronounced “ponderay”).  Bayview Naval BaseThe lake gave them both an area to train sailors in water drills and seamanship and a place to test submarines in a place far removed from the public.  (The Navy base is still in use: here’s an interesting link)



Farragut MapIn six months of 1942, 2,200 construction workers turned a quiet area of forest and farms into what would become Idaho’s largest city.  At its peak, Farragut Naval Training Station’s population would approach 70,000.  Six separate self-contained camps each held 5000 trainees, and the station hospital held 1500 beds.  Each camp had a drill hall that Drill buildingcovered 14 acres and held an Olympic-sized pool for water training – the total inside area was as big as 18 football fields!  There were areas for officer training, specialty training, housing for the staff, and even a school for the children.  Trains ran daily to Spokane and busses to Coeur D’Alene to provide a break for those in training.  In just over three years of operation, almost 300,000 sailors passed through here.

After the war was over, some of the station wBigas used for a technical school, college courses, and commercial purposes, but eventually everything – over 770 buildings, was torn down and carted away.  Today, the only complete structure left is the Brig, now used for a museum, Junior Ranger station, and workshop.  And once again the forest has returned.

As with any new volunteer location, we’ve been on a steep learning curve.  The history, plant life, and animals here are interesting and we’ve incorporated much of what we’ve learned into our programs.  This week we taught a Junior Ranger class on how to play disc golf; something we’ve never done until arriving here.  And  we’ve had fun  (mostly)  leading groups of up to 40 grade school children on a hike while Brenda teaches a class on animals complete with furs and skulls.  We entertained over 600 children so far.  Our one regret is that we’ve not had the time to explore the area, but now that the school tours are over we’re looking forward to getting out and learning about the area.  One thing we have had the time to enjoy is the dining and shopping in Coeur D’Alene, only 25 miles down the road.

RV Site1We’re very pleased with the volunteer sites.  We’re parked in the forest with five other RVs far away from the campgrounds.  The sites are huge – landscaped with a large patio area, fire pit, and picnic table.  It’s so nice to be away from the campground – after RV Site2the many times we’ve spent the summer with campers we’re convinced that half are pyromaniacs and the other half are trying to send smoke signals to relatives. 

The rangers and other volunteers have been friendly and welcoming.  Our ranger “boss” is an Orientation1amazing combination of energy, humor, and knowledge.  She’s the type that every volunteer wants to work for – tells us what needs to be done and then leaves us to figure out the best way to do it.  As the season kicked off, the Orientation2park hosted an orientation meeting and pot luck where every ranger was introduced and spoke of their duties, the state volunteer coordinator welcomed us, and the volunteers (30+) had the chance to visit and get to know each other.  We’re the rookies here; almost every other volunteer has been coming for years – one couple for 15 years!

Bayview1The park’s location is on the southwestern shore of Lake Pend Oreille, surrounded by mountains to the east and hills/forest elsewhere.  Nearby is the small town of Bayview, home of the Naval Acoustic Research Detachment.  There isn’t much room for homes due to the steep mountain slopes, so people have taken to the water – some of the “houseboats” are pretty impressive!Bayview2

MackWe’ll finish this update with a picture of “Mack”, a sculpture located outside the Brig.  Mack represents the thousands of sailors who passed through here, and when viewed close up you can see that he’s made up of images of individual sailors. 

Mack Side View

Mack Closeup

That’s it for now – if you’re passing through the area please let us know, we’d love to show you the area.  Check back, we’ll be updating our adventures soon!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Painted Hills and Prineville

We’ve spent a lot of time in Oregon, but mainly on the coast and the Willamette Valley along I-5.  We were amazed at the beauty of South-central Oregon when we visited Steen’s Mountain, and decided that another trip to the interior was in order.  And so, after our time in Salem reacquainting ourselves with big stores and chain restaurants, we headed over the cascades for a week’s stay in Prineville. 

We’d always been interested in visiting Prineville, the home of the Prineville “hotshots”, a trained crew of nine fire fighters who lost their lives in the Storm King or South Canyon fire in Colorado during the summer of 1994.  We first became interested in the history of fire fighting in the west after visiting Montana’s Mann Gulch, the site of a fire that killed 13 “smokejumpers” in 1949.  If you’ve never read the book “Young Men and Fire” by Norman Maclean, do yourself a favor and do so – it’s a riveting and enlightening read.  His son, John N. Maclean wrote a book about the Prineville Hotshots and the South Canyon Fire called “Fire on the Mountain”, another great book that describes the mistakes made in weather forecasting that led to the loss of the 14 fire fighters.

Prineville is an amazingly pristine little town with a population of around 10,000.  It was central to the areas we wanted to visit and the County RV Park was perfect for our stay.  We visited the firefighter’s memorial in the city park, with its nice monument and path that has a plaque with a picture and biography of each of the young men and women who lost their lives.  The local museum also has an exhibit on the tragedy, and there we talked to the volunteer who described the tremendous impact that the loss of the nine young people had on the small town.  Prineville Hotshot  Memorial

The John Day Fossil Beds were on our list, and so we took a day trip through beautiful mountains to the visitor center.  On our way we stopped at Mitchell, a struggling little town of 132 that provides the only gas and groceries in the area.  It was worth a drive through the canyon that the town sits in just to see some of the ah….unusual buildings.Mitchell OR Main StreetMitchell State StopMitchell Store The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument covers a huge area of North-central Oregon and has three separate “units”, one of which is a 2 hour drive from the visitor center.  It’s not a place where you can wander around picking up fossils, but an area where millions of years of floods/volcanoes/earthquakes have created layers of rock from different periods that contain an amazing amount of plant and animal fossils.  The visitor center was very nice, and had an area where you could watch as fossils were being cleaned and examined.  There was also a theater where we watched a very good film that described how the landscape had changed over millions of years and how the diversity of fossils from so many periods make this area special.John Day Visitor Center

A short drive from the visitor center was the historic Cant Ranch, where the backdrop of Sheep Mountain provided this image:Sheep Mountain Ranch View

We took the long way back to Mitchell and the Painted Hills and were stunned by the beauty of the mountains: Roadside View1

Roadside View2

Roadside View3

We’ve seen lots of pictures of the Painted Hills, many of which were Photoshopped into deep reds and yellows.  It’s a shame, because the magical beauty of these hills doesn’t need any help.  We took the half-mile hike to the overlook for these views:Painted Hills2

Painted Hills Panarama2

Painted Hills Panorama

Red HillAnother place we wanted to visit was Smith Rock State Park, just outside Redmond.  We expected a nice park with some scenic rocks, but were blown away by the beauty of the rock and river canyon.  The trails and people were visible from a distance, and that’s where we decided to stay.  The danger of some of the trails was driven home by a hiker’s death just a week before our visit.  Just another incredible Oregon State Park:

Smith Rock State Park1

Smith Rock Trail

Smith Rock Hikers

Smith Rock Panorama

We had a great week in Prineville, but it was time to head for Northern Idaho and our summer as volunteer interpretive hosts at Farragut State Park.  We’ll be posting a new adventure soon, so stay tuned!