Hell's Canyon and Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
Off to Idaho
Things were pretty quiet around Harvey after we deposited Benjamin with his volunteer work group in Montana. But we didn't have long until new company arrived. We motored back to Salt Lake City, and soon picked up our next guest, his older brother Blake. He had just returned from spending ten months in Venezuela as an exchange student sponsored by the Rotary Clubs. He could only be with us for about ten days, but now we were ready for another vacation adventure. Idaho was an area we'd always wanted to explore. So welcoming Blake aboard, we headed north . . . that is north by northwest.
Our fun began just north of Salt Lake City at the Golden Spike National Historic Site. The historic site sits in the 'middle of nowhere' in northern Utah . . not far from the Idaho border. Located 32 miles west of Brigham City, this is the location where the east and west tracks of the transcontinental railroad met. Representatives of the Central Pacific (who laid 690 miles of track) and Union Pacific (who laid 1,086 miles of track) met on May 10, 1869 to drive the golden spike completing the project . . . or that's what we thought before this visit.

This historic location served the transcontinental line for a few years, but was then abandoned as improved rail routes were developed to the south. Today however, 1.7 miles of track have been restored on the original roadbed. We admired the bright colored engines, Jupiter and Number 119, that reenacted the historic event. These two engines are detailed reproductions of the original machines of the same name; both were lost to the scrap heaps shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. We also enjoyed hearing about the many misconceptions (Read 'The Last Spikes') related to the historic event. In the picture (Above right), Annette is pointing east and Larry is pointing west. If you want to explore more about railroads, check out our Railroad page.
Next after a brief stop for refueling, we headed north into Idaho. We left the interstate and proceeded across country on a two-lane, winding road. As we pulled-up at a stop sign and its T-intersection and were trying to decide whether we needed to turn left or right, a car pulled up beside us and honked. Our first knee-jerk reaction was annoyance, because we hadn't been stopped more than a number of seconds. But seeing these people's faces and gestures quickly diverted our attention to the rear of our rig. We pulled off to the shoulder and got out to examine the situation more closely. We discovered that our hitch was almost entirely disconnected. It was more accurately described as being cracked and bent from the frame of the motorhome. We could hardly believe it! The Explorer was fine, but it had bumped into the back of the RV (We hadn't felt that hit), broken the rear grillwork, and cracked the fiberglass body. The tow bar was also cracked and severely damaged, holding on by a mere strand. Thanks, thanks, thanks to the people who noticed the problem and brought it to our attention. Without them, we would surely have lost the tow bar in just a few minutes, and our toad would have gone flying.
Now some of you may be wondering, why hadn't we seen this problem ourselves? Well coincidentally, our rear camera/video system had also recently gone on-the-fritz. We had already scheduled that to be serviced as soon as we returned to Salt Lake City.
So now we unhooked 'Harvey,' unbolted the entire hitch assembly from the motorhome frame, and were then able to 'limp' on into Boise. The next morning found us looking up an RV repair shop and accessing the damages. There we found that locating a replacement hitch and tow bar plus completing the emergency repairs to get us going would take a couple of days - - so while Harvey was in 'sick bay,' we decided to make the best of our situation and spend the following day exploring a nearby area, Hell's Canyon.
Hell's Canyon
On our trip from Boise to Hell's Canyon, we drove through a large area that had recently burned. This was another summer of forest and grass fires in the West. Roadside burns are a particular problem here, where the combination of a careless smoker or an unmuffled engine spark and dry brush and grass can make a devastating combination.
On the two-lane blacktop highway to Hell's Canyon, we also came upon a flock of wild turkeys crossing the roadway. Annette got out and tried getting a closeup photograph, but only managed to 'shoo' them down the fenceline. We did end up with a few distant photo shots of them. Shortly back on our way, the twisty roads and shifting terrain of scrublands changing to mountains, valley ranchland, and then canyons made for an interesting trip.
We finally arrived in Hell's Canyon, it was a huge pit - - just like the travel guides said. We considered what those pioneers of the Oregon Trail days must have thought when they hit this formidable obstacle. It took longer than we had planned to make our way to and down to the end of the canyon. We needed to be back in Boise by 5 p.m. in order to pick up the repaired motorhome, so we now considered our options while eating our turkey sandwiches and watching the kayakers navigate the Snake river canyon. We chose to take a backroad up-out and over the canyon rim to then cut across the forest and ranchland for our return trip. It was a much shorter route distance-wise but with steep gravel roads and necessary switchbacks out, it could actually end up taking more time than our long route out that morning. As we neared the rim-top (after a twenty minute climb), we stopped for Blake to take a picture back down our steep pathway. Around the next bend, there was a beautiful bighorn sheep crossing the road. We added its photo to our growing collection of bighorns. The rest of the trip back to Boise was uneventful except for our watching the clock. We barely made it back in time to pick up the motorhome.
With temporary repairs completed, we made a phone call to the Holiday Rambler center in Sandy, Utah. Uh, you know that service we were to have done on our camera system . . . well now we need to add a few items such as fiberglass repair, new grill, gravel guard, paint and the like. Think goodness, we're under warranty for this. We were now ready to make a multiple-day loop from Boise up through the Sawtooth mountains, down through Crater of the Moons, and back to Salt Lake City.
Sawtooth Mountains
The trip from Boise to Stanley was breathtaking. Blake took a siesta through some of it. Having spent a year in Venezuela, we guessed he was used to those afternoon naps that residents of that country are believed to take. Along the river, we saw many rafters and kayakers dodging the rapids. We arrived late in the afternoon at the Elk Mountain Resort, located just outside the town of Stanley. The small wooded campground had great views of the mountains. After finishing our meal of Dutch oven chilli and cornbread, we took an evening walk around the grounds. Nights were cool here - - temperature-wise too.
The stars were beautiful. We met another couple who were also out there stargazing. One of them was a retired air force pilot who pointed out some of the major constellations overhead. Here in rural Idaho, there was not any bright haze from a major city nor the glare of security lights that are found back in the Midwest. It was about 9:30 p.m. and the night sky became more brilliant with each minute. We five laughed and talked, shared experiences until one of campground employees yelled for us to 'pipe down' since it was after quiet hours. We thought quiet hours usually started at 10, but hey - - it was getting late, so time to shut down. We did think it was funny that a retired couple and the three of us constituted a rowdy crowd. Maybe, it must of been that nineteen-year-old Blake? Anyway, time to head back to Harvey.
The next day we visited two old neighboring gold towns north of Stanley called Bonanza and Custer. They are part of what is known as the Land of the Yankee Fork Historic Area. We also took-a-look at the nearby mining dredge, weighing a humongous 988 tons (Still there for all to see, below center). It was transported here and then assembled in 1940. For the next twelve years, it operated to dig up and down the Yankee Fork river channel. Machinery inside the dredge was used to wash and separate gold from the rock, gravel, and dirt. The dredge's former owner later donated it to the Forest Service. Today former dredge workers and their families volunteer to continue its restoration and conduct tours.
In the two towns, we found more displays of old mining equipment (Stamp mill, below right). We enjoyed learning about the history of the area. One fascinating story was discovered at a town cemetery. In July 1879, a recently married couple, Richard and Agnes King, were found murdered in their cabin. Their story was briefly explained on a plaque at their grave site. A jealous, rejected suitor was the main suspect, but no evidence was found to link him to the crime. He moved on to another community, but years later when he died, he was still carrying Agnes' picture in a locket.

Our second day trip took us south of Stanley. We purchased a book about the ghost towns of these Sawtooth Mountains and selected one that would be far enough off the road that we should have it largely to ourselves. We followed a gravel road up into the mountains, twenty miles or so off the beaten track. In places, the road looked more like a trail than a vehicle route. As we progressed further out, the trees began to close in upon our track. We decided it would be prudent to take the bikes off their roof rack and lock them to one of the nearby trees. If you've read our Mile High Mishap story, you know why we're a little paranoid. We tied a ribbon to a roadside tree, hoping that we would spot it and quickly find the bikes on our return trip.
The road widened a little and led into a mountain valley. There were summer pastures and livestock up here. We crossed a mountain stream on its gravel bed (Right photograph). Shortly after leaving the pasture and reentering the woods, we came upon a more treacherous stream crossing. Here there was no real bridge nor a good gravel bottom. Instead there were just two-pair of slippery logs placed across the stream, one-pair spaced to fit each set of wheels. The wheels slid into the groove and we snaked on across.
We crossed more smaller, open streams - - that was probably the same stream crossed two or three times - - before heading up one more, steeper-than-ever hill climb. As our guidebook told us, this is a 4-wheel drive road that is sometimes impassable. Blake asked, "Are you sure we want to drive up there?" Sure, hang on.
We made it up the last steep climb to the plateau ghost mining community of Washington Basin. It was pretty steep, but not as steep as it looks in the picture on the left. But the views at the top were breathtaking. A small mountain stream was surrounded by a wildflower-filled meadow slope. A large, gaunt dead tree stood by itself on a slightly-higher plateau. We had fun climbing in the tree as shown in the picture (Below - center left).
George Washington Blackman's long-abandoned mine shaft, mine tailings, and a bit-of-his-cabin remained. He was one of the few black miners in the area and was known for his hospitality. While Larry and Blake searched around for signs of gold at one of the mines, Annette explored the remains of the cabin. They did find some great samples of 'fools gold.' The picture below on the right shows Larry and Blake halfway down the mountain searching a mine opening. A short hike to a cliff revealed a dam that Washington built decades earlier. We spent a few hours exploring the area and its ruins. We even sat out a brief afternoon shower, wind-driven rain that at this elevation contained a fair amount of sleet.

When it was time to head back down the mountain, we did locate where we stashed the bikes. The views on the trip down seemed even more beautiful than during our trip up. At the base of the mountain, we visited a restored ranger station. The late afternoon lighting, clouds, and the play of light and shadow around the lonely building were perfect for photographing (Right)

This area of the state is one that we would like to explore again someday. There are endless 4-wheel drive roads, boondock campsites, trails, hot springs, and more interesting natural areas.
Sawtooth City and Ketchum
Day three in Stanley found us heading south toward Ketchum, when we noticed a sign for a Passport in Time project and decided to investigate. This archaeology project involved doing a detailed surface survey and mapping the old historic site of longtime-gone, Sawtooth City. It was fun and interesting to learn about the project, talk with the project manager-archeologist, and watch and visit with some of the volunteer workers.

We decided that it would be rewarding to volunteer for a program like this sometime down the road. Here, an intricate string-lined grid was used to define the area. People in this picture (Right photograph) were in charge of logging every item found on the surface of their designated area. They found things like bits of pottery and glass, lots of tin cans, a shoe clasp, and other objects from the 1880's boomtown. Through their detailed work, the location of the Chinese section, some of the brothel cribs, and the taverns had already been determined.

After that interesting morning break, we continued down the highway to Ketchum. There we stopped off at Hemingway's grave site, explored an art fair, and then visited a bookstore before journeying back to our Elk Mountain Resort campsite.
The RV park had a small cafe that specialized in ribs and homemade pie, and that's where we ate our final night in Stanley. The ribs and the pie were both great, so much so that we featured them on our Quest for Great Food page!
Craters of the Moon

Next we headed the rig south and eventually began to enter volcano country. Rather than a single volcano, this area of the state is covered by fissure vents, volcanic cones, and lava flows from the Great Rift that occurred around 15,000 years ago. The ground here is covered by large chunks of ancient lava. As we entered the Craters of the Moon campground at the National Park, we felt like we were in another world. Big piles of ash and lava covered the park. Our RV was nestled between a small tree and a pile of lava (Left). Everywhere we looked, lava!
The park is organized as a seven-mile loop road through the lava beds. We followed that route the next day and stopped to see the sights along the way. We took a hike to the top of a huge cinder mountain. It seemed like each time we neared what we thought was the top, another section of the cinder cone (Below right) appeared. At the summit, we were surprised to find a large old tree (Below center). From this high viewpoint, we could look out over the entire park and had great views on all sides. Next, we headed to the lava tubes for a hike underground (Below left). We explored the cave trails including Beauty Cave, Boy Scout Cave, and Indian Tunnel.
Although we could have explored further, it was time to head back to Salt Lake City and drop Blake off at the airport to catch his flight back to Illinois. His freshman year at Eastern Illinois University begins soon.

Other References:
Clark, B. (1998). Scenic Driving Idaho. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing, Inc.
Fuller, M. (1998). Trails of the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains (3rd Ed.). Edmonds, WA:
Signpost Books.
Maughan, R. and Maughan, J. J. (1995). Hiking Idaho. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing, Inc.
Rivers, K. E. (1997). Volume I: Central Idaho - Idaho's Scenic Highways: A Mile-to-Mile Road
Guide. Ketchum, ID: Great Vacations, Inc.
Sparling, W. C. (1996). Southern Idaho Ghost Towns. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, Ltd.

Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 7/01.
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