Sunday, May 19, 2013

Into The Land Of Lava Flows And The Snake River

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Another account of our all too short stay on the swell, by Dana and Cathie.


Monday, May 13 - West of Yellowstone is lava land – stretching all the way to the Pacific coast. If you have seen one metamorphic basalt flow then you have seen them all. So why did we go out of the way to reach Craters of the Moon NM in south central Idaho? Well, it’s one of the few places in the parks system that we have not visited. And I wanted to know if it was better than I imagined. It is better. Slightly so. It is at the foot of the Lost River range and south of it is the wide Snake River Plain.

How do you photograph dark colored rock?

07 Craters of the Moon 03 07 Craters of the Moon 04 07 Craters of the Moon 06

A comment on the extra branches in the far right picture. It’s called Witches Broom. We had seen the odd growth before, but now we know it caused by a parasitic lichen. The lichen sucks a lot of energy out of the host tree, but emits hormones to excite the tree to grow, hence the many branches.

One more comment, the Park Service is always protective of everything. At the moon, they remind you to stay on the trails to prevent damage to the basalt. Considering that there are thousands of miles of basalt it seems rather overboard. In one place, on a foot path, they left a piece of basalt about the size of a football in place and poured concrete around it. 

It was a long driving day. We left our place near Logan, UT and toyed with stopping after two hours or so. After considering we will need some place to hole up for the weekend we decided to make the four-hour drive to the Moon in one leg. It took six hours and we almost did not make it. We were both groggy by late morning and the temp was 85, so an afternoon nap was not in the cards. I saw the rig drift all the way into the oncoming lane and yelled before we left the road. She caught it and we stayed on the road. Fortunately Route 26 is a lonely road and there was no oncoming traffic.

Tuesday, May 14 – Having a few extra days before we need to arrive in Baker City, we noted the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. We like raptors, it has more raptors than any place in the US and since it’s BLM land parking is free. We have not found the alleged campground, but we did find a great parking place on the river and the horizon stretches for ever.

08 Snake River 05The Snake River from near our parking spot 

Wednesday, May 15 - Today we moved to Mack's Creek CG. This is a COE camp along the Boise River. The canyon isn't very deep but it is certainly impressive. The walls are rolling hills covered with yellow wildflowers that look much like daisies. The river is green. It's great to sit at our campsite and look across the river and see so much green. It's a small campground, only five RV sites, which is what we love. We have a nice Ramada where I have spent some time today. One thing we did after lunch was drive to Idaho City. It was a gold mining town in the 1860's and had over 6,000 residents. Things dried up in 1942 because of the war. Today there are about 450 residents, but some of the old buildings still exist. It's been a very interesting and relaxing day.

08 Snake River 09 A section of the dammed up Boise River across from our parking spot

08 Snake River 0608 Snake River 07

Beautiful downtown Idaho City. In 1862 it was the largest city in the NW and produced more gold than any other place.

Before we left Boise, we toured the state capital. We have visited about half of the western state capitals. Normally, we learn a bit of local history in the process. Idaho’s is modeled on the US capital. Here, and at many Idaho buildings we have seen the black POW/MIA flag flying. In fact, even Idaho Power CG’s fly the POW/MIA flag.

BTW, Boise shows all kinds new growth. The Costco parking lot was more than double the normal size and it was full by 11am. This one had a garden shop and a car wash.

09 Boise 01a 09 Boise 05

Thursday, May 16 – Another day of driving. This time from east of Boise NW into Hell’s Canyon. We have approached the canyon from two different directions before, but this is the first time into the heart of the beast. We are parked in a delightful CG operated by Idaho Power. If this were private, the price would be north of $40. We have a pull thru with W&E and free Wi-Fi. [3 to 6 Mbps] The Snake River is downhill about 60 yards through lush green grass. Oh yeah, we can wash the vehicles here.

10 Hell's Canyon 01

Dorothy needs to veg, so we will hang here until we move to Baker City Monday for the NW GTG. Look closely and you can see Dorothy under the tree.

Friday, May 17 – It rained - we vegged. I did manage to get my princess to go into the hamlet of Halfway and do laundry.

Saturday, May 18 – The Wx report says partly cloudy for the next 10 days and also cooler. At 7am there are raindrops on the roof. Grump!

By 10, we had cabin fever, so clouds be damned we wanted to see what we could of the canyon. We drove 22 miles on the Idaho Power built and maintained asphalt road to the last dam. Beyond there, there are no roads and a permit is required to be on the river. As we returned little patches of blue sky inched larger.

10 Hell's Canyon 07 10 Hell's Canyon 08 10 Hell's Canyon 10

After lunch and a nap, there was only 50% cloud cover so I decided to take the Kleinschmidt Grade to Sheep Rock. Here is how one web site describes the road.

The truck’s tires on the driver’s side were inches from the edge of a 1,000-foot drop-off while the side-view mirror on the passenger side came pretty close to scraping a craggy rock wall. One thing about the Kleinschmidt Grade, you’ve got to keep looking uphill in anticipation of other rigs while looking for turnouts. That’s not easy as the road winds in hairpin turns and climbs about 2,200 feet in less than 5 miles.

Well that sounded great to us. Phooey! The gravel road is actually smoother than most interstates, the width is 1.5 to 2 lanes most of the way and can be driven in any passenger car at speeds of 35mph. About as exciting as going through a car wash. The only car we encountered on the way up was the Sherriff. We had some fine views as we climbed.

10 Hell's Canyon 19 10 Hell's Canyon 20

So we get 17 miles in and come to this.

10 Hell's Canyon 15

So at only 6,505 feet and 42 degrees, we make a seven point turn around and descend. Defeated again.

We have tried Hell’s Canyon three times. First, from the Oregon side from Imanaha to Hat Point. Smoke from a distant fire got so bad we had to turn around. Another year we tried from Seven Devils on the Idaho side. We made it to the end of the road, but the canyon had smoke from two fires reducing visibility less than a mile.

Factoid: In the late 1880s, entrepreneur Albert Kleinschmidt built the road to haul copper and gold from the Seven Devils area to the Snake River. He wanted to haul the ore by boat upriver to Huntington, Ore.  That did not work out as the boat he had built to haul the ore could not manage the rapids.

An upside to the day was our first sighting on a bear in the wild. We don’t count any animal by the side of the road that is accustomed to people. The animal must be surprised, and flee to be counted by us. Dorothy spied a bear with a golden coat of hair browsing in a meadow. He threw up dirt in his run to get away from us, first cross hill, then dashing across the road and down into thick tree cover. Not so far away, near Riggins, ID, we saw our only wild bull moose.\

Amusing history about the place we are, that was once Copperfield, OR, The wildest town on Oregon. There is the story about one Texas Ranger being dispatched to handle a riot. When he arrived the Sherriff is reported to have asked “There is only one of you?” and the ranger replied “There is only one riot.” The Oregon governor sent his 5’4” inch private secretary and six guardsmen to shut down a town and it was done in an hour. More here.

 Sunday, May 19 – It was 100% cloudy from dawn to after nap. I wanted to do the Hess Road, one of those goes up the side of the canyon roads, but I was strongly counseled not to as it would be low-gear 4WD after the rain. Of course I am thinking just what I like. While I pondered it, I washed the Jeep. Then someone strongly suggested we take the road to the Overlook. Hmmmm, cloudy, Jeep clean, do I want to trash the Jeep for a view or take a paved road to the Overlook. I will just say that the Overlook was impressive. 6,500 feet, no snow, and a 180 degree view. If only the clouds had lifted on the Idaho side so the Seven Devils Mountains showed up.

10 Hell's Canyon 21 10 Hell's Canyon 25

Tomorrow, we will be in Baker City with 39 other Lazy Daze.


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