May 31, 2012

Rivers, Canyons and Fossils

Idaho has more whitewater river miles than any other state in the continental U.S.  On Tuesday, we experienced the Snake River in Hells Canyon.  Yesterday, we followed the Salmon and Payette Rivers, although we just appreciated views of the rivers from the highway and countless overlooks.

The Salmon River is the legendary “River of No Return,” and we followed a portion of the river from White Bird to Riggins, Idaho’s whitewater capital.  Highway 95 parallels this mighty river, and we witnessed how its power had carved the beautiful Salmon River Canyon through the mountains.  On the way we passed back into Mountain Time Zone, one more indication that we’re nearing the end of our trip.

The Salmon River Is Peaceful Here
The Salmon River Cut this Canyon
A bit farther south we turned onto the Payette River Scenic Byway.  The Payette River seemed to be even wilder than the section of the Salmon we had been following.  We watched the river crashing and tumbling its way over rocks through the narrow river valley.  Often the river was a wild torrent, while in other places it was barely a ripple.

Payette River Whitewater
McCall was our destination for lunch.  This quaint resort mountain town sits on Payette Lake and is a popular place for both summer and winter recreation.  We soon climbed into tall tree country and ascended into high mountain valleys.  Snowcapped peaks provided a dramatic backdrop for much of the day.

Payette Lake
High Mountain Valleys
Snow Lingers on the Mountains
We arrived in Boise, Idaho’s capital, and drove through the downtown area where we saw the capitol building.  Our favorite stop, however was a local co-op, where we picked out local cheeses, wine and produce.  The prepared foods were too tempting to resist.  We will eat well for the next few days.

When we stopped for the evening, I uncorked a bottle of a local red wine from the Snake River Valley called Chicken Dinner.  I just loved the name, but the wine also turned out to be very good.  It was a nice way to end a lovely day.

The Snake River cuts its way through much of south central Idaho, and the river was our constant companion for much of today.  The high desert plateau which we passed through is now a rich agricultural region, thanks to irrigation provided by the Snake River.

The Snake River Winds Its Way Through South Central Idaho
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument also owes its existence to the Snake River and what was found in the bluffs that form the river canyon.  The monument protects the world’s richest known fossil deposits of the late Pliocene Epoch, about 3.5 million years ago.  Hagerman also contains the largest concentration of fossilized horses in North America and is most famous for the Hagerman Horse, Idaho’s state fossil.

The Hagerman Horse
Although it is not possible to view fossils on a trail, we were able to get a closer look at the sedimentary layers in the bluffs, which are approximately 600 feet high.  Each layer in the formation represents a different geologic event.  The views down to the Snake River were beautiful.

Snake River Overlook
Sedimentary Layers in the Bluffs
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is also one of only four national park units that contain segments of the Oregon Trail.  From an overlook, we could clearly see the trail ruts.  These ruts are not two parallel ruts carved into hard rock.  Here, the ruts are U-shaped because the feet of the oxen dug more deeply into the soft soil.  The trail ruts most closely resemble parallel swales in the landscape.  By the time the emigrants reached this area, they had already walked 1,300 miles.  They usually arrived here in July, and the temperature often reached 100 degrees.  The Oregon Trail seemed much more real when I could look at the actual ruts made by so many thousands of wagons.

Oregon Trail Ruts Are Visible Between the Two Poles
This Is the Landscape that the Oregon Trail Emigrants Traversed
The Snake River had one more surprise for us, called the Thousand Springs.  Just south of Hagerman, we could see natural springs cascading down the walls of the Snake River Canyon.  These springs are not waterfalls, but instead flow naturally from the underground aquifer of the Snake River Plain.  

Thousand Springs
As we passed into the city of Twin Falls, we were delighted to find diesel under $4.00 per gallon.  We haven’t seen fuel prices this low since we left Austin, Texas, in March.  We crossed the Snake River once more in Twin Falls and wondered what might have possessed Evil Knievel in 1974to attempt to jump this canyon.

Who Would Try to Jump the Snake River Canyon?

May 29, 2012

Heavenly Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in North America and had always been a “must see” stop on our trip.  Today we took a six-hour jet boat tour through the deepest, most rugged section of Hells Canyon.  What an exciting adventure!  We had a blast!

We started the tour in White Bird, Idaho, one of the few access points into Hells Canyon.  Killgore Adventures, the company that we selected for the tour, has a convenient campground where we stayed.  It was so handy to just walk from our RV to the shuttle that would take us to Pittsburg Landing on the Snake River.  Several couples who had been in White Bird for a weekend ATV Ride joined us on the shuttle, and we heard all about the exciting trail rides they had taken into the backcountry. 

The drive to Pittsburg Landing was on a steep, one lane gravel road through mountainous terrain.  It was a beautiful scenic drive with spectacular views into the center of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.  I was happy that we had opted for the shuttle and had left the RV back at the campground.

Looking Down into Hells Canyon
As I prepared to photograph the view, I realized with horror that I had forgotten to reload the SD card into my camera last night.  I had two fresh batteries but no SD card.  I was so angry at myself and could not believe that I would not have a camera on one of the most scenic rides of the trip.  In desperation I asked everyone I ran into if they had an extra SD card I could purchase, but had no luck.

We stepped aboard the jet boat and started our ride through some of the most amazing scenery in the world.  Steep cliffs rose from the edge of the river, and we started to experience some of the whitewater that the Snake River is known for.  We made a stop at the historic Kirkwood Ranch and toured the museum.  I continued my quest for an SD card, and a very nice gentleman and his wife offered me the use of his camera since he preferred to use his IPhone.  I could not believe it.  How incredibly generous!  My mood immediately brightened.

Historic Kirkwood Ranch
The skies were overcast as we made our way toward Hells Canyon Dam.  We passed through several smaller rapids, and then we were ready for the big ones.  We donned life jackets for the two biggest rapids, Wild Sheep and Granite.  Powering through these Class IV rapids was thrilling, and I was happy we were in a jet boat, not a raft.

Ready for the Rapids
Here We Go
Class IV Rapids
We stopped at the dam for a delicious picnic lunch, and while we were eating a mountain goat ran right past us.  Where was my camera when I needed it?  The ride back down the river was much wilder, and it seemed as though we were on a wet bucking bronco.  Water poured into the front of the boat as we went through the two big rapids, and it was hard to stay dry, but we didn’t care.  The ride was exhilarating and so much fun.

That Mountain Goat Is Hiding Behind the Trees
Waiting for the Return Trip
Calm Before the Rapids
Here We Go Again
Time to Admire the Spectacular Scenery
A Wild and Scenic River
And the Water Came Pouring In
The mountain goat was not our only wildlife sighting on the river.  We saw more bald eagles today than I’ve seen in one day since I was in Alaska, and we witnessed several Rocky Mountain big horn sheep grazing beside the river.

Big Horn Sheep
People often ask us to name our favorite places.  I think the jet boat ride through Hells Canyon will make the “top ten.”

May 28, 2012

The Nez Perce Have Always Been Here

We took advantage of our waterfront campsite this morning when the sun came out again, and Kitty made good use of the bike path that extends along the river.  We left the state of Washington behind today and crossed into Idaho.  We really enjoyed our stay in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s definitely on our list of places to return to.

Another Beautiful View
Kitty and Tim Walking Along the River
Our first stop in Idaho was the Nez Perce National Historical Park.  This is not your typical national park.  The park consists of thirty-eight sites scattered throughout four states.  It is a park about a people for all people.  The park tells the story of the Nez Perce, their history and culture and their interactions with others.  It is a noble story, but also a sad one that culminated in the Nez Perce War of 1877.

Nez Perce National Historical Park
The park contains a wonderful museum with amazing art and artifacts, including the oldest known Nez Perce objects in existence.  After leaving the visitor center we passed several sites on the Nez Perce Trail, including the Camus Prairie, which was once covered with camas lilies, a major food source for the Nez Perce.  Although we saw no trace of camas there, we did spy several fields of this pretty blue flower elsewhere.

Camus Prairie
Camus Lilies in Bloom
We traveled south through beautiful countryside and climbed in elevation.  Wheat fields covered much of the land, and I enjoyed that beautiful green color for much of the day.  I think wheat might be my favorite spring crop.  Fields of yellow mustard were also quite a sight.

Beautiful Countryside
Fields of Mustard
Unusual Roadside Attractions - The Dog Is a Bed and Breakfast!
We descended the White Bird Grade, an incredibly steep mountain road, and were amazed to see the old road which was even steeper with dozens of switchbacks.  That road was an engineering feat when it was constructed in 1915 and served as Idaho’s north-south highway until the current road was completed in 1975.  I love mountain roads, but I was glad we were driving the new road.

An overlook on the White Bird Grade provided an expansive view of White Bird Battlefield.  On June 17, 1877, the first battle of the Nez Perce War was fought here.  Although the battle was a victory for the Nez Perce, it was the start of a five-month journey in an effort to elude the U.S. Army.  The hopes of the Nez Perce to find sanctuary in Canada fell short when the army defeated them at Bear Paw in Montana.  Chief Joseph surrendered and was sent into exile.

White Bird Battlefield
Looking Down at White Bird

May 27, 2012

The Palouse

Have you ever heard of the Palouse?  Neither had I until about six years ago when my friend Noreen and I visited western Idaho.  I remember admiring the rolling, golden hills, but I was totally blown away when I saw photographs of those same hills when they were a vivid green.  I thought it would be amazing to see the Palouse in the spring when the hills were green, and I kept that idea filed away in the back of my mind.  It seemed that the timing might be right for a visit to the Palouse on this trip, and for the last month or so I had been hoping that our path might take us there.  That’s exactly where we ended up today.

Along the Palouse Scenic Byway
The Palouse, which is noted for its unique topography, is located in rural, southeastern Washington, although a similar landscape also spills over to western Idaho and northeastern Oregon.  Rolling hills rise and fall in rapid succession, and resemble green dunes.  In fact, the hills are silt dunes blown in as glacial ice melted during the Ice Age.  The hills are planted primarily with wheat, and that’s what gives the landscape its apple-green color.  Lentils are also grown in the rich soil that is found here.  The hills are a patchwork quilt of varying shades of green this time of year.  Round roof barns added even more character to the region.

Rolling Hills
Picturesque Barns and Farms
Unique Topography
Fields of Wheat
We also visited Palouse Falls, another site created during the Ice Age floods.  Here a waterfall appears to emerge from the rock and cascades almost 200 feet into a round, basalt plunge pool.  A state park provides spectacular viewpoints. 
Palouse Falls
Tim at Palouse Falls
Palouse River Below the Falls
We happened upon the Dahmen Barn in Uniontown with its iconic wheel fence.  This former dairy barn is now an artisan center designed to showcase the work of local artists and to bring fine and folk art to the public.  The wheel fence was begun in the 1950s as a folk art project and is still evolving.  The fence is now comprised of more than 1,000 wheels.  We visited the artist’s studios and couldn’t help but leave with a few small items.

Dahmen Barn
Wheel Fence
We arrived in Clarkston and checked into a campground on the Snake River.  We snagged a waterfront site that had just become available on the Memorial Day weekend.  Unfortunately it started to rain so we couldn’t enjoy the setting as much as we would have liked.

Looking Down at Clarkston and Lewiston from Lewiston Hill

May 25, 2012

Am I a Senior Citizen Now?

Happy Birthday to me!  How fun to celebrate my birthday while we’re on this trip.  I guess I’m officially a senior citizen now since I’m eligible to collect Social Security.  Wow!  What a thought!

We’ve officially made the turn eastward on our journey towards home.  We crossed the Snake River in southern Washington near its confluence with the Columbia River and followed a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail.  I had one thing in mind when we stopped to tour the Whitman Mission National Historic Site.  I wanted to purchase my Senior Pass, formerly called the Golden Age Pass.  This pass is one of the special benefits of turning this magical age.  For the measly sum of $10.00, I will have unlimited access to all national parks for the rest of my life, plus discounts on camping fees at parks and other federal campgrounds.  Imagine my disappointment when I found out that Whitman Mission is a no-fee park so they do not sell the pass.  What a bummer.

The Whitman Mission National Historic Site preserves the site of a mission founded among the Cayuse Indians in 1836 by Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.  The mission was known as Waiilatpu, meaning “place of the people of the rye grass” was also an important station on the Oregon Trail.  The mission operated until its violent end in 1847.  That year a measles epidemic decimated the Cayuse, and Dr. Whitman’s medicine failed to help them.  A band of Cayuse attacked the mission and killed Whitman, his wife and several others.  The tragedy ended Protestant missions in the Oregon country and led Congress to create the Oregon Territory, the first formal territorial government west of the Rockies.

Whitman Mission from Above
The Oregon Trail Ran through the Mission
Whitman Memorial
The Great Grave Where the Victims Were Buried
We walked the trail which winds its way through the mission site and climbed the hill to the Whitman Memorial where we rewarded with expansive views of the surrounding countryside.

For quite some time I had heard wonderful things about Walla Walla, one of the Washington State’s best-known wine tourism regions.  Therefore, the city was on my list of places to check out, and we headed that way.  We drove through the downtown area and around Whitman College and were impressed with what we saw – a lively downtown with restored historic buildings and a beautiful campus.  Our plan was to stop, walk around, have lunch and do a little wine tasting.  Surprisingly, we never could find a place to park the RV.  We’re not that big, but there seemed to be no legal place for us.  We were so frustrated that we left town without stopping.

Walla Walla Looked Like a Great Town
Interesting Downtown
Public Art
We drove on to Waitsfield, another quaint and up-and-coming town.  Waitsfield was much friendlier to us, and this is where we stopped for lunch.  I even found a bottle of Walla Walla wine at a market in town to take with us.  I’ll just do my own wine tasting at the campground.

Downtown Waitsfield
Recent Rehabilitations of Downtown Buildings
Our drive through southeastern Washington was beautiful, particularly its fertile, rolling hills planted with wheat and other crops.  The various shades of green painted a wonderful picture on the hillsides.

Beautiful Rolling Hills
It's So Green Here
How Many Shades of Green Can There Be?
We found a nice campground for the first part of the Memorial Day weekend, and our plan is to stay here for two nights.  Unfortunately, we are out of cell phone range, and although the campground has wi-fi, my computer is not picking it up.  I’ll just have to wait to post our adventures from the last few days.