07 May – What a nice surprise to wake up to sunshine instead of dreary rain. The day was full of surprises. The aim today was to drive towards Spokane so we set off first in a northerly direction on Highway 2 which took us through more apple and pear country and then 2 headed eastwards up over a pass at 2800ft and then down slightly to plateau country which was growing some sort of grain. Our first surprise was the wee settlement of Douglas – it had a really neat little RV camp with an old fashioned general store (now turned into a private residence) and all sorts of odd and old machinery lying around. Had we known about the RV camp we would have gone on from Wenatchee yesterday as it looked so quaint and sociable.
After stopping to take a few photos we continued down the road a little and found a pull off for morning smoko. Whilst stopped there, a passing motorist in a Rug Doctor van stopped to make sure that we were OK and then he told us a much better way to get to Spokane avoiding the main road, and was sure we would find that a much more pleasant trip. We consulted our map and decided by going the way he suggested down to Moses Lake – we could even bypass Spokane altogether and continue eastwards on a different route. It was a good choice – the initial part of the road took us through a small canyon and then opened out onto the prairies for quite a distance until we came to Moses Lake – we had our lunch at the top end of the lake, in a pretty spot with boat or kayak launching facilities and a small beach safe enough for swimming as well as picnic tables.
After Moses Lake, headed south as far as Connell and then turned eastwards again. The prairies continued for about 10 miles and then we came into some really different scenery – deep river valleys very reminiscent of the Manawatu region but with different sort of rocks.
These valleys had obviously been formed a long time ago and there was not much sign of major rivers in them now due to upstream dams. We stopped at the bottom of one of these river valleys which had a gigantic railway trestle bridge bridging the gap. There was a salmon hatchery open to the public so stopped and had a look around and then went on just a mile or two and came across a nice Corps of Engineers park at Lyon’s Ferry. It didn’t look as if it got much use any more, but had such a nice setting, by the lake with picnic tables and lovely trees. Debated as to whether we should stay there, even though it said no overnight camping and that the park was open only from dawn to dusk. In the end decided to press on and only a few miles down the road, came to another COE rest stop – this one had no signage preventing camping so decided that this would be fine. It was right beside a small swiftly flowing stream where people had obviously been fishing.
Not knowing what the fishing regulations were but keen to have a go, decided to put in my line and to my complete surprise I caught a fish – not sure what is was or if it was edible – apart that it was obviously a bottom feeder – so released it back to the stream. It was a good size – about 15ins long but ugly. I caught it on a sea lure with some of my magic bait made from flour and water. There are bound to be salmon and trout in the river but I don’t have any flies. Quite a lot of bird life around abouts merrily making pretty music and I also saw what may have been an otter on the other side of the bank.
08 May – No traffic came by the road last night so it was a very quiet repose. With the sun rising early it also encouraged us to rise early. We proceeded on our way along the river where we passed by Starbuck and then climbed up a little onto a plateau of wheat fields with rolling hills which looked just like a tapestry. Paddocks were in varied stages of growth – some brown from being harvested, dark green of the maturing wheat and light green of the newly sprouted plants.
This scenery continued for about 30 minutes until we came back down into the river valley and followed this until we reached Lewiston where a stop was made for refuelling and restocking of essential food items (cashews and craisins were getting low!!). Continued following the Snake River and made a stop at the Nez Perce information centre and small museum. The Nez Perce are the local Indian tribe who used to inhabit the prairies and plateaus of north central Idaho, Oregon and Washington. They fished the streams, hunted in the woodlands and gathered abundant roots and berries of the high plateaus. They underwent a profound lifestyle change with the arrival of the white man. A treaty was signed in 1855 which created a large reservation that included most of their traditional homeland as their exclusive domain, but upon discovery of gold in 1863 a new treaty was forced upon them reducing their land to just one tenth of the original treaty. The small museum had some interesting early artifacts from the Nez Perce. Had a walk around their small interpretive park which was on the site of the first Christian mission. The graveyard makes interesting reading as you peruse the headstones. In the 1850’s there were so many deaths of infants and young people – it must have taken great fortitude to carry on with life.
The road changed course after Lewiston and from Washington to Idaho (Yea!! cheaper fuel and less sales tax), to follow the Clearwater river and first it meandered through farmland but a few miles short of Orofino the landscape changed again to more wooded hills on both banks of the river. Just over the river from Orofino, found a BLM camp on the banks of the Clearwater just below the Dworshak Dam – the largest of its type in the USA and towers right above the town. With just a couple of what look like semi-permanent campers (there is supposedly a 30 day limit at these spots) it was very quiet.
09 May – A bit of a damp start to the morning and nothing of interest to see in Orofino, so we carried on along the river to Kamiah (population 1285) for an interesting stop. Originally we were just looking for a Post Office, but we happened to park outside a 2nd hand bookshop – you know you are in a small town when the sandwich boards advertising shops that are normally on footpaths – are actually in the middle of the road and you have to drive around them! Spotted a bakery and cafe on the other side of the road for apple pie and hot drinks, then stopped off at the library which had a notice selling DVD’s for 50c – that sounded like a bit of us so we picked up a few more for our collection. With a clean load of clothes courtesy of the local laundramat, we set off on Highway 12 again. This road is a long winding scenic byway along the Lochsa river and is one of the 10 most famous motorcycle roads in the country. Unfortunately the rain started coming down quite heavily so decided to stop after about 20 miles in a Forest Service campground alongside the swiftly flowing river. If you have heard the expression that the river is running, well this one is – May-June is obviously when the spring melt happens so it is a dramatic sight. There were about 6 camp sites – all free with just the usual pit toilet but all very clean and tidy. The camp was in among the trees just a couple of feet above the river.
10 May – Waited for the weather to clear until we set off – still following the Lochsa River for another 60 miles, we climbed slowly up to the Lolo Pass, the river was never more than about 20ft below us and the road was good. This is a really popular river for rafting, came across many different types of craft floating down the rapids. One weird looking contraption was like a raft made out of two inflatable hulls, sitting really high in the water and just one person with long oars and facing forward, sitting perched on what looked like a chair. They looked mighty dangerous if you went off course in the rapids. Some of the rapids were quite fierce. Had a couple of stops to wait for the rain to stop and then again at the pass- around 5400ft and a lot of snow still around.
The visitors centre run by the Forest Service was a nice haven – free hot coffee and chocolate available for visitors. Watched a short DVD about the Lewis and Clark Expedition which is a big thing in this region. They were early explorers who came across from Missouri to the Pacific coast in 1805 and their tales have been etched into the memories of the area. Lolo Pass is the border between Idaho and Montana – no visible difference except that the speed limit on the road has changed from 50 to 70. Highway 12 which we have been following is part of the Lewis-Clark historical trail. Thought it would be a bit too cold to overnight there so descended down the valley a little and found a perfect spot right beside the beginnings of a small mountain river – there have been deer along the side of the road so possibly some may come to the little flat area of meadow beside us. We have lost spring again – here there are no new leaves on the trees yet (we are at about 3,900ft) so we will be in for a treat as we descend even further. Just for now content to look out our dining room window and soak in the ambience of our little stream.
11 May – OOPS!! That gentle patter on our roof this morning was not rain. It was that white fluffy stuff. That necessitated a hurried exit from our beautiful spot in case it was going to make exiting our campsite difficult, or sit on the road and make driving difficult. It snowed until we got down to 3200ft and then turned into rain. Thankfully we could crank up the heater in the cab and keep nice and toasty. Headed into Missoula and seeing as we missed breakfast after our hasty departure, headed for the airport where we were able to eat in the airport cafe, everywhere else being full due to it being Mother’s Day. Next stop the Elk Foundation HQ, to look at their impressive display of Elk Preservation and Hunting. Loads of stuffed elk trophies on the walls and some were massive. Watched their promotional movie on how they as hunters were doing a great job of conserving public lands so that the Elk can thrive. Filled up with gas and propane at a station that also had an RV dump and fresh water. We like Montana – petrol is even cheaper than Idaho at 3.38 a gallon.
After that it was on to the Historic Museum and brighter, warmer weather. They had an impressive display of the local history including a large display about the internment camp that was there during WWII which housed 1,000 Italians, 1,000 Japanese and 22 Germans. The Italians were off boats that were seized when they landed in NY and also a whole lot of labourers who had come out to assist with building the NY World Fair. The Japanese were mainly from California and had been forcibily removed from their residences and businesses as they were thought to be a threat after Pearl Harbour.
Had a look around outside at some of their restored buildings and then on to Walmart where we can park overnight without a problem. We don’t want to head further south today as all the towns are at a higher elevation than here and are likely to be even colder than the -2 that is predicted for here and we run the chance of also running into snow. It will be a nice dinner chez Wanda and then maybe settle down for another movie.
12 May – After a cold night comes a beautiful morning – clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine. Left our Wally stop and headed south first through Lolo and then down the Bitterroot River valley through Florence, Victor, Hamilton and the quaint ‘wild west’ town of Darby before starting our ascent up over the Lost Trail Pass. The valley up to here was wide open with mountains on either side and as we got closer to the pass it narrowed markedly and became a little more wooded. The spring colours were stunning again. What a great day to choose to go over the pass – at 7200ft it still had quite a bit of snow around (but not as much as Lolo Pass) and the trees still had remnants of Saturday’s snow fall sitting on the branches. The road was dry and although quite a steep climb was not unduly windy and going down the other side was no hassle either – just engage 3rd gear and not go over 40mph.
Once over the pass we were back into Idaho and the North Fork of the Salmon River. We had arranged a rendezvous with local Salmon woman Cathy at North Fork and what a lovely surprise and great welcome to Idaho we had. Cathy greeted us laden with a bag of Idaho goodies – wine, cheese, local jam and biscuits and then once loaded up with takeaway coffees we piled into her ute and she took us up to a picnic spot up a side road which followed the Salmon river proper. Cathy had suggested that the camping up this road would be something we would really enjoy so after farewelling her we hopped into Wanda and set off up the road for 16 miles until we came to the end of the seal. All the way up the road were spots where you could just pull off and camp beside the river – there are no restrictions apart from a 16 day limit. At the end of the seal was Spring Creek Campground and just outside of this are numerous sites where you can park. The river is popular at this time of the year when it is running as it is the only time when it is high enough for rafting.
We were lucky enough to meet Cathy when we were in Wickenburg AZ. She was the docent at the Museum and we got chatting there and have been in contact ever since. Cathy and her man spend from Nov-Apr in Wickenburg – she at the museum and Rob is a farrier and with the non stop roping that they have going on in Wickenburg he is fully occupied, but they come back to Salmon for the summer.
The area around Spring Creek was a homestead until the 1930’s and there is still much evidence – with fruit, berries and nut trees all around. The valley is so pretty, the surrounding hills are not that high and fairly sparsely wooded. The flat areas are covered in spring grass growth and the undergrowth around the trees is also lovely and green interspersed with yellow flowers (they look like mini sunflowers but grow in big bunches) and purple lupins. The river is about 30-40m wide here and we did see some elk feeding on the hill over the other side this evening. We plan on staying here a few days and just doing some gentle walks along the river. What a treat – we also got to put out our awning and sit outside before the sun set and partake of our wine and cheese – thanks Cathy, they are all delicious.
13 May – From snow to brilliant sunshine – the weather can changed quite quickly around here. Finally able to ditch the thermals and its back to shorts again. Decided to move Wanda a bit closer to the river so that she could have a wash later on. Just a couple of miles up the road was Shoup and you could get coffee there so we made that our plan for the day. First a walk the couple of miles to Shoup (population about 3) to the general store, cafe and cabin rentals. It’s main claim to fame is that it has one of the last working hand cranked gravity fed fuel pumps in the country. The area was also a prosperous mining site up until the 40’s.
Got ourselves morning tea and then wandered up another mile or so to Pine Creek junction (this is where the Lewis-Clark Expedition finally realised that the Salmon River was not going to be the route to the ocean). At Pine Creek the river narrows into a canyon and for the next 20 miles or so would be impassable by their horses or by dugout canoes. It is not called the ‘River of No Return’ for nothing.
By the time we got back to Shoup it was time for lunch – so we sampled the home cooking – turkey melts and pulled pork sandwiches gave us more than enough sustenance to get back to Spring Creek. Wanda got her wash in the late afternoon and now looks a bit whiter than before. We have this huge area all to ourselves, a few pairs of Canada Geese with their babies and elk wandering by in the late evening.
14 May – Bob down with a head cold so a good day to stay put and rest. I went for a trek for a couple of hours up another side road which climbed steadily for a couple of miles up to a small settlement. Coming back was much easier. Finished the day off lazing around and reading.
15 May – Time to move on again. Still lovely warm weather. Meandered back down the river and into Salmon to pick up some supplies and check on emails etc. before having a walk around the Sacajawea Interpretive site. Sacajawea was a young Indian woman who helped guide the Lewis-Clark expedition for some of the way. Only 5 miles outside of Salmon we have a nice developed BLM campsite right beside the river. For $5 a night we can’t complain.