Author Archives: Jo Deurbrouck

About Jo Deurbrouck

Jo Deurbrouck is a former Idaho river guide and author of the award-winning book, Anything Worth Doing. She lives in Idaho Falls.

Backcountry Bound

This is a story about a hand-carved redwood sign, Idaho’s backcountry aviation history, and an unusually curious man named Richard Holm Jr.

The sign stood in the huge open flat of Chamberlain Basin, in what was then called the Idaho Primitive Area and is now the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. Chamberlain Basin’s popular airstrip made it into that counterintuitive Frank Church phenomenon, a trailhead located not at the perimeter, but smack in the middle of huge wilderness. The sign had been commissioned by Chamberlain’s then district ranger, Earl Dodds, whose fire control officer, a guy named Jack Higby, built it in 1961. When Jack was finished, the sign measured ten feet wide and seven high, too big to fit into a small plane. It was flown in pieces into Chamberlain, mounted onto huge posts that had been cut and cured onsite, and roofed with lodgepole shingles. It was built to last a century.

The front of the sign consisted mostly of a hand-carved, hand-painted area map. Local lakes were puddles of blue, streams were blue veins, trails were dashed black lines. The back of the sign, where the Forest Service intended to put public bulletins, was decorated with campy, hand-painted human figures. Largest and in the foreground stood a bare-chested Nez Perce man. Behind and below him, a packer led his pack string, a prospector swung his pick, a mounted soldier rode at full gallop. Above all of their heads arced a biplane. Continue reading

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When the River Was Unbridled

I’m standing in the Museum of Idaho. This is not the new part, which is mirrored on the outside, tall and bright on the inside, and currently hosts an exhibit of carousels. I’m in the original museum, once Idaho Falls’s first public library.

This is where you go in my town to contemplate the significance of small things that were but are not. Things like the fact that one day in 1915, four women in long skirts, two men in bow ties, and a scruffy boy in overalls paused a game of croquet long enough to pose for a camera.

It is silent in this room. From the new wing comes faint calliope music. Continue reading

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