Wow, I’m finally at Kirkwood Historic Ranch on the Snake River, a place I have wanted to return to for years.
It’s July 25, 2014, and the drive over Pittsburg Summit was wonderful, the road in the best shape I’ve seen, because of major repairs made after a wildfire below Pittsburg Landing earlier in the year. On the jet boat ride upriver to the ranch, I reflect that my first visit was in 1959, with my best friend from Salmon River High School, Jerry Spickelmire, who was driving his jeep.
In the early 1960s, I fought fires in Hells Canyon for the U.S. Forest Service, and I remember an early August day in one of those years when thunderstorms started several fires in the canyon. My replacement hosts arrived on August 5, and when I left Kirkwood Ranch on that day, a large fire was burning across the river from Pittsburg Landing along with several others in the area. Continue reading →
Talk about an offer we couldn’t refuse—a respite from our dreary, between-seasons, Idaho November to sunny Virginia and free board in a comfortable townhouse for a week exploring Civil War battlefields surrounded by moss covered, stone ledge walls.
Our son and daughter-in-law moved to Virginia recently for work, taking our grandkids with them.
“How about coming out for a visit and seeing the sights?” my son said during a Skype call, while we watched green leaves flutter in the warm breeze over his shoulder out his living room window.
And oh, by the way, maybe he and his bride would take a small vacation of their own while we were there, and maybe they’d leave the grandkids with us. “If that’s okay?” Continue reading →
My uncle, Jesse Vernal Griffiths, and my mother’s sister, his wife Lillian Sego, moved to the central Idaho mountain mining community of Stibnite at the end of World War II, just after the Grimes Creek Dam blew. Jesse was an electrical worker at the hydroelectric plant at Grimes Creek. He became chief electrician at Stibnite, reporting to Ernest “Emmons” Coleman, head of the electrical works. Jesse’s mission in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s was to help close down the post-World War II mining operation. The Griffiths’ daughters, my cousins, have always been my primary sources for information about Stibnite: Carol, who was born in 1934, and Patty, born in 1937.
Our family lived in Donnelly, and my own memories of Stibnite are few, as I was just becoming a conscious human being in the early 1950s. I recall that the winter road into the community was almost a tunnel in places, with high, smooth, white walls of snow. Keeping my feet warm was difficult when we drove in the extreme winter cold. At any time of year, the trip took at least three-and-a-half hours from Cascade by car.
I recall that my older sister and I became carsick in the summer as we traveled to visit relatives there. At a picnic we had along the road, I remember a beautifully designed lavender and pink cake box my mother opened while we all sat on tree stumps and rocks at a campsite. We all had cake, except my father, who ate a piece of pie.
Apart from the traveling, I don’t personally recall much about Stibnite, but I do remember the impressions my older siblings spoke of when I was growing up. My sister loved the community café where she sat on a soda fountain stool facing glass windows overlooking the mining works. From there, she would enjoy a hamburger and chocolate milkshake as she watched huge trucks and machinery. Her favorite thing about going to Stibnite was getting hand-me-down clothes from our older cousins Carol and Patty. Continue reading →
“We like this place,” the man said as he and his son fished for bass and catfish at the confluence of the Boise and Snake Rivers, northwest of Parma near the Oregon border. Perhaps more than ever before on this river, anglers and wildlife, farmers and duck hunters thrive in relative peace.
Cinnamon teal and snowy egrets, osprey and black double-crested cormorants, turkey vultures and pelicans are nearly as common as mosquitoes along the lower Boise River. Deer, coyotes, and foxes creep through the thick brush, making a network of trails. Monarch, mourning cloak, and tiger swallowtail butterflies add color and elegance as they float through the cottonwood forest and big fish made a commotion in the river beside the fishermen. The region is alive.
But one small monument nearby marked a death. Fort Boise may have stood tall in 1834 when it was built, but floods have erased any hint of its presence and, in 1854, it was abandoned. It must have been swept away by high water, but that fury comes no more. It happened before dams and irrigation canals and flood-control practices were in place on the new and improved Boise River. Yet floods loom again as a possibility in the age of climate change.
Agriculture dominates the current landscape west of Boise. Canals, ditches, drains, laterals, and creeks dissect the landscape, bringing water to desiccated farmlands. I found it impossible to cross an obscure ditch in mid-May, not to mention all the named and larger canals that I traced and retraced along the river on my upstream walk. The many canals and sub-canals and mini- sub-canals blocked movement for anyone walking along the river. Numerous “No Trespassing!” signs gave the impression that no one should ever stroll alongside this charming river.
Not long after lunch, the principal of Riggins High School, Jack Wing, came to our classroom and told me a house was afire up Shingle Creek at the Deveny Ranch, and we needed to take the fire engine up there.
This was in the late spring of 1953, my junior year in high school. I grabbed my assistant fire chief, Daryl Dubbs, from his class and we drove to where the fire engine was garaged. Four other high school boys followed us in another car. At the garage, one of them climbed into the fire engine between Daryl and me in the two front seats. The other three boys followed us as we went south out of Riggins, the siren and lights going. It was about five miles to Rapid River, a couple of miles on the gravel road upriver to the mouth of Shingle Creek, and then about two miles up Shingle Creek to the Deveny Ranch. We stopped at the mouth of Shingle Creek, and the three boys behind us parked and jumped onto the rear bumper rider of the fire engine. We hurried on up to the fire.
By the time we arrived, the house had burned to the ground, and a few ranchers were trying to prevent the house fire from becoming a range fire. A Forest Service Jeep pickup soon arrived, carrying a hundred-gallon tank of water and a pump. Daryl and I drove our fire engine down through the rocks to the creek, put our suction hose into a pond and got it ready to pump, while the other boys ran out the hose and prepared to wet down the hot ashes. Right after we got the pump going, a Forest Service worker came over and decided our suction hose ought to be in a deeper hole of the creek. He picked up the hose and flopped it over into the other hole, causing our pump to lose its prime. I tried everything I could think of to re-prime it, but failed. Continue reading →
OVER THE YEARS at IDAHO magazine, we have been privy to a number of harrowing and sometimes funny tales of driving Highway 95’s old White Bird grade between the towns of White Bird and Grangeville, before the modern highway was completed in 1975. For example, our copy editor and regular contributor Les Tanner wrote a three-part series about his travels on “old 95” (August 2009, September 2009, and April 2011), which included plenty of tales about the dangers of the route. And Nancy Sule Hammon wrote a rollicking account (March 2009) of her first experience with driving the frightening grade at night in 1971. Continue reading →
On September 30, 1950, I was an eight-year-old University of Idaho football junkie, living in Lewiston, bleeding, bleeding Vandal silver and gold. September 30 was to be my day. There would be no bleeding whatsoever, only excitement. Five days earlier, Mom had told me I would be going with my father Stan to my first college game. Dad usually went with Bill, Curly, or Louie—sometimes all of them, sometimes only one or two—but today it was just me.
Television had not yet arrived in the Idaho Panhandle, so I listened to every Vandal game on the radio, and the next morning I read the recap in the Sunday paper. Bob Curtis was the voice of the Vandals, who I figured had announced and would announce every one of the team’s football games from the beginning of time until the end of the world. Through him I knew the Vandal colors, their fight song, their record, who coached, who played where and when. On this day, Idaho was to play Montana State University, a team we were on even terms with. Back then, the Vandals were members of the old Pacific Coast Conference. They played a full schedule in basketball, but in football they played only the teams from the Northwest, the two Washington schools and the two Oregon schools. Winning against the conference schools was tough to do, and I bled plenty, but against the Montana schools the odds were about fifty-fifty.
Mom spent most of Friday preparing food for Saturday. Southern fried chicken topped the menu, cooked the way only Mom knew, dipped in bread crumbs, flour, and egg, and then slowly fried and seasoned as the day moved along. At our house, fried chicken was always served with potato salad made of Idaho russets, free-range eggs, mayo, onion, greens, olives, pickles, and a dash of mustard. I knew this was where the phrase, “finger lickin’ good” must have originated. We ate plenty on Friday night, when the chicken was still warm. Early Saturday morning, Mom filled the cooler with ice, chicken, potato salad, beer, soft drinks, potato chips, dip, chocolate chip cookies, and some candy. And then it was nine o’clock. Continue reading →
The fresh, white blanket on the ground isn’t staying down for long. The wind is blowing fifteen miles per hour, yanking snowflakes sideways.
It reminds me of what you see when you blow dust off an old album, white particles exploding off a shiny black surface. That surface is Craters of the Moon National Monument. It’s a solitary place, but even on the worst-weather days, there are trucks in the parking lot. One of them belongs to me and my family. We’re looking out our truck’s ice-crusted windows waiting for the wind to die down. When it does, we’ll start skiing.
I think of the comment made by Doug Owen, Craters of the Moon National Monument park education specialist and geologist, when he was prepping me for the winter trail system. “This is my favorite time of year because of the stark contrast between white snow and black lava,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
As I ski past the campground, I watch the black-and-white contrast slowly slide by. Coal-colored lava rock pokes out of the soft snow like peppercorns accidentally dropped in a salt shaker. I like the contrast, just as Doug does. I like the sparkle, too. Continue reading →
For the past seven years, I’ve been writing conservation agreements for salmon in the Lemhi River, working from my faraway desk here in Idaho’s capital city. I’ve fallen in love with the upper Salmon River watershed.
I’ve backpacked in the Lemhi Mountains, fished the Lemhi River, and even visited Sacajawea’s birthplace. But being in the Lemhi at the moment when Chinook salmon return home is like seeing the famous “green flash” atmospheric phenomenon over the ocean. The timing, location, and conditions have to be just right. I’ve squinted at ocean sunsets until my retinas feel like moth-eaten blankets, but I’ve only seen the green flash twice.
Seeing wild Chinook salmon in Idaho is like that, because to me they’re creatures out of myth, as elusive as sea serpents. In the seven years I’ve worked for the Nature Conservancy, I’ve never seen one. I read the data, so I believe in them, and I work on their conservation as an act of hope. It’s worth it even if I never see the living result of my efforts.
Late last August I had a meeting near the town of Salmon. On the way home, I asked my colleagues if we could detour to a nearby cattle ranch where our organization holds a conservation easement. We telephoned the rancher for permission to visit his ranch to look for spawning Chinook. He gave us the OK, and we bumped down his dirt road to the Lemhi. I got out of the truck and heard splashes in the river. Big splashes. My eyes filled with tears. Continue reading →