Scenery and wildlife seen along the way from Salmon, Idaho, to Lost Trail Pass, to Wisdom Montana.
THE STORY: My wife and I took a mini "four day road trip" from our home in Eastern Washington to our kids’ place outside Salt Lake City, Utah. While there my son and I took an all day, explore back roads, drive in his Jeep Wrangler.
Here is a day to day list of the travels (enjoy the photos and stories that go with them):
DAY ONE: THURSDAY – 1 JUNE 2017
Union Gap, Washington to the Warm Springs campground on the north side of Lost Trail Pass, near Sula, Montana. We camped in the back of our pickup truck.
Day’s route: WA: Union Gap, Dayton, Clarkston. ID: Lewiston, Kamiah, Kooskia, Syringa, Powell, and over Lolo Pass. MT: Lolo, Victor, Darby, Sula, to Warm Springs CG (N45 50 37.7 W114 02 16.3)
All the rivers along this day’s drive were running high, fast, and muddy. The Clearwater, Lochsa, Selway, and the Bitteroot. We stopped at the Lochsa Lodge at Powell, Idaho to have lunch. We have stayed at the cabins here (# 7 is our favorite) and often. The cabins are rustic, nice and inexpensive. A great place to "base camp".We also stop for the fantastic, more than generous portions, meals they serve at the Lochsa Lodge.
With rain off and on we were the only dining customers on this particular mid-day. Nice people. Great food. Wonderful surroundings.
The pattern of sun then rain, continued over the Montana side of Lolo Pass, where bright rainbows led the way. We drove until almost dark then headed for the nearest public campground we could find. That turned out to be the Warm Springs campground on the north (Montana) side of Lost Trail pass. Interesting history at Lost Trail pass, involving the Lewis and Clark outward bound expedition, and their old man Shoshoni Indian guide, Tobi. They were for a short while "lost".
We were the only campers using the campground that night and with a light rain falling, we both slept well. The seniors’ campsite rate for this nice, well kept little campground were close to nothing.
DAY TWO: FRIDAY – 2 JUNE 2017
A lot of miles covered on everything from paved interstate highway to four wheel drive, HCV forest service roads. Warm Springs campground on Lost Trail Pass, Montana to the Yankee Jim Canyon campground, just north of Yellowstone National Park.
Day’s route: MT: Sula ID: North Fork, Shoup, Panther Creek, Corn Creek, Panther Creek FR#55, Napias Creek FR#076, Moccasin Creek FR#76, Williams Creek Summit, Williams Creek FR#021, Salmon, Lost Trail Pass. MT: Wisdom, Walkerville, Butte, Livingstone, Yankee Jim Canyon CG just north of Gardiner and Yellowstone NP.
NOTE: IF YOU REALLY WANT ENJOY VISITING THE SALMON RIVER COUNTRY, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THAT YOUR READ: "RIVER OF NO RETURN" BY Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley". WHAT YOU LEARN FROM THE BOOK WILL INCREASE THE APPRECIATION OF YOUR VISIT SUBSTANTIALLY.
This was an adventuresome day of back road driving. We got an early morning start and saw lots of elk between our campsite at Warm Springs CG and North Fork, Idaho. I had taken a similar trip solo, three years earlier (September 15th, 2014) from North Fork to Corn Creek and had fallen in love with this portion of the main Salmon River and past the confluence with the Middle Fork Salmon River. I wanted my wife to see it and I wanted to see it again, with her company.
Arriving at North Fork, Idaho near dawn, a warning sign said to check at the ranger station due to extremely high water. I drove up to the ranger station but of course it was closed, and I couldn’t find any additional information on their bulletin board, so we headed on down the paved road toward Shoup and then the dirt (muddy at times) road to Corn Creek. Corn Creek is as far as you can drive down the main Salmon River, and is a popular float trip launching area.
Corn Creek was crowded with river floaters in 2014 but this day my wife and I were the only ones there. We had to pay close attention as we drove as the river was so high, it had overflowed across the road in places and then receded. Undercut banks needed special attention, and rocks and down timber obstructed the road in places.
A major trail bridge (The Stoddard Bridge), crossing the Salmon River between the Middle Fork confluence and Corn Creek, had all but been destroyed. I was shocked at the damage having seen the bridge in good working order in 2014.
The sun came out more frequently as we made our way to Corn Creek. We had a picnic early lunch together there amid the ponderosa pine, with some mule deer as our only, and always welcomed, company.
We returned to Panther Creek and I pulled over to the side of the road and got my: "Motor Vehicle Use Map Salmon-Challis National Forest North Fork Ranger District" map out. I had picked the map up in 2014. My wife knew what was coming. After 46 years of marriage, she can read me like a book. Few surprises.
I asked her as I studied the map: "Would you mind if we did a little back road forest service road exploring while we are here. I promise we will turn around if any of the roads get to gnarly?" I wanted badly to travel some roads I had never before driven.
"Of course" she said. My wife knows I will use caution and care, but also knows that getting lost on back road routes, without good signage, is always a possibility. We always refer to such travels (after the fact) as "family adventures".
Off we went up Panther Creek. Like the Salmon River, It too was roaring and foaming right next to the road, with high water. Beautiful! The noise the rushing water made was deafening, even from inside our pickup truck.
Then we came to the turn up Napias Creek Road (FR #076). Water, rolling rocks, downed timber, and small mud slides made this portion of our "trip", a bit challenging. Shifting into four wheel drive, we proceeded with care. I promised that if the road didn’t improve when we turned onto the Moccasin Creek Road, I would turn around (thinking but not saying – – if we could do so).
Once we reached the Moccasin Creek Road the road conditions improved steadily and it was a lovely drive up over the mountains and down to highway 93, and Salmon, Idaho.
We stopped at the Cougar Creek campground and picnic area, for a picnic lunch in the sun, surrounded by fragrant ponderosa pine and cool mountain breezes.
We gassed up our pickup truck at Salmon, Idaho and retraced our morning route back up to Lost Trail Pass on the Idaho/Montana border. Then we drove Montana highway 43 over to Wisdom, Montana (home to the historic wooden beaver slide hay stacking equipment, which still dos the fields and are still in use today).
From Wisdom to Yankee Jim Canyon campground was all familiar roads for us, but scenic and enjoyable, irrespective of how many times traveled before. We got in just near dusk at the Yankee Jim Canyon campground and smiled when we found that site #10, where we had camped together a few years earlier, was unoccupied, so we stayed there again.
We opened the screen windows of the truck canopy to let a cool night breeze flow through, and once again, slept very well. A full size mattress, sleeping bags, and full size pillows, make for most comfortable camping conditions at bedtime.
DAY THREE: SATURDAY – 3 JUNE 2017
Yankee Jim Canyon campground along the Yellowstone River just north of Gardiner, Montana to Riverton, Wyoming.
Day’s route: MT: Gardiner. WY: Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt, N.E. entrance to Yellowstone. MT: Cooke City. WY: Clark Fork Yellowstone River, Dead Indian Pass, Cody, Meeteetse, Thermopolis, Shoshoni, Riverton (Motel for the night).
This day had the most vague itinerary of all three days of travel from Washington state to Utah. Even giving the uncertain exact route we might take, it got even more extemporaneous, as we crossed over Dead Indian Pass to Cody, Wyoming.
We love the north end of Yellowstone Park, especially the drive through the Lamar River Valley up to the Northeast entrance of the park. If heading south through the park, we prefer Dunraven Pass.
But on this day we planned a repeat a "side drive", off the main paved highway, along the one-way, dirt road, called the Blacktail Plateau Drive. It is a fun slow paced route that we have especially enjoyed in autumn when the aspen are at full gold. We thought an early summer drive might be nice…but the road was closed.
Next we thought we would check out the Slough Creek campground at the convergence of Buffalo Creek and Slough Creek. The last time we tried to check that campground out, it was closed. Well. Strike two. It was closed again on this day. That said the side road up to the gated campground is an excellent (and growing in popularity) wildlife viewing area.
In the Lamar River Valley we were treated to an unhurried observation opportunity of a relaxed, hungry, and healthy looking black bear. The bear was about 100 yards away across a large pond, filled with waterfowl and vocal yellow or red winged blackbirds, with their pleasant and distinctive songs.
The bear was in the shade of some aspen, up to his tummy in lush green grass, so who could blame him for spending as much time rolling, napping, scratching, and munching on the abundant foliage – – instead of providing tourists with obliging photo op poses.
We were surprised to find that the Beartooth Pass highway was open, but we had already decided to start trending south toward Utah, so would be traveling Wyoming highway 296, across the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River then up over Dead Indian Pass to Cody, Wyoming.
Lots of wildflowers on the Cody, Wyoming side of the pass, so I stopped often to snap a few photos. We were getting hungry so were already rehearsing what we would order for lunch at Cody, Wyoming, when we got there.
Then plans changed suddenly (and for us, somewhat dramatically). At 65 mph a sound like I had gone off the shoulder onto the rumble strips met my ears, just as the sight of the yellow "no air pressure" icon lit up like a pinball machine.
The dual messages registered immediately: Instant flat time. I slowed quickly and was fortunate enough to find a dirt road heading out into the sage brush on the opposite side of the highway, where we came to an abrupt, pickup truck listing badly…..stop.
It was hot outside but fortunately no high winds, rains, or mosquitoes. Nothing to do but to get out the owner’s manual of our Nissan Frontier SV 4X4 pickup truck and find out where the tire changing jack and equipment was located, and read up on how to get to the spare and change a flat.
This was something I hadn’t done in decades but had observed my friend Fred, accomplish, earlier this year on the way out of Little Finland down by Mesquite, Nevada.
The process was not easy nor user friendly. My wife was great at helping me. I was worried that even though I got off the road quickly, that I might have damaged the wheel (FRONT RIGH TIRE – PASSENGER SIDE). The tire was completely flat and well scuffed up.
The most difficult part was getting the heavy and dirty full size spare into position and secured (remember the Salmon River four wheel drive travel? MUD). Deed done, I got a ground cloth and put the dead right front tire in the back of the truck (no sense winching it up into position and besides the tire looked like it might fall off the wheel of its own accord).
Next surprise. The spare was new. It came with the truck when we bought it in 2014, but it had never been used (or checked). The spare tire seemed like it had enough air in it, but the yellow warning light came on anyway. So with a self imposed speed limit of 45 mph (later increased to 50 mph) we made our way the 18 miles into Cody, Wyoming.
I could make this an even longer story but here is the Cliff Notes version: Asked at the Cody visitor center for a recommendation for a tire shop. The one they sent us to closed at noon on Saturday. Too late. Back to the other end of town we found a Walmart superstore with Saturday hours posted 7am to 7pm. Hooray.
We had one of those wonderful experiences you can have when you run into nice, helpful, people on a road trip. Justin took our case to heart and did a wonderful job of fixing the hole in the tire, checking it out, and remounting the spare back into place. I relaxed in the waiting room, while my wife shopped for some snacks in the store.
Work done well. Charge? $10.50. I tipped Justin well and thanked him and we made a dash for Pizza Hut to eat a truly late "lunch".
I was pretty dirty and sweaty from my tire changing duties so my wife did not object at all, when I suggested we get a motel room Saturday night instead of camp in the truck. We did. A nice hot shower and change of clothes does wonders for feeling good when traveling.
DAY FOUR: SATURDAY – 4 JUNE 2017
Riverton, Wyoming to our kids’ house outside Salt Lake City, Utah.
Day’s route: WY: Riverton, Lander, South Pass, Farson, Rock Springs, Evanston, UT: Echo, Coalville, Wanship, Salt Lake City.
We arrived at our kids and granddaughters house early afternoon, and had a fun visit. My son and I had already discussed a "plan" for a day trip on Monday, so we softly sold the idea to our wives. My son’s wife works, my wife would watch the two granddaughters (as she does often and well), and my son and I would leave first thing Monday morning on our "Jeep trip".
DAY FIVE: MONDAY 5 JUNE 2017
Day’s route: Salt Lake City to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Highway 414 to the Flaming Gorge dam on the Green River (I had never traveled highway 414). Then up to Dutch John and north to Minnies Gap through the Glades. There we took off on a road neither of us had traveled before. It is called "highway 318" when it enters Colorado but it was not well signed (as in not at all) when you turn off highway 191. The dirt road heads north above the convergence of the states of: Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.
Our goal was to visit the Gates of Lodore on the Green River, then over to Maybell, Colorado to circle around Dinosaur National Monument, then into the monument at Dinosaur Colorado and down to Echo Park and a short hike up to the Yampa River and Green River confluence.
I had done the Echo Park, Harpers Corner, and the Utah Split Mountain and dinosaur quarry before, but never the north side nor the Gates of Lodore. The road was paved at times and dirt the rest of the time. At one point we had to wait for a front end loader to clear part of a huge pile of fresh road gravel to even proceed. Part of the adventure.
We took a side trip to see the John Jarvie ranch right on the Green River. Lovely spot, with interesting and some violent history. Drownings and murders. John Jarvie himself was robbed, murdered and dumped in the river (never caught the murderers).
The Gates of Lodore, where the Green River takes a sudden due south turn to cut through a steep canyon, was worth the entire days drive. A very short hike down the Green River left bank, gives you a spectacular view of the entry into the canyon (a favorite launch point for river rafters and kayakers).
We drove on to Maybell, Colorado, then doubled back west on highway 40, to drive west along the southern border of Dinosaur National Monument we had to come up with and agree to some "plan" changes.
We had hoped to travel the Yampa River Bench road to Echo Park, but time wouldn’t allow that. We had planned to take the short hike to observation point at Harper’s Corner, but serious stray thunderstorms were rolling through the area and we knew it would get dark earl. We opted for the drive down Iron Springs Wash, Sand Canyon, Pool Creek, and the Echo Park Road to Steamboat Rock and the Echo Park campground.
It was iffy, as we got rained on hard on the dirt road and signs posted said "impassable when wet" but the sun would come out, the rain would stop then start, but the roads never did get slippery nor did that sound of mud building up in the wheel wells occur.In the end it was no problem driving the route in my son’s Jeep Wrangler.
One quick hard stray shower sent water cascading in falls over the rock rim of the Pool Creek Canyon. Even with the hard rain, we both chose to get out of the Jeep for some photo ops. The ephemeral falls were captivating.
It was getting dark as we left Dinosaur National Monument. We wouldn’t get back to my son’s house until 1:30 am Tuesday morning, but we had both had such a great time, and seen so much, that both of us felt pulling the long shift had been worth it.
That is it. I hope the "story" of the four day road trip, that my wife and I took, helps some of you enjoy thephotos, putting the sights in context.
Postscript: I enjoyed Tuesday with my wife and kids in Salt Lake City, then Wednesday at noon, I headed home, arriving at the house at 6 am on Thursday (I camped in Oregon, in the back of the pickup, on the way back home.
11 June 2017
Tagged: , Salmon, Idaho to Lost Trail Pass , Lost Trails Pass to Widom, Montana , Beaverslide hay stackers , pronghorn antelope , sand hil crane , road trip , Idaho/Montana highway 93 , Montana highway 43 and 569 , pickup truck canopy camping , Gardiner, Montana , Yankee Jim Canyon campground , North Yellowstone