Idaho Part I

A Bit of Utah before Idaho

From Mustang Ridge I headed to the west side of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Nice drive across open brush-covered land with surprising grades along the way. In just a couple hours I arrived at Buckboard Crossing, a sleepy marina and sparsely occupied campground. But the campground’s dripping water sprinklers did draw the local pronghorns. Very cool to watch these animals.

Neighbors a couple sites down gave me two awesome filets of freshly caught Kokanee salmon. Sure beat the hell outta the frozen fish I had planned. Simply seasoned with lemon pepper and grilled skin side down, the pink flesh was incredible!

There’s not a lot of attractions between Flaming Gorge and Idaho so I put in a 6+ hour drive to Arco, Idaho near Craters of the Moon National Monument. I did stop by Fossil Butte National Monument for a few minutes. Anyone who’s into fossils would love this visitor center and quarry. I was impressed by the quality of the displays and knowledge of the Rangers.

Eastern Idaho

Arco, Idaho is a sleepy town (outpost?) near Valley of the Moon National Monument & Preserve. This national park land is awesome in its starkness, rawness, ruggedness, fragility. You can imagine the incredible power that created all the cinder cones and spatter cones and lava flows in this region. Truly amazing! I’ve pretty much come to learn that if you’re near a National Park or Monument, visit it!

After two nights in Arco, including a truck wash that unfortunately would not also accommodate Synko who is needing a bath in a bad way, I headed north.

The drive up Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway (which I did in the direction of Craters to Peaks) is gorgeous, winding along the Salmon River through wide valleys and tight canyons. I pulled into tiny Shoup Bridge Rec Area and snagged one of the seven $5 campsites alongside the Salmon. Pretty good digs for Mark.

The town of Salmon has services sufficient to get one by—just not on a Sunday, as the hardware and grocery stores were closed (kinda a nice throwback to better days!). I did sniff out Bertram’s Brewery on Main Street and, while lunch was good, the brews were only fair. I returned to my riverside retreat for the evening.

I continued heading up the Salmon River Scenic Byway to North Fork and camped at the very cool Wagonhammer Campground near North Fork. My site on the river was awesome! Beautiful views of the Salmon as it ran past, hills on both sides of the valley and lush, green grass throughout the campsite. A near-perfect campsite.

Without Synko in tow I drove up to Lost Trail Pass which separates Idaho and Montana. Nice hour-long drive to the pass, checking out several Lewis & Clark historical sites along the way. Those dudes were men.

Sawtooth National Rec Area

After a couple days in North Fork I headed south again to Stanley, the gateway to the Sawtooth National Rec Area. I see why they call ’em sawtooths—them are some rugged peaks! By the time I got to Stanley and got my bearings the most desired campgrounds were full. The friendly volunteer at the NFS ranger station recommended an area of dispersed camping off the Sawtooth Scenic Byway near Pettit Lake so I checked it out. It was a few miles up a dirt road and was pretty enough but, it just did not feel right; my spirit was not comfortable with it. So I ended up in an ok site at the NFS Salmon campground, just outside Stanley. It was fine for an overnighter after a full day’s drive but I wanted something better.

So in the morning I scouted out a couple other dispersed camping areas and landed in a cool spot off the road to Stanley Lake. The forest was mine and without any facilities I gave my new inverter and solar panels a workout; they performed flawlessly, powering the TV, Dish antenna and a couple quick microwave spurts. I did question, though, the wisdom of watching the movie The Edge while camped remotely in the woods. Sounds of wind and probably a few squirrels or deer outside in the middle of the night had me thinking bear and reaching for the shotgun, just in case!

After a couple days of remote camping near Stanley Lake I planned to spend another night in the Boise National Forest along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (lots of scenic byways in Idaho!). Unfortunately a wildfire was burning across the area, even requiring NFS escorts through a couple sections where fires and work crews were active. The air quality was less than stellar and signs of previous fires a couple/few years ago were prominent. I checked a couple campgrounds and dispersed sites along the way but didn’t find anything particularly compelling. (I’ve come to dislike weekends and especially holidays, as they bring out all the weekend campers. Just stay home, willya.)

Boise

I continued rolling down the hill and ended up in Boise about 3pm. Now that I’d finally returned to cellular coverage I called a couple campgrounds in town and found them to be full—thanks to the Garth Brooks concert Saturday night. (So I guess I’m not fond of concerts, either, lol.). As I was headed across town to a Harvest Hosts winery for the night, Brighton at Mountain View RV called me back and said they’d had a cancellation for the night. I told her I was enroute to Huston Vineyards but a minute later Huston returned my earlier voicemail to let me know they were in the midst of their release weekend and had no room at the inn. So I called Brighton back and took her up on the offer of the cancelled site. The tour of I-84 across southern Boise and back was oh-so-beautiful. Ha.

After setting up camp I drove by the apartment where I’d lived a few months after high school. Kinda cool to see the old place again, even if it had weathered some. Hell, I’ve weather some too! Also recalled the motel bar where my high school pal Joe Gomez and I would hang out Friday nights until they closed at 2am. Then the bar would reopen at 3am and we’d last another hour or so before going to work at 7am. I was less weathered way back then!

Seeing the old haunts also reminded me of the scam we pulled while working as receiving and checking clerks at the local grocery store chain. The story went something like this:

The milk delivery driver would hit Joe’s store first and leave a few extra cartons of milk which Joe would trade cookies for. Then the cookie driver would visit my store across town where we’d trade cookies for RC cola. And then the RC cola guy would pick up a couple cases of Coors back at Joe’s store. By the time we’d perfected our thievery the RC cola driver was delivering Coors beer to our apartment. We had cases stacked in the corner of our kitchen. We made only enough money to pay the $215 rent, drink, chase a few girls and watch TV at the coin-operated TVs in the Boise airport concourse. I’m not saying I’m proud of that caper today but we had a good time—as best I remember! I’m more weathered and wiser today (for the most part!).

After checking outta the Mountain View RV park near the airport I headed across town to the local KOA for a few nights to get Synko washed and my back adjusted by a Max Living doc in Boise. I’d also plot out my itinerary for the next couple weeks up the west side of Idaho and into Montana and Glacier National Park. Headed north in a couple days so I’ll get back to the blog in a week or so. Cheers!

Idaho Part II

Boise

My four nights/three days in Boise were good. And kinda expensive. The tread on my truck tires was getting down there so I pulled into a Discount Tire. The sales guy said I could get another 600-800 miles outta the tires but we noticed a sharp rock embedded in the core of the right front tire. Having none of that and since Boise was the last major city I’d be in for the next month, I put four new tires on the truck. $1000. It had been about seven weeks since I’d had my back adjusted so I visited a Max Living clinic to get squared away. Steven Baker at Prehab is an excellent chiropractor and I walked out straighter & taller and feeling like a million bucks. Money well spent! A supply run to Costco rang up $170. Harbor Freight took about $50 from my wallet. And Pips Detailing wrung out another $175 plus tips to get the bugs and grime off Synko before they became part of the gel coat. The truck wash (before the rain) was $15. Oh well.

Food wise, Sockeye Brewing served up a very good salmon with a couple good brews, the Dangerous Golden Stout really really really good; Cloud 9 Brewery downtown came through with maybe the best BLT I’ve had. Their Honey Basil Ale and NSN IPA were both pretty tasty, as well. At Barbarian Brewing downtown I enjoyed the Tequila Watermelon Sour so much I grabbed a couple crowlers to go to share with Julie. And with that, my 43 year return to Boise was a wrap. But I wanna go back for a guys weekend to enjoy the many breweries in town.

North Idaho

Wednesday I headed north on Idaho 55. What a drive! The Payette River Scenic Byway is a beautiful route through narrow canyons and across broad valleys. The twisty road hugged the rapidly flowing river much of the way. I loved it, all the way to Kamiah. Loved all of it except the few seconds where some full-fledged idiot made a u-turn from the right shoulder in front of the hazardous gas truck I was behind. He smoked his brakes and tires to avoid hitting the moron. I was far enough behind that I only needed to brake moderately—and cuss out the ignoramus in the sedan. Glad the truck driver had quick reflexes. I swear people are getting dumber.

Kamiah is a small, sleepy town on the Clearwater River. The Clearwater Brewery and beer:30 Taproom doesn’t brew beer but comes with a good selection of northwest brews and friendly people. I also checked out Trestle Brewing in Ferdinand, about 30 miles away—another joint without their own beers but with friendly folk.

US Highway 12 headed north out of Kamiah is a tight, twisty drive along the Clearwater and through Hells Canyon Rec Area where the river is full of water and full of floaters. Great drive all the way to Lewiston. Lewiston still smells, some 43 years after I first visited here. It’s the paper mill, I guess. Continuing north to Coeur d’ Alene the highway passes through rolling hills of farmland. Still beautiful driving all the way to CDA.

It’s been about 30 years since I was in Coeur d’ Alene when I used to visit on business while with GTE. The resort on the lake seemed different than what I remembered. There were certainly more people. Goodness, the town was buzzing. And I’m pretty sure back then we didn’t pay anything close to the $700 a night they were asking for a water-view room. I struggled by with my $68 campsite on Blackwell Island before heading out to Spokane Valley in the morning. Popular destinations fill up on weekends; kinda annoys me that people just don’t stay home! 🤪

I’ve also had some challenges finding dispersed camping spots. There were plenty in Sawtooth National Rec Area but up here they don’t seem to be very big rig friendly and it’s too risky to just head off on a NFS road with 35′ of trailer not knowing what the road conditions will be. Been there, didn’t much care for it. So I spent some time plotting out reservations between here and Glacier National Park and looking at options to visit Banff and Jasper in Alberta, if I can find a place to stash my shotgun and about a case of premium vino for a weekish. Not paying Canada’s stupid import taxes or risking them finding my gun in a hidey hole.

While in Spokane Valley I visited Millwood Brewing. What a cool place! My latest favorite! Their products are all good, especially the Millbilly IPA and Frog Skin Porter with a splash of their own cream soda. Superb.

Farther North Idaho

I crawled through Spokane to head northeast on US 2. Passed by Gonzaga University, which I mention because every March I have to look up where the heck Gonzaga is; will probably remember now…

I wasn’t able to figure out a place to stay in Sandpoint: no private, no NFS, no dispersed camping sites. I’m thinking some boondock sites are out there but not knowing the area it’s hard to choose potential options from paper or online maps. So I defaulted to a KOA at Little Diamond Lake near Newport, WA. This ended up being a really cool KOA—not the typical parking lot of most. My site was nestled in the trees and faced away from the road so it made the firepit and table area really cool. I stayed two nights, not just the one I had planned. Partly because I liked the area and partly because I needed to spend some time researching how I could make Canada’s Banff & Jasper National Parks a part of the trip, given that it seems everyone is camping these days. (Have I mentioned people should strongly consider staycations?!)

Continuing north and east on US 2 (which I’ll eventually see a lot of as I head into the plains of Montana and North Dakota in a week or so), the drive was pleasant along Idaho-designated Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage into Sandpoint and then Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway north to Bonners Ferry before turning southeast to the West Glacier area. There was serious road construction about mid-way, where caravans of about 20 cars were led through by a pilot car. For five miles the road was dirt, mud, and ruts—a grand time.

I’d gone as far west as I’d go this trip and would continue north into Canada next week. And with that, I’m wrapping up what I consider the Rocky Mountains Early Summer portion of the trip. My next post will be in the, well, Rocky Mountains Late Summer category. More later from Glacier National Park!