It was down to the wire whether our Thanksgiving with Heather, Eric and kids could be at their cabin in Atlanta, Idaho. Record breaking November snowfall left the sixty mile mountain dirt road impassable. But a quick melt has things back on track. Or so it seems.
Low clouds cling to the brown hills surrounding Arrowrock Reservoir, our view sprinkled with rain. I have been excited ever since the final decision was made to celebrate Thanksgiving again¹ in the tiny mountain town of Atlanta. Eric is leading in his truck with Colby and Hunter. Jessica and Heather are following with the little ones, Everlee and Nicholas, while I bring up the rear with the girls, Brenna and Cassidy. I hope these girls are up for some off-roading.
I pull over by some rocks I know Brenna would usually love to climb but nobody follows me out of the Jeep. Perhaps the girls fancy themselves too sweet to last in this rain.
The girls remain rain averse so my dam excursion is brief.
Arrowrock Dam was the highest in the world when it was built and terminus to the nation’s first federal railroad. A town of some 1,400 sprung up to support construction. Every desert farmer should be thinking of these workers at Thanksgiving.
This makes me wonder if the original workers also left graffiti somewhere on the rocks below, like the Oregon Trail immigrants.¹
“Oh my gosh!” Cassidy yells when I veer off road and down an embankment to reach the expanded shoreline. It’s the same spot we spun around last time¹ though it wasn’t wet then and I wonder a bit about getting back out.
It is still raining but the girls are finally willing to venture beyond the confines of the Jeep to stand at the edge of short cliffs and contemplate the ice trapped below.
“It isn’t safe to walk on!” I yell to Cassidy as she climbs down to the water’s edge. I expect she already knows better but kids can do the darndest things.
I try to grab some portraits of the girls but they’re moving too fast for me and this little camera to nicely frame and focus.
Dry cockleburs reaching almost to the hood of the Jeep leave us with dozens of inch-long seed pods stuck all over our clothes.
“Pick all your burs off before getting back in the Jeep,” I tell the girls.
Repeated series of small potholes look harmless until we hit them. Brown splashes out and up across the windshield and the Jeep skitters into a small slide as the wheels try in vain to answer the pockmarked road.
The tires on Eric’s small pickup require moderation, leaving time for the girls and I to make small ventures and catch back up.
Sixty miles of gravel and dirt roads notorious around the reservoir for their lethality never make for fast travel but inches of unplowed snow are stretching it into the night.
“I’m not sure we’re gonna make it,” I think I hear Eric call back to Heather after we come to a stop. His truck is having trouble keeping its heading (and in some places the road is along a cliff down to the river) so the Jeep is summoned into the lead to cut trail. Yee-haw! We get sideways up some hills but it’s enough to help the others follow.
Seventeen miles to Atlanta says a sign. Not far, I think, before remembering we’re not even going seventeen miles per hour. I think we’ll probably make it nonetheless.
The snow isn’t deep but an underlying layer of dense slush refuses any grip. I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel relief when Atlanta’s Beaver Lodge appears narrowly in the beams of our headlights. I slow until I see the lights of the others behind then turn up the hill toward the cabin.
The Jeep is extra squirrelly on the steeper hill. When we start going sideways off the road I stomp the gas in hopes of digging to dirt but traction control robs the wheels of power. Gah! We land in the ditch, stuck.
Eric sends the boys to fetch his neighbor Bob who, with the fire chief, not only pulls us out but tows us each in turn up the remaining hill to the cabin. Its not the first time the Jeep has been on the end of a chain.¹ The chief says there’s no way to get up the hill right now without being fully chained up.
“It’s already started,” we lament when we hear kids arguing about who gets which bed upstairs. We help them reach a compromise so they too can just enjoy being here, deep in Idaho’s wild lands. We’ve arrived.
We are greeted with a brilliant morning, surrounding snow-laden peaks dazzling under a clear blue sky.
Jessica and Heather begin putting meal plans into motion while I hold out the promise of a hot springs visit to leverage good behavior from the kids.
Hyperactive teens are quickly assigned physical labor.
Nicholas suffers well the taunts of his cousins. “I have your taggy,” they call.
While Heather and Eric stay behind with their little ones, Jessica and I head down the hill with the rest for a quick soak in the Atlanta Hot Springs. The roads were plowed early this morning so I think we can make it back up.
The My Little Ponies have the best adventures, as usual.¹
“I think I’ll go explore a bit,” I announce. After playing with Nicholas and Everlee and while the other kids are down the road helping a neighbor chop wood, I want to see other nearby hot springs.
A warm creek connects a series of hot springs next to town, a ribbon of green moss and grass amidst the snow. Abundant scat suggests the winter greens are an attractive meal to big game.
I didn’t see the road to the riverside Chattanooga Hot Springs yesterday with the kids because it had been plowed shut. But now I notice it on the other side of the berm and am able to punch the gas and punch through.
Steam rises into the chilly grey air above the river. The path from the end of the road down to the pool is steep, rough and slippery. I use the tripod as a walking stick.
A notice from my subconscious pops into awareness: “Hey, you have your polarizer. You should take the comparison shot you always promise the class.”
Sometimes I teach a photography class through Community Education. Each time we talk about circular polarizers I promise to eventually get a side-by-side comparison. That’s been going on for years. So now I’ll do it. First, unpolarized.
And now I’ll rotate the polarizer to full effect. See? Same position, same time (seven seconds apart), same white balance. A circular polarizer should be your first filter. It can make a big difference.
It is always easy to fill time exploring things outside. But I’m ready now for some Thanksgiving dinner!
My sister-in-law Heather makes great food, particularly desserts. I need to have restraint at dinner to leave room.
When I was a kid I had a wall plastered with Reeses wrappers. Heather’s chocolate peanut butter pie nails it.
“It’s a good thing I wasn’t shooting video,” I mention to Jessica the next day. She answers with a reluctant laugh. Thanksgiving Day suffered a couple teen meltdowns, enough that Brenna became alarmed. Happily, social media knows of no such things. And these wild places admit of no such things. Let’s take it to the hot springs.
“I’m only holding it for Brenna!” Hunter quickly asserts when he sees the camera. But we all know the truth.
Jessica is a no-slime hot springer as you may recall.¹ So while I’ve remembered my swim trunks for the departure soak, she prefers to stand and give us knowing looks. (I think wives try to promote good behavior by keeping us on edge about whether we’ve done something wrong.) That’s it for 2014. Now the slow drive home …