Wintry Backroads to Lowman

View Another Adventureexpand_moreexpand_less
menu
October 8, 2011

Jessica and I ride over the Boise Ridge, visit the museum in Placerville then have lunch in Garden Valley before attempting to summit Scott Mountain. Snow stops us but the effort means it’s dark by the time we reach Sourdough Lodge where we spend the night.

Lowman Loop 2011
photo_camera

Camera Settings

Lowman Loop 2011
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711309714
infoinfo_outline

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe some jerky. I guess I’m not that hungry.”

Jessica is walking around inside the gas station convenience store two blocks from our house looking like Marvin the Martian¹ while I finish filling the bike outside. We still have our helmets and intercoms on so we keep chatting, trying to figure out what snacks we want for the ride ahead.

“I don’t feel much like eating anything,” she says.

“Alright,” I conclude. “Let’s just go then. We can eat in Garden Valley in a couple hours.”

We have the weekend to ourselves thanks to my sister-in-law Heather keeping Hunter and Brenna for a sleep-over and Kayla taking care of things at home. Oh, and the week of rain, rain has gone away, leaving golden leaves to glitter under a blue sky.

  1. Wikipedia, “Marvin the Martian”: en.wikipedia.org/…/Marvin_the_Martian
North over Robie Creek
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
North over Robie Creek
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711320044
infoinfo_outline

We accelerate up the ravine from the doe and fawns that decided just now to stroll across Shaw Mountain Road at the edge of town. Welcome to the wilds. The air is crisp but not cold. The foothills around are summer-dry and precisely defined by the autumn sun.

“There are a lot of people here,” I remark as we pass a dozen cars and maybe twenty people milling around at the end of the pavement a mile on.

“A sign said they were picking up garbage,” Jessica explains.

“That’s funny,” I say. “I’ve never noticed any litter up here.” Maybe from here they’ll go clean the coffee pots in the Mormon temple before helping me oil my chain.

The gravel Rocky Canyon Road looks dry but the recent rains have settled the dust. We pass several bicyclers and a few cars as we amble up the narrow ravine to Aldape Summit.

Not dirty yet
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Not dirty yet
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711326500
infoinfo_outline

You used to be able to ride east from here along the ridge to Lucky Peak but it’s been gated for several years and subject to curious development. Something like a habitable storage shed crowns the otherwise bare rise along the road atop makeshift steps and terraces. A hunting hut? But then why the crude landscaping? It’s hard to guess the purpose.

Silver lining
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Silver lining
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711333006
infoinfo_outline

We pull onto an overlook up the ridge a bit in the other direction, a place we always stop for a look around. Puffy clouds loiter above snow covered mountains to the north. Boise stretches south under blue haze. We gaze a quiet moment until a family of gregarious bees decides to welcome us.

Twenty-five raptors
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Twenty-five raptors
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711339058
infoinfo_outline

Farther on, we pause to witness some celestial oddities: inside-out clouds, darker at the edges than middle, and a tower of twenty raptors circling around each other high above the hills. We have no answers.

Better not rain
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Better not rain
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711349170
infoinfo_outline

Sparse, anti-social trees become an occasional copse, then cliques, then crowd into a forest as we reach the full height of the ridge above Boise. Limbs and shadows obscure more elaborate, still odd habitations along the dirt road, their owners apparently alarmed that any should notice them.

Picky about privacy
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Picky about privacy
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711364920
infoinfo_outline

Keep Out
No Trespassing
Private Property
Warning: Guard Dog
Do Not Look Here
(Okay, I made the last one up)

“These places are creepy,” Jessica says as we pass by. “I wonder if they really have that much trouble with trespassers.”

Towers
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Towers
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711375518
infoinfo_outline

We are soon reminded it’s time for gathering wood. We meet a truck pulling a trailer of rounds then slow to circumvent three guys attacking downed trees with chainsaws while two little boys in comically oversized ear muffs watch in awe from a tailgate. The boys wave exuberantly as we go by.

“That’s adorable,” my passenger says.

Road to Bogus
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Road to Bogus
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711384594
infoinfo_outline
Across Highway 21
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Across Highway 21
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711392906
infoinfo_outline

It is noticeably colder as we approach and circle around the wintry white ski hills, Deer Point and Shafer Butte.¹ “Staying warm enough?” I ask Jess.

“Yep.”

Our gloves and jacket liners are enhanced by the promise of a warm bed tonight. Just knowing a hot meal and heated room will be ready for us makes everything more bearable.

  1. Bogus Basin: bogusbasin.org/www.bogusbasin
Looks cold
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Looks cold
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711403562
infoinfo_outline

“I’ve never gone this way,” I note as we continue north on the dirt road past the turn to Mores Mountain campground.

“It’s an adventure,” answers the voice in my ear with a hint of sarcasm.

Ski hills
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Ski hills
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711412816
infoinfo_outline

Some snow remains on the road where it bends around the north side of the mountains. Cliffs of bulbous grey rock rise above the road, hedged in autumn color and marking the boundary on the commerce of lifts and lodges. Our way is beyond through the primitive mountain panorama.

Sugarloaf on the seat
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Sugarloaf on the seat
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711421346
infoinfo_outline

Recent rain, snow and cold have conspired, I suppose, to mat the road in many places with long ponderosa pine needles. The cool air carries their scent. We each comment on this and other delights.

“Wow, that’s really pretty.”

“Yeah it is.”

Communication
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Communication
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711428152
infoinfo_outline

“The GPS says that’s Sugarloaf Rock over there,” I explain while pulling to the side of the road. It’s an impressive protuberance on the otherwise gentle mountain slope.

Sugarloaf Rock
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Sugarloaf Rock
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711438010
infoinfo_outline

Jessica climbs the bank and finds a campsite cloistered by trees with a clear view to the big rock. “What’s a sugarloaf?” she asks.¹

“I don’t know,” I answer. “It sounds like it tastes good.”

  1. Wikipedia, “Sugarloaf”: en.wikipedia.org/…/Sugarloaf
Ridge all the way
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Ridge all the way
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711450244
infoinfo_outline

Views are grand, the road is smooth and my lover is leaned against me. Life doesn’t get a lot better than this.

On many rides, I push to see something new, ride where I haven’t been before. Most of what we’ve ridden today, however, are the same dirt roads I found when I moved to Boise fifteen years ago, ridden and ridden again. This lady on the back is the same whose childhood home I visited across the Palouse Hills on my motorcycle twenty-three years ago.

So much the same but so much different. A new autumn is here, the same as ten thousand before it. It is a joy to see life pass from beginning toward end here among the trees on aimless dirt roads.

“Transitoriness is depressing only to the mind which insists upon trying to grasp. But to the mind which lets go and moves with the flow of change … the sense of transience or emptiness becomes a kind of ecstasy.”¹

  1. Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, p. 42
Star Ranch
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Star Ranch
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711468204
infoinfo_outline

A professional violinist moved from Germany to San Francisco and then the Idaho Territory where he and his wife, in 1874, purchased a ranch in the mountains. Together they “built a thriving enterprise with a hotel, saloon, a dance hall with living quarters in back, stables, a sawmill across the creek and a horse racing track, which attracted travelers, boarders, miners and ranchers.”¹

  1. Interpretive marker
Once a dynasty
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Once a dynasty
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711480776
infoinfo_outline

So explains the weathered, typewritten pages hung behind clear plastic in front of this aspen ensconced log cabin, the “Star Ranch.” Someone cared to post the history but apparently hasn’t been available to maintain it for some years. The last of the account is stained, disintegrated and unreadable.

Generations ago
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Generations ago
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711488576
infoinfo_outline

Social center is not the impression the long dirt road from Boise led us to. Quite the opposite. Yet the sign describes horse races lasting four days including a “grand ball,” a few specially bred competitors from as far as Kentucky, and prizes of gold.

If I’ve read correctly, the couple, Philip and Katherina, had nine children (though one died before she was three). Although proprietors of a “thriving enterprise,” the first things we notice about their home are close walls and low ceilings. By today’s standards, it would be crowded with two kids.

Were families a century ago more comfortable with each other? Did they spend more time outside? Were they less concerned about personal space?

Grazing
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Grazing
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711496084
infoinfo_outline

The humble home that must have many times pulsed with the energy of eight or ten people now silently disintegrates, decade by decade. It’s odd to imagine all that must have happened right where we’re standing. The only life left is an aspen sapling, an offshoot of those now crowding around the historic Star Ranch.

Landscaping
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Landscaping
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711508546
infoinfo_outline

I was struck by two separate segments in the news recently — both in-home interviews — about the difficulties faced by the long term unemployed and those wanting to take advantage of low mortgage rates but with no remaining equity to qualify.

What surprised me was how modern and comfortable the families’ homes appeared — fresh paint schemes, granite counter tops, flat screen televisions. Nicer than our house, actually. Such was the backdrop for complaints of hardship and injustice.

I would be upset to join the unemployed, yes, but these segments made it hard to sympathize, made the concerns seem more like entitlement whining.

It is hard to discern much of the character of Philip and Katherina from the few faded words affixed in front of their home but I have to think their television interview would look and sound quite different. Like other early settlers in the Idaho Territory, they had to choose an attitude that would allow them to thrive in unforgiving circumstances.

Main street
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Main street
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711516612
infoinfo_outline

It is a short distance down the dirt road to Placerville, an old mining town with a population of sixty-some according to the census, more like sixteen as the residents count themselves. Either way, compared to the 5,000 who lived here in 1863, it’s a veritable ghost town.

  1. Wikipedia, “Placerville, Idaho”: en.wikipedia.org/…/Placerville,_Idaho
Magnolia Saloon
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Magnolia Saloon
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711523960
infoinfo_outline

We have come through here before but without stopping to look much at the many vestiges of the area’s rich and pivotal past.

Prospectors began to trickle into the region to look for gold and silver during the Civil War years [and] flooded in a decade later … Central Idaho owes much of its history, and modern character, to those ore deposits, and to the people who found and worked them. Their task was neither easy nor especially rewarding.¹

Although fruitless for many, years of prospecting and mining produced yields that made “the Boise Basin the most productive gold mining district in Idaho, beyond question.”²

  1. Roadside Geology of Idaho, pp. 115–116
  2. Ibid. p. 208
Necessary House
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Necessary House
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711530216
infoinfo_outline
Mom and Pop Stores
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Mom and Pop Stores
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711538064
infoinfo_outline
Trade wisely
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Trade wisely
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711549932
infoinfo_outline

Jessica and I wander along the short boardwalks while munching on snacks from the small store and peer through wavy glass at the disheveled interiors of the town’s two museums until a man with a round face, easy smile and a salt-and-pepper pony-tail emerges from somewhere and offers to unlock the doors so we can look inside.

Tour guide
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Tour guide
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711557958
infoinfo_outline

The front of the museum is all display cases and documents. A doorway to the back leads to rooms set up like a period kitchen, dining room, sewing room and classroom. Jessica explores the back while I, along with three others from a Jeep, listen to our docent’s elucidations.

I am interested for several minutes then feigning interest then trying to politely slip away to the back with Jessica. As I make my escape, I hear our friendly guide say apologetically to the remaining tourists, “I’ve had a few today,” perhaps realizing he’d rambled.

“Don’t worry,” answers one, sounding a little uncomfortable, “it’s the weekend.” An odd conciliation, I think to myself. If I lived out here, retired, I’d have a beer whenever the fancy struck me, weekend or not.

Classroom
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Classroom
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711571642
infoinfo_outline

I find Jessica in the tiny classroom reading with amusement a placard outlining the conduct that was expected of a teacher. “You’ve got to see this,” she says.

One example reads, “You may go courting one evening per week or two evenings if you also attend church services.” Others are similarly ascetic.

We agree we’d like to spend more time here, to know better these hardy, sometimes peculiar forebearers. Our schedule is relaxed but we still have some distance to cover. We’d better be moving on. We’ll come here again with the kids.

“Thanks so much,” we tell our Placerville host. “That was great.”

All to himself
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
All to himself
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711580130
infoinfo_outline

“One can still take the prospectors’ route from Placerville to Garden Valley”¹ and that’s just what we’ll do. The road north is well travelled. We ride rapidly between the trees, through the hills, enjoying each moment of the beautiful autumn day.

  1. Roadside History of Idaho, p. 190
Lunch in Crouch
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Lunch in Crouch
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711588010
infoinfo_outline

We cross a one-lane bridge over the South Fork of the Payette and turn left on the highway through Garden Valley a few miles to the tourist town of Crouch. After a cruising intercom conference, we decide to sit for lunch facing the colorful mountains on the deck of the Longhorn Restaurant.

  1. Longhorn Steakhouse and Saloon: longhornrestaurantandsaloon.com/longhornrestaurantandsaloon
Mountains of beer
photo_camera

Camera Settings

Mountains of beer
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711592944
infoinfo_outline

“I planned to turn and check out a mountain a bit before Lowman,” I explain to Jessica after we’ve finished hardy meals. “It shouldn’t be far. You up for it?”

“Sure,” she answers with the same soft enthusiasm you might have for finding some coins under a cushion.

Sunny bend
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Sunny bend
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711604856
infoinfo_outline

The river cuts a gorge at places along the Banks Lowman Highway. Granite cliffs rise above, lit orange by the late afternoon sun. Jessica reports beautiful views but insists I watch the road.

The rough sound of dragging breaks our quiet rhythm.

“What was that?” Jessica asks, startled.

“The edge of my boot touched the ground,” I explain. “I’ve been practicing leaning.”

“Not funny,” she says, as if I was joking.

Hopefully
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Hopefully
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711615210
infoinfo_outline

I pull to the side at a wide spot for a more measured look at the river and see we’re at our mountain turn. “Narrow Steep Road” a sign warns. That sounds pretty good. It’s getting dim here in the canyon but I see sun on the ridges above. It should be an easy jaunt up and back. It always is.

A little snow on the road
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
A little snow on the road
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711623208
infoinfo_outline

“Oh, that’s awesome.”

I am not sure which of us says it first—perhaps a duet. We’re still climbing Scott Mountain Road cut into one side of a ravine. There are few trees to prevent the plunge to the bottom should you drive poorly.

We are laughing at the couple guys we’ve just passed, sitting on lawn chairs behind their pickup at the wide-open edge of the road, a case of beer on the tailgate and rifles on their laps. They’re side-by-side facing the opposite side of the ravine as if watching television.

Up, up the road continues, a fairly straight incline along the ravine—six-thousand feet of elevation then seven-thousand and higher. Snow hidden in the shadows below has crept out onto the road and we’re still climbing, now on the ridge toward the lookout.

We get a little sideways on a steeper stretch and Jessica volunteers to walk while I get going again. The ride is getting squirrelly and the GS needs coaxing. We breath a sigh of relief each time we reach a short patch of bare earth.

That's probably far enough
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
That’s probably far enough
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711631438
infoinfo_outline

Ahead on a sharp snow covered corner is a rider facing us from atop a spindly motorcycle, stopped alongside a pickup ready to continue upward.

“I wouldn’t try it,” I hear the rider tell the driver as we stop nearby. The road ahead is more exposed with deeper snow. He couldn’t get to the lookout so he’s heading back to his campsite below.

Moon and trees
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Moon and trees
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711637738
infoinfo_outline

For a moment I want to try anyway but the wiser part of my brain senses danger and quickly takes control. It looks like 7,800 feet is as high as we get.

I would like to get some big view for coming up here. We passed a turn not far back to a lower lookout so I ask the rider, “do you know if the road to the other lookout is open?”

“Yeah,” he answers, “it probably is.”

Retreating
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Retreating
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711645824
infoinfo_outline

Jess and I stretch our legs a moment, taking in the view over Deadwood Reservoir, before beginning a careful retreat.

Old guard
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Old guard
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711653378
infoinfo_outline
As far as we go today
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
As far as we go today
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711662252
infoinfo_outline

We are barely back below snow level when we turn toward the other lookout. We pass a group of trucks, ATVs and wall-tents, preparations, I’m sure, for big game season in a couple days.

Stand tall
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Stand tall
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711668742
infoinfo_outline

The road to this other lookout climbs quickly into snow again, though not as much as before. The ridge here is wide and flat—slow but not hair-raising.

As we continue upward, the western sky glows orange and yellow while mountains and clouds to the east are painted pink and purple. An almost full moon shines brightly above. The scene is amazing any way we look.

Snow on the tops
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Snow on the tops
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711676428
infoinfo_outline

Finally the lookout tower is in view. But at the base of its hill, a locked gate. Darn. It’s getting too late to look for alternative approaches.

“Well,” I say, “I guess that’s that but we still have great views.”

“Yeah,” Jess agrees.

Autumn sunset
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Autumn sunset
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711687578
infoinfo_outline
Another retreat
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Another retreat
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711694776
infoinfo_outline
Scott Mountain
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Scott Mountain
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711702872
infoinfo_outline
Last of today
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Last of today
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711708926
infoinfo_outline

I am relieved to get out of the snow for the last time. It’s fully dark now.

“I’m getting kind of cold,” Jess mentions.

“We should be there soon,” I promise.

We get back to the highway and follow it to Lowman. I was counting on the Sourdough having a good sign but I can’t see anything where the GPS suggests I turn. We turn anyway and circle around some houses.

“Maybe it’s on the other side of the highway,” I offer. I hope.

We cross and quickly come to the end of a Forest Service parking lot. A couple guys watch us closely as they load a truck.

I pull near and ask, “can you tell us how to get to the Sourdough?”

“Yeah,” one answers. “Get back on the highway and keep going about seven more miles.”

“Great. Thank you.”

Late arrival
photo_camera

Camera Settings

Late arrival
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711718794
infoinfo_outline

We have ridden through darkness for some time now. Ahead the highway stretches into more darkness. “If his estimate was accurate,” I tell Jess in the intercom, “we’ve just hit seven miles.”

What if we can’t find the lodge? I contemplate alternatives. We could continue up to Stanley but that’s a ways yet and it’s already getting late. The same for going back to Crouch. I guess we’ll keep going a bit.

“There it is!” Jessica exclaims. Big and bright at the edge of the road, three miles farther, impossible to miss. What a welcome sight.

Only customers
photo_camera

Camera Settings

Only customers
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711727320
infoinfo_outline

A bell sounds as we push through the antler handle entrance into the cozy convenience store half of the restaurant.

“Welcome!” calls a wiry, middle-aged woman with graying, tightly curled hair that just reaches her shoulders. “I’ll be right with you.”

“We’d like a motel room,” I tell her when she comes our way. “We’ll set our things down and probably come back over for dinner. You’re open until ten, right?”

“Yep,” she answers cheerfully. “That sounds great.”

Jessica goes immediately to turn up the heat in our small, tidy room. Cold highway wind has left her chilled. Once our things are unloaded we return and take a seat in the empty dining room, eager for a hot meal.

Hot dinner
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Hot dinner
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711735610
infoinfo_outline

The couple who own the place seem to do everything. We chat a little with one of them, the lady who welcomed us and now waits our table. Her and Jessica laugh about all the men gone “hunting” days before the season opens such as those we saw today.

“We saw several shuttered restaurants and motels between here and Crouch,” I mention.

Many have come and gone in her fifteen years here, she acknowledges, especially of late. To keep the Sourdough going, they have the motel, RV pads, cabins, a gas station, liquor store, convenience store and restaurant. She, her husband and son all work here—long hours it seems. I find myself admiring her attitude, their dedication.

Ready to rest
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Ready to rest
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711744872
infoinfo_outline

Our food arrives and it’s delicious. We’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s fairly late, we’re the only customers, and we can still get grilled vegetables, wild rice, corn, mashed potatoes and chicken hot from the kitchen, thanks to the husband cooking back there. It’s hard not to feel a little hooray.

We retire happy to our room.

Clean and cozy
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Clean and cozy
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711752590
infoinfo_outline

It is not long until checkout time. We’ve slept late, though I doubt they’re picky about deadlines today. We walk across the gravel lot to the restaurant for breakfast. The couple is already there, greeting customers, waiting tables and cooking again.

Our little room
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Our little room
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711761086
infoinfo_outline

We sit to coffee and a hot breakfast near the wood stove. We look forward to a relaxing ride home. A stop at a hot springs, lunch in Idaho City then back to the kids. Another good day awaits.

Kirkham stop
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Kirkham stop
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711768528
infoinfo_outline

The sun is already well into the sky by the time we return our room key and begin down the bed of tar toward home. It is another brilliant autumn day, bright enough to warrant the Ponch sunglasses with their curious power to cause involuntary expressions of disdain.

“Oh jeez,” Jessica says as I push them on.

We had thought to borrow motel towels to soak in a hot spring down the road but they’re farther separated than we thought. Back-and-forth shuttling sounds tedious. We decide we’ll just pull in to see the hot springs then be on our way.

Let's see where it goes
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Let’s see where it goes
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711779290
infoinfo_outline

Kirkham Hot Springs is a popular playground of hillside seeps, steaming waterfalls and sand-bottom pools. The adjacent campground¹ and parking area is regularly full over the summer. Today there are just a few people camping and nobody at the springs.

  1. U.S. Forest Service, “Kirkham Campground”: fs.usda.gov/…/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP0os3gDfxMDT8MwRydLA1cj72BTJw8jAwjQL8h2VAQAzHJMsQ!!
Autumn reflections
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Autumn reflections
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711788722
infoinfo_outline

Small signs planted along the trail above the seeping hot springs are weathered or vandalized beyond recognition. The river below reflects autumn colors while the hills above remain shockingly bare twenty-two years after their historic incineration.¹

Late in the afternoon of July 26, 1989, a dry lightning storm swept through the mountains north of Boise, Idaho, and lit what seemed like the whole world on fire … Temperatures at the heart of the blaze reached two thousand degrees. A column of smoke and ash rose eight miles up into the atmosphere. Trees were snapped in half by the force of the [heat induced] convection winds.²

  1. Idaho Statesman, “Firestorm Came to Lowman 20 Years Ago this Month” (July 17, 2009): voices.idahostatesman.com/…/firestorm_came_lowman_20_years_ago_month
  2. Junger, Fire, pp. 3–4: amazon.com/…/0060088613
Hot rivulets
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Hot rivulets
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711797074
infoinfo_outline

Without knowing how hot the water is — likely what the signs used to say — we are hesitant to step across the steaming marsh. The end of the path, however, persuades us to tread gingerly out across the rocks and rivulets toward the river. We find the water fine.

As we pick our way along the river, we agree, “this would be a lot of fun for the kids.” We know it’s a lot of fun for these two kids.

Warm bath
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Warm bath
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711805868
infoinfo_outline
Hot walk
photo_camera

Camera Settings

Hot walk
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711813270
infoinfo_outline
Temperature check
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Temperature check
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711823214
infoinfo_outline
My beautiful passenger
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
My beautiful passenger
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711832546
infoinfo_outline
Steam bath
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Steam bath
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711839448
infoinfo_outline
Feels good
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Feels good
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711849328
infoinfo_outline
Along Kirkham
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Along Kirkham
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711859910
infoinfo_outline
Kirkham spa
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Kirkham spa
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711869076
infoinfo_outline

We are quite impressed with Kirkham, glad we stopped to see it. Overheated from walking overdressed around all the hot water, we are now excited to face chilling highway wind.

Smoke layer
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Smoke layer
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711878570
infoinfo_outline

The road south of Lowman reminds me of an extension cord after the kids have used it—knots where none should arise. It was here that heavy patrols last time gave us occasion to learn the motorcyclist signal for “police ahead,” a pat on the helmet, that at first confused us.

At the top of the grade we turn onto dirt road 351 with a plan to descend the ridge to Idaho City on Bear Run Road across Pilot Peak.

Aspen grove
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Aspen grove
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711893506
infoinfo_outline

We ride casually and enjoy the crisp air and delightful mountain views.

I like this road
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
I like this road
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711904644
infoinfo_outline

“I think it’s that way,” I say, nodding, as we come to an intersection of four dirt roads. Two of them are almost parallel where the map shows just one road.

Over the first rise we see the road ahead deteriorate to a trail. Jessica groans as I continue without slowing. “We’ll be fine,” I promise.

Brush clutches at our legs as we navigate the sloping, steepening path. “Alright,” I finally say, relenting. “We’ll turn around at the next opportunity.”

No sooner have I made that commitment than we reach a clearing. The trail ahead appears to lead pleasantly into Ponderosas and upward, I’m sure, to wonderful vistas.

“Ooh, that looks nice,” I suggest, waiting for Jessica to tell me to go ahead. But she doesn’t.

Fine. “This hurts my heart,” I whine as we circle around while I make the sounds of being in pain.

“You can try it next time,” she consoles. She’s right, of course. Not just about running it later but about avoiding it now. This is supposed to be a relaxing ride.

Fenced in
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Fenced in
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711915526
infoinfo_outline

A green gate some miles up the alternate road, the correct road, appears to have shut just a week ago. Darn. I’d rather not backtrack, especially when that leaves only the highway to ride. After some rationalizing—the road isn’t muddy and we aren’t hunting—I decide we’ll try to squeeze around.

Jess helps steady the bike while I walk it up the bank and around. It’s a bit dicey. “Sorry,” I say as we ride away. “I know I often make those things more stressful.” A little adrenalin in the blood and I can be rather curt. I don’t mean to.

We hope the gate at the other end is no harder.

It is not far to find it. We are relieved to see it’s an easy bypass.

Undeterred
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Undeterred
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711925788
infoinfo_outline

Pilot Peak is now in view, though the way up is looking more and more like the top of Scott Mountain Road yesterday. As snow becomes more prevalent, I squint against the brightness to see which track is the shortest distance to bare dirt.

Snow line
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Snow line
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711938350
infoinfo_outline

Jessica is expressing some skepticism so I suggest, “if I can’t make it through the next section”—meaning without pushing or struggling—“then we’ll turn around.”

I don’t get far.

Clearly cold
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Clearly cold
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711949884
infoinfo_outline

I hadn’t planned an alternate to Pilot Peak so we stop to strategize in a small meadow below the snow line near a little group of ATV riders. We chat and learn they’re heading to Pioneerville and onto Idaho City. Compared to our plan, it’s a bit out of the way but seems the best alternative at this point. And we’ve never been that way, so also an adventure.

The road along Clear Creek is intermittently icy and muddy. The ATVs zoom ahead while we ride slowly and breathe it all in.

Suddenly, two large dogs tear after us out of nowhere. They seem eager to bite something. I’m glad I have boots on. “What a jerk to let your dogs out of control,” I think of the owner.

I am planning the dirty look I will deliver (from behind my sunglasses inside my helmet) when we round the corner and see two scruffy Hispanic guys crouched at the edge of the road. There’s no vehicle, nothing. Just them.

Agitation is replaced by curiosity satisfied by Jessica’s question: “Did you see all the sheep?”

Ah, shepherds. “No,” I answer. “I guess the dogs thought we were a big stray sheep.” Now it seems kind of funny.

Friends?
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Friends?
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711958760
infoinfo_outline

We continue by Pioneerville, Centerville and New Centerville toward Idaho City. Mountain meadows piled edge-to-edge by a century of mine tailings spoil some scenes but much remains to thrill or sate the senses.

“Those unsightly heaps of gravel will probably continue to tell the story for many thousands of years before natural processes can begin to restore the floodplains to anything resembling their natural condition.”¹

  1. Roadside Geology of Idaho, p. 208
Some are welcome
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Some are welcome
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711966524
infoinfo_outline

We come in behind Idaho City and pull into Diamond Lil’s¹ along the old boardwalk for lunch. I try to make friends with the Harley riders beside us — “How ya doing?” — but they don’t respond.

  1. Diamond Lil’s: diamondlils.net/www.diamondlils
Flat history
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Flat history
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711978158
infoinfo_outline

Inside is a veritable museum that Jess and I explore while waiting for the day’s specials: French Dip for her, Philly Cheese Steak for me. She makes some complaint when our food arrives about having to eat alongside an image of Holocaust victims. It and hundreds of other haphazardly framed clippings from a century of news fill the walls.

Bright lights
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Bright lights
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711987884
infoinfo_outline

I like this place. It’s dark, dingy and a little mysterious. The stuff here is real, not cheap bits of tin made to look like American antiquities for the walls of corporate restaurant chains. Behind them are local pioneer lives not “made in China” stickers.

Back to the kids, I guess
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Back to the kids, I guess
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/7711997440
infoinfo_outline

The food is very good. I’m sure we’ll be back, Diamond Lil. Highway and home beckon.