It's been a week now since I returned from an absolutely wonderful vacation full of "firsts." The vacation afforded me an opportunity to visit Idaho for the first time in my life. I also visited Minnesota for the first time. Now, there's only one state west of the Mississippi that I have yet to visit: North Dakota (where Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located, so it may be worth a stop in the future).
We went west to raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon River through the 3.2 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest roadless area in the contiguous United States. I can't begin to describe how wonderful the trip was, so I won't try, but I definitely would encourage you to experience it yourself. A rafting trip on the Middle Fork is one of the items in the 1,000 Things To Do Before You Die book, and I can definitely lend my support to that recommendation. Six days of fun in heaven.
One evening's camp along the Middle Fork. We had to evict three rattlesnakes from the campsite before setting up the tents.
I recorded 24 species of birds along the river, but none was a "first" for me. American Robins, Western Tanagers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were the most common species, but I also spotted Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagles, and Golden Eagles. I also observed at least five mammals (elk, mule deer, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and several species of ground squirrels). In several reaches of the river, aquatic insect "hatches" filled the air like dust motes, and huge, 3-inch-long Pteronarcid stonefly adults were so abundant in places that we had to evict them from our tent before we went to bed.
A mayfly imago either ovipositing or fatally stuck to the surface tension of the river.
The Middle Fork has never been stocked, so it harbors a native population of Western Slope Cutthroat Trout. Several members of our party flyfished successfully, but we were never treated to a fish dinner because fishing is limited to catch-and-release using barbless hooks. We also saw a few Chinook Salmon returning to their natal streams to spawn 700 miles and 6,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
Seven hundred feet above the Middle Fork at Arapahoe Point.
The Sawtooth Mountains from a point about 20 miles west of Stanley, Idaho, where we turned off the paved road to begin our journey.