Tuesday, August 2, 2011


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.


Jain said...

Congrats for getting to Idaho! Minnesota’s good, too. :)

The landscape is stunning, and what a great collection of critters you saw!

Grizz………… said...

Your photos and words make me envious as all get out! What a wonderful trip! I can't hink of a better way of escaping the heat and humdrum of summer than a float down the middle Snake. What a dream place for a fly fisherman with congenital trout lust.

Incidentally, while driving north from South Dakota's Badlands and Spearfish area a few years ago, on the way to Canada and following the north shore around Lake Superior route back to Ohio, I passed by the turn-off to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I've regretted ever since not stopping for a few days. I think I've read somewhere that it's the least-visited of all the large parks, and flat out in the middle of nowhere—but everyone I've talked with since who's been there, says it's absolutely worth the time if you're willing to get to know the place. It's just not one of those places where, unlike Yosemite or Yellowstone, you can drive up and be wowed immediately. It is at the top on my list of places to go explore.

Again, great post. And welcome home, though you'd probably rather be camped somewhere out West.

Scott said...

Jain: the landscape in central Idaho is truly stunning. The large aggregation of mountains occupying central Idaho, collectively known as the Salmon River Mountains, is not spectacularly craggy but the mountains are high and impressive. They were created by streams (like the Middle Fork and its tributaries) eroding deep gorges into the Idaho Batholith, a huge dome of igneous rock that welled-up (but didn't break through the surface) millions of years ago. There are other "real" snow-capped mountains on the periphery like the aptly named Sawtooth Range.

Minnesota was mostly good because we reconnected strongly with friends from graduate school. It was as if we had never been separated, though we hadn't seen our friends in 25 years. Our exposure to the Minnesota landscape was limited to the environs around the Twin Cities, though we took an evening tourist cruise on the Mississippi and saw six Bald Eagles along the banks!

Scott said...

Grizz: A tiny correction: we rafted the Salmon, not the Snake. Nevertheless, I thought about you every time the fly fishermen on our trip cast into the pelucid, cold (very cold!) emerald pools, imagining how much you would be enjoying this. The days on the river were hot(upper 80s and low 90s), and we were exposed to full sunlight most of the time (coming around a bend into shadow was a treat), but the air is very, very dry in central Idaho so we didn't have to contend with humidity. I'd go back in a heartbeat!

You've heard more about Theodore Roosevelt NP than I have. I understand that it's mostly grassland and badlands whose beauty takes some time to seep into your soul. Many years ago, Kali and I camped at Badlands National Park for four days. Other people we encountered in the park typically blew through in a few hours or camped overnight and couldn't understand how we could spend four days there. But getting to know the park in many of its moods (including a thunderstorm that generated runoff in a normally dry streambed and which I had a chance to photograph because I was staying put; the striking image [if I do say so myself] is on the wall next to me as I type) left lasting memories for Kali and me. If you get to North Dakota before me, fill me in on details!

John Gray said...

thank you for your kind comments
your country is far more beautiful than ours.....!

Scott said...

John: I don't know that the United States is more beautiful than Great Britain, but I will concede that the landscape is more diverse.

packrat said...

Fascinating description of the trip, Scott, and beautiful photos, too. I very much enjoy your beautiful blog, and I've been meaning to thank you for your occasional comments on mine. Thanks.

Rob (Packrat)

Scott said...

Thanks, Rob. I check on your exploits frequently, but don't always comment. Kali and I have given serious consideration to moving to Las Cruces when we retire, but then again, every time we visit a small city in the West, we change our minds. Boise's in contention now, but I think we need to visit Missoula, too. I'm afraid that Las Cruces may be too hot, and I'm also concerned about water in the desert Southwest in the future.