Up early to take advantage of the predicted blue skies: wrong again, it’s cloudy and cold! The warm sunny weather we seek is tantalisingly within reach according to the forecasts as we go to sleep, but seems to silently slip away as we slumber. Well that’s a lot of ‘s’ words, but enough wordSmithing. We have decided that we want to spend a little more time on the smaller roads in the mountains so our route is directly west from Idaho Falls.
First stop is Arco where, apart from thawing out, we need to make a decision of which of two routes to take into the mountains. People in the local diner suggest the sheriff’s office a couple of doors away for information on road conditions. There I find a couple of women who immediately go to a public state government web site called 511.idaho.gov which has all the road information and access to web cams. It seems that many people call the sheriff’s office to get the road conditions, not realising they have access to the same information. No calling old Joe or Fred up the mountains as they probably did in years gone by. I am left a little apprehensive by the fact that all the webcams up the mountains show a white screen: no connection or buried under snow? We really do rely on technology today in so many ways – a good or bad thing? On the sheriff’s department recommendation, we are going via Sun Valley. There are reports of flooding and rock falls on the route via Challis plus we are told the road from Arco to Challis is not as interesting.
First stop is Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve which was only established in 2000 to preserve the lava flows that occurred as recently as 2,100 years ago: that event is incorporated into Northern Shoshone legends that speak of a fire breathing serpent that crushed a mountain until liquid rock ran out.
Snow still covers the mountains on both sides as we climb up towards Galena Summit having enjoyed an excellent and unexpected Thai meal in Haley near Sun Valley. Continued recent snow falls have slowed the normal melt process, but the road is clear and dry. We still need to watch out for rocks, or “Rock Season” as the locals say, along with avalanches and falling trees. The pictures tell the story – one can understand why roads can be closed for long periods in winter. Here we have our first snowball fight of the year, albeit with wet heavy snow, not the light fluffy stuff of mid winter. Still fun in mid May and definitely not possible back home in Manly, Queensland.
Our first night in a ger, no not in Mongolia, but in Cascade, ID. I suspect microwave, TV, heater and WiFi will not be options when we finally get to Mongolia. Not quite camping, but getting closer. Cascade will be one the towns in the USA to see the total eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017. The town’s population of around 1,000 will be boosted by an estimated 25,000 visitors for the day! Yes, all accommodation is long booked, that started two years ago. No more visitors please the locals say.
McCall has something a little different for pedestrians crossing the road: instead of the more usual lights or crossing signs, green flags, take one out of the holders, hold it in front of you as you cross the road and leave it in the corresponding holder on the other side. A couple of times we have seen orange flags on animal warning signs, but sadly no animal seems to use them as I have not seen a single dead animal with one in its mouth. More training needed there! A small aside, for some reason, we find dead skunk roadkill smells sickly sweet!, and the cloying smell seems to linger inside the helmet for a long time!
When we descended from the Galena summit, we saw the headwaters of the Salmon river, a mere trickle at this point, which crisscrossed the road as we headed northward towards Stanley. Anne felt she was seeing a river being born. As the Salmon river grew alongside us as we rode, it reminded me the journey to adulthood, gentle baby, boisterous toddler, rambunctious adolescent when our company parted, us westwards and the Salmon river to the northeast. 24 hours later we are surprisingly reunited with the Salmon river, now grown into adulthood, powerful, deep and with purpose. While we slept, the river travelled northeastwards, then abruptly turned west, we are back together again! We travel along together, companions for a while, then when we turn off onto the old Route 95, we part company and wish the Salmon river well as it flows to maturity and into Snake river downstream.
We have previously commented on the terms “Ride to Travel” and “Travel to Ride” and we both feel that the first five weeks of our trip has been the later. We have spent time pouring over maps looking for the best and most scenic routes, this segment being an example, we travelled from Idaho Falls to Missoula, a distance of 650 miles / 1050 kilometres via western Idaho vs 314 miles / 500 kilometres on the direct route. We realise we have seen few famous landmarks, but given our previous trips to the USA we are focusing on the riding and exploring new routes.
As we ride eastwards on US12 following the path of firstly the Clearwater River and then the Lochsa River, one must wonder at the fortitude of the early explorers, such as Lewis and Clarke who travelled though this area during their epic expedition from May 1804 to September 1806 exploring the newly acquired Louisiana purchase. The river for them and road for us now are the only routes for access, everything else is trees, trees and more trees! It must have been slow going for Lewis and Clark, we can zip along at around 60mph / 100kmh. Travel is so easy today, we are very lucky.
Lunch, courtesy of Jo and Lesley who we met at the side of the road with their riding companion Don, sees us at Lochsa lodge, the wonderful smells and idilic location encourage us to spend the night here. We get cabin No.1 and settle in. Blue skies, green trees and snowcapped peaks provide the backdrop to a relaxing afternoon. It feels so good to wear sandals and short sleeved tops for the first time in 6 weeks. Time for a short walk amongst the trees and along the rushing Lochsa river.
Another blue sky day the following morning and up to Lolo pass, over the summit and we are into Montana, our 13th US State on this trip. A more sedate decent brings us to Missoula which we bypass and head north on US 93. Anne notices that road signs suddenly appear in 2 languages – English and one she has never seen before – then spots the Ninepipes Museum halfway between Missoula and Kalispell. The museum, http://www.ninepipesmuseum.org, was created in 1997 by Bud Cheff, who we were lucky to meet, in honour of Bitterroot Salish Chief Joseph Ninepipes. Growing up in Mission Valley, Bud became fascinated by history at a young age and started collecting artifacts and early photos: his museum is an absolute treasure trove of local Indian history. Many local people have donated historical items to this museum, which could have been lost without Bud Cheff’s foresight and commitment. In an interesting aside, numbers of people visiting the museum are down over the last few years and the comment was people turn to the internet for their information rather than visit such places, however if such places did not exist, the information within them could not make its way to the internet. So please keep visiting in the real world wherever you are.
Anne found out that language on the road signs in the area are in Salish going north and Kootenai going south. The town we are headed to for the night, Kalispell, means “flat land above the lake” in Salish. There are several dialects of Salish such as Spokane, Kalispel (Pend d’Oreille) and Flathead (proper Salish) and it was great to see the Salish Kootenai College, a Higher Education college for American Indians. Let’s hope their languages survive thanks to the elders involved in teaching the younger generation.