Sunday, October 23, 2016

September in Basin and Range Country: Part III (Idaho’s Sawtooth Range and the Salmon River Valley)

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow, and then hit "escape" to get back to the text. Also, a note on the photo credits: as always, both Felice and I took these shots, and many of my shots resulted from her suggestions.  I do the photo editing using Lightroom; my goal is to reproduce just what we saw, as faithfully as possible.)

         Sept. 15:  It took us about an hour to drive north from Boulder Creek to our new campsite on the Salmon River.  There were so many great sites available; this is probably the best boondocking area we have ever seen.  We chose a spot right on the bank of the Salmon River, with a sweeping view of the river valley and of the White Cloud Mountains to the east.  The Sawtooth Range was to the west, but we could not see much of it from the campsite due to the trees.

         As soon as we got the trailer situated, it was time for refreshments by the river.  That’s Galena Summit on the left, and the south end of the Sawtooths (Sawteeth??) on the right:

         Sept. 16:  We took the Alpine Creek trail, in the Alturas Lake area, about 7 miles and 700 feet of gain.  This was our first hike into the Sawtooth Range, and we were struck by how much this area looked like the Eastern Sierra – craggy gray granite:

          The hike was not at all steep and stayed pretty close to the creek for most of the way.  Felice really liked these delicate groundcover shrubs – the tiny leaves, slightly bigger than pencil erasers, looked like dots of fall color:

          That afternoon, back at the trailer, I took another “door shot” for my collection.  Someone had built a picturesque little cabin, right in our field of view:

          Just after I took that picture, a small herd of pronghorn antelopes came trotting through the meadow, across the river from us.  By the time I grabbed the camera, they were gone.

         It is impossible to fully capture the “Western movie” Technicolor quality of the high country of Idaho, especially in the big valley north of Galena Summit and south of Stanley.  Imagine dark, rugged mountain ranges looming on all sides, a ten-mile wide swath of yellow prairie grass between them, clear creeks rushing down from the hills into the river, orange sunset clouds drifting across a wide blue sky, yellow willows along the river, and the cool wind rattling the sagebrush:

        (That picture might be worth clicking on, to see it in a larger size.)

         That night, we watched the full moon come up over the river:

         As we stood by the river, we could hear elk bugling in the forest, far away, an eerie sound.

         Sept. 17:  We took the Antz Basin trail out of the Fourth of July trailhead, over 6 miles and about 1300 feet of gain.  As we headed up Fourth of July Road, we looked back to see the trailer against the backdrop of the Sawtooths:

         There were stands of orange aspens alongside the roadway:

         The hike up the ridge to Antz Basin was not too difficult – well-graded, and wide enough that Felice did not feel the effects of vertigo.  The view into the basin from the ridge at 10,000 feet was worth the effort:

         We had lunch on a ridge leading up to Blackman Peak.  The Sawtooths are off to the west:

         The geology of Antz Basin is technically described as “a mess.”  On the east side of the basin, the rock is igneous:

         But on the north side, it appears to be uptilted sedimentary-trending-metamorphic.  Check out that 90 degree bend in the strata, which was revealed when the glacier shaved off the side of the mountain:

         (If you like geology -- and who doesn't? -- that picture is worth clicking on.)

         And on the southwest, look at those metamorphic layers – if these twisted beauties don’t excite you, don’t become a geologist:

         On our way back down to the trailhead, we stopped for one of my mandatory schmaltzy “here we are by a stream” shots:

         Except for the area around Fourth of July Lake, the whole lower portion of the Fourth of July drainage had been badly burned – it was a vast forest of black sticks.  Very depressing.  But in the newly-created clearings, clusters of aspen were springing up everywhere:

         Sept. 18:  We took the Flatiron Junction hike out of Redfish Lake, 7.5 miles with 700 feet of gain.  The views were spectacular, especially the views from the boat that took us from the lodge to the trailhead.  This was taken with Felice's iPhone:

         On the trail, Felice was swept away by the fall color of the foliage in the understory:

         The trail passed through the "Garden of the Giants," an area of huge boulders that had fallen from the cliffs above -- imagine the noise that these things made when they came crashing down through the forest:

         The granite on the north side of the canyon was a little unusual – the tan granite seemed a lot softer than the gray granite of the Sierra.  Below each canyon, there were deep beds of decomposed granite, halfway between gravel and sand.  The rock had eroded in rounded turrets, rather than spiky crags:

         The ridge to the south was made of much harder, sharper rock:

         That afternoon, after the requisite cocktail and snacks on the riverbank, we were treated to another peaceful sunset:

         This was a time exposure at 30 seconds, stopped down, to blur the water and the clouds as they streamed by.  
(That shot might be worth clicking on.)

         The last light of day hit Horton Peak at almost 10,000 feet:

         That evening, the stars came out before the moon rose.  We could see the Milky Way, even though there was still a little sunset color in the sky:

         Sept. 19:  We took the Horton Peak trail in the White Cloud Range, on the other side of the valley from our campsite.  (Seven miles and a gain of 2750 feet!)  The trail was really well-graded – it did not seem like an 800 foot per mile climb at all.  And it was a perfect day – chilly and breezy, with unlimited visibility.  (In the heat, this would not be a fun hike.)

         From the top, at nearly 10,000 feet, the entire Sawtooth Range was spread out in front of us:

         We ate lunch at the summit and headed down.  The aspens along the trail were backlit:

         Instead of heading north back to the trailer, we headed south along the foot of the White Clouds on the rocky forest roads, just to see what we could see.  A pronghorn antelope obligingly posed in front of the aspens.  These critters are unbelievably fast and skittish – we were lucky to get a shot of one standing still.

         As we crossed Pole Creek, we noticed some undershot water wheels.  These did not seem ancient – they looked like a modern mini-hydro-power installation. I've since been told that they are fish counters:

         Throughout the Salmon Valley, we saw these unusual “snake fences” or “zig-zag fences” made entirely of wood – is barbed wire frowned upon?  (I have since been told that yes, barbed wire is not favored -- the goal is to keep the area looking like the Old West, which it does.)  I really liked the simplicity of the design – the vertical supports, driven into the ground, essentially lock the stacked intersections of the rails.  The only drawback is that the fences take up a lot of real estate, but I guess they have plenty of that in Idaho:

         Back at the trailer, I could not resist another shot of the campsite and the setting – this may have been the most beautiful boondocking site we have ever found:

         Sept. 20:  We headed toward Stanley to Sawtooth Lake -- this is the view of the Sawtooths from the Stanley area:

         The Sawtooth Lake trail was (for us) a major hike; with some off-trail exploration, we went 11.6 miles with 1800 feet of gain.  But the trail was well-graded and not too difficult.  Even better, the weather was cool and breezy, which made it much easier.  By the time we got to the lake, it was cloudy, and the sun was in the wrong place for photography.  But it was still pretty spectacular – that’s Mt. Regan on the left, at over 10,000 feet:

         On the way back down, we hung our boots over Alpine Lake:

         Late that evening, we stood on a bridge over the Salmon River near our campsite and took another shot of the Milky Way:

         Except when the moon was up, the skies were usually so dark and clear all month long that we were able to spot the Andromeda Galaxy instantaneously, by using Cassiopeia as a guide.  At home, of course, Andromeda is invisible.  But not in Basin and Range country – it’s a big white smudge, and Cassiopeia forms an unmistakable arrow pointing right at Andromeda.   

Sept. 21:  We reluctantly pulled out of that wonderful campsite and headed south to Hailey for another day of doing chores in the rain (laundry, shopping, and so forth), and another visit to Hailey's terrific library, before driving down to Twin Falls, to stay at an RV park on Highway 93 south of town.

         To sum up our time in Idaho, we have got to come back soon.  The area south of Galena Summit was excellent, but the area north of the summit (the Salmon Valley) was superlative:  great camping, great hiking, world-class scenery.  We are also intrigued by the areas north of Stanley, especially the Frank Church Wilderness.

Part IV: Nevada's Great Basin National Park


Ski3pin said...

Idaho, especially this area you visited, will haunt you, it gets in your blood, you must return. Thank you so much for taking us back to Idaho with your story and photos!

Murphsmom said...

The water wheels at Pole Creek are fish counters. And yes, barbed wire is definitely frowned upon in the SNRA. There are a multitude of regulations that are intended to keep the area looking like it did in the "old days".

Renee Galligher said...

Beautiful photo essay of my state. So many wonderful areas to boondock in the SNRA and fall is a great time to do it. Lookup up Bruce Meadows, Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Landmark Stanley Road. Bruce Meadows is also used as a forest service air strip but is heavily visited by elk in spring and fall. There is also Bear Valley CG which has been free, but there are again, numerous boondocking sites along the creek and near the meadow. Imagine waking to a herd of elk nearby. You could visit this wonderful state every year and still not see everything.

Renee Galligher said...

An additional note, in the Capehorn Area of the SNRA, we have boondocked and a pack of wolves ran through our camp. Another year, we were camping at Bull Trout Lake and heard wolves howling. Near there is the Kirkham Ridge Trail and the Kirkham wolf pack.