Wednesday, September 7, 2011
River River River
Day 11: Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011
A short blog today: we took a right turn onto US 12 in Missoula, MT, and didn’t stop until we took a right turn off of US 12 in Lewiston, Idaho. And absolutely the ENTIRE stretch of Route 12 was alongside a river. For miles and miles. It was simply beautiful.
We started out climbing up to the Lolo Pass in Montana. We were in a valley and for a little while we were next to the Bitterroot River, and then next to a mountain stream too small to have a name on the map. That was going up. We reached the top of the pass and stopped at the National Forest Service welcome center just over the Idaho border. I picked up a bunch of Idaho brochures I thought might help, including one with the Idaho state parks listed.
I only wish I’d seen the sign coming so I could have caught a photo just as we pulled back onto the road: it was a yellow sign with a curvy line which said “99” Miles. NO KIDDING! And for 99 miles, we coasted down the mountains, with a river next to us. All the way down from the state line to Lowell, Idaho, the Lochsa river ran alongside us, a fairly wide mountain river running over rocks, curving back and forth and back and forth. The only other thing to be seen was the thick dark green evergreen trees lining the road all the way.
We stopped for a lunch break at a grove of huge cedar trees which Lewis and Clark mentioned in their journals. The historical sites along this road are frequent--it is part of the Lewis & Clark Trail. It is also part of the Nez Perce Trail, but most of the historical sites for that sad story are at the “bottom” of the mountain, beginning at Koosia. At the cedar grove, after we ate, we walked through the short path in the trees before going back to our drive.
We also stopped at a river access point to walk down and, as Joey said, “meet the river.” It had been our companion for hours by that time (I think it took about 4 hours for us to drive that section down, including our breaks along the way.)
In Lowell, the Lochsa joined the Selway River to become the Clearwater River. We followed the Clearwater from Lowell through the towns of Kooskia and Kamiah at the edge of the Nez Perce Indian lands.
We made another stop in Kamiah to take a short walk at the Heart of the Monster, and to hear the legend of how Coyote killed the Monster from inside it. Then Coyote cut up the Monster and tossed all the pieces, and where they landed, each place a different (native American) People was created. The Heart of the Monster, in Kamiah, marks the site where the Nez Perce tribe was born.
We continued to follow US 12 and the river all the way to Lewiston. The Clearwater became wider and a little calmer, with cut out cliffs coming down to meet it as we drove through the valley. As the sun sank lower, the hills got redder and the river glowed.
In Lewiston, the Clearwater flowed right into the Snake River, and we followed US 12 down along the Snake River to Hells Gate State Park. And that is where we are now, parked in a beautiful grassy campsite with a view of the Snake River right outside our windows. As I look out now, the sun is gone and the sky is all pink, and the pink glow is reflecting off the water. This is one of the most lovely state campgrounds I’ve ever seen, with wonderful “amenities” and a beautiful view.
We didn’t get as far as we had hoped today, into the mountains near Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. We got a very late start, and we chose a route which was faster once we got to Kooskia, coming to the Snake River up at Lewiston rather than further south. As a result, tonight we are in the Pacific Time Zone and will cross to Washington and then Oregon tomorrow. I’d hoped to sleep at a state park in one of those states tonight, but it is lovely here, and it was time to stop.
Another disappointment is that we’d hoped to go on a boat trip on the Snake River tomorrow; several leave right from the Marina here at the park. But since it is now officially after Labor Day, none of the 3 outfits which run trips are doing anything tomorrow. So we will do some driving tomorrow, probably, to get down a little closer to see the two dams. These routes have been putting us on roads known as America’s Highways, roads noted for their beauty. Tomorrow is supposed to be yet another one. But I am hoping to balance the driving with a little more sightseeing (and no shopping!) As always, we shall see.