Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Donkey Riding

Willamette Steam Donkey Engine
John Mullan Park
St. Maries, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Were you ever off the Horn
Where it's always nice and warm
Seeing the lion and the unicorn
Riding on a donkey

This version of the song comes close to the way I learned the song a million years ago.

The line separating the states of Idaho and Montana starts at the Canadian Border just west of 116 degrees west longitude, proceeds approximately 72 miles due south, to just south of the Clark Fork River, then follows the Bitterroot Mountains ridge line for the next 355 miles and the Continental Divide for the remaining 312 miles (totaling 739 miles).  Seven main highways cross this arbitrary line, from U.S. Highway 2 in the north to U.S. Highway 20 in the south.  All but two of these roads cross high mountain passes.  In addition there are seemingly countless minor roads crossing the line, including both of the passes I drove across yesterday (11/3/15).  Most of these minor roads are back country dirt roads, most likely put in by logging companies over the years.   Both of the roads I took yesterday were paved, at least in part.  Thompson Pass, southwest of Thompson Falls, was, for years, paved on the Montana side, but not on the Idaho side.  The second pass, which I'll call the Little Joe Pass (I'm sure it has a name, but it's not marked at the site, nor on any maps that I have readily available), is paved beautifully on the Idaho side, but most of the 17 miles on the Montana side is dirt/gravel, although exceptionally well packed down.

Leaving home around 9:30, a bit later than I would have liked, I set the car's navigation system to find the Benewah County (Idaho) Garage, one of three choices the car gave me for Benewah County.  Apparently, there are more than one such garages, because while I was trying to get to St. Maries, when I drove into that town, the navigation system told me I had many more miles to go before I reached the garage.  This was not the only time the nav system failed me.  Undoubtedly because most people prefer driving on the Interstate Highway System, the car tried to guide me east to Paradise, then south to St. Regis and Interstate 90.  This was not the way I had planned, so instead I headed west to Thompson Falls, then south and west across Thompson Pass and into Idaho.  I drove a good five miles west on Highway 200 before the car relented and routed me through Thompson Falls.  But even then, half-way up Prospect Creek, the car tried to get me to turn left and take a very rough dirt road up and over the mountains into Wallace, Idaho, instead of staying on the paved road I had chosen.  Twice more along the way, the car tried to get me into Wallace, when I was headed instead for Kingston, Idaho where I would finally meet up with the Interstate.  Now I know that Wallace is "The Center of the Universe" and at least until the 1980s the home of a well-known bordello, but I had no need to visit either on this trip, so I continually ignored the car's suggestions and followed the Coeur d'Alene River to Kingston, whence I hit I-90 and headed west into Kootenai County and the exit for Idaho Highway 3.

The impetus for this trip was to visit Benewah County, the county in North Idaho I knew the least.  In point of fact, while I had driven across the county twice (once north to south and once south to north on different highways), I had never actually stopped and gotten out of the car in that jurisdiction.  I also hoped to drive home along the St. Joe River, and I had no idea how long any of this would take, so I set my sights on the Benewah County line and didn't stop anywhere along the Coeur d'Alene, beautiful in its fall coloring, to take pictures.  Once off I-90, however, I stopped to study (and photograph) the information sign for the White Pine Scenic Byway, AKA Idaho Highways 3 and 6, which I would be driving for the next several hours.

I seem to have caught their attention
Rose Lake Elk Ranch
Rose Lake, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Almost immediately after getting back on Highway 3, I passed a field filled with elk.  I did not realize, at the time, that this was a commercial elk ranch.  Indeed, the elk filled the fields the way cattle normally do, and apparently that is intentional.  While I do not approve of the commercial raising of these majestic animals, you can read more about the ranch on their web site.

A few miles further south, I pulled into a marked Scenic Turnout and admired (and photographed) the scene to the west, including what looked to be several miles of horse fencing (are we suddenly in Kentucky?), much grassland, water and mountains on the western horizon.

Kootenai County Ranch Land
Eastern Kootenai County, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Back on Highway 3, I first entered the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation, then Benewah County.  As is the case for so many native reservations, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's land is now only a fraction of their aboriginal claims, and is located in southern Kootenai and western Benewah Counties.  Roughly half of Benewah County is within the reservation, but only 9% of the County's population claims to be Native.  The town of Plummer is the home of the tribal headquarters.  The tribe also operates a casino at Worley, north of Plummer in Kootenai County.  In 1991, the tribe sued the State of Idaho over ownership of Lake Coeur d'Alene, a trial that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court which dismissed the suit citing the Eleventh Amendment.  A subsequent suit against the state was initiated by the U.S. government, acting as trustee of Indian lands.  This time, the Supreme Court ruled against the state of Idaho.  While at the time, there was much controversy and, yes, fear, as to what the ruling would mean, in practice what has happened is that the Tribe has been instrumental in cleaning up the lake and the area rivers of mining waste from the Silver Valley.

After stopping for lunch in St. Maries, where I duly photographed the County Court House, I headed west on Idaho Highway 5 to Plummer, passing through Heyburn State Park, ostensibly the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest.  Land taken, need I say, from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.  There were a good many turnouts on the seventeen mile drive where I could stop and admire the scenery, but my photographs are all hampered by the trees that line the highway.  Or, I suppose you could say, the pictures are enhanced by the trees.

The Saint Joe River connecting Chatcolet Lake and Round Lake
Heyburn State Park, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Once in Plummer, I headed south on U.S. Highway 95, which runs parallel to the Idaho/Washington State Line, passing by the town of Sanders (2 miles off the highway to the east), and through the town of Tensed.  I didn't have a chance (or didn't take the time) to ask a native if the town's name is one syllable or two.  South of Tensed, I passed De Smet, site of the Jesuit mission built after the Tribe left the area around Cataldo, where the same Jesuits who built St. Mary's and St. Ignatius Missions in Montana built the first mission in what is now Idaho.  (According to Wikipedia, Tensed started out as De Smet, but because of the nearby mission, which had its own post office, the town changed its name to Temsed--De Smet backwards--which the Post Office then mispelled.)  To the west, along the Washington State line, is Mary Minerva McCroskey State Park, Idaho's second largest.  This large section of Palouse was acquired and set aside by one man, Virgil T. McCroskey, who gave the land to the State of Idaho in 1955.  The State, however, chose to look this gift horse in the mouth, figuring that no one in his right mind would want to travel to remote northern Idaho (it was another twenty years before the state improved U.S. 95 to the point where it wasn't such a challenge to reach the area from the more populous southern part of the state).  Accordingly, the State accepted the gift only with the provision that Mr. McCroskey would single-handedly maintain the property, at his own expense, for the next fifteen years.  McCroskey, then 78 years old, agreed, and fulfilled his commitment, dying just weeks after the fifteen year period had passed.

Shortly after passing the road leading to McCroskey State Park, I passed three signs mounted on a single post.  The first announced that I was now leaving the Coeur d'Alene Reservation.  Below that was the sign saying that I was now entering Latah County, and below that, a sign warning that "Zoned County Bldg. Permits" were required, presumably in Latah County.  Not planning on doing any construction, I ignored this last notice, and continued south to the town of Potlatch, a company town built by Weyerhauser's Potlatch Lumber Company in 1905.  At its heyday, the mill at Potlatch was the largest white pine lumber mill in the world.  I photographed a couple of large buildings, one of which I have not been able to identify, the second of which has a sign out front stating that the building is the Town Hall for the city.  I also photographed the station for the Washington, Idaho and Montana Railway, a rail line that despite its name, apparently never reached Montana.

Everything an Ivy-League Man Needs
Princeton, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Today, Potlatch is mostly a bedroom community for nearby Moscow, Idaho and Pullman, Washington, homes respectively of The University of Idaho and Washington State University.  When the town, and more importantly the railroad, was first built, the nearby stations were given the names of Ivy League Colleges, and shortly after turning north on Idaho Highway 6, I passed through Princeton, and five miles later, Harvard.  I'm not sure where Yale, Cornell and Purdue are (or more likely, were).  North of Harvard, I re-entered Benewah County, passing through the town of Emida, past another sign pointing, this time westward, to Sanders, and took a side trip to Santa and Fernwood.  Not seeing Mary Hartman, and not wanting to wait around for the talk show, I turned around short of the Shoshone County line, and headed back to St. Maries.  From there, I turned east onto Idaho 50, and followed the St. Joe River through a spectacular mountain valley, until the road turned north and climbed the Bitterroot Mountains, crossing into Montana 88 miles east of St. Maries.  At the pass, as noted above, the pavement ended, and most of the next seventeen miles were on hard packed dirt.  The best photo I didn't get was of the animal leading me down the mountain for quite a way.  He was easily taller than my car, and sported a very respectable rack of antlers.  I had no intention of scaring him (or more likely angering him), so I slowed down and followed at a respectful distance until he found a place to leave the roadbed.  It was too dark by this time to get a good look, let alone a photograph, and I can't say for sure, but there's only one animal that large in this part of the world.  Had to be a bull moose.  Need I say that my nav system did not like this route at all, and refused to give me an accurate reading of how much further I had to go--since I wasn't following the prescribed route.

But I was able to get some spectacular photos along the St. Joe, including the scene below which I captured shortly after crossing from Benewah into Shoshone County,   Coming round a bend, I saw ahead a blaze of color coming down out of a very cloudy sky.  I stopped to grab that partial rainbow, and a few miles later, stopped again to get this image of a double rainbow, almost complete.  I guess there's double the luck there.

Double the Luck
Southwestern Shoshone County, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

I arrived home at 7 p.m., almost ten hours after leaving.  I drove approximately 400 miles, and shot 78 photographs.  I saw a lot of beautiful country, most of it new to me, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The one thing I didn't do, was stop to hunt for geocaches.  I can eat up a lot of time doing that, and it was important to me that this be a day-trip only, not a several day trip.  This is something, as my readers know, I dearly love.  I need to find a way to afford more of these trips.

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