Kittie cousins...

While we took a fly fishing road trip, James took a little trip of her own: to visit my sister and brother-in-law and their young cats. She came home to us today, when we all gathered together for one last meal before our Aussie niece and her boyfriend flew home.

When we walked in, James was napping on the sofa with our nephew, Jeff. And she looked completely happy and comfortable there, with a human hand in reach if she wanted some love.

My sister's cats are female litter mates, one orange and white who looks a lot like James, the other a calico. They are adorable and fun, and after nearly three weeks, still a bit wary of James (and vice versa).

As we fixed a raft of different pizzas for dinner I kept an eye on my own orange cat, and at one point she disappeared. I looked everywhere, and finally glanced into the windows beyond the claw-footed tub and spotted her. She'd climbed into a basket on the windowsill, ignoring the larger James-sized basket, instead squeezing into a basket half her size.


Ice Age Floods

On the Road Again Day 17 | Dry Falls: View from the rim

When we lived on the dry side a million years ago, this was one of our favorite drives. It was also our first introduction to the whole amazing story of the Missoula ice age floods, which scoured out the inland empire western Montana, Idaho, and eastern Washington, and created the rugged landscape we know today. Over and over and over for thousands of years, the cycle continued. Building up an ice dam, then the dam breaking, released the floodwaters to run rampant over the landscape before funneling through the Columbia River gorge to the Pacific Ocean. Dry Falls is a 3.5-mile wide chasm of basalt with a drop of 400 feet, part of the Grand Coulee canyon, and a major stop along the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

This sheer cliff was once the world's greatest waterfall. Short-lived to be sure, but nothing on earth ever matched it for sheer size and power.

The geology of the middle of Washington is quite spectacular, and so worth seeing. You can read more on the planned (and first) National Geologic Trail here. The proposal and maps can be found here. and on the Ice Age Floods Institute website.


The Bitterroots

On the Road Again Day 16 | Mountains and rivers... and bees

We left Salmon early this morning, heading for Montana. We cached along the way, loving the Salmon River valley that enclosed our route. It's a steep windy climb to get over the mountains, 6100 feet, still climbing. Lost Trail Pass signs at 6600 feet, and signs about the Lewis and Clark expedition coming this way, an old wagon route (and modern ski lifts) across the river valley. No one lives up here. At 7000 feet, we're in Montana. Photos posted at the rest area show snow up to the eaves of the visitor's center here.

The Montana side of the pass drops down into the gorgeous Bitterroot River valley. Oh, boy... fly fishing paradise (not to mention non-stop scenic beauty. We stopped in a couple of small towns; loved the town of Darby, nice feel, surrounded by ranches and mountains, lots of horses and cattle.

We did a fuel and food stop in Hamilton, and dropped into a fly shop to chat. It sounds like the fishing, down here and in the mountains, is going to go on our list for future trips.

Did you know they transport bee hives by truck? I didn't. Maybe they're relocating hives into places where the bees have died out, and orchards or farms are in trouble because of it. Wish I had pictures. On the freeway in Idaho we saw two semi-loads of stacked white beehives, the whole load covered with some kind of mesh fabric. There were bees swarming under the mesh, and quite a few managed to get out from underneath, looking for freedom. And quite a few ended their lives smashed against the front of the truck.


Long day on the road...

On the Road Again Day 15 | A very long day

We put miles on the car today... it's time to start heading for home.

Darby told us about this spot on the Warm River, where a roadhouse kitchen once dumped leftover food, where the fish got accustomed to it, and where they still hang out today, years after the roadhouse burned to the ground. He said we wouldn't regret the detour, and he was right. We came armed with a bag of Cheetos and my big camera, tossed in a bright orange bit, and it disappeared. We tossed another, then we spotted the trout. Huge trout, hundreds of trout, lurking in the ripples. Dave took over food tossing duties, and I took pictures... seventy of them in ten minutes. It was a blast!

Mesa Falls, upper and lower, are a short drive off the back road we chose today. The visitor's center was still occupied; the chimney was smoking. But it's closed to visitors now, which saved us an entrance fee. It's cold this morning, so we shrugged on winter coats and headed down the walkway and stairs to the upper falls. Wish we could have seen inside the Big Falls Inn; it was built around 1916 and is on the National Historic Register. I never miss a chance to see historic architecture.

The falls, both upper and lower, are spectacular.

Back door to Yellowstone

Another detour led us through a high valley into open range, with isolated ranches and a long dirt road, and finally, into Yellowstone National Park. We wanted to see Cave Falls, which was inside the park boundaries, a series of shallow drops in the river. Very pretty but not compared to Mesa Falls. Still, it was fun to come in long enough to take pictures. I smiled when I saw the entrance fee sign. I wonder how many people come into the park on horseback?

The rest of our day was a blur of miles and roads and scenery. Rexville (where we took a break at an antique shop, and I found an antique quilt for $64). Idaho Falls. Finished up our county caches in Dubois, where we restocked our snacks and bought caffeine drinks for the long road to Salmon.

Hwy 28  to Salmon was an unexpected surprise: A long mountain valley, threaded with streams and rivers. Add another fishing destination to our list... tiny Birch Creek, which has public access and campgrounds, and is stocked with trout. And the Lemhi River, which criss-crosses the valley north toward Salmon, where we spent the night.


Shy moose...

On the Road Again Day 14 | Moose makes the trip

On a high from our second float trip in three days, we changed clothes and went exploring. We've yet to find an actual town of Island Park, then discovered that it has the longest Main Street in America: 33 miles. That explains a lot.

We did our best to find residential areas, found a few, hidden in the woods. The valley is in the middle of an ancient caldera and ringed by the old rim. The cottonwoods along the river are changing to bright yellow, gorgeous.

The local stretch of the river flows from a reservoir, so we decided to take a look before heading back to the lodge for dinner. As we turned the corner toward the dam, a couple of cars were stopped in the road and I saw why: a young male moose was trying to cross the road. He freaked out a bit and ran back across the road and into the brush, where he stood watching. The others went on but we backed off and gave him lots of space. And when he tried it again, I was standing by the car with my telephoto lens.

Spotting my favorite animal up close was a thrill.

Henry's Fork

On the Road Again Day 14 | Up close

We pulled into Island Park yesterday afternoon with our stay all set: two nights in town, and a day of float fishing scheduled for today. We checked in at the fly shop, walked into the sports bar and grabbed a table for a bit to eat. The wall of windows looked out on the river and the mountains to the west; a couple were out in the middle of the river, fly fishing. The water didn't even come up to their knees. Our food was excellent, and we tried a local brown ale. This place was hopping. Every table was full, and

We had breakfast in the bar this morning, then met with our guide and headed for the river. When we asked Darby if we needed to wear waders or our life vests, he said that if we go in the water and have the presence of mind to just stand up, we'll be fine.

The section of Henry's we fished was a simple wide river full of boulders, fast and slow water, completely different from the South Fork, which has lots of braided sections and deep pools along the cliffs. Today we drifted the whole time, with a few stretches at anchor. I was sure there were no fish in this river, but I was wrong. Whitefish, rainbow, cutthroat, and brown... we caught them all.

Dave caught the big fish today: a 4 lb. brown that was over 20 inches. Darby netted it, and I was about to take a picture when it flipped right out and back in the water. It snagged on another hook and Dave brought it in again, but it flipped itself off and disappeared. I don't know who was more disappointed, Dave (understandably) or Darby (who said this was the biggest fish caught on any of his trips the past couple of weeks).


The back side of the Tetons

On the Road Again Day 13 | Mountain valleys

The temperatures plummeted overnight, leaving blue skies above frosty fields in the South Fork valley. The rising sun promises a nice day, though

We wandered down the long art-lined hallway to the dining room and watched the boat ramp as one drift boat after another headed out on the water. We wish we were going out again, but we're heading to another fork of the Snake in another high valley:  Henry's Fork. We'll get in another day on the river tomorrow.

We're still exploring this right side of Idaho, so we're heading east into Wyoming and staying in the mountains, looking forward to seeing the Grand Tetons from the west side... for the first time. I'm hoping for some moose sightings, too. Road trips are better when I get a glimpse of my favorite forest mammal.

We'll drive a couple of hours in the high country along the border, through small towns like Driggs and Victor, making our way north to Island Park, our home for the next couple of days.

The views were amazing.


South Fork of the Snake

On the Road Again Day 12 | Floating the canyon

I was so nervous about today. Not just about casting a fly rod in front of an expert. Or keeping my balance standing in a drift boat. Or that I wouldn't catch anything. What worried me the most was that I might actually catch a big trout, and I didn't have a clue how to do it. What if I can't strip in the line fast enough? What if I break my fly rod? But, I worried for nothing. 

Ed loaned us Hardy Zenith fly rods for the day, and as we each did some test casts, I suddenly relaxed. Whatever the day brought, I'd have fun and learn a lot, and that was all that mattered. 

This was our first guided fly fishing trip, and I'm so glad that it's here, on one of the most highly regarded fly fishing rivers in the West. Our guide took us through the upper half of the canyon, through gorgeous scenery, and into all sorts of nooks and crannies of the river, wherever he knew the fish would be. If we had lots of strikes, Ed would row us back into position so we could fish it again. He was an amazing guide. 

And we did catch fish. So many fish, I lost track. Me, who counts everything, lost track of how many fish I landed, and how many I failed to hook, how many I lost. It didn't matter. I had so much fun, it didn't matter.

Today was one of the best days I've ever had. Please excuse the pun, but I'm hooked, and can't wait to come back.


Frozen in time...

On the Road Again Day 10 | Fossil Butte

A highlight of a road trip a decade ago was digging for fossils behind the high school in Fossil, Oregon. These days you pay a small fee in exchange for a limited number of fossils. But before 2004, there was unlimited access. We brought home a small container of slabs of shale to investigate, plus some lucky finds: all sorts of leaf fossils.

Since then, we've been bitten by the fossil bug, so stumbling across Fossil Butte National Monument was a thrill. We're headed for fly fishing, but happily took a detour to check it out. There's a great visitor's center and more fossils than I've ever seen in one place. On the heels of seeing the dinosaur bones at Dinosaur National Monument, this was very cool.

There are leaves of all sizes, but there are much more unique fossils here. Like a complete lizard with a curling tail. Snakes. Insects. Turtles. Bats. Flowers. Fish, individuals and schools. My favorite is a fish that died in the act of swallowing another fish. There's even a crocodile.


Flaming Gorge

On the Road Again Day 9 | More aspens and red rocks

A day on the road, heading for Wyoming. We stopped at Dinosaur National Park to see the new quarry bones exhibit, then stopped in town for gas and caffeine. My favorite antique shop wasn't there any longer, so we headed north. We've always gone 'round Flaming Gorge on the east side; this time we drove up the west side, and found a very cool side road through the Sheep Creek Canyon geological area.

The road looped through timber and aspen trees, ranchland, then dropped down into a steep canyon with a view to a spectacular rock cliff. I could only speculate that the main canyon must have looked like this, before it was flooded by the dam. The road out was down a narrow canyon that was wide enough only for the twisty road and a creek.

There was once a campground here, until a flash flood filled the canyon and killed the campers there. Today's a bright sunny day with no rain in sight: the narrow road we drove was washed with sand and gravel from a recent overflow, and I was glad when we escaped the mouth of the canyon and got back on the main road.

The Flaming Gorge reservoir is huge, and cold, and a mecca for fishermen (those with a boat, anyway). Because of the depth and the elevation, trout flourish here. Maybe one day we'll come back and fish here.