The road to fall color

Those trips that just fall into place, when everything works out just as you hoped, are magical. It's been a long time since we headed off in the autumn in search of fall colors, and hoping to find more back roads that we haven't explored. This trip also added in some fly fishing in eastern Idaho, in the shadow of the Grand Tetons. Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho. We timed it just right. Everything was perfect, especially the colors.


The high road...

You'll see it south of the freeway between Prosser and Benton City. A road cut that goes from the valley floor up the side of the high ridge, angling ever-upwards, until it disappears over the top. The view north toward Rattlesnake Mountain is spectacular. What you don't see is the road continuing west along the back side of the ridge, looking south and east over the endless wheat fields of the Horse Heaven Hills, all the way to the wind farm above the Wallula Gap.

The views are well worth the drive, but they aren't the whole story. Keep on going west on the gravel road, and you can climb up a rough road to a nest of satellite dishes and radio towers at the highest point on the ridge. Park there and walk out to the edge, but carefully. From here, the Yakima River valley is spread out at your feet, and you can look east along the road cut and see the sheer basalt cliffs you just drove along. It's all quite spectacular, and worth the drive.

We didn't come up here for the view today. We came to grab the series of geocaches placed all along the road. It was cold and windy today, and a bit creepy in spots along the road. At one point I stayed behind while Dave climbed the hill to find a cache, and the wind blew so hard I could hear the gravel rattle as it blew down the road. I finally had to close my eyes... I could feel the sharp edges of vertigo every time the wind shook the Pilot.

It turned out to be my third best caching day: we found 100 caches. And as we inched down a very steep and rocky shortcut road back to pavement, I reached another milestone: my 3000th geocache find.


Pasture mowing

It's a regular chore for the days between fall and winter. Sometimes it's my birthday surprise... yeah! But usually it happens in late October, before Indian summer ends, and the rainy season begins.

The weather really worked against us this year... nice (we're told) when we were on our road trip, and so much rain when we were home. But we finally found a day when everything worked out. The planets aligned. The sun god smiled. The tractor was put back together after some mechanical work. The mower was welded back together and painted.

It isn't all done. But enough is done to give us access to a couple of major tree-cutting projects, and to get to all the fencelines (my own chores are waiting for me). I'm also looking forward to being able to walk the hill and get some much-needed exercise, and get down to the pond to spy on the ducks.


Flannel and down...

It's that time of year, that time of fast weather change that reminds us how close the cold days are.

We got more than a hint of it on our road trip. Temperatures dropped into the twenties in Colorado, where we also got snowed on. And in eastern Idaho, in the shadow of the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, we shivered in the early morning hours until the sun rose above the canyon walls.

So... time to fill a couple of holes in my much depleted wardrobe (and also our winter bedding). One thing I could have used on our road trip is a packable fiberfill jacket to wear under my rain jacket. I know... should have bought one before our trip! Thankfully, Costco still had a few left, and I found one in my favorite red, just like the first jacket I ever bought at REI when Davey and I started backpacking. It folds up into an inside pocket, which is very cool. I feel warm just looking at it.

I also found some striped Merino wool socks, perfect for wearing with my paddock boots at the barn, and inside my woodcutting boots. On cold mornings before we light a fire in the woodstove, they'll keep my tootsies warm on the cold hardwood floors.

It's also time to dress the bed for winter, but our old flannel sheets are worn out. It's tough to find California King bedding, but I was lucky enough to find some yummy plaid flannel sheets that didn't cost the earth. It's cold... they're going on the bed today.


At home...

Reading Jeffrey Deaver
Caught up with e-mail and sipped tea
Watched the young buck snoozing in the orchard
Refilled the feeders, and watched for the birds to come

The kids packed and re-packed, culled and packed again.
Natalie brought me a bag of things for Goodwill,
and a stack of winter scarves.

The skies turned blue, then grey... blue again.
Then black.
Then the sun came out.

I made a huge pot of soup,
and as I did dishes, the lightning flashed.
A storm, the most violent one this year,
hit hard a half hour later, drowning us in water,
shaking the house, lighting up the night sky.
And taking out the satellite television.

So we watched a movie while we had dinner,
Then headed for bed.


Buck in the orchard...

OK...  this is not what I expected to see when I looked out my kitchen window today. The skies had turned blue and grey, but the wind was rising and a storm was predicted. So I expected to see the leaves falling from the fruit trees, not this young two-point buck taking a nap in the shelter of the trees.

We've seen him quite a bit this year, always alone. We don't grow a vegetable garden, so there's not much to tempt him, and I don't mind sharing the orchard fruit and pasture grass with him.

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 the bar was standing room only.

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.