Thursday May 28:Here we are at Lee Creek Campground in western Montana after several days and hundreds of miles of travel. What a relief to stay put for a bit in our comfy little home.
I make a campfire first thing this morning and a cup of organic coffee in the French press to go along with journal writing. What a great start to the day! I keep the campfire going throughout the day as the weather alternates between showers, clouds, and sunshine.
We put out the awning in the afternoon to have a place to sit outside even when it is raining. I move frequently from campfire to awning.
In the afternoon there is a real downpour; luckily we have a tarp over the woodpile and another one over the table where Clifford has his books spread out. I write in my journal when I can, but with the moving about, fire-tending, meals and clean-up, I don’t get much done.
In lulls between rain showers, I stroll about the campground taking photos of June berry and chokecherry shrubs in blossom, and droplet- covered trillium.
It is so nice to have a non-driving day, especially in such a sweet place as this with the creek running beside our campsite and being surrounded by trees and shrubs for privacy if anyone else shows up. As it is, we are still the only people here other than the hosts at the other end of the loop.
Friday May 29: Mist this morning, but it doesn’t last long and looks like we will have a sunny day.
No campfire this morning, as we are heading up to the Lolo Pass Visitors’ Center, six miles up the highway. At the visitors’ center, numerous kiosks with maps and information about the journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition are of interest to us. We are intrigued with the great explorers in history, Lewis and Clark among them. Being here, we will be able to see where they camped and find sections of their trail as they made their way into the Bitterroot Mountains. Inside, I browse while Clifford spends a long time looking at books before deciding what to buy.
Then we drive down the Idaho side of the pass to the DeVoto Cedar Grove. The grove is dedicated to Bernard DeVoto, conservationist, author, and historian, who loved to spend time here as he edited the Lewis and Clark journals.
Clifford and I walk together through the grove on the Lochsa River side of the grove. I love seeing the ferns and other little plants that grow at the base of the great tall cedars.
Then Clifford settles in at a picnic table to read while I cross the highway and walk the trail on the hillside portion of the grove. It is entirely different in character being darker, more moist, and kind of spooky.
Although I wish Clifford had joined me for this part of the walk, I enjoy the beauty of the grove, pausing frequently for photos.
Back at camp, we can tell it rained here at the campground, but luckily, the woodpile and the picnic table are still tarp-covered. Left-over chicken along with Annie’s mac & cheese makes an easy dinner. As we eat, I download photos to my laptop and enjoy looking through the photos of the past couple of weeks, a pleasant end of the day. I am grateful and happy for my life!
Tuesday May 26: It is 43 degrees this morning, brisk, but comfortable as I walk about the Chickahominy BLM Campground in southeastern Oregon, taking photos before we pack up.
I make tea for the road, along with hard-boiled eggs, cheese, crackers, and apples to eat as we go – a traveling picnic. On the way out, I stop to chat with the camp host for a moment and to admire the rock collection at the host site. She points out a particularly rich vein of obsidian, like a sparking river running across the ground, and she encourages me help myself to some obsidian. I feel like a kid in a candy-store as I walk along the vein picking out just the right pieces to carry home.
We backtrack a few miles to Riley and continue eastward on state highway 20, traveling through more sagebrush. The landscape changes near Burns with a broad valley and farmland being in contrast to most of what we have seen in this part of the country.This is followed by more rugged mesas and buttes, and farmland again as we near Payette, Idaho.
After Payette, heading north on state highway 95, the landscape features large treeless hills. We have a lively discussion about whether these are mountains or not. I say no: they are hills, mesas, or buttes – but they are not mountains in my book. Clifford disagrees, but maybe just to be poking fun at me.
At Midvale, about 30 miles further north, snow- peaked mountains come into view with treeless hills in the foreground, reminding me of southeastern Montana. Another 50 miles or so brings us to our next campground, Evergreen. What a different landscape than yesterday’s home-for-the-night. Now we are surrounded by trees and shrubs of all sorts, with a lively creek flowing alongside the campground. We are the only people here, so have our pick of the sites. We decide on a pretty spot furthest from the highway and do a modified Pony (our pop-up tent trailer) set-up. I look around and find enough firewood to make a delightful campfire to go with our dinner: home-made soup for me, beans and hotdogs for Clifford. It is great to have some daylight left to relax before we go to bed.
Wednesday May 27: I didn’t sleep well and wake up with my head screaming, possibly from propane leaking as the bottles were changed on the lantern last night. Ugh. I make mint tea from sprigs of mint I keep in a vase of water and as I move about packing up, I begin to feel better. We take our time getting packed this morning, preparing tea and another traveling picnic to eat as we drive.
Our next destination is Lee Creek along highway 12, but I don’t know if it is in Montana or Idaho. We stop at the ranger station in New Meadows, a thriving small town just north of Evergreen Campground, and learn that Lee Creek Campground is on the Montana side of Lolo Pass.
As we travel north, the valley narrows and rugged barren mountains dominate the landscape. We see a great number of vehicles parked by the highway as we approach Riggens, where the Little Salmon and the Big Salmon Rivers join forces to become the powerful Salmon River. Stopping for gas, we find out that hundreds of fishermen are here for the salmon run. Vehicles line the sides of the road and RV’s fill every pull-out for miles past the little town.
Beyond Riggens, before Grangeville where we will head east to Montana, is a long long long climb – part of the Hells Canyon Recreation Area. Go Chevy Blazer Go!!!
At Grangeville – whew, we made it! – we buy gas, groceries, and ice since there will not be towns of any size along highway 12. We leave Grangeville on highway 13, a narrow winding mountain road with no shoulders, driving in the rain.
The very lovely Clearwater River comes into view and we are pleased to see that its banks are full.
At Kooskia, we take the junction onto highway 12, which isn’t a whole lot better. The mountainous drive is lovely with the Lochsa River tumbling alongside, but the road is winding and narrow. We check out several campgrounds on the Idaho side of the pass, as we are weary of traveling, but do not find any that really seem right to us.
Finally we cross Lolo Pass and, entering Montana, we leave the Lochsa River behind and soon arrive at the Lee Creek Campground. A wonderful spot right alongside the creek, with lots of trees and shrubs for shade and privacy, is available. When I say “hello” to the creek, I am almost ready to cry with relief that we do not have to go anywhere for at least a week. We’ve seen some interesting country and had good places to camp, but too many miles in the last three days for me. We get the Pony set-up, full mode this time, and have nachos for dinner because it is a tasty and easy dinner. I am so glad to be here!