Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Bitterroot Valley and the Nez Perce

In our last post we started our journey following the Corps of Discovery when they were attempting to cross the Rocky Mountains thinking that it was just one set of mountains they had to climb.  When they first got to the top of the Bitterroot Mountains near today’s Salmon they had a rude awakening--lots of peaks and lots of ranges extending as far to the west as they could see.  The Shoshone supplied the Corps with a guide who led them over Lost Trail Pass at about 7000 ft. into the Bitterroot Valley and then to Traveler’s Rest before they would again cross the Bitterroots, as well as the continental divide at Lolo Pass. We visited Traveler’s Rest 2 years ago which you can read about here.

The Bitterroot plant - 1 inch across
The Corps named the mountains for a local flower, the roots of which the Indians ate and offered to the Corps to eat.  The Corps thought they tasted bitter.  One can’t tell the size of the flower or root from a picture.  They are actually quite small.  The flowers were about an inch in diameter and the roots about ¼ to ½ inch. In length.

We easily crossed over Lost Trail Pass in our RV going north on US Hwy 93.  We stayed in Darby, a small town in the upper
Central Darby
Bitterroot Valley.  The area is not as settled and crowded as near Missoula and the mountains are taller and more jagged.  It gave us a little more of the “feel” of what Lewis and Clark experienced.  Had we wanted to really get that experience we could have made the trip on foot, but I’m not that much of a stickler for
Lake Como
historical accuracy.

In late June there was still some snow on the mountains, but the days were starting to get pretty warm.  One hot day we drove to Lake Como (a reservoir), a pretty little lake with a swimming beach.  Even though it was a week day, school was already out and the parking lot holding about 20 cars was full so we had to forego a swim.  We were amazed at how much water was flowing over the spillway of the dam, ultimately feeding the Bitterroot river.

Swimming beach at Lake Como
The front of the Daly Mansion
We spent one day touring the Daly Mansion.  Marcus Daly was a copper magnate from Anaconda.  He bought the land around Darby originally for the
forest to make charcoal for his Anaconda smelter to refine the copper ore he was pulling out of the ground in Butte.  After the forest was cleared, he planted the land to supply food for his employees (for a fee, of course).  He loved the Bitterroot valley and built the mansion as his summer home and also designed the town of Hamilton where the home is located.

Nineteenth century opulence
On another day we drove to the Big Hole Battlefield.  We first came across the Nez Perce tribe when we drove over the Chief Joseph Hwy to the Beartooth Hwy our first year on the road as full time

The visitor center at Big Hole

RV’ers.  You can find that information here.  Last year, when touring Idaho, we came across the Nez Perce National Historic site near Lewiston, ID.  Back in 1876, some of the Nez Perce tribe members were trying to escape from the pursuing US Army after some settler conflicts in Oregon.  When they came to the area near the Big Hole River, down & east from the Lost Trail Pass they thought they had run far enough that the Army would lose interest and forget about them.  However they had run right across the path of another army unit that was on the hunt for them.  Early one morning the army quietly snuck up on the indian position and, right about dawn, they attacked.  The Nez Perce warriors were taken by surprise, but they were excellent fighters and soon rallied and drove the whites back until the army troops were trapped up against a small copse.  While the Army sent for reinforcements, the Nez Perce snuck away again.  Ultimately on their journey, however, Chief Joseph had to surrender because they ran out of food and were finally run down a scant 40 miles from escaping across the Canadian border.

The Big Hole Battlefield

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Bit of Idaho by Vicki Rains

Last year was our year for touring Idaho.  Unfortunately, the smoke from brush fires was so bad that we mostly skipped the mountains all together.  So this year I thought we would drive through the mountains to get to Montana where we planned to spend much of our summer.  But first I wanted to stop in Blackfoot.

Why Blackfoot you ask?  Well you see, Roger & I are city folk born & bred.  We know less than nothing about farming (meaning that most of what we do know is completely wrong).  So we tend to take advantage of tours & exhibits that teach us what we don’t know.  And Blackfoot is home to the Idaho Potato Museum.  That’s right, a potato panegyric, a tribute to  taters, a salute to spuds.  We ran out of time to see the museum last year so this year we actually stopped for the night in Blackfoot just so we could tour the museum.  We learned that the potato originated in southern Peru, was brought to Spain & then was grown throughout Europe before it was brought to the U.S.  In turn the lowly spud brought the Irish to America after the potato blight wiped out the crops in the mid 19th century and created a horrific famine in Ireland.  Here are some highlights from the museum so that you can share in our joy of discovery.

Animated potato faces projected onto potato bags


Potato Varieties

A collection of potato mashers
The next day we drove to Arco and picked up US Hwy 93, starting our trek into the Idaho mountains along the Salmon River.  We stayed in Challis, hoping to drive our car to Stanley the next day but our plans were rained out.  The rain in Challis did bring snow to the high mountains so I’ll share a picture I took from our campground before we left. 

We continued our drive along the Salmon River to the town of Salmon where we began this year’s search into the travels of the Corps of Discovery.  Now, if you’re like Roger & me, in school we learned it as the Lewis & Clark Expedition.  However, I believe with the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery in 2004-6, the name in history books was changed to be consistent with what the expedition was actually called.  Our interest in Lewis & Clark began when our son was a child & we took a Columbia River day cruise and then visited Fort Clatsop on the Oregon Coast.  I bought a book then about touring the Corps of Discovery sites.  This year I actually read the book.
The Bitterroot Mountains from just outside the town of Salmon
A Blue Heron that landed right next to our camping spot
It was near Salmon, in the Lemhi Valley that Lewis & Clark tried to find an easy way over the Rocky Mountains.  They followed the Salmon River for a bit, determining that the river wasn’t navigable in canoes.  They met up with the Shoshone Indians and Sacajawea was reunited with her brother, the chief of the tribe.  The Shoshones provided horses & a guide for the Corps to help them get over the Bitterroot Mountains.  We visited the Sacajawea interpretive center that commemorates that part of the journey.

Another Heron on the north fork of the Salmon River
We drove up to the north fork of the Salmon River and then onto a paved forest service road checking out why Lewis & Clark couldn’t navigate the Salmon River.  In June, after a winter of lots of snow, the river was pretty high.  The Corps of Discovery was there later in the year when the river level would have dropped.  We noted that there weren’t really many rafts out this time of year even though Salmon is a rafting mecca. The current was moving really fast and there were areas of rapids despite the high level of the river.  Roger & I decided that probably Lewis & Clark made a good choice.  Of course Roger & I know nothing about canoeing, kayaking, or rafting.

Statue from the Sakajawea Interpretive Center
Park behind the Sacajawea Center
Road out of Salmon

Robin out our front door.  No, we don't have a back door
We stumbled upon a small herd of Bighorn Sheep along the north fork of the Salmon

Along the Salmon River