Idaho – Water and Smoke

There were several forest fires in Yellowstone NP and the smoke would settle in the night to blanket even the west side of the park, including the Hebgen Lake area. Therefore, we headed southwest into Idaho to visit some recommended places that we missed on the way north.

Our first stop was Upper and Lower Mesa Falls on the Henrys Fork River. The Upper Falls was a single drop of 114 feet onto a slab of solid rock that made the river bottom.


The Lower Falls, about a mile away, was a beautiful 65-foot cascade of water.


We then headed into Wyoming and the southwestern corner of Yellowstone NP to see Cave Falls along the Cave River. As we drove in we noticed huge plumes of forest fire smoke in the distance from the east near Grand Teton NP.


Cave Falls was a series of picturesque falls down the river where this was the largest single drop of about 20 feet.


We camped the night at Cave Falls CG, which was in the forest just outside the park. I think we were the only ones there. We had a nice spot next to the Cave River. Mornings are not too rough with coffee and a good book to start the day.


We saw several cows grazing on the way into Cave Falls, but ran into a wall of bovine blocking our way out.


Cows are always a little weary of the Roamer so I just pulled over and turned it off until the lonesome cowboy and his two dogs drove the herd past. He offered a trade, his horse for the Roamer, and while his horse was a nice chestnut Pam said she doubted it could carry all of our stuff. He gave us a fire update on the smoke we saw the previous day that now blanketed the area, and then trotted on his way after the herd.

We continued south through Idaho to Palisades Reservoir and Calamity CG, near the Wyoming border. The reservoir is on the Snake River and is well below its highpoint that must have been a few years in the past.


A previous user of our campsite left a hummingbird feeder so Pam cleaned and refilled it. Pretty soon we had a lot of customers. The host knew the previous person so we left it there for her to give it back.


There was another forest fire about 20 miles west of this campground, near Idaho Falls. The winds were light, coming out of the north and predicted to stay that way through the night, but around 9pm a police officer knocked on our door and told us to be ready to evacuate if required. Luckily it was not required, but by the next morning the skies were filled with smoke.


We seemed to be blanketed in smoke throughout eastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming so we decided to head for the blue skies over Fossil Butte NP and the more sparse vegetation in southwestern Wyoming.

Leaving Montana

We have been exploring Montana for about a month, but had not made it to Bozeman, so off we went. Bozeman is a nice college town and could be on our list of places to settle down, if that ever happens. College towns are always vibrant and Bozeman has a nice, small downtown with a thriving main street. We would have to resolve the Bobcat vs Grizz issue with the Missoula relatives before we could move to Bozeman to keep peace in the house – lol. We visited the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.


They had an exhibit on Pompeii artifacts, including this huge strong box that required a complex order of movements of the heads on the box to open it up. Pompeii was considered relevant for this museum due to Bozeman’s proximity to the Yellowstone volcano caldera. Given the size of the caldera, when it blows again within the next million years, volcanic dust will cover the US similar to Pompeii all the way to Chicago.


The museum also had a huge collection of dinosaur bones from all over the Rockies. The best were contained in the “Hall of Horns and Teeth”. What a great name.


We did what we do in all town visits – laundry and grocery shopping, and then headed south along the Gallatin River towards Yellowstone. We camped the night at Spire Rock CG with a great view of the spires.


The next day we found ourselves in West Yellowstone again, and decided not to wait until sometime in the future to camp along Beaver Creek. There are several dispersed campsites along the water so we picked one for the night.


We parked our chairs next to the water and enjoyed the sound of rushing water. One of the greatest advantages of this lifestyle is that our backyard is awesome and different every day.


I was just about to walk out in the morning when we spotted a young bull moose in our campsite. He was real skittish of any sound and especially of our chairs next to the water. His antlers were just taking shape, but he was easily 500 pounds of skittish so we watched until he crossed the creek and disappeared into the willows.


We saw a lot of Montana this trip and visited a lot of great places. I still think the treasure is there so we’ll be back – lol.

Montana – The Treasure State

Montana is known as “Big Sky Country” and “The Treasure State”. More interested in the later of the two, Pam and I headed to Virginia City and Nevada City, two gold rush towns that are now just tourist attractions containing treasures past.


The buildings were all kept as they were and the stores stocked and made to look as they would have in their heyday.


We spotted a two story outhouse behind the old hotel. There were noticeable gaps in the ceiling when you looked up from the first floor. I was glad no one was above me then.


We made our way south and camped for the night at Ruby Reservoir, along the Ruby River. This is in the area, give or take 1,000,000 square miles, of where I think Forest Fenn’s treasure is hidden. This river was called out in his book in reference to another book he read as a kid, “Journal of a Trapper” by Osborne Russell. I also read Russell’s book and it gives a factual account of what his life as a trapper was like in the northwest during the second half of the 1800s. It’s an interesting read if you want something new to read. It puts our current daily inconveniences in perspective.

The BLM campground there provided an incredible view over the reservoir and the American Pelicans on the water. A storm blew through just as night fell and our alcove sustained another structural failure, it bent and snapped in the wind. It’s the same alcove that went airborne at Hovenweep NP in May, snapping then around a juniper tree. It is still usable, given enough duct tape, until we can order more replacement parts – lol.


We then headed through the back country towards the Madison River and West Yellowstone. We passed this old national forest sign along the road.


We missed a turn among the intersecting dirt roads and ended up seeing more of the back country than intended. It was a beautiful drive so there was no great loss since we have no schedule.


When we realized our navigational error we also realized that the route we were on would get us back to pavement – until we hit this sign.


Back country bridges are always a concern when your rig is over 5 tons. I’m always thinking if a fire truck or cattle trailer would need to get down this road then it’s probably ok to cross. However, a 2 ton bridge limit is a definite no-go. We didn’t even waste our time to look at the bridge (probably 2×4 construction), but just turned around and drove the hour or so back to where we had missed the turn.

We saw some really healthy pronghorn in the fields, and this male decided to give up a pose in the middle of the road.


We camped next to the Ruby River that night near the missed turn and did a little fishing. If you have to be lost it’s nice to have a beautiful sunset.


The next day we found the right road and headed over the mountains towards West Yellowstone.


Our truck’s navigation system was a little confused where we were driving – “Driving on Hwy 357” – seriously? Montana’s definition of a highway must be a little different than most states.


We climbed to about 9,000 feet into the low morning clouds only to find more Montana Angus bears grazing all around.


We camped the night at Beaver Creek CG, along Earthquake Lake. The lake was formed in a 1959 earthquake that caused a landside at one end, blocking the Madison River, and tilted the local Hebgen Lake at the other end. The landslide and resulting lake wave from Hebgen Lake killed campers that were along the river. We camped a little higher up after reading the account.


We drove into West Yellowstone to restock and saw the smoke from the forest fires in the park.


We hiked Beaver Creek, looking for Fenn’s hidden treasure. There were some beautiful camping spots along the creek that we’ve put in our plan for the future.


The hikes along the trails were beautiful.


We have now eliminated about 10 square miles from the 1,000,000 square miles where the treasure could be in the Rockies. We’re closing on it!

Next stop is to check out Bozeman before we start our migration south for the fall.

On The Lewis and Clark Trail Again

We left Missoula again, heading east towards central Montana and the capital of Helena. We camped in the Aspen Grove CG, just outside Lincoln, MT next to the largest ant hill constructed out of pine needles. Luckily they couldn’t get into the Roamer.


We then stopped at the Tizer Botanical Gardens in Jefferson City, MT.


It was a very whimsical garden with a lot of unique things on the grounds.


The original homestead’s log cabin was refurbished for possible overnight stays in the garden. The owner, from Flagstaff, AZ, has been in Montana with her husband for a couple of decades now creating the gardens.


To get back on the Lewis and Clark trail we re-engaged at the most logical place, The Lewis and Clark Brewery in Helena, MT. They have some very good beers, including a Scottish ale that Pam enjoyed. We ate, drank and gathered up a few of their 32oz “compasses” for the future, in case we got lost.


While the beer was very good, the brewery had the best design for urinals that I’ve seen yet. It’s kind of like salmon, where the beer wants to return to its source.


We then headed out for a hike to refrigerator canyon in the hills outside Helena. We passed through Nelson, MT that claims to be the cribbage capital of the world. There’s a story there, but we didn’t stop to find out.


Refrigerator canyon was a short hike into the hills. The slot area is said to create a region nearly twenty degrees cooler than the outside temperature. It was hot out and felt really good in the canyon. Folks hiking in front of us saw a mountain goat family bolt up the mountainside just before we arrived.


We camped outside York, MT at the Vigilante CG. Someone built a nice rock water break in the stream next to our campsite that created a nice babbling brook noise.


We then headed south to the headwaters of the Missouri River. The Lewis and Clark original plan was to head up the Missouri River, cross a small distance over some small hills and jump onto another river on the other side that would take them to the Pacific Ocean. This place must have been the place where “plan B” took shape in 1805. The mighty Missouri is created from 3 rivers: the Jefferson, the Madison and the Gallatin Rivers that come together here at the base of the Rockies. From here they crossed the Rockies and jumped onto the Columbia River, several hundred miles to the west.


The confluence area is very beautiful with large grasslands and many rivers flowing all around. We camped there that night at the headwaters.


The Lewis and Clark expedition followed the Jefferson River west, so we did as well. We stopped at the Lewis and Clark Caverns to camp next. They hunted for game all around the cavern according to their account, but never found it. It was discovered later. This view is from the cavern entrance looking down at our campsite and the Jefferson River below.


While Pam and I are not “cave folks”, we have now seen a lot of caves in the US. These were limestone caves with a lot of water, and therefore a lot of beautiful structures everywhere. The lighting used was really good in these caves. These photos are with no flash.



The most unique cave feature was a slide to get through a tight section. The slide in the natural rock looks like beautifully polished travertine.


We ended the day with a beautiful full moon at the campsite there.


Lewis and Clark then continued west at this point, while Pam and I headed south in search of treasure.

Northwestern Montana

After the canoe trip down the Missouri River we decided to stay in Missoula for the week because Pam’s birthday was coming up at just about the same time James McMurtry was playing at the Top Hat Lounge again. The show was great. The warm-up band, Ticket Sauce, some young college kids, rocked Hendrix’s version of Izabella and other blues songs. McMurtry played late into the night and we had an awesome spot for the entire show. Getting to bed at 2am and up early the next morning used to be a lot easier.


While in Missoula we took a day trip to Glacier Lake in the Mission mountain range and Holland Lake in the Swan mountain range for some good hikes and to snag the last of the wild, ripe huckleberries along the path.


We had a delicious dinner at Holland Lake lodge at sunset.


Pam and I took off again to explore the northwest part of Montana. It’s a very beautiful, mountainous region with a lot of lakes and rivers. We camped the first night along the Flathead River. It rained that night and there is nothing better than sleeping in the Roamer during a nice rain, unless maybe near a babbling brook.


The next day we visited the Ross Cedar Grove, which is a hidden grove of old growth cedars that are just incredible to see. They tower up 200 feet tall and the entire forest looks like a lush wonderland.




The cedar grove also had a unique cairn garden. The river runs pretty high when the snow melts based on where the displaced trees lie on the banks, but the garden is right in the river bed and even across the logs. It extended over an area much larger than this shot. It was just jaw-dropping to see in the giant cedar grove. I guess folks want to be able to find their way back here in the future.


We then visited the Kootenai Falls along the Kootenay River. The river flows down over these massive, layered rock slabs through the gorge.


The “swinging bridge” that crosses the river really does swing when you walk across it. It’s a cable and wood structure that is probably way too flexible for some folks. It’s limited to 5 people at a time on the bridge and it’s only two planks wide.


We hit Eureka, MT, which is only about 10 miles from the Canadian border and turned south. We stopped in the HA Brewing Co, which is located out in the middle of nowhere. The beer was good and we chatted with a carload of Canadians that were down for a golfing getaway. However, clouds overhead were looking ominous so we took off.

We camped at Dickey Lake for the night. A huge lightning storm was crackling overhead when we arrived. It rained most of the night, and we were glad we had the Roamer to sleep in. In the morning the clouds were blanketing the surrounding mountains.


Given the rainy weather, Glacier NP was relatively quiet when we arrived. Having been there a few times before, we can now skip the main attractions that most folks want to see and instead head for the more remote areas. We headed up the western side of the park, and about 30 miles of dirt (mud) road to one of the remote campsites on Bowman Lake.


The lake is about 4 times in length of what you can see here as it snakes through the mountains and into the fog. The lake water is crystal clear and while I was fishing with a flannel shirt and jacket there were others swimming in the lake.


The next morning the clouds started to lift to reveal the mountains of the park. It was our first time to Bowman Lake. We’ll have to go back and see it on a clear day. We tried to go there last year, but had to turn around due to a forest fire along the road.


We dropped out of Glacier NP and needed to head back to Missoula for an oil change on the Roamer. We stopped and picked up a Huckleberry pie for Pam’s sister’s family and camped at Placid Lake State Park on the way there. We had plans to stay there last Labor Day, but plans changed. So we figured we’d give it a second try. When we arrived the sign said “campground full”. The camp host said we could look around and we said we were really looking to spend the night. She then surprised us by saying that she had open spots and we lucked out getting one with this beautiful sunset view.


We ended this northwestern loop at Missoula again. This time for truck maintenance, but we spent the night catching up on the Olympics and eating some great grilled burgers and huckleberry pie.

Upper Missouri Breaks River Trip

When we left home in early June we only had three things scheduled for the summer: a couple of nights at Fire Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on our way out of Arizona, the July 4th weekend with our boys at Mt Whitney in California, and a three day river trip down a section of the Missouri River with Pam’s sister’s family. Their youngest son had done it last year with another group and convinced us all to go.


We camped at the Coal Banks put-in spot the night before so we could get an early start. It has been awhile since Pam and I have been tent camping.


The seven of us loaded the three canoes and kayak with all of our coolers and dry bags, which contained all of the equipment and clothes, and took off down the river. It’s amazing how much stuff a 17-foot canoe can hold and still float. Unfortunately, they can’t hold the Roamer so we had to leave it behind.


Luckily, Pam and I had two recent river adventures on our way here so we had enough practice to stay afloat. The river was wide and smooth, but running at about 3 miles per hour. We didn’t encounter any fences either. Pam’s scratch is all healed now and not looking so colorful anymore.


This section of the Missouri River is part of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument and becomes a geological wonderland quickly as you head down the river.



Sections of the river are still privately owned by ranchers and farmers. We saw many herds of Montana Angus “bears” in the wild.


We had a boater’s guide map that noted many of the interesting items along the way. The Corps of Discovery, Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the west, traveled this route where their camps in May of 1805 heading west and July of 1806 heading east are noted and the spots are still used today due to their beauty.


Our first night’s stop, after covering 15 miles on the river, was one of these historic locations, Eagle Creek Camp. There were hikes into the local slot canyons that were very beautiful.



Sunsets are always nice on the water. There were many birds and deer along the river to keep us busy looking as we floated along. Several huge eagles and osprey were hunting along the banks. We ran into some BLM rangers heading down the river and they had seen some beavers. One of the older, cranky rangers was quoted as saying the baby beaver was “adorable”. Who can resist a baby? There are otters, muskrats and nutria as well, but we didn’t spot any.


There was a lot of volcanic activity in this entire area long ago, where the ground split and igneous rock flowed up through the fissures to create vertical walls of rock. This looks really interesting in the horizontal layers of white sandstone that also dominate the area. One of the more interesting vertical rock structures is call hole-in-the-rock.


The hole eroded through the rock, creating a distinct geological feature. The kids climbed up onto the rock wall, while the older folks relaxed in the shade of a huge cottonwood tree during the afternoon sun.


Our second night was at Slaughter River, another Corps of Discover camp along the river in a nice cottonwood stand. That name was given to the place due to the buffalo carcasses found there on their way up the river. They assumed it was a “buffalo jump” used by the local Blackfoot Indians, driving the herd over the cliff to their death.


That night we had some serious card playing until sunset. We didn’t bring camping chairs or a cooking table with us, but they will be a nice addition the next time we do this.


There was a forest fire well south of Missoula, but the smoke was blowing east and began to cover the evening sky a few hundred miles away where we were.


The morning was clear and the calm wind made the river look like glass. We rowed the last 13 miles into the take-out point at Judith Landing to finish our river adventure.