Friday, August 30, 2013

We're Rich!

We did something really exciting while staying in the wilds of Idaho.  We went on a treasure hunt.  The hunt was for Star Garnets at the Emerald Creek Garnet Area (go figure.)  These particular garnets are only found in Northern Idaho and India.

The US Forest Service has developed the site and for a fee of $10, you buy a permit which entitles you to take a total of five pounds of garnets.  I think it's safe to say nobody will ever get close to that amount.  Also for your fee, they provide shovels, buckets, screen boxes, and sluice boxes.

First, you fill your buckets from the piles of gravel and dirt that have been brought in from a nearby garnet-rich location.

Then using the provided screen boxes, you get rid of the dirt and keep the gravel.
This was not easy since it had rained the night before and we had to push the dirt through the screen.

Next you took the gravel over to the sluice, washed off the dirt and looked for garnets.

To be honest, I was flabbergasted to spot a garnet in my basket!  It looked just like the samples they had showed us and it was even a pretty good-sized one.

I was sooo happy.  I had been pretty pessimistic about the whole thing, comparing it to the time we hunted diamonds in a field in Arkansas (yeah, right.)  I found another one before calling it a day and was very satisfied with my treasure.  Ron found a lot more, but most of them were chips.  I think that was because I used a screen box with bigger holes, but it could be that I just have poor eyesight.

If you're interested in how the garnets are formed, I took a picture of the sign.

The mica schist mentioned in the sign is very pretty so I took a piece off the discard pile.  (Hey, they said I could.)
Those dark dots are tiny garnets.  I asked if they're like tips of icebergs and should I break it open, but they said no.  But just look at the shiny rock.  I like shiny things.

This was our haul - my two are on the left and the rest are all Ron's.

If you hold a light behind the thinner ones, you can see the pretty garnet color.

A little more background.  Ron was at the Emerald Creek Garnet Area about 10 years ago when they used to let you dig in the creek for garnets.  He found six good-sized stones and had them made into necklaces for his five female descendants and, although he didn't know it then, for me.  It's really pretty and I'm thinking I can have my two stones made into earrings to match.

If you'd like more information, click here.  We stayed in the Emerald Creek FS campground which is two miles away.  A lovely campground and a bargain at $3 a night with our Golden Age pass.  Of course we had no phone, internet, satellite TV, or sun for the solar panels.  Also we were glad we weren't in a tent, because at one point we heard what could have been a mountain lion scream.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

St. Maries, Idaho

We’re back on the west side of Idaho in another cute small town.  St. Maries, pronounced Marys, has no chain stores or chain restaurants in this town of about 2000 people.  But unlike many small towns, this one is doing well economically.  The lumber industry seems to be alive and well and living in Idaho.  There is a giant saw mill in town that probably employs half the population.

We checked out the west end of the Old Milwaukee Railroad rails to trails, which if you take it across the state, turns into the aforementioned Hiawatha Trail.  This section of the trail is a gravel road that follows up the lovely St. Joe river valley.

Luckily there was not much traffic, because it was a bit dusty.

The washboard road was like being on one of those old exercise machines, so we only went about five miles admiring the pastoral scenery.

We even found some rusty stuff for Diana.

Obviously, not many bicyclists take this route, because we actually caused a stampede.
BTW, check out the trunk on that giant cedar tree behind the cattle.

After our workout, we had lunch at the Handi Corner, home of the Buster Burger.   If you finish it, you get it for free (a $39.95 value.)  And, no, we didn't order it.

I asked if anybody had ever finished it and the answer was no.  But if you try, you are forever memorialized as certifiably crazy.

Their menu was extensive – check out the PB&J

St. Maries is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.  I think they can be very proud.

There are murals all round town depicting their heritage.  


River travel,

And Native American culture.

The Wells Fargo bank even had their trademark stagecoach on the building.

We stayed where the WINs stayed 10 years ago, at a private RV park.  I know what you’re thinking, “Not an RV park!!!”  But this one offers dry camping for $10.  More private parks should do that.  If you’re interested, Misty Meadows is about three miles east of St. Maries and right on the St. Joe River (47.34101, -116.52644).

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I'm only about a week behind now.  Last Sunday, the 18th, we toured the Smokejumper facility in Missoula.  This is headquarters for 65 elite firefighters who parachute out of perfectly good airplanes to fight wildfires.  Believe it or not, people actually want to do this.  In fact, I believe our tour guide said they had over 100 applications for the four available positions this year.  They are most effective as rapid response for new or emerging fires.

When a smokejumper arrives on site, he is equipped with enough supplies to make him self-sufficient for up to 72 hours.
(Before you ask, that mask is to protect him from tree branches during the fall.)

If special equipment or extra supplies are needed, they are dropped with little parachutes.

Our tour guide was a really cute young lady and really kept our attention - especially the guys.  Sorry, I didn't get a picture of her, just the back of her interesting t-shirt.

I think the most surprising fact we learned was that the smokejumpers sew their own Kevlar jumpsuits.  I guess having sewing skills would give you an edge on the application.

While we were there, a team was called out, leaving none of the smokejumpers at the facility.  I didn't know that or I would have been chasing them with the camera.  After our tour, we did see one of the planes.

The back of the plane was unusual, although they jump out of the door on the side.

And we saw one of the planes that carry the flame retardant.

Well, here's where the 'Ooops' of the title comes in.  Later that day, we were surprised to see a plume of smoke over the mountains to the west.  Maybe that's where the smokejumpers had gone.  Later I heard that lightening had ignited four separate fires the night before.  Two were extinguished and the other two joined together to form the Lolo Complex fire.  By the next afternoon, it looked like this.
(Somebody forgot to tell Mother Nature about the fairground rules.)

And that evening, we had a very colorful sunset.

The following night, we could actually see the fire come over the ridge!

And the moon was ominous.

Good news, bad news.  The daily afternoon winds that were spreading the fire stopped after that which was very good.  But those winds had kept the smoke from settling on us.  By the time we left town on the 22nd, they were getting a handle on the fire, but this is what the whole area was dealing with.

Now for the really silly news.  We are once again crossing Idaho from east to west - back up to Lookout Pass for a night, then on.  I feel like our planning was really bad this year.  Or maybe it was a total lack of a plan.  Right now we're just trying to stay away from the smoke of all the fires.  

Our hearts go out to all the brave firefighters who risk their lives every day to save the lives and property of others.  It's another job I could never do but am eternally grateful that somebody does.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

WIN Inner Child

We moved on to the fairgrounds in Missoula, Montana, and couldn't wait to check out the famous carousel downtown.  All the horses are hand carved, each unique and with its own story.  Shoving aside all the little kids, we climbed aboard.

Austin and Nancy are ready to go, while Margarite is adjusting her seat belt.

Richard is at the starting gate.

As are Herb, Donna, Gene, and Joanne.  I'm not sure what Marvin is doing.

Karen looks excited unlike the little girl next to her.

I think I caught Carolyn unaware.

But I think Bertie gets the prize for being the most enthusiastic.  Just look at that smile.

I took all these pictures while the carousel was still, but Ron actually got a picture of me while it was moving at a million miles an hour.

If you don't believe me about the speed, check out this video.  I don't even recognize anybody, they're just a blur.

As further proof, look at Maynard trying to hang on!

We were all horrified by this poor dog who was there for some kind of a dog contest.  I can just see how embarrassed she is.
Somebody should call PETA.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pulaski's Trail

To wrap up our stay at Lookout Pass, we made another trip to Wallace and hiked Polaski's Trail.  The trail leads to the mine where 45 firefighters took refuge when they were trapped by raging forest fires.  This sign tells the concise version but you can easily imagine the terror behind the story.

It was a nice four-mile round trip for us.

The trail follows pretty Placer Creek with a gradual elevation increase.

Along the way we grazed on thimble berries and black raspberries.  Here Maynard has Nancy test some for safety.

If you read the sign, it says that Pulaski held his men in the tunnel.  Actually, when one man tried to run out in panic, Pulaski pulled his gun and threatened to shoot anybody who left.  That took a lot of dedication and guts.  He told the men to lie down and held blankets over the entrance as long as possible.  Eventually, they all fell unconscious, and six of them suffocated.  Even when the fire passed and they regained consciousness, can you imagine what they found outside the mine?  The creek was full of ash to make it undrinkable and trees were down everywhere.

Although Pulaski is not really known for this heroic act, he later invented the Pulaski - a fire fighting tool that is still a standard today.

The trail had many information boards that went into more detail, some of them in Pulaski's own words.  It was pretty much a perfect hike - the right length, pretty, interesting, and informative.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Route of the Hiawatha

Our main purpose for staying at Lookout Pass was its proximity to the beautiful rails to trails bike path called the Route of the Hiawatha.  Commonly called the Hiawatha Trail, it is famous for its gorgeous mountain scenery, ten tunnels, and seven high steel trestles.  In total the trail is 14.4 miles, but Ron and I skipped the first 1.7 mile tunnel.  You can call me a wimp if you want, but I know my limitations and am not afraid to admit to them.

Most of the remaining tunnels are short enough that you can see that proverbial light at the end, so no problem.

But even with a light (although admittedly, a poor one), the two longer tunnels we biked did a good job of disorienting me.  With lengths of 1516 feet and 966 feet with a curve, they bothered me more that I thought they would.  I am so glad I didn't attempt the 1.7 mile tunnel.  You know, I've reached the age where I don't have to do something just to say I did it.

However, I loved the trestles!

And the views.

Ooops, make that one less tunnel.

They built a bypass around this one.  It is collapsing due to movement along a fault line under it.
(I took this through the fence.)

The only wildlife we saw hardly qualifies.  It's amazing these fat squirrels can run anymore.

The trail is along the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific railroad and there are interpretive signs all along the way.  I think the most interesting one referred to the fact that this section of rail was electrified with water-generated power.  The name refers to a Hiawatha passenger train that operated along this route.

The grade is gentle, so much so that we pedaled downhill.  What a lovely day we had!

Now for a little about the logistics of the ride.  As I mentioned, we were staying at Lookout Pass, Montana exit 0 of I 90.  At that location, you can rent bikes and the required helmets and lights, and even box lunches.  You can also buy your trail ticket ($10) there and a bus ticket ($9) to take you and your bike back up to the trailhead.  (Alternatively, you can purchase the trail ticket right at the main trailhead and pay for the bus as you board at the bottom.) The bus is optional, but very convenient since it eliminates a difficult shuttle.  The main trailhead (called East Portal) is about two miles south of exit 5 of I 90 and has a giant parking lot.  However this is where the long tunnel begins so we drove another 5 miles over the mountain to the Roland trailhead where there is another parking lot, not as big, but sufficient.  Here's the real kicker - when the bus brings you back up the hill, it lets you out at the Roland trailhead, so everyone who parked at East Portal has to bike back through the long tunnel.

Ten years ago I did this same ride, again starting after the long tunnel.  At that time there was no parking lot at Roland so that is an improvement since then.  Another year Ron and I decided to just bike up from the bottom and turn around when we got tired to avoid a shuttle, but the top section is really prettier.