Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Drive In The Mountains - Part 1

About a week and a half ago, LC looked at me and suggested that we go for a drive up the Big Lost River Valley and visit the tiny mountain towns of Clayton and Stanley for the first time.
Clayton has a population of 7 people.
And while Stanley is a little bigger, it officially only has a population of 63 full time residents.
Both towns are firmly embedded in the mountains.  Both would be surrounded by trees and both bordered the Salmon River.
While both towns have populations that temporarily swell during the summer (as visitors come in search of wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities and as good-weather cabin dwellers set up shop at their recreational properties for a few months), at this time of year we knew that our trip would be both quiet and very beautiful.
I was game.
I was more than game, and I eagerly strode over to the computer to check the upcoming forecast.
We had planned on heading up that way mid-week last week, when NOAA happily informed me that we would be greeted by sunshine and mild temperatures.
But every day the forecast changed. 
Sunshine continually got pushed back - first to Wednesday, then Thursday, then Friday - as unexpected snow or rain or heavy fog moved through the area.
Finally by Saturday morning it looked like Sunday might actually be the day.
By late Saturday afternoon the forecast had still held firm - sunny with temperatures in the mid-30's.
Digging the gear box out of the Tahoe (that we keep filled with emergency supplies through the winter) we added a few more supplies, changed the batteries in the headlamps, threw in a bowl of dog food and some bottled water, and then a few snacks for us.
And then we threw a couple of sleeping bags into the back of the Tahoe for good measure.
Just in case we unexpectedly got stranded overnight.
After searching for a road report, we believed that the roads were clear. but at this time of year it was best to prepare for anything, including the worst.
By 8:30 on Sunday morning we were dressed and ready to go.
There was still frozen fog and mist in Atomic City, but after one last check of the weather before heading out the door, we felt confident that the good-weather-forecast of the previous day was indeed going to hold............

With the entire desert blanketed in thick and frozen white mist, we headed towards Arco and the base of the Big Lost River Valley, greatly looking forward to a trip north through the mountains.
The world around us was completely white and we continued heading north with fingers crossed that the mist would eventually burn off and that the sky would eventually clear.
By the time we were between Arco and Mackay blue began to appear in random sections of the sky.
First a little, and then quickly more as the sun broke through and quickly burned a hole in the mist.
It was going to be a very beautiful day................
Heading towards a straight and narrow line band of left over fog that extended across the two lane highway............
Between the towns of Arco and Mackay lies the tiny community of Moore.
It is a beautiful little place that is surrounded by snow covered mountains, containing a gas station and not much else.
Kory had peed before we left but apparently still had business to do, and we listened to her frantically whining and dancing around in the back seat for a few minutes until we found a place to stop at the entrance to a small fishing hole.
As LC stood patiently waiting by the Tahoe, I waded into the snow with my pup.
We were only 40 miles from Atomic City but might as well have been walking in an entirely different world.
The day was now warm and incredibly beautiful, and Kory and I were walking in shin deep snow while surrounded by endless mountains.
We were still a couple of hours from Clayton, but already the trip had been worth it.
We had needed this trip...................
My dog peed.  And excitedly sniffed around as she followed coyote tracks in a circle.
10 minutes of a whole lot of wandering around in the snow and we headed back towards the Tahoe.
Maybe she didn't have to do anything AFTER all.
Looking up I smiled at my Mountain Boy, who was closely and protectively watching both me and our sweet dog.
It was time to move on.................
As soon as we pulled back onto the highway Kory immediately began whining and dancing around again.
Looking back in surprise at my dog "Really??"
She would have to wait until we reached Mackay, which was another 15 miles down the road.
LC pulled into the parking lot of the bank in Mackay, and while he went to the ATM I (at the same time) made a grab for Kory's leash  and stepped to the side as she excitedly jumped out of the Tahoe, eager and over-eager to explore.
10 minutes later............nothing.  Newly marked territory in back of the bank   More following of tracks.
OK.........time to move on...............

As soon as we had cleared Mackay our wayward pup started whining again.
This was getting old very fast, and one more time we found ourselves looking on the highway for a place to pull over.
At this rate we would never get to Clayton and Stanley.
Pulling on to an icy side road that looked as though it led directly into the mountains, LC this time grabbed the dog, and I reached into the pocket of my jacket for my camera.
The frozen mist was now irrevocably a distant memory, and as I looked around me I realized that the day was the most incredibly gorgeous winter day that we could have ever hoped for.
The entire world was now glistening in an enviable combination of snow and sunshine.
Even though it was still morning, the day was already warm.
I stood in the middle of the icy road looking out of the quiet valley, in awe of its beauty...........
It took three stops, but FINALLY our dog took care of business.
Finally, we were ready to head for the mountains................
Beyond Mackay the two lane highway begins to wind its way through the Big Lost River Valley, rising and dropping regularly as we headed further north.
As we climbed a long, gradual hill I can see snow covered hills up ahead, but then was completely surprised when we dropped down and saw more endless hills (this time without snow).
At this time of year (and after driving through snow-filled Moore and Mackay only a short time before) to suddenly be surrounded by brown hills was an unexpected sight..................
Driving through the winding canyon on the way to the turnoff just before Challis.................
The rest of the trip all the way to Clayton was quiet, uneventful and beautiful.
A few miles before reaching the city limits of Challis, we turned left onto Highway 75, and the rocky hills that we had seen as we got closer to Challis immediately got higher, steeper, more rugged.
I turned to look at LC in surprise - both at the steep hills and at the fact that there was still almost no snow.
I had not expected that at all..................
Salmon River to our left, and then sometimes to our right, but always winding itself alongside the highway during the entire trip...............
We had left the house at about 8:45, had begun our trip in dense frozen mist, had quickly made our way through heavily snow covered Moore and Mackay before driving through surprisingly little snow all the way to Clayton.
By the time we saw the tiny town up ahead, that was nestled on a bend in the road alongside the river, we had already enjoyed an outstanding drive.
And it was only 11 o'clock.
It was going to be a great day.................. 

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us..............John Muir

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