The Interior West

By Eilene Lyon

RVing has taken off this year, more rapidly than Covid-19 infections. It’s a relatively safe way to travel, because you take your lodging and kitchen with you, minimizing the need to spend time indoors in potentially dangerous places.

Our transportation through the intermountain west – a Coachmen Beyond built on a Ford Transit van.

The Putterer, Sterling, and I packed ourselves into our new (used) Ford van and hit the road for a 2-week trip. Our journey took us to Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Wyoming in late August to early September. We were seeking some cool weather, but for the most part found high temperatures – up to 103 degrees in Montana!

One of our early drives took us along the Provo River east of Park City, Utah.

Part of the trip included visits to defunct or touristy mining towns, harking back to the gold rush era. We had planned to go to Silver City, Idaho, but the distance on a rough road didn’t fit into our schedule to make it to Steens Mountain that day. Instead, we opted for the museum in Murphy, the Owyhee County seat.

Murphy itself is so small that it emphasizes just how unpopulated and remote this southwestern corner of Idaho really is. The museum displays were quite good for such a small town. Though it is ever out of the way, I plan to see Silver City on my next trip to Oregon.

Though most of the Murphy museum is dedicated to the mining and ranching eras, the first few exhibits cover the Native Americans of the region.

One of the more impressive exhibits is the print shop with a variety of typesetting apparatuses and presses.

We also visited Bannack, Nevada City, and Virginia City in southwestern Montana. Both Bannack and Virginia City were early communities and territorial seats of government in the 1860s. They were notorious for the vigilante justice meted out to criminals and unsavory characters, whether or not they were actually guilty of anything.

Our first “ghost town” was situated in a mining area outside of Helper, Utah.
Bannack is now part of a Montana state park. A park service employee gives tours of the town. There is limited camping nearby. The tour is dog-friendly, which is good – no one would want to leave their pooch in the car in this heat!
I was amused by the fact that the Bannack Masonic Lodge was made of wood.
Yes, even old mining towns had churches. Bannack, Montana.
An implement hanging in the the Bannack blacksmith shop. A torture device for outlaws? No, this is for weaning calves – pity the poor cow feeling the effects. Mothers, wean your babies!
Nevada City, near Virginia City, Montana, is a living history museum. On weekends, actors portray 19th century residents and artisans. We spoke with a midwife, tinsmith, shoemaker, spinster, weaver and quilter.
Cabin interior, Nevada City. Buildings of all types have been gathered from around the region. There is a Chinese district, various commercial buildings, school, church, etc.
Not all the homes in the Nevada City museum are rustic log cabins.
Virginia City is still active, primarily as a tourist destination.
An 1860s view of Virginia City showing the Pfouts Building and Masonic Lodge. I’ve previously written about Paris S. Pfouts’s business connection with Elias D. Pierce and William S. Good in California. Pfouts, after the Civil War, moved to Virginia City and became its first mayor. He was also the President of the Vigilante Committee – essentially a figurehead. He did not likely participate in the “business end” of the committee’s work.
The Pfouts building and Masonic Lodge still stand. P. S. Pfouts was also an active member of the Masons, and they are the ones who published his memoir.

The other aspect of our trip was enjoying the great outdoors. We did a hike along the Blitzen River near Steens Mountain. Steens is a sky-island in southeastern Oregon. It doesn’t have a peak like you typically see in the Rocky Mountains. Rather, it rises gradually from the sagebrush plains to over 9,000 feet. This broad plateau has been carved out by glaciers, forming dramatic valleys and canyons. The views stretch for miles.

The Frenchglen community is the access point for Steens Mountain, property managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Part of Steens is designated wilderness.
We did a hike up the Blitzen River to its confluence with the Donner River, originally named Donder. Donder and Blitzen is German for Thunder and Lightning.
One of Steens Mountains’ many glacier-carved canyons.
Looking at the eastern Oregon plains from Steens Mountain.

We also visited the Lostine River in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon. They are a breathtaking, steeply-pitched range in the traditional homeland of the Nez Perce tribe. The town of Joseph is named for the well-known Nez Perce chief, and his grave is located here. The mountains are essentially wilderness, with few roads, and popular with backpackers.

We did dine out on a few occasions, always on dog-friendly patios, served by mask-wearing employees. This restaurant is in Joseph, Oregon.
The grave site of Nez Perce Chief Joseph, with the Wallowa Mountains as a backdrop.
At our campsite along the Lostine River, a previous occupant left some painted rocks to add a little cheer.
Hiking one of the Lostine River trails in the Wallowa Mountains.
The Putterer thinks about spoiling Sterling with a bit of his wrap. “C’mon, Dad, this is a long hike!”
The Lostine River is typical of the super-clear streams in eastern Oregon and Idaho.

From there, we drove north on the spectacular Highway 3 from Enterprise, Oregon, to Clarkston, Washington. We took in the view of the Joseph Creek Canyon, which rivals Hell’s Canyon just to the east.

The Joseph Creek Canyon between Enterprise, Oregon, and Clarkston, Washington.

We spent one night in Idaho along the Lochsa River, which, with the Selway, forms the middle fork of the Clearwater River – an apt name for this wide, shallow stream that flows like glass over a rocky bottom.

One of the sublime moments of the trip came as we walked Sterling through the campground. We met a couple walking their recently rescued dog. Sterling must have told her that I was good for a nice massage. This sweet mutt came and leaned on my leg while I gave her a rub. Her astonished people said she never took to strangers like that.

Beaver’s Head has been a landmark for travelers for hundreds of years. Lewis and Clark desperately needed a rendezvous with the Shoshone tribe here to get horses to cross the Cascade Range. The chief coincidently turned out to be Sacagawea’s brother. The location later became a stage stop and private ranch.

The most challenging day of the trip was Saturday of Labor Day weekend, which found us in the vicinity of Yellowstone, the Tetons, and Jackson, Wyoming. The crowds were intense and no camp sites available anywhere.

In spite of signs admonishing that camping was only permitted in designated campgrounds from Memorial Day through Labor Day, like many others, we opted for a level spot along the Hoback River, just off the highway.

In the chilly morning, I spotted a tent camper not far from us. I went over and offered the tattooed Harley rider some hot coffee over at our van. He graciously accepted and we learned that he had abandoned his biker friends after they had harassed a waitress at a bar the previous day (a Black woman). He said meeting “nice people like you” had improved his faith in humanity.

Our high altitude campsite in Utah, north of Helper.

Our last night we spent the same place as our first: at 9,000 feet in the Ashley National Forest of Utah. We found a blissfully underused Forest Service campground (only one other camper there both times). We woke to a brush of snow on the ground. Sterling did a massive happy dance in his favorite white stuff. With that little icing on the cake, we headed for home sweet home.

Feature image: Flaming Gorge, a reservoir on the Green River. The Green flows through Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, where it merges with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.

29 thoughts on “The Interior West

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    1. I really wish we had gotten to Silver City, especially since my ancestor used to go there on his freight route in the 1870s. But, yeah, it was overall a good trip. Sterling is having trouble getting used to the van, though. It sways like a flapper in a hot sweat.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a fabulous trip! Those photos are wonderful. I tried to convince my husband that we should rent an RV and do a road trip next spring (because we are assuming the virus will still be with us), but he’s reluctant to drive such a large vehicle. Do you own yours? I’d love to see photos of inside and hear more about what it was like to live in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can find video online from Coachmen. Our model is called Beyond. It’s a bit smaller than the camper we had which we towed with the pickup. It felt similar to the truck as far as driving, but the height really gets hit in the wind. Very nice interior. We didn’t have any rainy days, so we spent most of our time outdoors.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always knew you were good people. What an interesting sad story that Harley rider told. I did an internship in college in a print shop that had old machines in it. Your photo reminds of them. They were bears to use, but such a charming experience to have made something on them.

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  3. I’m not going to show this post to my husband. He would be green with envy for the van, the museums, and the views. It looks like the three of you had a wonderful trip. The picture of The Putterer and Sterling is so sweet!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Eilene, I’m a wee bit jealous x 2. First, I’ve been dreaming of owning a Class B’s for about five years, and second, you were in Idaho (where I didn’t make it to visit my offspring this year).

    Seriously, thanks for sharing your adventure. It looks like so much fun!

    Now, I’ll go back to dreaming about my compact RV. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Looks like a great trip, Eilene.
    You mentioned Chief Joseph in there, I remember his name from the back of Corn Flakes packets. Kelloggs once did a series on Native American Chiefs. I was fascinated by the American west as a kid and devoured both the Corn Flakes and the information on the back of the packets

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fascinating, Jim. Had no idea that Kellogg’s would have provided such enlightening material on cereal boxes. Like all native tribes, the Nez Perce suffered many things from white imperialists. They were a key aide to the Lewis and Clark expedition – what a kind way to repay the favor (not).

      Liked by 1 person

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