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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.