Lewis & Clark probably would have liked to spend the night in a bunkhouse, but I’m not them. Got up early and had breakfast at the Rack & Reel Restaurant at the Lewis & Clark Resort. Then I hit the road. I’ve decided to drive a new route back east today, working my way up to Weippe, Idaho and then on up to Interstate 90 which runs into Missoula, Montana, where I’ll spend Wednesday night. At least that was my plan.
Weippe, Idaho is on the Weippe Prarie, and it is close to where the Lewis & Clark expedition stumbled out of the Bitterroot Mountains half starved and tired to the bone. They had finally crossed the treacherous Rockies.
The road ‘up’ to Weippe was not only north but up, as in high in altitude. The road climbed in many switchbacks up to about 7,000 feet. The views were awesome.
Weippe Prairie looks just like it sounds. These are high fields of wheat and meadows at about 3,000 feet in altitude. I don’t think the wheat was here with Lewis & Clark came through.
When the expedition got here in 1805, though, they found a village of Nez Perce living in the forests and meadows.
Clark and an advance party came upon three Nez Perce boys who hid behind tall grasses. Clark pulled out some beads and offered a gift, whereupon the boys took them to their village. These were the first white men the villagers had ever seen before.
The Nez Perce were good to the Lewis & Clark advance party and sent back food for the rest of the expedition. The expedition spent several days with these people while they prepared to push farther westward.
Clark wrote in his journal the exact measurements for the place where this occurred. Then modern day surveyors used these measurements and marked the place with a small monument. It is on a little county road. I used signs beginning in Weippe to show me how to reach the monument.
Upon leaving Weippe, I noticed a Nez Perce / Clearwater National Forest road that cuts back across the mountains from Weippe to Missoula. Since it was still about 11 am, I decided to go that route. After all the Lolo Motorway is in the Clearwater Naitonal Forest, and this was the route Lewis & Clark took.
The drive for a good 30 miles was paved and absolutely beautiful. The late summer wildflowers lined the roadbed with reds, yellows, purples and whites. The white Queen Ann’s Lace are especially beautiful in the sunlight.
Then the road turned into limestone but was still well marked and maintained. I just had to follow Forest Road 250. I stopped at a small turnout by a creek and had lunch, a can of unheated but pre-cooked chili soup. If I get the pop top cans, I don’t need a can opener. I also had some carrots to munch on and made some instant tea in one of my water bottles. It is important to note that I also had enough in my cooler for dinner and breakfast, too. I carry food with me most of the time because restaurants in country like this are few and far between.
And there are no gas stations or stores of any kind for over a hundred miles through this forest.
After lunch, I continued Road 250 which followed either a stream or river. I began to realize that I’m looking at some prime flyfishing waters. I’ll have to go back and check the map to see what streams I’m following.
Every once in a while I see a lone fly fisherman standing in the stream, so these streams are not crowded. I guess this is because it is a weekday, and I drove so far already to get here.
Finally, about 2:30 pm I passed the Kelly Work Center site which is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service property, but it is closed. I was hoping to go in and get a map.
I drove several hours already, but it is slow going. The roads are maintained but they are a wash board in places.
I was fairly certain that Forest Rd. 250 would get me all the way through, but I wanted confirmation. Also, my GPS got screwed up when I inadvertently touched the touchscreen, and it lost the coordinates of Missoula.
The GPS continues to work even with no service. It just shows you when you leave the roadbed. It gives no other instruction nor does it show towns, road numbers etc; but I’ve lost everything, and there is no service to get it back.
I’ve had no cell service since I left Lolo yesterday morning, except for a very weak Wifi service at the resort last night and this morning. It was so weak that I couldn’t drop a post, but I could set up my mapping.
Just past the work center I came to my first real decision. It says that if I take a left this is Rd. 250 going to Superior, Montana. On the map Superior is the closest town to the national forest eastern boundary, but this way seems to be less easy.
The easier and better maintained road goes straight. I do remember seeing that a forest road does come up on SR 12, the Lolo Pass Road, but I’m less sure where the better road ends up.
So I decided to stay on Rd. 250. This road goes all the way through Black Canyon, and the stream is the North Fork of the Clark River. I’ve actually heard of this stream, but don’t remember why. I began to see a lot more fly fishermen, though; and there is much more traffic.
The driving is much more difficult. I’m driving even slower and have to pay closer attention. There was a landslide in one place that looked like they had just repaired it.
This is a forestry service maintained road, but later I would find out that they have trouble keeping it maintained. I crossed two low streams that ran across the road through a structure called an articulated ford. Rocks had fallen from up above, and I would occasionally see a rock in the road that I had to avoid.
I hardly got over 20 miles per hour so it would be a very slow 35 miles. Plus I stopped to take pictures.
The sun was very bright, and I was constantly running in and out of shade and sunlight due to the fir forests and open areas. In one place just as I was leaving shade and before my eyes adjusted, I hit something which gave the car a jolt. I worried that there was an unseen rock in the road, but the car seemed fine so I kept going. I also didn’t see it in my rear view mirror.
I stopped at a campsite to use the restrooms. I wondered how much farther I had to go.
About ten more minutes after the restroom stop I noticed that one of my indicator lights was on. I had no idea where the maintenance manual was. I looked for it in the glove box earlier, because I wanted to adjust a side mirror a little better; but I never found it.
Then a little diagram came up on my dash that showed that the Passenger side front tire was low on air pressure. Darn. My tire was going flat, and that’s when I hit another rock. Not good. It all happened within a couple of seconds. I guess I didn’t see the rock, because I was still trying to assess the indicator lights.
I wish I could say that this was a comedy of errors, but I’m still not laughing. That’s because this is Thursday morning, the next day; and I’m writing this from the USDA’s Forest Service Kelly Work Center where I spent the night.
I’ve always known that the Forest Service both USDA and Florida’s are especially great people; but after yesterday, I just cannot say enough good things about these folks.
But first let me explain how I got back here, because I was a good hour and a half past this work center and toward my destination when I got the flat.
I pulled the car off to a little turnout. The road was just a little over a one-lane road here but I am in the forest so it is cool and shady. The road was one-laned for quite a while. I moved everything from the trunk to the backseat. This is a limerock road and my luggage is black. I was still concerned about keeping them clean.
Then I opened the bottom of the trunk and found no spare. Instead there was this little machine still covered in plastic wrap. It said in big letters, “Please give this to the tire repairman.” Crap! Of course, that was the nicer word for what I really said. What tire repairman! I’m in the middle of the wilderness.
So I removed the plastic wrap and there was a little brochure that explained that this little contraption was to be plugged into my cigarette lighter, then into my tire, and it would blow up my tire while filing it with a chemical that would fix the hole in the tire. Shut the front door! I didn’t even know this existed.
So I did what it said. It didn’t work.
Next it said, “if it doesn’t work, drive the car slowly ten meters and do it again.” Crap, again. I wish I had listened better when Coach McRae taught us the metric system. And I can’t go to Google it like I usually do. So I drove the car down about ten yards, and tried it again.
As I waited the prescribed five minutes again while the little machine ran, two men in a pickup truck stopped to help. Thankfully, they did, because one of them realized right away that the fluid needed to repair the tire was not getting into the tire. He opened a valve in another hose, which was never mentioned in the directions.
He also noticed that the tire had a puncture wound in its side tire wall when the fluid began pouring out its side. He didn’t think the fluid could help in this situation. We kept trying to air the tire up, but it didn’t work. I simply needed the missing spare.
He reminded me of my Dad, who could figure out just about anything given time. I studied that little brochure, but I still got it wrong. He studied the gadget instead and figured it out.
So Kelly Lynch and his friend gave me a ride down to the ranger’s station. Both were fly fishermen and retired. I had a feeling they were when I saw how they were dressed. We talked fly fishing a little on the way back, and I found out that this stream was a very good stream for anglers.
It was at least an hour and half drive one way back to the ranger station, and thank goodness that is where they took me. I’m just so sorry, though, that I messed up their late afternoon fishing. They were just out riding to look for a good fishing spot, and instead they were stuck driving around a helpless female. I really hate that my helplessness got between them and their fishing.
I got to the Kelly Creek Work Center and two forest rangers named Sarah Wyman and TC Peterson helped me contact AAA. They said that they had to send someone out of Idaho to pick me up, but Idaho was four hours behind me. I was only about an hour and a half from Superior, Montana.
Why not send someone from Montana? The dispatcher for AAA said that they wouldn’t come from Montana because I was still in Idaho.
So the tow truck will take four hours to get to me, then it will take me all the way back to Orofino, Idaho, which is even farther west than where I started this morning. Also, because it gets dark soon and because these are rough roads for night driving, the tow truck cannot make it to me until about 9 am in the morning. Because he knows my predicament, he said he would leave at 5 am.
I’m thinking about what it will be like to sleep in a Fiat 500, which is what I’m driving; but the Forest Service suggested I stay in one of their bunkhouses in a borrowed sleeping bag. It is supposed to get quite cold tonight. So that is exactly what I did. I slept in their bunkhouse. Sarah even brought me a tea bag to help calm my nerves.
I had the bunkhouse all to myself, because everyone was away. I know that the Hamilton fire has gotten pretty big and is threatening another town. I wondered if that was where everyone was. This is a massive national forest.
Finally, about 9 am in the morning, the tow truck driver Dan Gunter from Orofino Body Shop drove all the way from Orofino, picked me up at the Kelly Work Station, drove another hour and a half to my car, picked up the car, and then drove me and the car all the way back four hours west.
But it still isn’t over! At the tire place in Orofino, they didn’t have the tire I needed for replacement, so we had to drive even further west to Lewiston, Idaho.
Now I am right at seven hours away from Great Falls, it is 2 pm, I lose an hour crossing the mountains, and I fly out of Great Falls by 6:20 a.m. tomorrow. And I still need to eat three meals and sleep. Oh boy! This is not looking good.
Meantime, I have had no cell service for over 24 hours. I made one contact with Jamie’s cell and left a message just in case anyone is looking for me.
Then I have about a 200-mile drive back across the Rockies with still no cell service, but the good news is the tire place was waiting on me and changed the tire in record time. I am out of there and on my way by 2:30 pm. Love Les Schaub Tire Service both in Orofino and especially in Lewiston. Great guys!
This area of Idaho reminded me of my home county, only this is a distance out here of about 200 miles. Everyone seemed to know each other. The forest rangers knew Dan personally. Not only has he towed several people out of here, but he also hunts and fishes in the national forest. We got stopped twice in the forest by other people that he knew.
When we drove through a little small town on our way to Orofino, someone saw us passing and commented to him on the radio. They said, ” Hey Dan, that’s a new car you’re towing there.” He said, “Yep.” They said, “What kind of car is that?” Just general gab. Another guy made comments several more miles down the road. Dan and I talked all the way to Lewiston. The whole experience made me feel at home.
To make a longer story shorter I got to Great Falls at 10:30 pm. Whereupon I still had to pack. I started the next day at 3:30 am.
I had planned to follow Lewis’s return trail back as far as Great Falls, but I’ll save that for another trip. He and Clark split up at Traveler’s Rest and took different routes back to the mouth of the Yellowstone River on the Missouri where they next met. I chose Lewis’s return because I followed Clark’s return on an earlier trip.
So this is the end of my travels on this portion of the Lewis & Clark Trail. I’ll add a new section to my blog called “Following Old Trails” when I get back home. This section will be where these type of posts are archived.