The camper was nice and toasty, 64 degrees inside when we woke up at 6:30 and I was thankful for the heater and the electrical hook-up. It was 40 degrees outside after Mabel and I walked the campground loop and her nose was put to good use. She is a sniffer and I must remind myself to be patient when we walk and think of her exercise needs. Mabel spends a good deal of time in the car and it's these small windows of opportunity that get her out and about. We haven’t seen the wide-open expanses of beach that she so loved in quite some time; I wonder if she misses the sand.
The woods will have to do, and we find ourselves pushing through pines and eventually coming to a road which leads to the Museum at the Brig. The park is on the site of a WWII Naval Training Center, at one time the largest city in Idaho. The museum isn’t open, and I decide to walk down the dirt road in the opposite direction. It’s a wonderful morning, no one is around, but as I make my way back to the camper cars are starting to use the road.
Once at the campsite I resume searching for the missing lead and, in my mind, can see it sitting on the picnic table at the Leavenworth KOA. Its absence poses a problem with Mabel’s restraint, especially with a full day before us. She has resumed her wandering ways and our campsite is a target rich environment, too many tempting smells to keep her close to the camper.
After breakfast I decide to take another walk, this time following the Squirrel Cache Trail which takes us away from camp but through more woods. The scenery is great; the leaves show a tinge of Fall, and the trail provides the opportunity for exercise. Mabel is her enthusiastic self, she loves to be on the trail and doesn’t seem to get tired. The only time I remember her showing fatigue was in Georgia at Providence Canyon State Park. It was very hot that day and we seemed to walk and walk until we couldn’t walk anymore.
The woods were dense, but I could see water through the branches and pushed on to see what lies ahead. We come to a large group picnic area packed up for the winter. The picnic tables were pushed to the side and our steps made a sloshing sound as we powered through the fallen leaves. The body of water was more visible from the picnic area and I spotted a dirt access road leading to what turned out to be Buttonhook Bay. Mabel and I ended up at the southern portion of Lake Pend Oreille, the bay hidden from Idaho’s largest main. Lake Pend Oreille is over 1,000 feet deep and 65 miles long with amazing scenery.
The road ended at a marina, floating docks breaking up a mirror like bay. Awestruck, I stopped to take in the sight of a single sailboat moored to the docks. It was pure solitude. One of the trip’s moments I will remember forever. This was paradise and swung my “where do I want to live” pendulum towards mountains and away from the ocean. Our view seemed more dramatic than Lake George NY, maybe because its fall and the anticipation of color shapes the emotions. Or, it could be the miles behind me have changed the lens through which I view my current state, both mental and physical.
As we stopped at the dock’s stairs, I could see that the sailboat had an owner, sitting on the dock, and talking on a phone. I toyed with the idea of walking down the dock and quickly answered my own question. This trip was intended to provide opportunities to meet people and here was a great chance. But Mabel wanted no part of the metal walkway that led the way. She was fastened to the rail in a spot that allowed for constant visibility to my whereabouts.
The boat’s owner caught sight of me walking down the dock and I could hear him dismiss the caller. Who knows what he thought as I disturbed his privacy, but he was friendly when I got within greeting distance. His name was Stan and lived in Montana, close to Glacier National Park. He keeps the boat here year-round, the lake’s depth restricting the freeze close to the shoreline. “It gets cold,” he tells me, but Stan has a system which makes experiencing the winter wonder of Buttonhook Bay bearable. A small heater, tarps to keep the deck clear of snow, and insulated blankets, the ones used to help concrete set, provide the needed warmth. It sounded like a cozy set up, reminding me of the blanket forts the boys used to build in their room. I imagined the dead of winter view and decided it was worth the necessary logistics for its enjoyment. Stan was heading out to catch salmon but provided advice on trails around the lake and enjoying Glacier National Park before casting off his lines.
Mabel and I headed to Beaver Bay Beach, just north of the bay. It was closed for the season, but its clear blue water must be appreciated on hot July days. A “No Dogs” sign was posted, but since Mabel can’t read she didn’t know her presence was restricted. And, since we were the only ones walking the shoreline, we kept going. The beach provided an everlasting view of the lake which was occupied by two lonely fishing boats. We saw Stan emerge from the bay, his course determined by the hunt for fish. The sailboat backdropped by the surrounding mountains.
We headed back to Buttonhook Bay and followed a mountain bike trail around its perimeter. The trail is narrow, and the woods are dense, but the sporadic glimpses of the bay make the hike worth the effort. I come across two cyclists and think how my son Clayton would love it here. I bet it would only take one ride for him to declare this his new home. It was time to get going, the road called, and I was tired after the hike totaling around three miles.
Highway 2/95 took us north and if I wanted, could have followed it into Canada. The thought crossed my mind, but I remembered Steinbeck’s failed foray into our northern neighbor and decided to stay on US soil. Mabel wasn’t qualified for entrance, she has no papers for an international excursion so her taste for adventure is to be satisfied on this side of the border. I stopped at a Walmart in Sandstone to pick up a new lead, Mabel’s unrestrained freedom was brief. She was mostly well behaved at Farragut, but I was taking no chances at the next camping spot. There were times when the scent of squirrel was too great, and her sense of boundaries was ignored.
Bonners Ferry was a nice little town that marked the end of our journey north. From here on out, Mr. Sulu was setting a course that takes us on an eastward winding path. I stopped at an antique store on the town’s square and was struck by the familiar smell. I’ve been in enough of these stores to recognize the odor of oldness and realized that it doesn’t matter the location, they all share this aroma of abandonment.
The mountain scenery inspired me to look for a particular style of painting that would complement one Sheri has at home. I like our picture and looking at it stirs those moody feelings only provided by a late afternoon walk through a fall woods. But it didn’t take long to realize I wouldn’t find what I was looking for and I didn’t have a taste for looking elsewhere. So, I left without a purchase.
Mabel needed exercise and we walked around Bonners Ferry, the town proud of its working-class past as it pushes towards its future. As the afternoon inched toward evening we passed one of the town’s bars and I could feel the anticipation for the impending festivities. But, we would be long gone once they commenced.
Moyie Springs was our next photo opportunity and it proved to be our last stop in Idaho. I didn’t know much about Idaho before I crossed over its borders. There were tales of its beauty from those I knew who had visited. When I was a kid on the East Coast, Idaho was the wild west, or someplace that rivaled our potato growing abilities. An Idaho potato was celebrated in advertising and McDonalds proudly exclaimed their use. As I grew older, it was through a B-52’s musical tribute, the Keanu Reeves/River Phoenix movie, and the television show Twin Peaks that I became aware of the state. The best connection to Idaho is through my friend Randy from the Air Force. I remember him telling us about his exploits growing up in Twin Falls. The stories we usually aided by Shiner Bock and always resulted in a lot of laughs. I want to return, to see more of Idaho’s ruggedness and for Sheri to share in the beauty of Buttonhook Bay
No grand proclamations welcomed our entry into Montana. It took my cell phone changing to Mountain Time to realize we had crossed the border. “One time-zone closer to home,” I thought while changing the car’s clock to match my phone. We continued on HWY 2, stopping at Troy to fix Arabella’s license plate. This is the one design area of the camper that requires a change; the license plate hangs too low. I have done my best to keep from losing it, but the rigors of travel defeat the plastic zip ties I considered the fix. Sheri and I talk on the phone, it feels good to catch up, and even though I have many miles to go I am getting antsy to see her.
The route takes us along the right side (south or east depending on your location) of the Kootenai River and we stop at Kootenai Falls Park. The trail was interesting as it involved a bridge over railroad tracks that Mabel refused to cross. So, I carried her up the many steps, over the bridge, and down the other side. We passed kids on their way back from fishing, the heavy catch weighing down their skinny arms. The park advertises a swinging bridge over the river that I see in the distance, but I don’t intend to cross. The distance and effort are too great for me to chicken out over the height. But the falls were magnificent. Not deep drops but powerful ones that pound through the rock. Mabel, unafraid of heights, stood closer to the end than I felt comfortable, but she enjoyed a better view. The fall’s roar was constant as we scurried along the rocks and we could have traveled farther along the river if it was earlier in the day. There was still the trail to follow and a bridge to cross before we were back at the car.
Eastward on HWY 2 towards Libby to see the dam. I am amazed at the engineering required to build such a structure and wonder if those that worked on it have a fondness or feeling of contempt for the endeavor. I see a sign for an Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Area and turn down its winding gravel road. I had great luck at a Corp of Engineers site in Alabama and thought I might find the same here. A lone camper sat near the river’s edge, the base of the dam looming above it. But the “feel” just wasn’t “right” with this facility. It was very open, with overhead power lines crossing through a close-cut field of brown. I wanted mountains and trees.
We traveled up the east side of Lake Koocanusa, the view magnificent as the sun traveled west. There were many photo opportunities and I balanced the shot with the time required. Light was starting to run low and I didn’t have a camping spot for the night. Some areas of the lake though were just too good to pass up.
I saw the green triangle camping icon on the map at Rexford. Positioned on the lake it looked like a nice spot to stay the night, but it wasn’t to be. Pulling off HWY 2 I passed through what looked like a small-town school, young eyes sizing me up as non-local. The campground was closed and a quick knock on the camp host’s camper resulted in “no one at home”. So, we pressed on and pointed the car to Eureka, another small town that provided no help with our search for a campground.
It was dark when we pulled into the Dickey Lake campground in the Kootenai National Forest and I was happy to see the gate was open. I scanned the board for restrictions and none were evident, so we moved forward, passing an older couple walking towards their camper. They told me through the open passenger window that conditions were primitive, and the water was turned off just yesterday. But the pit toilets were unlocked and there were plenty of spots with the bargain price of $10. I backed into a long site that looked out to the lake. It was dark and I couldn’t see much of my surroundings but knew the lake was behind me. Mabel disappeared into the woods as we walked to pay for the spot, but she found her way back to the camper; she knew it was dinner time. It was a quick cooking night as I was tired from the day’s drive, so we retired after dinner and slept quite comfortably.
Thankful today for the view at Buttonhook Bay. And this campsite.