Monday, July 09, 2007

Anniversary Week Returns

The Fourth of July week brought the return of our annual pilgrimage to the mountains to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This year marks our 13th anniversary. We decided not to arrange a big group campsite as we have done in previous years. Instead we just let people know where we would be and to let us know if they were going to stop by for some or all of the week.

Friday - Karyn and I were both sick this week, putting our packing a little bit behind schedule. We still managed to make it out of town on Friday morning with most of the essentials we would need for a great week in the mountains. Juvenile RobinMost importantly of all, we were both feeling better. Upon arriving at our chosen destination, a campsite along the Salmon river, we did nothing! The plan was to simply lay around camp enjoying the great outdoors, bird watching, and getting used to the fresh air. What a change from the increasingly polluted air of Boise (Boise air quality had been rated yellow (unhealthy) for the previous week). Quite a number of birds graced our campsite and the air around it. Ospreys and Belted Kingfishers would fly up and down the river, stopping occasionally on a nearby perch to wait for fish. There must not be many fish in this part of the river as they tend to move on after a few minutes. We found a few juvenile Robin hiding in nearby bushes. They would remain silent as they waited for their next meal to arrive. The parent, beak full of food, would land nearby and watch us. When we would inevitably look away, she apparently rushed in with the food.

Saturday - Saturday morning was the first time we would introduce our new mountain tandem bicycle to the Fisher Creek trail. Fisher Creek is one of our favorite rides. We were also married, on our old mountain tandem, in the meadow in the middle of this trail 13 years ago.OspreyThus, we had been looking forward to this ride for some time. Most of the trail had burned 2 years ago. We didn't ride it at all last year as we figured, the burn had destroyed the trail. Actually it had not. On the climb up we passed through many areas that were mostly burned, with some remaining green patches of trees. There were some spots where everything was gone. A high temperature wasteland. But most of the burn was covered with wildflowers. Entire hillsides of huge Sego Lilies. Tons of other flowers as well. Its great to see the beautiful rebirth after such a devastating fire. The tandem performed well up the steep final climb to the top. The first few miles of downhill are on a very narrow section of trail with steep hillsides and even some cliffs. We took it easy through this section of the trail. The switchbacks were a bit difficult, but we were able to ride them all. The middle and longest section of the downhill was very fast. The tandem cruised over the bumps with ease as we blasted down the hill. The stoker occasionally reminding me not to crash her! We made it out safe with no crashes. We will definitely plan this for another day later in the week.

Dutch oven pizza for dinner. One of my favorites. Mmmm.

Sunday - Another beautiful day in paradise. In fact its scary how nice it is up here. Cassin's FinchCrystal clear and hot days have been the norm for the last few years. It wasn't always this way. In our early years of coming here, we were regularly snowed upon, almost always had rain storms. The past few years have been clear and warm. Unfortunately this pleasant weather change is having a permanent impact on the area. It is extremely dry here. (sounds like a hiking uphill both ways to school story!)

Today's adventure is a tandem mountain bike on the Knapp Creek-Valley Creek loop. This is a great tandem trail as it is built on 4-wheeler trails for the whole distance. It passes through beautiful meadows and occasionally dense forests. Both the uphill and the downhill are gentle and steady. There is one steep technical climb as you ride from one drainage to the other. We had successfully rode this section without dabbing (touching the ground with your foot) last year on our old tandem. This year we dabbed twice. The suspension on the bike operates differently on this type of technical trail. It will take some getting used to, but well within reach. We did suffer our first crash! Actually we just laid the bike over on a slow loose rocky downhill. No blood, no scratch (on us or the bike), so no foul. The rest of the ride was spectacular.

Monday - Today was a hiking day. I have been wanting to hike into Ants basin, over a ridge from 4th of July Creek, for some time. Today was the day. The 4th of July drainage was also part of the burn that hit Fisher creek two years ago. We drove up the road to the trailhead. Tons of wildflowers here as well. We saw quite a few deer working through the burned trees. Upon reaching the trailhead, we realized the rear door to our van was not entirely closed. Everything in the back of the van was covered in thick dust. We will need to do some cleaning tonight!

Panorama of Ants Basin and Sawtooth Mountains

The trail ascends just over a mile into 4th of July lake before turning off to climb steeply up another mile and over the ridge. Instead of hiking down the other side, we decided to hike up the ridge to some higher viewpoints. I took a nice 360 degree panoramic photo (many individual photos that I will piece together later (click photo above to enlarge)). The ridge overlooked Ants Basin, the Born Lakes, 4th of July Lake, and the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance. It was very beautiful. After eating lunch on the ridge, we descended back to the trailhead.

Returning to the highway we decided to check out Decker Flat road. This is a gravel road on the other side of the river from the main highway. Since our van was already full of dust, we didn't think it could get much dirtier. As the name implies, the road is flat across Decker Flats. The road then deteriorates as it climbs steeply over a mountain. It becomes a deeply rutted, uneven 4-wheel drive road. This would be the first real off-roading we have done in the van. It performed very well. Back to camp to clean out the van!

The evening was spent birdwatching from our camp. There is always something new to spot there. This is why we like to camp along the river.

Female Common Merganser and 22 chicks!

Tuesday - This morning we saw a cool thing on the river. A Female Merganser had a gaggle (not sure if this is the right word) of 22 chicks! They apparently will adopt broods from other females. This looked like quite the army.

Today's adventure would be a mountain bike ride around Redfish Lake. I had seen this in a book before and have spoken to a few people who have ridden it. They had all relayed that it was a difficult trail. We stopped at the local store that rents bikes to inquire about which direction to ride the trail. They had never heard about anyone riding it and did not have a book that describes the trail. We decided to ride it counter-clockwise. The first stretch is uphill and technical, but it is all ridable. There were a few hikers on this part of the trail, so we had to stay out of their way. The trail then leveled out and followed along a lateral moraine. The descent down to the inlet was smooth and fast. After crossing the inlet, the trail deteriorated. It became very rocky and unridable in a few spots, with lots of downed trees. We hoped that it would improve once it started climbing the ridge on the South side of the lake. The trail did improve, but became very steep and technical. It was mostly ridable, but we would loose our momentum often when we failed to make it through a particular rocky section. We did eventually reach the top of the lateral moraine on the south side. We met a few other bikers here making the ride in the opposite direction. They hadn't seen anyone since they began. The South side was also technical, but slightly downhill, until the final part which was very steep and technical back down to the road. It was a great, tough ride. It took us about an hour longer than we had planned.

Back in camp we found a family of Belted Kingfishers. They were all on the little island in the river chattering away at each other. I watched as two youngsters faced each other on a tree limb and chattered non-stop. It was very entertaining. Not sure if the youngsters were fishing for themselves, but they were diving into the water often, probably just to cool off.

Karyn's parents joined us in the campground for a few days.

Wednesday - Wednesday brought our rest day and laundry. Since the temperatures are in the 90's we decided to hang dry our clothes in the campground! Bird watching, socializing, relaxing, and enjoying ourselves. We swam in the river to cool off.

Belted Kingfishers sharing Dinner!

Thursday - I can't believe it, the low temperature over night was 60! This is unheard of in this area. We took off early to repeat the Fisher Creek Loop on the Mountain Tandem before it gets too hot. At the trailhead there was only one group out in front of us. As we climbed the Fisher Creek road, we discovered fresh wolf tracks! How cool is this! It would only be better if we saw the wolf. We passed the group ahead of us and descended the trail fast, but safe (very important on a tandem, we have to live together after this!). It was roasting hot when we finished. Back at camp, at 93 degrees, we jumped in the river! Ahh.

It would reach 96 degrees today. One of the weather buff locals (yes, I know geeks everywhere) let us know that it was his highest recorded temperature in 30 years of records. The previous high was 95. We created a new plan. Skinny dipping in the river before going to bed (Ssh. don't tell). Definitely cools you off and helps you sleep! It was still 77 degrees at 10:30pm.

Friday - The call to successfully climb the steep hill we dabbed on a few days earlier drew us back to Knapp Creek-Valley Creek loop on the tandem. This trail is also heavily shaded which was important due to the continued hot weather. Today we successfully climbed the steep hill with no dabbs. It was an excellent ride.

Badger with Dinner!

On the way back we drove into Stanley Creek for some bird watching. While there, Karyn spotted a badger trotting across the field. We took some photos and then moved closer. I stepped out of the van to get some more pictures as the badger flushed a ground squirrel. The chase was on through the deep grass. Moments later I heard the result. The Badger had caught his dinner. Wow! What timing. Of course we saw lots of birds as well!

Peaks and Perks in Stanley provided us some refreshments - Espresso Shakes! Yes, it is very yuppie for Stanley, but they are mighty good on a hot afternoon. They have great smoothies as well.

Back in camp the family of Common Mergansers returned (female and 22 chicks). They were moving upstream hunting for fish. When one chick would see fish and rush for it, all of the others would rush as well. Water splashing everywhere. It was something to watch.

The river once again invited us in before bed.

Sandhill Crane

Saturday - Back to the single bikes to ride the Basin Creek-Potato Mountain loop. This loop provides some great technical single track and broad meadows.

In the afternoon we returned to search for the badger. No luck. As we were leaving the area, we stopped to look at the cliff swallows flying near a canal. Just then a badger ran across the road carrying a ground squirrel. We were about a half mile from the kill the day before. Not sure if it was the same badger or not. There are plenty of ground squirrels, but plenty of predators. In addition to badgers, we have seen Coyotes, Bald Eagles, Redtailed Hawks, and Northern Harriers in this small valley! Its tough to be a ground squirrel.

Sunday - Nooo. Not the end. Tired from our week of play, and out of vacation time, we reluctantly returned home to the even hotter Boise valley.

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