Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kirkwood Ranch, Hells Canyon

Kirkwood Ranch, Parts 1-2
(Part 1)
My windshield wipers
whacked all the way from
Walla Walla to White Bird,
And they left a blurred
streak right in front of my
eyes. Drat. Should be
Perhaps later.
The 17-mile road from
Highway 95 at White Bird
over the saddle to Pittsburg
Landing oozed mud. When I
parked at the Upper Land
ing's Snake River Recreation
Trail trailhead, mud plastered
the sides and back of the
truck. It splotched my hands,
pants and shirt as I opened
the tailgate for Sadie the
She nosed about in the soft
rain. I slipped into a rain
jacket and stretched the rain
cover over the backpack.
When I bent to snap Sadie's
pack on her, I had to let out
the two straps under her
``Say,'' I said and poked her
with a finger. ``Sadie's put on
a few pounds.''
She drooped her tail.
``Well, no big deal,'' I said
and rubbed her ears.
She wagged her tail and
shook herself beneath the
pack. It held her food for
three days, a fold-up bowl, a
coat, four fleece boots for sore
paws, salve for scratches and
rashes, bandage wrap, Q-Tips
and a PackTowl to dry her
with before she entered the
I lifted my pack from the
tailgate. ``Hummpf,'' I grunted
and snapped the waistbelt. I
locked the truck, picked up
the bamboo walking stick
with the rubber tip, and we
set off walking in the rain.
Snake River Recreation
Trail (No. 102), follows the
river for about 30 miles to
Butler Bar, a couple of miles
past Granite Creek and a few
miles below Hells Canyon
Sadie and I once hiked the
28 miles to Granite Creek.
And back. We had fun, de
spite heat, ticks and heavy
This time, for our first
backpack of the spring, we
would walk six miles to
Kirkwood Ranch, camp for
two nights, explore, fly fish
for bass and hike back.
We started at 12:24 p.m.
that Sunday. Sadie strutted
under her load, but I wobbled
a bit beneath my 45-pounds
up the first steep, rocky and
narrow half-mile of trail.
When the trail leveled
somewhat, however, the load
rode more easily. Then the
drizzle stopped, and I put my
rain jacket in the pack.
Heavy cloud cover cooled
the air, and we reached the
camping area near Kirkwood
Ranch at 3:17 p.m. I pitched
the single-walled Eureka!
Zeus Exo tent (for exo
skeleton, because the poles
are on the outside).
I put on a sweater and
walked 400 yards to the mu
seum and met the site's care
taker, Linda Mink.
Coincidentally, one of her
seven son's is Correctional
Sergeant Tanner Mink, who
began work at the Washing
ton State Penitentiary in 1997.
He received Supervisor of the
Year honors in March of this
I filled my pocket-sized
water bag from a hose at the
museum and hung it from a
limb on a hackberry tree.
I mixed Sadie's dinner in
her bowl. She ate it in about
27 seconds. I boiled water for
hot chocolate and dehydrated
potatoes, opened a flat can of
Hormel ham with my Swiss
Army Knife, chopped it,
cooked it in olive oil and
mixed it into the mashed po
Clouds swelled, but no rain
fel. The air remained cool and
calm. I rigged the fly rod with
a black leach nymph and
pocketed my three-day Idaho
fishing permit that cost
Sadie followed me to the
river, below the line of hack
berry trees. We jumped from
rock to rock along a bar, and I
cast to the top of a riffle at a
deep hole backed up against a
cliff. I hooked a bass on the
first cast.
In an hour I hooked and
released about 20 fish, all in
the half-pound to three-
quarter-pound range. They hit
hard. Some jumped from the
water. I held a couple of them
by the lower lip and snapped
photos. They scooted away
when I let them go.
Next we walked upstream,
past the ranch, and fished our
way back to camp. I caught
more fish, including two at
the boat landing.
At dark I spread Sadie's
coat on the tent floor, and she
flopped. She got cold and
woke me later. I unzipped the
tent door. Stars sparkled in a
cloudless May sky at mid
night. The thermometer said
40 degrees. I covered Sadie
with part of my sleeping bag.
I expected Monday would
be bright and sunny.
(Part 2)
Chukars on the canyon wall
yakked it up, so Sadie the
Dalmatian and I skulked from
the tent into a 39-degree
morning before sunrise.
I tied my shoes at the picnic
table and set up the
WhisperLite stove. I toasted
two bagels in the fry pan with
olive oil and spread grape
jelly onto each golden bite
that I chased with steaming
hot chocolate.
I stuffed all the gear but the
water bag into the tent and
left the door open so critters
could enter without chewing a
hole. Three deer grazed on
the hillside 100 yards away,
and cougars, skunks, porcu
pines, and coyotes live in the
I've never seen a marmot,
squirrel or gopher in the one
time hayfield, but they must
be there. So I left the door
open, and we went to explore.
We walked three-quarters
of a mile up Kirkwood Creek,
past the pit houses dug in ash
deposited by the Mount
Mazama eruption about 7,000
years ago.
Now it's a weedy knoll, and
I wondered what it was like
when the ash fell, apparently
much heavier than when
Mount St. Helens blew.
Hard to imagine.
We found the Carter Man
sion to be a mess. Dick
Carter, a moonshiner during
Prohibition, built the vertical
log home above the stream
for his bride in the 1920s. It
had the first tongue-and-
groove floor in the canyon.
Carter escaped federal rev
enue agents for a consider
able time by hiding his still in
a cellar dug in the ash. He
was eventually sent to prison,
however, and his house was
used as a school for a time.
Undergrowth now hides the
house, with its empty window
frames and its floors covered
with ceiling plaster.
Linda Mink, a caretaker at
Kirkwood Ranch, said the
Forest Service lacks money
the mansion's upkeep.
Mink, however, is organiz
ing a ``Friends of Kirkwood
Ranch'' group to raise money
for the site.
T-shirts sales and other
fund-raising efforts could be
aimed specifically for
Kirkwood projects, she said.
By the time Sadie and I
reached camp again at 8:48
a.m., the thermometer on the
toilet in the hayfield said 62
degrees. I carried the
CamelBak water bag to a
wooden flume, designed a
century ago to irrigate the
hayfields and gardens. I
hooked the bag to a horse
shoe nailed to the flume and
pumped water with the Pur
Then we set off on a
2.3-mile hike upriver to
Suicide Point in bright sun
shine. Along the way I
sweated and took pictures of
flowers and scenery. We
climbed to the point, 400 feet
above the river, and rested.
When we got back a bit after
noon, the thermometer on the
toilet registered 79 degrees.
I worried that UV rays
would damage the nylon tent
and considered taking it down
and putting it up again after
sunset. Instead I quit worry
ing and ate two packages of
granola with dehydrated
strawberries in powdered
While Sadie licked the fry
pan/cereal bowl, I opened the
camera bag. Hum. No lens on
one of the tiny cameras. I
searched the bag. I searched
my pockets.
Phooey. I'd dropped it on
the hike from Suicide Point.
Of course it was on top of the
point. Another two-plus hour
hike. In the heat of the day.
Poor Sadie. She lay under
the picnic table with her
tongue hanging out.
Heck, what would a lens
cap cost? Two bucks? Maybe.
But I couldn't forget it.
``Come on, Sadie. Let's go,''
I said. She stretched and plod
ded after me.
At the museum, Linda Mink
said Sadie could stay with
her. But she would never do
that, I said, and we went.
Forty-seven minutes later,
as we started climbing up to
Suicide Point, the lens lay
right in the middle of the trail.
It took forever to get back
to Kirkwood Creek. Hot and
tired Sadie waded among yel
low buttercups and into the
irrigation flume. I leaned on
my walking stick and waited.
``Take your time,'' I said.
The thermometer on the
toilet reported 84 degrees. My
watch said 2:08 p.m.
I fed Sadie early and sat at
the wood table in the shade
for awhile before I limped to
the river with the fly rod.
Sadie stood beside me in
ankle-deep water as I worked
out a cast. I perked up a bit
when I hooked the first bass.
But after I released the sev
enth or eight one, I said,
``Let's go back.''
Sadie went into the tent,
and I didn't even dry her first.
I toted the mattress and the
clothes-bag pillow to the pic
nic table and lay on my back.
I opened my mystery novel
but dozed before turning a
Nearly two hours later and
still logy, I pondered frying a
bass for dinner. But I didn't
want to carry food out the
next day, so I ate the tuna fish
with hashbrowns and a bagel.
The next morning I dis
patched the last bagels. Rain
pattered as I packed and as
we hiked out, but we stopped
twice to fish. I caught nothing
either time.
The road over the saddle
had dried, and I paused twice
to photograph evening prim
roses. I stopped in Granger
and sprayed mud off the truck
and felt better for it.
The 17-mile road from Highway 395
to Pittsburg Landing Road is narrow,
steep and unpaved. Once a popular
Native American village site,
Pittsburg Landing is now popular for
river access and camping.
Kirkwood Historical Ranch is the
former home of Idaho's Governor
Len Jordan, the site of Grace
Jordan's book ``Home below Hells
Canyon,'' the Carter Mansion, and
archaeological evidence of human
habitation dating back 7100 years.
Accessible by boat or trail, it is
staffed by volunteers throughout the
year. The site features a the
Kirkwood Historical Museum.

No comments: