Part 25: Rock Creek, MT to Elk River, ID


Navigation Links
 Trip Home Page     


The Trip

We spent the night at a small, undeveloped Forest Service campsite on Rock Creek.  Next day, we headed north to Missoula, MT for a supply stop and then south to Lolo Hot Springs for a drain/fill and shower.  From Lolo, we headed back onto the dirt over the rugged mountains to Cayuse Creek.  From Cayuse, we continued on back roads to Washington creek on the Clearwater River.  From Washington, we headed west to Elk River, ID.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

Rock Creek Canyon has some nice hay fields but is flanked on both sides by steep ridges.  The canyon is about 40 miles long.

We went to Missoula, MT for a resupply and then headed to Lolo Hot Springs to an RV park for a tank refresh and showers.  Our camp was right next to the creek and provided pleasing sounds all night.

As we were leaving the next morning, we got proof that old school buses never die, they just become reborn as hillbilly campers.  Note the stack for the wood stove.

The bus was pulling a trailer with this odd contraption on it.  After some reflection, I decided that it is a brick oven for pizzas or baking bread native style (a "horno" in Spanish).

Our chosen path from Lolo was over Lolo Pass, then to the north on the dirt over the rugged mountains.  Not too far into the trail we discovered that forest travel has some disadvantages.  We did not have a chain saw, but did have several bow saws "just in case".  Somebody with a chain saw beat us to the punch, but our time was coming.

The trail got progressively more narrow and we were wondering if we were lost.  It turned out that we were on a branch of the main trail and it eventually met up with a wider (but not better) path.

We skirted steep canyon walls for miles until we finally hit a saddle that allowed us to see to the south.  Note the snow on the distant peaks.

The area we traveled was rife with beetle kill.  The dead trees provided many hazards, the least of which is fire danger.

Some of the upper areas had already burned, but there was still plenty of fuel left.

We passed these interesting flowers, or weeds as the case may be.

This obstacle was worse than it looked because there is a substantial drop-off on the driver's side of the truck.  We fit, but scuffed the tires on both sides on the way through.

This obstacle was a deal-killer.  The tree was too big to break, to low to pass underneath and could only be dealt with using a saw.  I climbed up the slope just past the right edge of the photo above and cut the base of the tree.  With Kathleen pulling on it, it finally broke and we moved it to the side of the road.  We cleared the other dead-fall trees with inches to spare.

Higher on the ridge most of the trees were dead due to the bark beetles.

This section got the double-whammy: beetles and fire.

We traveled for several hours and saw not a single vehicle.  Then, at a turn-out on the trail, we came upon a tent and a motorcycle.  The fellow heard Thor and came to greet us.  When he saw the truck, he said "Are you here for the plane crash?".  Of course, my response was "what plane crash?".  It seem that an ultra-light pilot crashed just a few miles further down the road from this fellow and died as a result.  FAA, Sheriff and coroner had already been here and left tape around the "crime scene".  There was still debris present, but not easily photographed from the road.  We noted the position in our GPS and went happily on our way thinking that the "authorities" would have insured that the path in was clear of debris and obstructions.  Wrong.  The trail past the crash site was just as obstructed as the path in so it was slow going all the way.  Some of the dead-fall we "dozed" out of the way, some we crushed with the tires and others we cut.

Several miles past the crash site, we could look back at the terrain.  The scope of the beetle kill is obvious.  Our trail is also visible in the photo above.

Finally, from a high ridge we got a clear view to the south.  This area is remote and rugged.

We rolled on for several more hours down narrow, debris choked trails until we hit Cayuse Creek.  I was shot, so we took the first open area that we found and set up the BBQ for a steak.

Next morning we crossed Cayuse Creek and headed northwest.

The trail was steep, narrow and still had debris that had not been cleared.  From a steep portion of the trail a break in the trees allowed us to see the rugged mountains on our path.

We went over ridge after ridge before descending into Kelly Creek.  Kelly was a welcome sight because the maps indicated that the trail would turn into a dirt road (hopefully without debris).

We followed Kelly Creek until we hit the confluence with the North Fork of the Clearwater River.  We followed the North Fork through the steep canyons.

Near sundown we came to Washington Creek campground on the Clearwater River so we elected to stay.  The camp was sparsely occupied so we had plenty of space (and quiet).  The "facilities" at Washington Creek were clean and were a welcome change.

Next morning, we continued downstream on the Clearwater River.  Calm pools at the river's edge provided interesting reflections of the rocks and trees.

Crossing the bridge at Washington Creek, the width of the North Fork becomes apparent.

We turned south toward Headquarters, ID and then west back into the mountains.  The road was narrow, steep and had tight turns, but no debris.  But, as a bonus we got thick clouds of trail dust from the silty soil.

We traveled all morning on narrow, twisty roads until we reached Grandad Bridge over Dworshak Reservoir on the Clearwater River.  This is a substantial bridge and apart from a boat is the only way to cross the reservoir other than Dent Bridge at the southern end of the lake.

The reservoir was below full pool exposing the shoreline.  I used to work on a fire crew in this area in the early seventies and clearing the reservoir basin of trees before the initial filling was a major effort.

We took the trail from Grandad over the mountains to Elk River.  We got "positionally confused" more than once, but eventually back-tracked our way to the correct trail over Diamond Match Hill and success.  On the down-slope into Elk River, ID we passed many "clear-cut" areas where the loggers had cut everything down.  The leftovers, the so-called "slash" is left to be burned after the first snow.

This segment of our trip was more than we bargained for; it was tougher and more narrow than we had expected.  It was slow going, but as a friend of ours, Nancy, says "It does not have to be fun to have fun".  I do think that I will be adding a chainsaw to our travel kit.

Next, we head south from Elk River to civilization and generally toward Bend, OR and Northwest MogFest.

Navigation Links
Previous Adventure
Top of this Page
  Next Adventure
Trip Home Page  
Bill Caid's Home Page

Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2014, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.