Mix a weeklong road trip through the Idaho Panhandle and southeast British Columbia with a week of productive projects at Horsefeathers Farm and you have the makings of a perfect, end-of-summer vacation.
This late summer break from work got off to a great start after an eight-hour drive from Olympia to East Hope, Idaho, on the northeast shores of Lake Pend Oreille. Sandy and Steve Wall, who split their retirement time between their Olympia home and their Idaho summer-sun and winter-skiing retreat, were our gracious hosts for three days of boating, kayaking, sightseeing, golfing and fine dining.
As a first-time visitor to Lake Pend Oreille, I was struck by its immensity (43 miles long with 111 miles of shoreline), setting (spectacularly framed by the Green Monarch, Selkirk and Cabinet mountain ranges) and clear, deep water (at 1,158 feet, it’s the fifth-deepest lake in the nation, deep enough for the U.S. Navy to use the lake to test submarines).
The highlight of our stay was a midmorning/early afternoon kayak and canoe excursion in the Pack River Delta. The 640 acres of delta land where the second-largest input of river water meets the lake is home to a major habitat-restoration project.
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The delta was once a rich habitat of wetlands and freshwater marsh, but construction of the Albeni Falls Dam on the nearby Pend Oreille River in 1952 flooded it, turning it into sterile mudflats.
Last spring, a multimillion-dollar project began in earnest to elevate and rebuild marshes and wetlands; trap much of the 200,000 cubic yards of nutrient-rich sediment that gushes down the Pack River with the spring runoff; and restore some of the habitat long lost to geese, mammals, songbirds, trout, bats, eagles, ospreys and other species.
If the project is successful, the goose nest boxes that jut on poles out of the river delta will be removed, because the birds once again will have natural habitat to nest upon, said Kathy Cousins, a mitigation biologist for the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
Our delta paddle trip coincided almost to the day with the 200-year anniversary of David Thompson’s arrival in the Pack River delta via canoe. The London-born Welshman, who arrived in Canada at the age of 14, was a fur trader, mapmaker and surveyor. He explored western North America from 1784 to 1812 and was the first person to chart the entire length of the Columbia River. His life and accomplishments are well-chronicled in “Sources of the River” by Jack Nisbet.
Other highlights of the trip include:
• Seeing more osprey and osprey nests than imaginable along the Pend Oreille River on a day trip to Priest Lake.
• Eating wild huckleberries the size and color of blueberries on two high-elevation hikes on the same day after crossing the border into southeast B.C. – one taking off from Kootenay Pass, elevation 5,820 feet, and the other near the Red Mountain ski resort close to the historic mining town of Rossland.
Rossland has gained a reputation as the mountain-biking capital of B.C., but it has quieted down since its gold rush heyday of 1898 when it was home to four banks, seven newspapers and 42 saloons doing business around the clock.
• Enjoying the acoustic folk music of Headwater, a Vancouver, B.C.-based quartet whose Peter Gabriel, Neil Young and John Hiatt influence came through loud and clear in their vocals and instrumental work on steel guitar, mandolin, upright bass and guitar during a concert at the old Rossland Fire Hall.
The final two days and nights in British Columbia were spent in the Okanagan Valley high desert community of Osoyoos, which is just a few miles from the Washington state border but light-years from home.
This northernmost extension of the Sonoran Desert runs through the traditional lands of the “Sylix” First Nations of the Okanagan Valley, home to sagebrush and antelope brush and rare critters such as burrowing owls that turn old badger dens into summer nurseries, pallid bats that hunt their prey on the ground, and yes, plenty of rattlesnakes.
In stark contrast to the desert habitat were peach orchards, vineyards and Lake Osoyoos resorts and retirement condos, suggesting that a sunny place in British Columbia remains a big draw, recession or not.
The week flew by, and it was back across the border and home to Olympia via a circuitous route past the smoldering, smoky remains of a forest fire near Twisp and the twisting, curving state Route 20 through North Cascades National Park.
As our weeklong road trip segued into long-delayed projects around the farm, I also took the time to finish reading about Thompson’s adventuresome life and the 28 years he spent exploring the natural wonders of the inland Northwest river valleys and mountain ranges. The trip and Thompson’s travels left me with a desire to probe a little deeper into British Columbia and northern Montana the next time I get a chance.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444