You know where Riggins, Idaho is? It is halfway between the north pole and the equator. So there.
We departed Stanley heading northwest on the Ponderosa Pines Scenic Byway. We stopped by the ranch, but Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe were out mending the fence line. Just as well – Karen still has a crush on Little Joe.
We drove through Bear Canyon and stopped a few times because the views were just so spectacular.
On one of our stops, we came upon a river guide who was about to repel himself down a 400-500 ft drop to the river to recover his paddle. Now, his paddle was on the other side of the raging South Payette River that, based on what another had told us, had Class II, III, IV, and yes – Class VI rapids.
These Class VI rapids were described as a set of 4 drops – think waterfall. I asked this guide did he raft over the Class VI rapids? He said no, they portaged around them. Oh, now I feel better. Out of an abundance of not wanting to shame him, I did not ask why his paddle was down on the opposite bank of the river. Or how he expected to get across the river to get his paddle once he got down there. Some things are better left unsaid.
Towns in this area of Idaho are typically situated in the valley between mountains and sitting on the side of one river or another. Riggins, our destination, sat on the side of the Big Salmon River and the Little Salmon River. The two rivers join up in Riggins, and our campsite at the Riverside RV Park sat right on the Little Salmon River, with stunning views all around us.
We took a drive up along the Big Salmon River with a picnic lunch and were rewarded with some amazing views. This is a popular river for raft trips, boat rides, and of course fishing.
The other ride we took was on the opposite side of the river, to what is known as the Seven Devils, a set of seven mountains in the Hell’s Canyon Wilderness, about an 18-mile trip up a mostly gravel road to about an 8,500 foot elevation fire watch station.
Horses (and cows) free-range feed up these mountains, and they don’t particularly care that you are trying to go up the road.
Once you travel up this road, you are within a ¼-mile hike up to an active fire watch station, where the views are just, well, you know. The fire station is manned by a couple for the fire season to watch out over this terrain. A fire station (but not the current one) has been in operation at this location since 1924.
One of the interesting things we learned was that much of the territory you can see is categorized Wilderness, which means there is very little human interaction, but also that after, say, a fire, there can be no replanting of trees – because it is considered wilderness. The tree damage you see in the picture below was from a fire in 1991, and at this altitude and environment, nature is a little slow to restore things to its previous condition.
The views from the station (Heaven’s Gate) include the Seven Devils Mountains, Hell’s Canyon Wilderness, and the Salmon River Canyon (often called the River of no Return and is the second deepest canyon in North America). The views encompass 360 degrees of unobstructed views, covering four states (Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Montana). The He Devil Mountain, which is the tallest of the seven, stands at close to 9,400 ft elevation. Fifty miles away (line of sight) can be seen the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon.
The Salmon River attains some of its’ notoriety from supporting sea-going steelhead trout and Chinook Salmon. And the Seven Devils name comes from a passed down Indian story about being chased by the 7 devils.
While we enjoyed blue skies, we had haze – more than likely from nearby fires that decreased our visibility. Nevertheless, this journey to Riggins was an amazing part of our still ongoing journey through Idaho. More to come!