Merriam Lake. Photo by Link Jackson
The Road Less Traveled -- the unofficial motto of Outdoor Idaho - has recently led us to a part of the state where few ever venture: the backside of central Idaho's rugged Lost River Range.
You've heard of Mt. Borah, at 12,662 feet. Well, seven of the state's nine "12'ers" are in this range. These mountains are the highest in the state… more than 1,000 feet higher than the Sawtooths.
Our show, "Lost River Country," is scheduled to air December 2nd. We'll of course zero in on the unique geology of the area – known as Basin & Range -- where the 1983 Borah earthquake killed two children and did extensive damage to Custer County. Earthquakes here cause the mountains to rise and the basin to sink, and that was the strongest earthquake in Idaho's recorded history.
We'll also profile the rugged individuals who call Mackay and Challis home; and we'll explore the fascinating Big Lost River, which never quite makes it through the desert basalts. It just sinks into the ground, only to emerge near Hagerman at Thousand Springs.
But it's the back side of the range, far from the towns and Highway 93, that is such an unexpected treat. We were blown away by the rugged beauty of the high mountain lakes and the lush meadows, as well as the many springs and streams in this seemingly arid region. And we can't forget the roads. They require a high clearance and 4-wheel drive; plan on spending several hours traveling the last 20 miles.
In our two days on the back side, we hiked to three lakes: Merriam Lake, Pass Lake, and Lake 10204, at the base of Mt. Borah. Later, when we examined our photos, we saw hikers on the Borah summit; they had hiked to the top of Idaho's highest peak from the other side, the side with the trail.
I figure there are shows that you need to do, and then there are shows that you can't wait to do. "Lost River Country" is one of those.
We'll try not to use the word "unique" too many times to describe this area. But, believe me, the temptation is there.
Pass Lake. Photo by Tim Tower.
Lake at base of Mt. Borah. Photo by Bruce Reichert
Hiking near Pass Lake and Leatherman Peak.
Photo By Tim Tower
The Final Ascent. Photo by Dan King
Restoration work on Jackknife Creek near the Idaho-Wyoming border.
The first time I worked with Louis Wasniewski, Caribou-Targhee National Forest forest hydrologist, was mid-current in Jackknife Creek in 2012. The last time I worked with Louis was mid-currrent again, but in Curlew National Grassland five years later. Between those two events, a new Outdoor Idaho show bubbled to life right along with the rivers Louis spends his days restoring.
Catching and releasing native Yellowstone cutthroat trout on a stretch of Jackknife Creek that used to be void of spawners.
Jackknife was my first exposure to river restoration in action and I shot a pile of footage and photos. I knew I was documenting a monumental shift in societal priorities and I was thrilled. Natural resources were no longer going to be just about what we get out of them. They were starting to hold value for being left as is, or in some cases put back together. I could see it coming in the construction zone at Jackknife.
His intensity for what he does runs as obsessively high as my motivation to make movies. I saw a new show for Outdoor Idaho on my first day with Louis, but it took a few more years of refining my pitch before Idaho Public Television agreed with me.
By the time production of Restoring Rivers started in 2017, Jackknife was done. It's now a healthy, restored waterway. I know this because I fish it with my little boys and find native Yellowstone cutthroat trout in upper stretches that fish couldn't access for decades before the restoration of 2012.
Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate's truck is her office, bed and transportation.
Outdoor Idaho videographer Jay Krajic looking for fish with an underwater camera.
Louis has moved on to Curlew National Grassland near the Idaho-Utah border. This time he's restoring waterways for a declining population of sage grouse instead of native fish. He's making sure farm and ranch gets what it needs too in this private-public initiative. Matt Lucia of Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust spent many hours with Louis and I as we camped in the Curlew with Outdoor Idaho videographer Jay Krajic. We documented resource change from the water up. Fortunately, I'm just short enough to comfortably sleep in my truck, which doubles as my office when I'm on the road. I slept in it a lot while chasing the Curlew's story of collaboration.
Trout Unlimited Central Idaho project specialist Cassi Wood and Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate on location at Yankee Fork of the Salmon River.
There's collaboration in Pocatello too. City folk want the Portneuf River for more than just the cement chute it's trapped in as flood control. In the panhandle, sturgeon are more than enough inspiration for improving the Kootenai. And in the Gem State's heart, central wilderness between Challis and Stanley, the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River is turning right side up after a gold dredge turned it inside out 7 decades ago. Cassi Wood of Trout Unlimited is leading that effort. It's a multi-year, multi-agency, multi-million dollar project that should help Chinook salmon swimming 850 miles for the ocean to Idaho to spawn.
From salmon to sage grouse and from cattle to cutthroats, this is the age of the comeback. Our natural resources need us to let them recover, and in some cases help them recover. We've taken for centuries. Now let's put back. River restoration is a fine place to start. I can't wait to see what's around the next bend. Neither can Louis.
Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust executive director Matt Lucia, Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate and Caribou-Targhee National Forest forest hydrologist Louis Wasniewski on location at Curlew National Grassland.