Behind the Stories

My Father’s Idaho

By Marcia Franklin
June 11, 2015

filming in the Idaho backcountry.
Audus “Red” Helton filming in the Idaho backcountry
One day Rifka Helton asked her father what she thought was an innocuous question.

I said, “Dad, don't you have some slides or something?”

And he said, “Daughter, dear, you know not what you ask.”

It turns out that her father, Audus “Red” Helton, had thousands of slides and films he had taken of Idaho in the 1950s and 60s. They were shot while he traveled the state as a plant pathologist and professor for the University of Idaho, and during family trips into the backcountry.

“I needed a camera right from the beginning to record the shape and size of symptoms in the leaves,” says Red.

Kids Roped Together.  Photo by Rifka Helton.
The slides had been lovingly preserved in metal cases, and meticulously labeled.

“I started taking them up and holding them up to the light, and I knew,” said Helton. “I mean, I knew in seconds. It's gold.”

For her, the images represented a bygone era that shouldn’t be forgotten, one in which families hiked, camped, rode horses and talked together, without the need for technology.

“We didn't drive Winnebagos and big huge rigs to go camping with satellite dishes,” she says. “We carried our stuff in, you know, and we walked. Let’s not forget this little piece of history when we used to gather our sticks in the woods and build our own little fires.”

Horses in the Snow.
So began a decade-long labor of love for Helton. A singer and musician, she decided the best way to bring the photos and their themes to wider audience was to set them to original songs in a performance piece she calls “My Father's Idaho.”

“I have this feeling that if we knew our history better we might be smarter,” says Rifka. “I think the art of historical storytelling, multimedia with music, is really a powerful experience.”

Helton projects the photos on a screen while she sings and plays the piano and guitar. She has also turned some of the images into notecards, and enlarged versions of many of the photos are also hanging in the Glenns Ferry Historical Museum.

Red and Rifka.
“Red” Helton and daughter Rifka, 1963
We've been thinking about a potential Outdoor Idaho show called “History Keepers,” so Rifka and Red's story seemed a good fit for that. Videographer Jay Krajic and I interviewed Red in his home in Bonners Ferry, and videographer Dave Butler and I taped one of Rifka's performances at the Glenns Ferry museum outside at night.

We're still looking for more stories for the show, so if you know of other Idahoans who are doing their part to be “history keepers,” especially preserving stories of the Idaho outdoors, please let us know.

For his part, Red is proud of his daughter's efforts to save and share his photos.

Rifka Helton
Rifka Helton
“I'm surprised that she gave birth to the project. But I think it's a great thing, and I think it's good to let people know there is another way, particularly with families with young children. Childhood obesity is a national epidemic right now, and I don't think it would be if kids exercised as they did when I was a kid. That's the way life was. Life's not like that now and I think it's tragic.”

To watch “History Keepers: My Father's Idaho,” click here.

For more information on Rifka Helton's project, click here.

Red then and now.
Audus “Red” Helton, Ph.D.

Photos courtesy of Rifka Helton


A Busy Summer Schedule for Outdoor Idaho

By Bruce Reichert
June 2, 2015

Airplane Lake and Ship Island Lake, Frank Church Wilderness. Photo by Bruce Reichert.

Leo Hennessy with a pack raft on the Owyhee River. Photo by Jay Krajic.What do “Idaho Headwaters” and “My Excellent Adventure” have in common? Well, for starters, they are two of the most complicated programs we've ever tried to produce, requiring great amounts of travel, much of it off-road.

And we are planning to shoot both of them this summer.

The first one takes us to the actual headwaters of Idaho's major rivers. That may sound straightforward enough, until you delve a little deeper and realize just how far you have to travel to get to the start of the Snake River, in Wyoming; or the headwaters of the Selway River, deep in the Frank Church wilderness; or the St. Joe in north Idaho; or the Boise River, a 15 mile uphill jaunt into the Sawtooth wilderness out of Atlanta.

Difficult portage on the Owyhee River. Photo by Jay Krajic.Our plan calls for eight different river segments in the space of an hour. Not an easy assignment, but we have some good people working on this one: my colleagues John Crancer, Sauni Symonds, Jay Krajic, Kris Millgate, and Pat Metzler.

Some have suggested that, because of the drought, we picked the worst possible year to produce a show called “Idaho Headwaters.” They may be right; but it could also demonstrate just how important these rivers are to the future of the state. I'm looking forward to the 20 mile trek into the Selway country near the end of June. We have until the first week of December to deliver the show.

The second show, “My Excellent Adventure,” is a bucket list of stories, gathered from the Outdoor Idaho Facebook page.


Leo Hennessy overlooking the Owyhee River. Photo by Jay Krajic.Our pitch was simple: Got an adventure you've always wanted to do? Maybe we can help make it happen. Folks had to contact Sauni and us, then “audition” and tell us what they had in mind. One woman wanted to bugle in an elk. Luckily, world famous elk bugler Corey Jacobsen has agreed to help. I'm looking forward to working on this one.

Another wanted to kayak the Middle Fork of the Salmon; John Crancer has found the outfitter. Other adventures include a balloon ride; a trek up Idaho's highest mountain, Mt. Borah; a fly fishing trip with the kids into a wilderness lake; a visit to a remote ghost town in the Boulder Mountains; a bicycle trip on the Hiawatha Trail; a winter heli-skiing excursion; and lessons on how to operate a cataraft, with the final exam being a ride through Staircase rapid on the South Fork of the Payette.


Bighorn Crags, on back side of Ship Island Lake, Frank Church wilderness. Photo by Bruce Reichert.If we do it right, each of these segments will be a learning experience for adventurers and viewers alike. We're lucky that this hour-long special doesn't air until March of 2016.

But that's not all we're doing this summer. We have a half hour exploration of the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness that will air July 23rd. We think you'll like it. It helps to answer the question, what's so special about “The Frank”?

In September we'll examine the fascinating world of Rock Hounds. Our Melissa Davlin is producing this one; you know her from her hosting duties for Idaho Reports. It's her first Outdoor Idaho show, and she seems to be enjoying the experience.

Papoose Cave way underground. Photo by Brian Gindling.We're also shooting a story on Idaho's northern lakes and some of the problems they face, concentrating on the scientific work being done to reduce nutrient overload.

And then in October Outdoor Idaho celebrates the start of its 33rd season. And no, it's not going to be a retrospective. We're goin' for it, deep underground, into Papoose cave, one of Idaho's only known limestone caves. Sauni Symonds and Pat Metzler are hoping to travel nearly 800 feet under the earth, with some of Idaho's premier spelunkers.

What a great way to start a brand new season!


Climbing Mt. Borah, on Chicken Out Ridge. Photo by Sam Adicoff.

View previous entries