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November 21, 2011
Experiencing But Not Seeing Grangeville
Sometimes the irony of a situation doesn’t show itself until sometime later, well after the fact.
In the case of our two-day ride in Grangeville, ID, there was irony at the time of our ride as well as now, seven months later.
The irony of our ride in Grangeville in early February was that we were also scheduled to ride the Mt. St. Helens area in Washington within days of each other. The Mt. St. Helens trip got scratched because rain washed away the snow, taking away access to the mountain to ride. Ironically, at Grangeville it snowed so hard both days we rode there that visibility was pretty much nil and we didn’t get to enjoy hardly any of the beautiful scenery the area has. However, the snow was awesome.
That brings us to the second irony—Steve Janes’ column in this issue of SnoWest Magazine. As you read, Janes talked about planning your ride to hit the snow at its peak, usually late in the season. While he talked mostly about riding late in the season when the snow is the deepest and at its best, we couldn’t help but think that if our trip to Grangeville had been postponed just a few days, we could have enjoyed the best of both winter worlds: fresh powder and blue skies.
As it was, we only got the fresh powder. But hey, one out of two isn’t bad. At least it wasn’t rain.
And when we say it was snowing, we mean a full-on snowstorm, not flurries. Stop for any amount of time and your sled would get coated with a fresh layer of snow. It wasn’t the ideal conditions for pictures, either, but fortunately the nice folks, most notably our guide Bob Hafer, provided us with pictures that show off the beauty of the area.
While we really enjoyed our ride in Grangeville, it wasn’t until we saw the pictures Hafer supplied us that we really realized what we missed out on.
The snowfall also made it difficult to do any real off-trail boondocking. Anyone who follows SnoWest on a regular basis knows how much we like to ride and explore off-trail. That just really wasn’t an option on this trip as visibility was limited.
Having said that, the groomed trails didn’t turn out to be a bad option for a couple of reasons. First, they were well-groomed and the riding was like sledding on a smooth highway. Second, because it was snowing so hard, it felt like you were busting trail off- trail even though we rarely left the groomed trails. We did ride on a handful of side paths that aren’t groomed and those were especially fun because the snow was untouched and fun to blast through. We were also the only tracks out there for both days and it didn’t matter whether we were on groomed or ungroomed trails.
We parked at the Fish Creek trailhead on both days, heading out in a different direction from the parking area each day. The parking area is south of Grangeville and about 1,700 feet higher than where the town sits. Grangeville sits at 3,300 feet while Fish Creek is 5,000 feet. You can easily gain another 2,000 feet plus as you explore the surrounding Clearwater Mountains.
From the parking area we headed south on the Fish Creek Trail/Forest Road 221, or as we might call it, Interstate 221 because it’s wide and smoother than some freeways we’ve been on. FS 221 did get narrower at Boulder Creek (which is where the pavement ends, but you wouldn’t know that unless you were riding there in the warmer months), about 36.5 miles from the Fish Creek parking area.
Our first major stop of the day was at Adams Camp, site of the Old Adams Ranger Station. This was a popular way station along the old Milner Trail, an old toll road leading to the mining town of Florence. The area was first settled in 1862 and later became an administrative site for the Forest Service. You can now rent the Adams Ranger’s house, originally built in 1932 and since restored. There are a handful of buildings at Adams Camp, which is just off FS 221 on FS 309.
After Adams Camp it was back onto FS 221 and heading south for a lunch stop. The bridge crossing Slate Creek is pretty cool and it’s right along here when you’re riding just about within a stone’s throw of the Gospel Hump Wilderness, which, of course, is off limits to any motorized recreation. We’ll get back to the Gospel Hump Wilderness in a bit.
We stopped for lunch at the groomer warming hut (the local snowmobile club, the Sno-Drifters, have a clubhouse near the Fish Creek trailhead) and then headed farther south, climbing up to the old mining town of Florence. One of the bonuses of riding with the groomer operator is getting to eat at the groomer shed, which on this day, was a blessing because of the steady snowfall. There was five feet of snow at the snow marker near the groomer shed.
Florence, located in the Florence Basin, was named sometime before November 1861, and is part of the Summit Mining District, a good-sized area where gold was discovered in August 1861. Actually there is Old Florence, where very little remains today, and New Florence, founded in 1896 and supported by a second mining boom. New Florence is where you’ll see most of any remnants of the past. In the winter, deep snow covers much of what’s left. There is the Florence Cemetery, which provides the best peek into the past, but it’s also buried deep by snow and very little is visible, except the sign which gives some history of the area. We also went by the Bullion, site of a historic lode mine.
The groomed trail ends just past the Florence area so it’s pretty much the end of the road, except for the numerous non-groomed trails that cover the area. On a good snow year we’re told you can actually ride and get close to the Salmon River near Riggins Hot Springs.
We generally followed the same route back to the Fish Creek trailhead until we got to the I Junction, where FS 444 heads west off FS 221. From there we headed east on FS 444 toward the K Junction where you can either go north to Sawyer Ridge or south to Windy Camp and then on to Square Mountain. We turned back before we actually got to the turnoff to Square Mountain.
The trail to Square Mountain, groomed just to Windy Camp but ungroomed beyond that, goes right into the heart of the Gospel Hump Wilderness. There is a narrow corridor that has been left open for motorized use that leads to Square Mountain. One of the big disappointments from the first day of riding was not being able to go into Square Mountain and what we believe to be incredible views. The weather prevented us from attempting the trip, which according to the locals, is for experience riders only and should only be made when visibility is at its best. In fact, the Forest Service describes the road this way, “The road is very steep in some places and not for the weak at heart.” We’re told the scenery near Square Mountain is amazing and includes views of the Seven Devils. Maybe another day.
Also on the return trip to the parking area we peeled off FS 221 and took the Old Milner Trail, which parallels FS 221 before meeting back up with it. It was along this trail that we stopped on the edge and stared into the cloud cover which obscured an otherwise great view of the mountains. This was typical of the day: getting to some view points where the trees opened up and it was obvious there would be great views if it had not been for the snowstorm.
Day Two: A Repeat
Day 2 was pretty much like day one’s riding: a steady snowfall. This day we headed west out of the Fish Creek trailhead and head towards the Camas Prairie Overlook. Once again, the views would have been spectacular if not for the cloud cover. We did get to see the Cross, a huge lighted cross that the Sno-Drifters maintain. The Cross sits on a hill above Grangeville and is visible for miles around when lit up at night.
Near the Cross is High Camp, the location where General Oliver O. Howard’s lookout post was. General Howard fought against the Nez Perce Indians in the late 1800s.
You gain nearly 1,000 feet from the parking area to the Overlook (above 6,000 feet) in a relatively short distance. Then we dropped down to about 4,500 feet when we crossed Chapman Creek.
The area west of Fish Creek features more open riding than what we found on the first day of riding. It was definitely possible to boondock in any of the areas we rode but you had to pick your lines through the trees, which are very dense in many places. One such big play area on the west side is Cabbage Patch.
While we didn’t get to see much of the Grangeville area, we did get to experience it. And, of course, after we left, the skies cleared and it was spectacular. One aspect we really appreciated about riding the Grangeville area is that the town is snowmobiler-friendly.
That just gives us an excuse to try Grangeville again, hopefully soon.
Snowfall 120 inches
Groomed Trails 150 miles
Full-Service Town Grangeville
Nearest Airport Lewiston (72 miles)
Getting Started Grangeville Chamber of Commerce 208-983-0460 or http://grangevilleidaho.com
Getting There Grangeville is located on U.S. Highway 95. The trailhead is seven miles south of town.
Getting Around While there are no snowmobile rental outfits, there is a snowmobile dealer in nearby Cottonwood. Bud’s Saw Service (208-962-3211 or www.budssawservice.com) sells Arctic Cat snowmobiles and can service many small engines. Our Cat was acting up and Bud’s helped us out despite our showing up just a few minutes before closing time.
Bedding Down We stayed at the Super 8 (208-983-1002 or www.super8idaho.com) in Grangeville and we can honestly say it’s not only the nicest Super 8 we’ve ever stayed at but also one of the best chain motels we’ve ever stayed at. The rooms were clean and comfortable, the service was amazing and it was easy to see why this Super 8 has received all kinds of awards. The motel has plenty of room for parking, has high speed Internet, an indoor pool and spa, free continental breakfast, a laundry and plenty more. And, perhaps best of all, they support snowmobiling.
Eating Out There are about a dozen restaurants in town. We ate at Oscar’s Restaurant and the Hilltop Restaurant for breakfast and both were excellent. For dinner it was Palenque’s Mexican Restaurant, which was also a great choice. The chamber has a complete list of restaurants.
© 2014 SnoWest® Magazine