Cow Tracks to Two TracksPosted Wednesday, April 11, 2012, at 3:13 PM
Over the past 50 years or so, I've wandered much of south western and central Idaho taking in the outdoors that my father urged me to enjoy and use. I put over 7,500 miles on my little yellow Honda Trail 90 before I finally sold it for money to pay for school. I put thousands of miles on federal and state motor pool vehicles searching for small springs to develop for water for grazing cattle or trying to find sources of good quality rock to use for transporting Idahoans to and from work and play. That's not to mention the thousands of miles I put on personal vehicles bumping over desolate two tracks in nearly every county south of the 45th parallel or just heading out for weekend fishing trips.
And while I've shown some of the sights and natural wonders with many an immigrant who shared my astonishment at the bounties this little piece of real estate we call Idaho has to offer, I have kept other "secret spots" and happenings to myself and at best my immediate family.
In those travels, I have witnessed some amazing things.
It sort of started when my Dad passed away in 1965 and Mom and I couldn't really afford our second car, which was a 1956 Chrysler Windsor, 2 door with a huge hemi engine and the old push button automatic transmission. So we sold it and bought that little yellow Honda. For fifty or sixty cents worth of gas, that little Honda would carry me over 100 miles on the byways or the cow trails around Mountain Home.
In the spring of 1966, I took off up what is now Highway 20 to simply explore. A ways past the old Tollgate Café, I dropped off the highway and took off on a two track. After running into a couple of washed out sections of that road up under Bennett Mountain, I was headed home when I spotted a well-worn cow trail that headed south up a ridge. A few minutes to change the rear sprocket, and I was off to see what was on the other side of the mountain. Much to my surprise, there was a huge valley or basin, full of waist high grass and large patches of even taller bitterbrush and sage. And my cow path turned into a well-defined two track, a veritable highway for the Honda. Zipping along at maybe 20, I rounded a small corner in the brush and suddenly was in the midst of hundreds of mule deer. I stopped in astonishment and wondered where they had all been last fall. But what really caught my attention was that they weren't overly concerned with me or the Honda. As soon as I turned the Honda off, things changed, so I started it up again and all was well.
Why they settled back down, I'll never know for sure, but I suspect that somehow, they sensed I was only there to watch and enjoy.
In 1971, a co-worker and I were dispatched to dig test holes to define the extent of a gravel deposit north of Jordan Valley, Oregon, just a few miles inside Idaho. The ridge top deposit left a lot to be desired for any type of shelter from the spring sun and constant wind gusts. For a couple of days, we ate our lunch in the shady cab of our work truck. On the third day, a local rancher drove up to ask what we were up to. After a quick explanation, we started talking about some of the petrified wood we'd dug up and how we liked to hunt arrowheads and things. He told us about a small grove of aspens a couple of miles away with a nice grassy area along a short creek running out of a spring and that he had found a few nice spear points there over the years. We were more than willing to enjoy it. The very next day, we headed out to find the place. After a quick lunch and a little unsuccessful arrowheading, we were about to head back to the gravel pit when we heard a rock roll off on the ridge just above the grove. We sat quietly as a herd of about a dozen wild horse mares and colts wandered into the grove to drink from the stream. While they were obviously aware of our presence, they went about drinking and somewhat nervously grabbed a few mouthfuls of the greenery along the stream. Over the next two weeks, we never saw the horses as close, but did see a number of other small groups from a distance. By the way, I'll admit that the first day we saw them, we were a little late getting back to the jobsite, so taxpayers lost a little value out of my paycheck that month.
Spring is a great time of the year to get out and take your mind off of the politics and pressures of everyday life. While Idaho is much different than it was when I grew up, it is still full of history and awesome experiences for those who care to let it be what it is. I urge all who live here today to think about the riches around you and respect the traditions that mean so much to so many.
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I was born September 17, 1949 in Caldwell, Idaho. Like Idaho's climate, I have a dry sense of humor. It may be a result of faulty genetics, but I come from sturdy stock. My great grandfather once served as a postmaster right on the line between Camas and Elmore Counties and is buried on what was once his land. According to research my only sibling has done, we generally agree that he started his westward trek in Indiana sometime after 1838 and died of pneumonia in 1911. If Google earth is correct, there are at least 2.5 million average steps between Ripley County, Indiana and his gravesite.
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