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The road less traveled in search of summer

In the last installment of the Weekly Drivel® I pondered the likelihood that the weather predictors would be right, or wrong, with regard to the forecast for a trip to fish a particular river in the Idaho Panhandle. Well, I’ve been back now for two days and my gear has finally dried out. FYI, that’s a bit of clever foreshadowing as pertaining to the weather we encountered.

Wood

We were going fishing—of course we had wood.

I arrived at Marck’s home in North Bend at 7AM on Thursday, under cloudy skies. Summer hadn’t yet arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and despite that it was the second week in July it felt more like an early Fall morning. After loading all his shit gear (and there was a lot of it) into the Man Van, and adding to the wood pile on the hitch carrier, we hit the road for an 8 hour drive east, during which it remained cloudy and 20 degrees cooler than what one might expect for this time of year. We could have made the drive in less time but the Man Van is much more road-friendly at speeds under the speed limit of 70mph, which is the posted limit most of the way.

Once we hit the dirt road from Wallace to Avery, ID, the van was right at home. I’d never taken this route before but wanted to see what Moon Pass (AKA Forest Service Road 456) was all about. It was worth the jaunt, despite that it’s much faster to stay on I-90 all the way to St. Regis, MT, and then double back into Idaho via Gold Pass.

Moon Pass Road, Idaho

Moon Pass Road, plenty wide enough for the Man Van.

A couple miles outside of Wallace, Moon Pass road gets down to business. It’s an often steep and more often winding route where our speed rarely exceeded 20 mph. Much of the time we drove considerably slower, which was necessary to negotiate some very tight hairpin turns. The road is in very good shape overall and wide enough in most places for vehicles to easily pass without kissing mirrors. Where it is a bit narrower there are generally pullouts to allow passage by another rig, but the road was never terribly skinny. It’s not a harrowing drive by any means, nor is it a road where one would want to venture off of the shoulder: it’s a long way down to the North Fork of the St. Joe River, which flows from deep within the western reach of the Bitterroot Mountains. The views are impressive from the top of the pass and the scenery is beautiful the entire way, standard fare in Idaho’s Panhandle.

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Climbing toward the top of Moon Pass, looking back toward Wallace.

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A fairly accurate assessment and sound advice.

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The North Fork of the St. Joe flows below.

The last several miles of the 28 mile route take travelers through a series of old rail tunnels. I believe there are six tunnels (maybe 7, but who’s counting?). The tunnels are wide enough for only one vehicle and it’s a very good idea to turn on the headlights prior to entering the tunnels; if one were to encounter an oncoming vehicle, one or the other would need to back up whence they came. Despite that none of the tunnels are more than a couple hundred yards long, I wasn’t looking forward to convincing another driver that it was they who would be yielding. Fortunately we didn’t meet any vehicles in the tunnels, and very few vehicles anywhere else along the way for that matter.

Being a lightly traveled route we saw only 3 other vehicles and a small handful of dual sport bikes on the upper stretches of the pass. And a couple of 4 wheelers, one of which piloted by a crotchety old redneck who apparently wasn’t pleased with our slow rate of travel. I pulled over to let him pass us by—which he did—in a big hurry. As he sped past he yelled something (an expression of gratitude for letting him pass, I assume). How I wish it had been hot and dusty so that he could’ve enjoyed our powdery wake, but surprisingly there was very little dust. In fact there were indications that precipitation had been a recent occurrence.

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One of the tunnels.

Moon Pass road

Another of the tunnels.

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Light at the end of another tunnel.

As we neared Avery, at the southern end of the route, we encountered a few more rigs headed up the road, loaded for camping and mountain biking. The Hiawatha Trail ends near the road over Moon Pass and is apparently a pretty popular trail for riding mountain bikes. That’s all fine and dandy, but where we were headed is way more fun.

Just about exactly 28 miles after leaving Wallace we entered the outskirts of Avery and turned east. The weather remained cooler than normal, but pleasant. There was a 0% chance of rain on this day and the sun even began trying to poke through the clouds as we followed the St. Joe River up the road. In another 40 miles we would arrive at our destination, where Jimmy and Morris had arrived several days earlier. We were eager to stretch our legs and wet our whistles after the long drive. And we were also jonesin’ to get our wet wade on for 3 days of fine, Idaho cutthroat catching.

4 thoughts on “The road less traveled in search of summer”

  1. I can see why you took this route. The scenery, especially those interesting tunnels made it for me.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for the comment, Howard. For years I had wondered about this particular route. Then, recently, when a friend mentioned they had gone that route 30 years ago and been scared our of their seat because it was such a narrow road with terrifying drop-offs, I knew I had to see for myself. All I can say is that either the Forest Service must have improved the road greatly since then, or my friend is just a real whimp, because it wasn’t bad at all, and I tend to be a whimp when it comes to narrow roads with steep drop-offs.

  2. Hmmm…apparently the Pacific Northwet has not yet jumped on the “Burn Local” bandwagon. Farther south the transport of foreign campfire fuel from one habitat to another is frowned upon.

    Love those tunnels, though, just wide enough for a Model T? Looks like that route would be a sweet ride on an adventure bike.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      As we navigated the first stretch of the road I thought to myself, “This would be a great route for dual sport bikes” and just then we were passed by a guy on a dual sport bike. When it gets hot, and dusty, it’s probably a little less attractive to bikers. I could be wrong.

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