Up and Over Lolo Pass

Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- Lolo Hot Springs RV Park

9pm Note: This entry will be post-published at a later date, as we don't have either internet or cell phone coverage here at Lolo Hot Springs.

Weather was warm, unseasonably warm, and bright blue clear skies. Even at Lolo Pass, the mercury was hitting the upper 70's. The locals were all grumbling: prefer to see the snowpack melt slowly and concern about fires. While there was above average snow in the mountains this past winter, the valleys below and to the east received less than normal precipitation. It's dry.

We left Orofino about 10am. Hwy 12 goes south for a while before turning more eastward at Kooskia. I don't know if it was the fact that it was Saturday morning or if there just isn't that much traffic on this route, but we encountered few cars along the way and even fewer trucks. It's always a concern of mine when driving this big bus-house down narrow two lane roads -- especially in mountainous areas where a shortage of long straight stretches make passing difficult. I don't like impeding other travelers. But Idaho has done a good job with this stretch of Hwy 12 by building short passing lanes at reasonable intervals to keep traffic moving and tempers in check. It's not that we drive that slow but most people in cars drive well over the speed limit and we keep it a little below. At any rate, there were few cars or trucks along the way today. There were also a good number of pull-offs -- larger areas where it was possible for us to pull off, park, and walk around a little. At one of these we had lunch.

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It's about 75 air miles from Kooskia to Lolo Pass at the Idaho-Montana border. But the winding, curvy road puts about 100 miles on your odometer. The road follows the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers which were both about as full of water as they could be. In some spots we thought it'd only take another few feet of water to inundate the road we were on. These dense mountains are called the Bitterroots and it was these that gave the Lewis & Clark boys their greatest challenge. Where they though it'd be a relatively short trek up and down a single range of mountains -- like the Appalachians back east -- they were amazed to see mountains as far as the eye could see in every direction. Hwy 12 closely follows the route they took. It was an 11 day ordeal that almost killed every one of them. Snow, steep mountainsides, downed timber, lack of food, cold -- they endured it all. They were tenacious and tough, and incredibly lucky.

The pass at the border is a mile high. There's an excellent visitors center operated by the State of Idaho that includes a mini-interpretive center about the area. Snow was still piled high -- officially about 60 inches. But contained in that 60 inches of snow was 35 inches of water. All that hard water combined with 75 degree temps is what was swelling those mountain streams.

Just 7 miles below the pass is a place called Lolo Hot Springs. They have a campground there so we turned in and paid for one night. But lo, it wasn't the kind of place we've come to like. The campground roads were dusty, kids and teenagers outnumbered adults, motorcycles coming and going, late night parties we weren't invited to... we endured the night and resolved to move on in the morning.

T
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