Loon Creek, wilderness you can drive to!


I’ve taken a year off from blogging for a couple of reasons.  Number one, Windows ditched their blog and I was forced to migrate to WordPress.  I was bummed and had to get used to the idea of the migration.  Second, I got a little tired of writing.  Third, I had some shoulder problems that made typing rather painful.  But I’m back.

I’ve got to learn WordPress and learn it well.  Praxy and I are going to the Philippines this winter (2011-2012) and I’m going to blog while she is mixing with her friends and relatives.  I know that we will get along, but I don’t speak a lick of Tagalog.  So to pass the time, I’ll write.  And you readers can enjoy our trip vicariously.   It will be worth following, I can assure you.  You’ll see places that are simply not on any tourist tour or TV show.

The next stop in the Idaho trip that I haven’t written about is Big creek and Taylor ranch.  It might take a few weeks to get them lined out.  I also want to post a video of flying in and out of Taylor ranch.  It an experience that a person never forgets.  But first…

Loon Creek

Loon creek is way, way off the beaten path.  It seems like a lot of people are here on weekends.  What few people that are out here are concentrated into a small area.  There is only one camping area that is any good, Tin Cup campground near the Loon creek trail head.   There is also an outfitter and dude ranch out here, the Diamond D.  Their facility is beautiful, and dudes and their dudesses flock to the place for a little adventure.  Their adventure consists of great food and all the comforts of home.  The Diamond D even has a swimming pool.

I think the adventure to those people is getting here.  I’ve met people from Pennsylvania and Florida here.

To get to Loon creek, take the Yankee Fork road that takes off between Stanley and Challis, Idaho.  First up is the dredge tailings on the Yankee Fork.

Miles of dredge tailings

The Yankee Fork looks like a huge bulldozer piled rocks everywhere.  It will take 20,000 years to recover, in my opinion.  I am sure glad that we have laws to keep this kind of thing from happening again in our country.

This is the source of the rock piles, the Yankee Fork dredge.

This amazing machine ran 24/7 for years washing gold from the gravel on the Yankee Fork.  It took three men to operate it and the only down time was for collecting the gold and when the bucket line froze in the winter.  The amount of gold was phenomenal, it certainly paid for itself.  This is now a museum and very much worth a tour if you happen to be up this way.   I think it is a nice representation of how NOT to do a job a the expense of the rest of the world.

Just past the dredge you drive up Jordan creek past another mine.  This one is huge, but the impact is much smaller.  It really isn’t as  much of an eyesore and there is mitigation work to recover and/or protect the disturbed lands.

The road is visible at the lower right of this photo.  You drive right by this mine and don’t see it until you are ascending Loon summit.  I shot this picture, then turned and shot a picture of my rig…

sitting on the switchback.  There are (I think) 8 switchbacks going out of Jordan creek to the Loon creek drainage.  This part of the road is relatively smooth, the other side is quite rough and narrow.

Looking down into Mayfield creek drainage on the Loon side of the pass.  The road descends through another series of tight turns and switchbacks to reach the bottom of the canyon.  Best to have high ground clearance from here on.

The pointed mountain in the background is Pinyon Peak.  This is a very remote fire lookout in the Challis National Forest.  The road in from both directions is extremely rough, high clearance four wheel drive only.  It’s about 12 miles from Tin Cup to the peak, a pickup takes 1 1/2 hours, my motorcycle takes about 30 minutes.  And the view is spectacular…

The last photo is looking into Loon creek.  The earlier photo of Pinyon peak was shot from the right center of this last photo.   It’s about 65 miles from Tin Cup to Stanley Idaho via Pinyon peak.  The round trip jeep ride from Stanley, Idaho through Jordan, Mayfield, Loon, and Beaver creeks and back to Stanley is a full day project, bring a lunch.  I don’t bother taking my dodge into here.

Finally, after two hours of driving, I arrived at Tin Cup.    I set up camp…

in the grove of trees at the upstream part of the campground.  Little did I know…

I was sleeping soundly at 3:20am when a wolf set up howling nearby.  And I mean REALLY nearby.  I’ve never heard of a wolf bothering people, but it’s unnerving listening to a wolf howl with only a little bit of vinyl fabric protecting you.   The hair stood up on the back of my neck.  It would howl, and another would answer in the distance.  Then another farther on.  They traded three howls and then my wolf took off up towards the airport.  The responding wolf was about a couple of miles away.  I figured they were getting back together after an unsuccessful hunt on the ridge above camp.
After work the next day, I went looking for tracks or signs.  I couldn’t see a track, but I could see where the wolf had run through the brush 60 feet from my tent!   I lined up where I heard the sound and shot this picture of from my camp to where the wolf was howling…

Just past the road there is a gap in the trees with a black spot on the ground.  That is 60 feet.  The wolf ran to the left and on to the road.  I couldn’t see many tracks because of the traffic packing down the gravel, but I could clearly see where the wolf had ran through the grass.

I saw a wolf on Mayfield creek about 10 years ago, and heard them while camping in Chamberlain basin, but this was a special encounter that I will never forget.

Jake Hodges got pictures of wolf pups playing near our camp at Big creek several years ago.  I sure would like to see those.

I’ve shown you people enough pictures of the tagging station set up here or there, so I will show you some of the other things we have to deal with on a typical trip.

Parking is now tight at the Loon creek trailhead.  Phillips creek blew out and the Forest Service hasn’t repaired the road.  We are crowded into a tiny area for work, at least there aren’t very many people around.

And… for those of you that appreciate those special creature comforts, check out the toilet at the trailhead.

This rustic, but welcome, open air throne is quite the adventure on chilly, frosty mornings; been there, done that.  Bring your own TP, the weather gets rid of the supply quickly.  By the way, the toilet paper that the Forest Service supplies totally sucks.  It’s a cross between wax paper and 400 grit sandpaper.  Standard GSA issue.  Hikers walk within 10 feet of you as you shiver with relief!

And that’s it.  One year later you read about the wolf that nearly ate me.  Or at least it ate into my good night’s sleep.

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About Ken

I am a federal employee that loves to travel. I don't get any time off during the busy salmon tagging season, March through November. So, I save my leave and explore the warmer parts of the world during the winter.
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