Flying in to Taylor ranch

I’ve delayed writing about Taylor Ranch for one simple reason.  I was waiting to get a video editing program to show people what the experience was like.  The photos and videos are a combination from the last two years.    It takes a lot of preparation and time to get ready for a 4 night stay in the back country.

It starts the day before.  First is planning your menu and shopping for food.  I like to keep things simple while at Taylor Ranch.  10-11 people sharing the same kitchen can be onerous.  I pre-cook what I can, and the remainder can be quickly prepared.  Packing clothes is important as well.  The weather can be in the 40’s and raining, or clear and 90. The only time we don’t work is if there is rain or lightning.  Hot or cold, windy or calm, the fish are still in the creek and need to be caught.  We also have to fly in sleeping bags and pillows.  University of Idaho supplies living quarters, but not personal items.  We also meet at the airport the day before to have our work gear weighed for the flight.

The morning of the flight out is very busy.  Getting 10 people, gear, and two dogs on four planes is time consuming.  Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the cluster foxtrot in front of McCall Aviation’s hanger in McCall.   Suffice to say that we have items strung everywhere, and the ground crew gets exasperated sometimes with our clutter.  But after a while we get it all lined out.  This year we even helped out Taylor ranch by flying in two very long bridge planks for a stream crossing.  A Cessna 206 is to short for a 16 foot 2X10.

I usually fly in the right seat, which is fine with me.  I can converse with the pilots, they like me in the front seat as I am experienced with flight operations.  I’m not a pilot, but I worked for 5 1/2 years for a large regional carrier in the northwest, Cascade Airways.  And, I get spectacular photos and videos from that vantage point.  Case in point…

looking south towards Donnelly, Idaho and Cascade Reservoir.  I only took two photos inbound this year as we were flying into a bright sun.  Everything to the east looked white and grey from the air.  Even with sunglasses I was squinting to see anything.  But in 2010, things were quite different.  We were unable to leave McCall until 1:30 in the afternoon due to rain and low clouds.  Jerry and I tried to get out earlier, but we couldn’t see any way to get over the mountains east of Long Valley.  We swooped around under the clouds for 30 minutes, then gave up and flew back to McCall for lunch.

This flight had the advantage of having no sun in our faces while landing.  Here is the approach and landing into Taylor ranch.  Be sure and lift your feet as we cross the ridges…

It as always a thrill to fly into this airstrip.  Your elbows literally seem to be scraping the canyon walls, and there is always the chance a critter will be on the runway.  This is wild country.  U of I’s Taylor ranch is considered to be the most remote year around inhabited place in the US lower 48 states.  Flying in and out is quick enough (50 minutes to McCall), but walking isn’t.  It is a 26 mile hike either up or down stream to the nearest road. Choose one…Upstream, from the Upper Big Creek trail head, it is a 65 mile, 3 hour drive to Cascade, Idaho.  Or…Downstream, from the Corn Creek trail head to Salmon, Idaho is 69 miles.    I haven’t driven that route, but I’m thinking it would be at least two hours.

The work begins at the airstrip.  Tagging gear needs to be hauled 1/3 of the way down the runway to a gabien that keeps the creek from eroding the runway.

The blue speck is our tagging station, covered with a tarp to keep out rain and dew.  The yellow spot is a small tractor owned by the ranch.  The caretaker was using it to drag firewood off of the hillside near where I was standing when I shot this picture.  Off of the end of the runway is the sleeping cabin for students and researchers.  Not visible is this picture are the numerous blue grouse feasting on the grasshoppers on the runway.

All of our personal gear and coolers have to be carted to the cabin.  It takes about 2 hours to get everything in order for a four night stay with three days of fish tagging.  Yes we stay the extra night.  Flying during the heat of the day in the mountains is no fun and can sometimes be dangerous.  Been there, done that.  Won’t do it again unless it is an emergency.

Here is the cabin.

Eight blue grouse are defending the cabin from marauding grasshoppers.

Tagging and collecting fish here is much the same as everywhere else.  Here comes the two collection crews, also in the picture is the Idaho Fish and Game screw trap with the attendant getting ready to work the fish.  This was my view from the tagging station.

NOAA works in conjunction with the Nez Perce tribe and Idaho Fish and Game on Big creek.  We tag juveniles at the upper site and here at Taylor ranch.  The Nez Perce tribe does adult stream surveys.  IDF&G monitors the trap, taking information from our recaptured fish and tagging fish that we didn’t work.  We also have an instream monitor that checks all the fish for pittags.  Further, there is an environmental monitor near my feet recording water temperature, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen.  Both monitors operate year around gathering data.  We’ve had problems keeping things in the water during spring runoff, but the bugs are getting worked out.

Another picture of the cabins, some of the crew is relaxing on the deck.

Hiking around the area is not usually a lot of fun.  The afternoons tend to get quite warm, and there is little shade excepting near the ranch.

Then, after a few days, it’s time to leave.  We have to pack all our junk up, minus the food and beer.  That all gets consumed.  The work brings on a healthy appetite.  The last morning we sit out on the runway and wait for the planes to take us to McCall.  We load the planes and off we go.  Here I’m flying out with Glen in 2010.

This used to be VERY intense until a forest fire knocked down most of the trees.  It seemed like we turned back and forth forever along the creek before we finally got high enough to fly strait up the canyon.  But we are not going to McCall, yet.  The Taylor airstrip is short and soft, the canyon narrow and steep.  The planes cannot fly out fully loaded.  So we stage at Cabin creek.  Here we go in…

Yep, the runway really is that rough.  Then, wait for planes from Taylor to repack.  It takes several trips with 1/2 loaded planes.

Just about ready to go.  One of the Islanders came in shortly after this picture.  I helped load it up, and we were off.

You simply can’t beat the scenery on the way to McCall…

And lastly, landing in McCall.  Not exciting, but the view is beautiful.

That is just about as good as I can do for you, the reader, to see what flying into the Taylor ranch is like.  Hope you enjoyed it!

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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