Location: Targhee National Forest, Eastern Idaho
Maps: USGS 1:24K Spencer North, Paul Reservoir
Access: From Spencer, ID drive north and take the next exit, go west into the forest 1-2 miles and park along the road.
Trail: None, but one can follow the old logging road
I spent July of 2005 on assignment in eastern Idaho, which really isnít a bad place at all to spend a month. My temporary quarters lay 15 minutes south of Targhee National Forest, 45 minutes west of Yellowstone and but an hour east of more mountains. One particular afternoon at quitting time, I hopped in the car and drove north on I-15 about 10 minutes to Spencer, a tiny town just inside the Montana border, then north one exit to Stoddard Creek. I drove west along the smooth dirt road, passing a campground and continuing on past side roads and the odd RV parked in the trees until I came to a suitable parking spot deep in the forest. Giant Douglas fir stretched up on all sides, and the forest floor was covered with tall, green grass. The lush scene was in high contrast to the parched plains to the south, and the rich smell of humid earth surrounded me as I shouldered my small pack filled with water and snacks.
I started upon a narrow trail that led uphill immediately through the grass and shade of the trees. This narrow trail intersected a narrow dirt logging road, used now only by the occasional OHV, judging from the ruts in the soil. On this afternoon, all was quiet and peaceful, and no motorized vehicles operated within earshot. The sun was shining overhead, slanted to the west. Dark slants of tree trunk shadows lay like iron bars upon the ground in the soft green grass. I followed this road for an hour or more, meditating in a detached way on many things. Being away from home for a month gives one the ability to objectively evaluate many things from an almost third person perspective, which can be enlightening. The road led ever uphill, clinging to the steep hillside as it countered in and out of gullies and around ridges. The area seems to have been logged in the last 15 years, but thankfully not clearcut. Most of the standing trees were spaced far apart, giving the forest a pleasant open feel. Small trees, only a foot tall or so, waved their tops just above the grass.
The road curved gradually north, and seemed to descend a little. I decided I did not wish to lose any of my elevation, so I turned back and followed the road until I came to what seemed to be an inviting place to set out uphill through the trees. The grass was knee-high in places, hiding logs and stumps which I often tripped over, never completely falling, only stumbling. I began to sweat heavily from my exertion in the still humidity of the forest, enjoying myself tremendously. I stopped once at a large stump and sat down on it, letting my legs dangle off the downhill side and soaking in the absolute silence, broken only by distant chattering of the occasional bird. About ½ mile uphill from where I left the road, I reached the jagged rock spine of the mountain, and clambering up through the boulders brought me to the very top, with views down both sides of the ridge to the north and south. Stunted pines pressed up through cracks in the rock. I turned west and followed the ridge as best I could, retreating further down the north face when the going along the ridge got too sketchy. Always the widely-spaced trees overhead threw down their long trunk shadows, giving the forest uncommon depth. Walking through the humid fauna felt like walking in a cathedral, and I reflected that what keeps me coming back to places like these is perhaps the same instinct that compels churchgoers to return to their chapel. God is not a personal entity, but the collective wonder of life, found in forests, deserts, fields and within humans, provided they are not so distracted as to not recognize it. Returning to these natural places where life overflows at every step brings me back into awareness of the wonder of life, and in a manner of speaking, back into awareness of God. I imagine that is much the same purpose of Church for many, that is to focus their attention on whatever it is they believe God to be. I shun the inferior walls of manís craft for the more perfect walls of the forest, and the floor of grass beneath my feet.
The ridge top alternated between a sharp spine
of rock and generally flat boulder fields where small aspen trees broke
through the rocks. I continued west. Then, like night and day, I entered
the unlogged forest. At least, this part had not been logged in recent
times. The grass disappeared, and the sun was increasingly blocked by giant
trees standing shoulder to shoulder. Low-hanging limbs made me duck, and
the ground was littered with fallen logs and branches, creating a formidable
jumble of detritus that acted as a significant obstacle. As soon as I could,
I regained the ridgeline and stayed there as I continued west. I eventually
reached a very
large open rock slide that allowed unrestricted views of the horizon to
the north and west. The sun was low, and I determined that I would enjoy
the sunset from this perch. I sat down on a large rock and drank some cool
water, and waited for the sun to sink. When it did, I was ready with my
camera for some photographs. The clearness of the sky resulted in a less
than spectacular sunset, but was extremely pleasant nonetheless. Once the
last yellow blaze of the sun had dropped out of sight, I hastily retraced
my steps, endeavoring to reach the car before complete darkness settled
in. I swiftly tracked my steps back through the dense unlogged forest,
then through the tall grass of the logged area and back to the road. The
road led me by gentle degrees through deepening twilight downhill to the
car, to the main road and back to my Spartan quarters for the night.