Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Birthday Cruise

Setting Out from Hope
Scotchman's Peak
Snow Covered Selkirks
Hwy 200 as It Swings Past Hope
Mr. McConaughey's Possible View from Memaloose
Dry Trails of Schweitzer Ski Resort
Not a Bad Day at the Office
Crane Putting Past the Monarchs
Spider? Or Frustrated by Slow Internet?
Rowing the Dead
Stone Privy with a View and a Breeze
Million Dollar View
Little Sheep (left) Wants to Play, Too!
Sheep on a Slide
Sunlight on Monarchs
They Are Green!
Clark Fork Delta
Eagles Nest in Tree
Eagle in Water
Skinny Beach Rope Swing
Stones of the Monarchs
1990s Burn
Leaving the Green Monarch Mountains
For years Kate and I have planned trips, and some we have actually ventured to take. My fondest trips with my friend have been of the local sort -- the time we took the kids to the exposed remnants of an old town when they drained Hauser Lake Dam or the Irish Festival in Butte, dodging rain drops to watch Irish dancers on stage.

Sometimes I wonder if I might short-circuit, traveling abroad. I get so excited over little things -- rocks, birds and anything older than I am. Abroad I'd encounter history so old that I'd quiver for days, or see birds like I've never seen before.

My daughter Allison is a bit like me in that retrospect. She went to Pune, India on a journalism trip and reported back to me that I'd love the colors and spices. Oh, and rocks! She got excited while walking a dirt road through a village, and began picking up zeolites. The village women found her rock enthusiasm amusing and laughed, but also directed her (without a common language) to a huge outcropping above their homes.

Those are the kinds of encounters that exceed any arranged tourist sightings. And yet, sometimes being a backyard tourist is best. Like my trips with Kate.

Last Thursday I celebrated my birthday with a solo adventure and became a backyard tourist for a day. I'm struggling to accept that Kate is ready to go home with the Lord, and needed to test out what it's like to go alone. It was a celebration and a transition.

I've always wanted to go out on Lake Pend Oreille, after all I only live 15 miles from this spectacular body of water. For my birthday, I booked a Green Monarchs Tour on the Shawnodese with Lake Pend Oreille Cruises. The vessel is only a year older than I am; she's "classic with grand old style" and I'm simply classic. We both hail from California -- she's a former resident of the waters around San Diego and I was born in the ranch country surrounding Hollister. We made a great pair, boat and local tourist.

The Shawnodese left Hope at 1 p.m. and returned just after 4 p.m. Hope is a hop, skip and a jump from Elmira, just past the delta created by the inflow of the Pack River to the lake. On our travels to Missoula, we pass though Hope, and hold hope in our hearts. All the outward signs flagged a good time.

In true buckaroo-style, I showed up not a minute too late. Last to board, I found a chair up deck, unraveled my camera strap, propped up the binoculars, ordered a rum punch and hot dog, and settled in for the amazing sights. The boat had barely rumbled and already the sights were spectacular.

While our destination was the Green Monarch Mountains which rise out of the water like rigid vegetated butterfly wings, we were surrounded on all sides by mountain ridges and peaks. Looking back at Hope as it receded in the distance, the Cabinets dominated the skyline. Osprey flew overhead above sailboat masts and shoreline pine trees.

Not far from the marina we encountered a crane which a tug was ferrying across the lake. Three workmen lounged in between jobs. Not a bad day at the office for them. Looking north as the crane past, I tried to recognize familiar landmarks. The Selkirks loomed craggy with snow in full view.

Part of this tour is geology. I learned that the glacial-carved valley between the Selkirks and Cabinets is called the Purcell Trench. This makes sense to me as the mountains that form up north of Elmira Pond are called the Purcells. So many mountains in this region! And the cruise gives me a sweeping view of them. I can even see each peak of the Seven Sisters in the Selkirks.

As we continue I can also see Scotchman's Peak and learn that behind it is Scotchman 2. I have to pause because I can hear Kate's voice whispering in my imagination, "Scotsman!" Yes, I know we drink Scotch with Scots. However, in my defense, I didn't name the peaks. Evidently there's a moody mountain goat up on that misnamed peak. I have a theory. He knows the name is wrong.

Regardless, Sandpoint has numerous advocates to make a misnamed wilderness out of the peaks and that is moving forward. The Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness offer education, outreach and stewardship in hopes to designate 880,000 acres as wilderness. They even offer yoga hikes (to hikers, not mountain goats). From the lake, the forward peak looks to be in the midst of prime wilderness, rocks thrusting above the treeline. The view alone is worth preserving.

Along the shoreline and built upon glacially striated bedrock, are numerous homes beyond my price range. A few cabin-like styles remain, but several are designed to look as though they are part of the natural stonework. In the yard of one place, British explorer Dave Thompson built his Kalispell House for trading with local residents in 1809. That's one hundred and one years before the Elmira Schoolhouse was built.

Across from that historic point is a 13-acre island of old-growth pine and spectacular views -- Memaloose Island. It's sacred to the Kalispell Tribe with whom Dave Thompson traded, or tried to (they preferred fishing and he wanted pelts for Europe's beaver hat craze; salmon skin top hats was never a thing). Memaloose is the island of the dead. Kalispell paddled their dead to the island, strung them up in those old pines and let scavengers pick and then eat the bones, leaving nothing but dust. Now it is owned -- rumor only, and rumors make better stories than facts -- by Matthew McConaughey.

The most stunning piece of shoreline property is owned by a German real estate businessman, Klaus Groenke. He owns several pieces of outside sculpture by Mark di Suvero and George Rickey. I'm not crazy about the orange metal spider (what is it?) but the open air stone outhouses remind me of Brimson, Minnesota where off-the-grid residents build impressive privies. The sculpture of the Kalispell in a canoe headed to Memalose blends in so craftily with native rock it is easy to miss. The metal square that rotates is odd, but the whimsical sheep are fun and denote Sheepherder's Point.

Beyond the modern art, rumors and historical past is the expansive Clark Fork Delta. This is the great mud flat and waterway where I spied on tundra swans last March. It is also a place of great geological history where fact makes a better story than rumor. 17,000 years ago that glacier which slid down the Purcell Trench created an ice damn. The Clark Fork water back flooded into western Montana. When it reached impressive depths -- around 2,000 feet deep -- all watery hell broke loose.

They say -- yes we are back to rumor again -- that Hawaiians were the first Idahoans to catch the wave in Lake Pend Oreille. Imagine the crest that glacial flood created! By the time it swept out into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon it was still two to three feet deep. When you fly between Spokane and Seattle you can still see the imprint of massive water ripples from that flood. Floods, actually. It happened at least 50 more times within a 5,000 year span before the glaciers retreated and the lake remained.

Next we neared the thin sand beaches and green thrusts of the Monarchs. Far away, or close up, these mountains are as beautiful as an actress in her prime. Instead of the red carpet, nature roles out a green one. We spotted an eagles nest and one of the passengers alerted us to an eagle on shore. The captain took the Shawnodese closer and we saw two eagles, though they quickly flew away. Several ravens remained and most likely something edible was the point of interest.

In the 1990s, a late lightning strike caught the Monarchs on fire. Helicopters swooped and scooped buckets of lake water to douse the rising flames. One helicopter plunged to 300 feet beneath the water line. A nearby boat rescued the pilot and Native Hot Shots eventually put out the fire. Today, dead gray trees point upward like ghostly spears, yet the undergrowth is so green that from a distance you can't tell the burned area.

The return trip was warm, the company friendly and our guides entertained questions. A bit embarrassed, but I did enjoy the passengers singing of Happy Birthday. I was one of a few locals who decided to be a day-tourist. Most were out-of-staters, enjoying travels between Yellowstone and Glacier. Sandpoint should be on everyone's bucket list.

Remember to embrace life every day, for every moment, every view, every turning birthday is a wondrous gift.


  1. Excellent blog, Charli! Enjoyed your account of how you spent your birthday on Lake Pend Oreille! It was great to have you aboard the Shawnodese and hope to see you again...

    1. Now that I know how enchanting it is to be on the Lake, I'll be back on your boat! I like that there are many cruises to choose from, too.

  2. What spectular views! I wonder if Matthew McConaughey would mind us dropping by when I come out to visit you? And I agree, what is that orange 'spider'? Seems so out of place doesn't it? But everything else is magnificent. Thank you for sharing your beautiful birthday day out on the water with us Charli, a day that held many deep emotions for you. Your last paragraph is especially beautiful <3

    1. Hee, hee...well, we'll know how to find him! It's funny because I've heard the rumor both ways -- yes he did; no, he didn't. But it's a little island and easy to find out. :-D Yeah, the heaping hunk of orange metal is not my cup of spearmint tea. Thanks for touring with me, reading and digitally holding my hand. <3