Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cronks Canyon

The photo of the paddler in the website cover graphic is the Editor's wife, Susun McCulla, in front of our AIRE Lynx II as we approach the head of Cronks Canyon.

Last May 31, in honor of this now ubiquitous profile photo, we thought we would take time to talk a little bit about the intriguing area of Cronks Canyon, also known as The Royal Gorge of Idaho.  While that's a tad bit of hyperbole, some folks think the label fits.  In our opinion it's little too short, shallow and small to receive such the grandiose title of a Royal Gorge.

The canyon is named for James Cronk, an early day cattleman who ranched in the area.  Many local creeks, rocks, canyons and other places received their enduring names from whoever settled or ranched there first. Such was the case with Cronks Canyon.

As everyone knows, the geology of The Upper Salmon River covers a lot of bases.  The majority of the upper river's ramparts are mostly volcanic in origin and many a story can be told or invented about the "where, when, why and how" of those rocks' origin.

Cronks Canyon is not strictly volcanic in origin--its composed of a Precambrian sedimentary deposit that was metamorphosed into the formation now known as the Swauger Quartzite.   This formation is most likely from 850,000,000 to 1.5-billion years old.  The Swauger and its Precambrian cousins make up a large chunk of the Lemhi Range.  The rock unit was named for the first place it was studied back in 1947 on the Swauger Ranch near the watershed divide between the Pahsimeroi and the Little Lost Rivers.  Cronks Canyon provides one of the better and easily accessible glimpses of this rock unit. The Swauger Quartzite displays a wide variety of colors including light gray, pale to dark blue green, pale red purple, pink and pale orange.

Perhaps that's one reason an anonymous author for the Federal Writer's Project wrote in 1937, " is here that the most beautiful coloring is to be seen.  The rugged bluffs here standing as walls against the highway are stratified in red and yellow, green and dark blue, and even under the morning sun are extremely rich.  At sunset, when burning evening streams up this forge, this mountainside in its bewildering loveliness looks as if a thousand broken rainbows had been drawn into the stone."

Respected Custer County geologist Falma Moye wrote in 1990, "The Salmon River has been superimposed and cut a narrow channel through the quartzite.  Notice that the river follows planes of weakness, both bedding and fractures in the rock."

Cronks Canyon is a fun little ride at all water levels.  At high flows it washes out.  The most fun to be had comes in July and August when some of the rocks are nearly exposed and enjoyable maneuvering can be had.

Here are some Google Earth screen clips of Cronks Canyon.  A YouTube fly-through is below.
Above is a Google Earth view looking downriver toward Cronks Canyon.  
That prominent rampart on the left is mostly pure Swauger Quartzite.
The red "X" shows Cronks Canyon in relationship to the area where the Swauger Quartzite was first investigated and described in 1947 up on the Swauger Ranch at the head of The Pahsimeroi. (Red "Y".)
There an interesting close cousin of The Swauger Quartzite (A) located upstream at point B just downriver from the confluence of The Pahsimeroi.  According to Geologist Falma Moye,  "This (Apple Creek Formation) is mainly siltstone and fine-grained sandstone.  The rocks breaks easily along bedding layers because those surfaces are coated with mica.  This is a good place to look at features which formed during sedimentation.  In particular, there are some good examples of ripplemarks and there are also examples of cross beds and channels. In addition to primary sedimentation structures this rock also shows the effects of deformation."
Above is one of our first attempts to experiment in converting a Google Earth fly-through into a YouTube video with audio descriptive dubbing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lemhi Web

Lemhi Web is a citizen journalism project based in Salmon City. Lemhi Web is currently the only online news venue devoted solely to the area.  Although "The Post-Register" in Idaho Falls covers Lemhi County and publishes periodic reports from the region, its content is accessibly only by paid subscription.  Salmon City's local weekly newspaper, the "Recorder Herald" does not have news website.

Lemhi Web states, "We are a privately owned business with a goal of increasing communication in Lemhi County. We will endeavor to provide this service at the least cost possible and with the greatest citizen participation that we can manage."

While the majority of Lemhi Web's stories describe local events, the venue does report on river and watershed related topics.  Currently, Lemhi Web's gateway page carries a promo ad for Riverfest.  A note about Dugout Dick is also on the front page.

The website is owned by Barbara Miller, a retired math teacher who's lived in the county 15 years. Barbara has been an active volunteer in many local endeavors and says she "strongly feels that we need more input from citizens on issues that concern us all."  The website states that decisions are made by Barbara and two other women who serve on a governing committee, Reg Blauser and Cindy Phelps.

Reg Blauser is a retired microbiologist/science who "believes factual, accurate information is critical to good decision-making and sees the website as a way to provide the people of Lemhi County with information that will help them make decisions in their own best interest."

Cindy Phelps is an active volunteer in many Salmon City organizations and efforts.  However, the bulk of her efforts are directed toward the Lemhi County Human Society, The Salmon Animal Shelter and the Rags & Wags Thrift store.  Cindy is currently running as the Democratic candidate in the 2012 election for Idaho House of Representatives District 8B.  Cindy recently helped organize a social media campaign that earned the Humane Society a new Toyota van.

Click here to visit Lemhi Web.

From humble beginnings, Lemhi Web appears to have reached critical mass in becoming a essential thread in Lemhi County's cultural tapestry.  The website appears well supported and contains a wide variety of interesting, information and entertaining content.  We salute the organizers and volunteers who make Lemhi Web tick.  Thank You for creating and maintaining an vital and vibrant community institution.
(l-r) Barbara Miller, Cindy Phelps, Reg Blauser

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Salmon Surprise

PITs in the Pits.  Salmon season smoked. Salmon numbers looking grim. Salmon run out of luck.  All of these sentences were considered for a title to this post.  "The "Salmon Surprise" sums them all up.  Some Salmon River insiders starting worrying about this a couple of weeks ago.  Now the rumors are flying and the reality is beginning to set in.  It's become more and more likely that far fewer salmon will be heading to the Upper Salmon River than once thought only a short time ago.

When the run started, numbers at Bonneville Dam looked great.  In fact, the run numbers at Bonneville are still slightly above the ten-year-average.  As of today, about 93-percent of the season's run tally is complete at Bonneville.  Now the spotlight turns to Lower Granite Dam.  That's the last hurdle for fish entering the Snake River system.  The use of Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT) has really helped fisheries biologists get a much better understanding of how any given salmon run unfolds.

It's a numbers game that's been proven statistically quite valid.  In a nutshell, a certain percentage of any given year's salmon run should head back to their home spawning streams in direct correlation to the number of salmon implanted with the PIT tags.  PIT tags are the currency of the stock and trade of andronymous fish management.

When the salmon run numbers starting looking pretty good at Bonneville, optimism reigned here on The Upper Salmon River.  Now that the actual PIT numbers are being logged at Lower Granite, the mood has taken a 180 degree turn.  No one speaking publicly at this time but people in the know are speaking in hushed tones with somber voices.  In a nutshell, the prognosis of the day seems to say a good salmon run won't materialize on The Upper Salmon River.

If this is proven true and makes the mainstream media soon, it's going to be a piece of bombshell news to retailers, restaurants, outfitters, the hospitality and all of the bread and butter businesses that welcome a robust salmon fishing season.  Granted, all those businesses learned to survive when there weren't salmon fishing seasons.  However, the recent successes of salmon runs have once again shown the economic value of a viable salmon fishing season on The Upper Salmon River.

The IDFG Commission is supposedly gong to consider whether to set a salmon season locally at its June 4th meeting this coming Monday.  They will undoubtedly rely heavily on the PIT numbers as interpreted by the Department Staff.  Rumors we heard today are not a pretty sight.  It's entirely possible this year's the number have already smoked a salmon season this year.

Now take this post with a grain of salt on your smoked salmon today.  We could be wrong.  We could have heard the wrong rumors.  However, we doubt it.  We've been looking at the same numbers from the Fish Passage Center that the fish biologists see.  We even talked today to a very well respected fish biologist to ask if we were reading those numbers correctly. "You're seeing it the way we see it," he said.

Tomorrow, we will post up all the links and screen shots and so forth so you, too can check the numbers.  We simply wanted to get this news out and circulating as soon as possible.  It's important stuff.

Have a great evening & Many Cheers, jp

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Salmon Riverfest

Salmon City might as well be called River City.  There's a lot of year-round river rats who call Salmon home.  When the ice leaves and everything green's up, a whole new legion of migratory river rats show up in Salmon and commence to work and play on all stretches of The Salmon River. Most of them work on The Main and The Middle Fork.  When they aren't workin', they're playin' and we know for a fact they play hard!  A few years back, some local Salmon River Rats hatched the idea to get themselves a man-made play wave right smack in the middle of Salmon City.  It's been an on-again, off-again kind of idea that seems to be getting a little more traction with each passing spring runoff.

What makes this whole idea of a play wave even more interesting is that the very idea itself spawned what just might become a Big Time Salmon City event--the annual early June Riverfest.  The poster shown above is plastered all over Salmon City right now and anticipation is building for next weekend's event.  The Riverfest has to be held early since a lot of the participants will soon be out earning their living guiding on the rivers.

Knowing Salmon City, this is a unique event filled with a colorful cast of characters unlike most you've seen anywhere.  If you have any kind of a chance at all to join the fun or just go and watch, this event promises to be a hoot 'n' woot.  The best way to find their Facebook is to go to their webpage by clicking here.  Be sure to click on the "About Us" and "FAQ" links. Their Facebook is where it's all happening.  They even have an event Facebook page set up so you can actually let them know you plan to join in the events this weekend.  We sure hope they have several designated photographers who will record all the events for our viewing enjoyment. The first annual event raised $2500.  Organizers are hoping for a larger net this year.

Congratulations on getting this event up and running.  Double congratulations for making this year's event so promising.  You all are making history!  Keep up your great work. Here's the video from last year's event.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It ain't over 'til it's over

A certain person has to sing before this season's snow is gone.  This Memorial Day storm is laying down a possibly impressive dose o' snow in The Salmon River's upper watershed.  Check this NWS graphic and see for yourself.
The river has dropped to around 3300 cfs at Yankee Fork and looked poised to go lower until this whole snow show came along.  Now it's a new ballgame. From midnight today until now, Galena Summit has picked up one full inch of water.  We're not talking snow, we're talking real water.  If the NWS prediction above comes to pass, the water deposit in the Upper Salmon Watershed could be sufficient to bring about a rise in the flow.  This will stop the typical recession and, in fact, serve to help stabilize the flow at a higher level that wouod have been the case otherwise.  There's never a dull moment on The Salmon River!

"Mighty Spectacle of Splendor:" 1937 FWP

Ever since Lewis & Clark set foot in The Salmon River watershed, there's been no lack of authors, journalists, and writers of all kinds weaving words to describe water, wildlife, wondrous scenery and the people and places of Salmon Country.

Some of our favorite few paragraphs in praise of Salmon Country come from the 1937 WPA Federal Writer's Project (FWP) classic "Idaho A Guide in Word and Picture."  All 48 States where described in the "American Guide Series."  Writers were paid $80 a month during the Great Depression to describe the attributes and characteristics of all aspects of every State.

Most of the writing in each volume of the FWP is straightforward narrative.  Only on rare occasions were the writers allowed to roam free with their words.  We present here an unknown federal writer's words describing areas alongside The Salmon River.  These words continue to stand as timeless as the rocks and ramparts they describe.
"US 93 enters the upper gorge of Salmon River and follows it for more than a hundred miles.  This canyon under different light is never twice the same and can be realized for what it is only in late afternoon or sunset.  It is not, for the most part, a gorge of sheer walls and overwhelming heights.  It is remarkable rather in the variety of its mountains and in the exquisite coloring of its stone.  There are ridges that sharply climb the sky with the sculpturing reaching from shoulder to shoulder; there are huge monuments set apart by time and erosion; and there are rounded brown bluffs with slide rock spilled smoothly at their base like tons of copper.  There are picturesque collections of castles and towers, and in contrast with these are gently sloping flanks that look as if they were carpeted with green or golden velvet.  There are magnificent solitary crags, and down below them, piled against the road, are weird gray formations so pocketed and cupped that they resemble cliff dwellings."
"At about 94 m is Cronks Canyon, which is known as the Royal Gorge of Idaho, and it is here that the most beautiful coloring is to be seen.  The rugged bluffs here standing as walls against the highway are stratified in red and yellow, green and dark blue, and even under the morning sun are extremely rich.  At sunset, when burning evening streams up this forge, this mountainside in its bewildering loveliness looks as if a thousand broken rainbows had been drawn into the stone."
"Challis is even more remarkable than Salmon City for the beauty of its setting.  The mountains northeast of it are unusually picturesque under any light and in comparison with mountains anywhere.  They are unforgettable when seen at sunset under a cloudy sky.  The clouds lie low in blazing reefs and banks, with the distant peaks thrusting up like golden crowns; and down under the great flaming panorama the colored bluffs upon the river look like a shimmering fog banklost in an extravagance of colored mist."
"US 93 turns to the right and enters the miniature Grand Canyon of the Salmon River, with the walls sloping upward on either side for 2000 feet.  Though the coloring is no so rich nor the formations so various as in the Royal Gorge, this canyon is, nevertheless, a might spectacle of splendor under the evening sun."

From Pages 190-191 "Idaho, A Guide in Word and Picture"

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dugout Dick

Oh, Salmon River moon, I miss her so tonight.
Tell her to return, shine down with her light.
Oh, Salmon River moon, if I should hear her feet
When she comes close to me, my heart would skip a beat.
With my guitar I croon, Oh, Salmon River moon,
My sweet love melody, bring her back to me.
Oh, now the shadows fall on my windowsill.
Salmon River moon, I am waiting still.
Oh, Salmon River moon, down the trail, I'll be there.
On a cool summer night, I'll know you still care.
Oh, Salmon River moon, there're tears in my eyes.
Does she wait for me still, just on the other side?
Now my love I assume, Oh, Salmon River moon,
You're coming back to me, I'm your destiny.
Now the moon's going down along the winding hill.
Salmon River moon, I am waiting still.

"Idaho Loners" Cort Conley
 1994 (ISBN 0-9603566-5-7)
Photo by Roger Plothow  © 2009
"He was the last of Idaho's river-canyon loners that date back to Territorial days. They are a unique group that until the 1980s included canyon contemporaries with names like Beaver Dick, Cougar Dave and Wheelbarrow Annie, "Buckskin Bill" (real name Sylvan Hart) and "Free Press Frances" Wisner. Fiercely independent loners, they lived eccentric lives on their own terms and made the state more interesting just by being here."  (Tim Woodward © "The Idaho Statesman", April 23, 2010)

"He half jokingly says he'll live a thousand years, then admits to worrying about what will happen to his caves after he's gone. The BLM owns the land, and some of the locals have complained that a hillside honeycombed with caves and strewn with junk is an eyesore in need of bulldozing. Others--including its occupant--say the site should be preserved as an Idaho landmark. "The road should be named Dugout Road," he said. "And the caves should be made into a memorial. As it is now, the only memorial around here is me."  (Tim Woodward © "The Idaho Statesman", August 18, 2002)

" Thoreau, he often must have smiled at how much he didn't need. What gave him uncommon grace and dignity for me were his spiritual life, his musical artistry, his unperturbed acceptance of life as it is..." Cort Conley, as quoted by Tim Woodward © "The Idaho Statesman", April 23, 2010)

The video above was made from footage recorded in 1985, back when Dugout Dick was about 67 years of age and in the prime of his life, more or less. He died at the age of 94.

In a span of more than sixty years, Dugout Dick (AKA: Richard E. Zimmerman) carved out caves and a larger-than-life image alongside The Salmon River. It's possible Dugout Dick received more state and national media coverage than any other resident in Idaho's history (except our elected politicians, of course). He was perhaps better known and respected among circles much farther and wider than Salmon and Lemhi County. You can find many stories about him by searching Google.

No one knows how many articles, videos, stories, poems and words have been produced to describe the unique, eccentric, singular lifestyle Dugout Dick savored. No one knows how many people came to visit or stay in those hand hewn holes he clawed out of the talus rubble. Now, unfortunately, no one will ever even know what Dick's Dugouts looked like. They are all gone. Not long after Dugout Dick died April 21, 2010, the federal Bureau of Land Management obliterated all traces of Dugout Dick's handiwork, saving not a one for posterity.

 Roger Plothow, Publisher of "The Post-Register" newspaper in Idaho Falls conducted perhaps the last known major media interview of Dugout Dick in July 2009. (You can click here to read the article.)
When he learned a few weeks ago that everything was gone, Mr. Plothow wrote: "I won't go on the verbal rampage that I feel is warranted, other than to say that some bureaucrat somewhere has mindlessly, ignorantly and needlessly obliterated a piece of Idaho history. It makes me sad and angry. Kathleen and I have vowed to do something, starting with talking to some of the people we know who had met and admired Dick. At the very least, there needs to be a memorial to the man at his place by the river."  (Click here to read Mr. Plothow's blog about his recent visit to the site as it sits today.)

Upon his return from The Salmon River to Idaho Falls, Mr Plothow began a campaign to learn the facts behind the demolition of Dugout Dick's legacy. First, he wrote a letter to the BLM State Director, Steve Ellis.  (Click here to read the letter.)  One of the newspaper's reporters followed up by interviewing a BLM Staffer in Salmon.  The results of that interview were published in a column entitled "You Asked For it."  (Click here to read the column.)

Mr. Plothow has continued his investigation about the demise of Dugout Dick's legacy in a phone conversation and subsequent correspondence with Joe Kraayenbrink, the BLM Idaho Falls District Office Manager.  Click here for a summary of Mr. Plothow's initial phone conversation.  Following the verbal discussion, Mr. Kraayenbrink sent along a letter detailing factors involved in the BLM's decisions regarding Dugout Dick's legacy.  You can click here to read that letter.

Mr. Plothow hopes to meet soon with various BLM officials at Dugout Dick's former residence area to discuss various perspectives about past circumstances, present efforts and future opportunities regarding Dugout Dick's legacy.

We appreciate Mr. Plothow's willingness to allow us to summarize his involvement with the BLM in this matter. We will continue to report on this evolving story as we learn new information.
Photo by Roger Plothow © 2009

Dugout Dick (February 26, 1916 - April 21, 2010) is buried in Godfrey, Illinois

Watching Weather

Who doesn't love watching weather?  Even if some folks don't chatter about the weather, they sure keep a watchful eye on all sorts of weather information from TV, newspapers, the internet and, of course, the sky itself.

We have a permanent page above entitled "Weather."  We will attempt to include a full menu of various ways to watch weather on The Salmon River.

This morning, we stumbled upon the links for three primary weather data monitoring sites: Stanley Ranger Station, Challlis Airport and the Salmon Airport.  The graphic shows a screen shot from today's data being logged at the Stanley Ranger Station.  Data from the other two sites will be shown in the same format. (Narrative continues below graphic.)

These three sites appear to be the only ones on The Salmon River that are available in the three-day format.  However, you can learn current, real-time temperature and other conditions for many other places in The Salmon River watershed.  The NWS in Pocatello and Missoula maintain an "Observations" page online.  You can actually grab this map with your mouse and move it up or down or sideways.  When you mouseover any of the numbers, a little flyout screen pops up.  This screen tells you the location and weather data for that spot.  We have included an example below for Willow Creek Summit on US Highway 93 at the divide between The Salmon River and The Big Lost River watersheds.

Here are the links for these resources:
Stanley Ranger Station
Challis Airport
Salmon Airport
Pocatello Observations Page
Missoula Observations Page

Salmon run now well above average

(NOTE: Take the information below with a dose of caution.  We talked today with a one of the most knowledgeable people along the Salmon.  They said they've heard that the fish coming through Lower Granite right now aren't destined for The Salmon River.  The use of PIT tags is common now so it's relatively easy to know from which river the salmon came.  (Click here for an informative 2011 newspaper article on PIT tags.)  Apparently, the salmon in teh numbers shown below aren't bearing PIT tags that indicate they will be coming our way.  Meanwhile, the IDFG Commission may set the salmon season at its June 4th meeting.  Last edited 5/25/12 @ 5:50 pm)

After a very slow start, the salmon run at Lower Granite Dam is well above average.  Right up until May 15th, the run was about 40% below the 10 year average.  Now it's over 40% above the 10 year average.  Take a look at the daily numbers below.  Since May 19th, the daily numbers ave been 3-4 times more than the long-term average.  If this keeps up into the main "run time" for salmon numbers, it could be a gang busters salmon season!  Salmon run numbers ebb and flow as do all natural cycles.  Only time will tell if these numbers are the proverbial "flash in the pan."  In the meantime, such numbers sure are fun to watch.

So, how do you watch these numbers?  First, you have to go to what's know as the Colunbia River DART website.  Once you are at the website, select Lower Granite Dam from the project menu.  Then change the beginning date to April 22.  That's the day before this year's first fish was counted at Lower Granite.  Then generate the full report and enjoy.  Click here to go to the DART website.

River's dropping

What goes up must come down.  After all, the Law of Gravity applies to all watersheds and their rivulets and rivers.  So it is that The Salmon River had now entered its seasonal decline.  The river began to recede only a couple of days ago after one last surge of snow melt generated by near-record high temperatures in the Sawtooth headwaters area.

Currently, the river's dropping a seemingly insignificant two one-hundredths of a foot each hour.  While that sounds tiny, it really adds up fast.  That's nearly a half a foot a day and could equate to as much as 400-600 lower cfs each day.  You can click on the small graphic at left to see the full size version.  This is what the current decline looks like when graphed by the USGS Yankee Fork gauge.

Typically, any free flowing river located near a big snowpack will experience a sharp fall off in depth and flow after the snow is gone.  Don't count on this level of recession to continue very long.  The river's snow melt flow peaked on a pair of days: May 17 and May 23.  The May 17th peak was slightly higher than the 23rd but both were basically 5,000 cfs.  Today the river is already back to 3830 and heading lower by the hour.

The median flow for this time of year is about 3000 cfs.  As the river begins to approach this level, one would expect a slight change in the rate of recession.  We are optimistic that the river will be much closer to 2,000 cfs by mid-June.  All phases of The Salmon River's runoff cycle has been happening earlier this year than normal.  If that continues to be the case, expect very low flows to be in place by mid-summer.

There's always a potential wild card.  The NWS is calling for 6-12 inches of snow in the Central Mountains during the next couple of days to be following by the typical warm spell afterwards.  If the snow is wet and on the high side of their prognostication, then there yet might be another mini-surge late next week.  Chances are that won't happen but it's always a remote possibility.  Right now it's at or below freezing from Stanley down toward Challis and the main storm track looks to be south of The Salmon River's upper watershed as shown in the radar screen shot below.

Bottom Line: What goes up must come down and that's The Salmon River Story today.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Extreme Makeover due at Deadman Hole

 Here's how Deadman Hole is situated between the East Fork and Bayhorse RAPs.
 This is a look at the current situation. Look below the narrative to see details of the makeover.
Here's a different perspective from upstream of Deadman Hole showing its proximity to Malm Gulch.
(Click any graphic above to see the larger version.)

Deadman Hole Recreation Site and River Access Point (RAP) will close in June so construction can begin on various improvements.  Two day-use picnic shelters, a day-use parking area, a new vault toilet, a concrete boat ramp, a gravel boat trailer parking area and five campsites with shelters, fire rings and tables will be installed.

This is welcome news for anyone who has ever used this rough and tumble RAP.  Traffic has always run helter-skelter over and around the entire site.  There's never been any rhyme or reason to where to park.  The boat ramp, if you could call it that, was one of the worst on the Upper Salmon.  That's been a chronic shame because the site has always had so much potential for recreational boaters and floating fishermen.

Deadman Hole sits strategically between the East Fork and Bayhorse RAPS.  It's also next door to the interesting geology of Malm Gulch.  Petrified wood has been found up in Malm Gulch and there's now some interpretive information at that site.  Malm Gulch occasionally floods during the summer thunderstorm season.  Once in awhile it spits out quite a large alluvial fan into The Salmon River.  Such fluvial activity can periodically create a nice new wave at the Gulch's confluence with the river. (See red "X" in graphic above.)

The Challis BLM Field Office has really gone the extra mile to improve the RAPs within their administrative area.  Improvements to Deadman Hole will bring most of the Challis RAPS up to a high standard.  We would expect that Deadman Hole will see considerably more usage after these improvements are complete, especially during steelhead season.  Judging from past projects, we'd expect Deadman Hole to remain closed for an extended period, possibly well into the low flow floating season during late July and August.

We congratulate the BLM on giving Deadman Hole its "just due" and undertaking an ambitious "extreme makeover" of this site.

The actual hole of Deadman Hole is located on river right of the large chunk of bedrock at the upstream end of this site.  At high flows, there's a huge swirling eddy here that slams large amounts of driftwood and other detritus into a pile on river right below the rock's upstream face.  Deadman Hole gets its name from the 1882 demise of Isacc T. Swim, a prospector who perished trying to cross the river to get to his gold mine claim.  His body was found that summer in the debris deposited at this large eddy.
 The new boat ramp will be moved much farther upstream and be MUCH easier to access than the old boat  ramp.
Best of all is that the access to the area will now feature a safe location to pull off and on the highway.
The new campsites will be located downstream from the boat launching and day use area.
Even though this camping area is right next to the highway,
it will still provide great camp sites during fishing & summer recreation seasons.
(Site Plan details courtesy of the BLM's Challis Field Office.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mormon Bend-Yankee Fork

Click the graphic above to see the larger version.
We plan to use a wide variety of map types to describe each section of The Salmon River.  Here, for example, is a screenshot of the Mormon Bend to Yankee Fork stretch.  This is easily the most treacherous portion of The Salmon River between Stanley and North Fork.  Yes, there are many other hazards lurking here and there along that 148-mile length of river.  However, nothing rivals the collection of various rapids in the Mormon Bend to Yankee Fork area.  Shotgun Rapid and Sunbeam Dam are the two biggest headliners here.  Each is a unique piece of water unto itself.  Sunbeam, of course, is a man-made hazard.  Even though it's been perhaps 70+ years since Sunbeam was dynamited, the breached area of the dam is downright dangerous at any water flow.  People do run Sunbeam successfully so it can be done.  Sunbeam is not for novice or even intermediate boaters.  If you make a mistake there and flip, you're going for a long swim and you could damage or even lose your equipment.

Shotgun Rapid is easily the largest natural rapid on the river between Stanley and North Fork.  There are other rated rapids on this stretch. If you plan on running Shotgun Rapid, you better be dressed for the water temperature.  In the early runoff season when the rapid is running high and mighty, this means a full dry suit with neoprene cuffs.  Don't skimp on personal protective gear.  Wear an excellent type five life jacket and have a support crew on shore ready with throw ropes and other rescue gear.  Travel with a crew of experienced boaters using the best possible whitewater equipment.

At lower flows, Shotgun arguably becomes even more dangerous because of the possibility of getting badly banged around in the rocks.  Ankle entrapment is yet another ever present danger.  Simply put, you better be on top of your game to run from Mormon Bend to Yankee Fork!

Note that there is perennial confusion about the name of the River Access Points below Sunbeam Dam.  Technically, there is a small access immediately below the confluence with the Yankee Fork.  Farther downstream at a point known as Elk Creek, there is a well-developed public River Access Point with ample parking and sanitation facilities.  The lower RAP is where the commercial outfitters put in for the next stretch.
We've seen kayakers and duckie boaters use the upper put-in but it's not as convenient and safe (parking-wise) as the lower, high-use RAP.

Some adventurous kayakers occasionally run power portions of the Yankee Fork between the dredge wasteland and the main river.  This stretch of the Yankee Fork is not for the unskilled or faint of heart.  Be sure to scout every piece of this stretch because log jams and fallen trees could mean a very disasterous end to your short excursion!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Stanley-Mormon Bend

We're experimenting with ways to describe the stretches of The Salmon River.  Today, we learned how to make a video out of Google Earth and post it to YouTube.  Forgive the shakiness of the video, that shows the slow speed of our computer and our need to practice flying through a Google Earth landscape.  It's a start.

A look at The Salmon River Headwaters

As best as we can determine with help from our friend at DEQ, the screen shot from Google Earth above shows the general layout of The Salmon River Headwaters.  Smiley Creek could probably be a better candidate for the bigger flow component of the headwaters flow.  However, it already has a name.  This will be an interesting issue to discuss will various hydrologists and other folks who deeply care about such esoteric matters.  As near as we can figure, the highest elevation of The Salmon River would be about 9,300 feet up on the divide between it and the Big Wood River system. (We think the green line represents the Blaine-Custer County line. (You can click on the graphic to see a larger, more legible version.)

Holy Grail for Fish Biologists?

Here is the quote buried in a long article:  "For biologists, this is like the holy grail."  It's not often we hear such hyperbole from a fish biologist.  Yet this quote came from a well-respected professional, Clint Muhlfeld, an aquatic ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Glacier Park field office.  Muhlfeld is the lead author of the study by a slate of Montana researchers recently published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

So what's this Holy Grail all about? Think "otolith."  The otolith is fish biology nomenclature for a fish's earbone.  Muhlfeld and his collaborators say they can determine virtually the entire geographical wanderings of a fish during its entire life cycle by decoding the creatures otolith.  Their study concerns the westslope cutthroat trout in the Flathead River system.  You can click here to read the entire study as it appears in the Canadian Journal.

We learned of this new Holy Grail via a circuitous route through a virtual magazine published by the National Fish Habitat Partnership.  (Click here to access that publication.)  The article they cited was published May 2, 2012 in Missoula's "Missoulian" newspaper.  Here's the link for that article.  It was in this newspaper article that we found the "holy grail" quote.

So how is the Holy Grail otolith research relevant to The Salmon River?  Simple: Think bull trout.  Huge gobs of money are spent each year studying bull trout, a fish which likes to travel hither and yon in the Salmon watershed without ever getting too far from home.

My wife and I spent four summers in the headwaters of the East Fork of The Salmon River tending to Bowery Guard Station and the big hot springs next door.  During those four summers we met more fisheries biologists than we can possibly count or remember.  Most of them were studying the bull trout life cycle and their curious migration patterns.

It was common for us see a stranger walking along the bank of the East Fork.  We'd nod and say, "Ah, another fish guy (or gal).  Sure enough, we'd strike up a conversation with the newcomers and determine what it was they were attempting to study.  Almost invariably, we'd say to them, "Gee, there was a fish guy (or gal) walking here two days ago studying the same thing."  And almost invariably, they would look shocked and explain, "They WERE?"

All manner of low and high tech methods were deployed and employed in the seemingly never-ending quest to document the comings and goings of the elusive bull trout.  Some researchers chased them around with ET-style radio antennas.  Others merely lurked in the streamside riparian zone.  We enjoyed their perennial antics and liked to joke that the peril of the bull trout represented "full employment for fish biologists."

So, along comes this new Holy Grail for fish biologists.  We can imagine all the exclamations of glee echoing forth from the offices of fish biologists who study the bull trout.  Ah, HA!  Finally, a way to obtain a definitive determination about that vagabond fish, the Salmon River bull trout!

It will be VERY interesting to see if the new findings about the otolith make their way out into the field season when once again legions of fish biologists begin to prowl the banks of The Salmon River and its tributaries.  Ah, The Holy Grail of biologists!

PS--We printed the Missoulian article to PDF and saved it for permanent posterity to our Google Docs file.  It's not often the words "holy grail" appear in a fish biologists lexicon.  Priceless stuff.  Here's the Doc link:

Bye, Bye Snow Pack

Today marks the official end of the snow pack at Galena Summit.  Yes, there is still snow here and there throughout the upper Salmon River watershed, especially in the Sawtooth Mountains.  However, the bulk of any snow which could make a real impact on river flows is gone.  The remaining snow will serve to keep the river flowing nicely, thank you. (Click here for the US NRCS Galena Summit SNOTEL site.)

Yesterday's high temperature in Stanley was 74 degrees, only 3 degrees off the 1980 record of 77.  This little does of heat served to bring down an extra helping of snow melt and brought the river up a wee bit at the Yankee Fork USGS gage, as you can see in the graphic below.  Meanwhile, the temperature in Stanley as we write this blog post is 40 degrees.  Some of the very high elevation data sites are showing temps as low as 17 degrees which means little or no snow melt will be coming down today--or anytime soon for that matter.  Temps in Stanley are progged to remain in the 40's for a few days with lows below freezing.  That means the high country spigot will be temporarily turned off, as least until very late May or early June when temps will rally up somewhat.  We are still sticking with our call that the river peaked May 17th and will proceed to recede for the remainder of The Water Year.

Salmon Headwaters opening up

Most people know it as The Sawtooths.  Some call it Sawtooth Valley and others say "SNRA" or Sawtooth National Recreation Area.  From our point of view, it's The Salmon River Headwaters.

Way, way, WAAAY up in the far upper reaches of the Sawtooth Valley, deep in the shadow of Galena Pass you will find a teeny, tiny little trickle of water small enough to skip over on foot like Mary Poppins skipping through a field of flowers.  Here is where the Sound of Music of The Salmon River begins its beautiful melody, murmuring north toward destiny.

Soon, other small rivulets begin to join the party and then larger stream of water spill out of glacial lakes strung like diamonds along the feet of the might Sawtooth Mountains.  When Red Lake's outflow thunders into the fray, The Salmon begins to grow up.  Finally, Valley Creek muscles into the mix and a genuine river is on full display as the waters leave Sawtooth Valley to begin an epic journey to the Snake almost 400 miles away.

Most people visit Sawtooth Country to gape at the mountains or bask in pine-studded campgrounds.  Whenever we visit, we always feel we are there to say "hello" to the young Salmon River and enjoy its frisky adolescent behavior amid the glacial morraines and mountain meadows.

Each year public access to various portions of The Salmon Headwaters unfolds like the turning of pages in a book. Generally, it's not until Memorial Day (in a drier year such as this) when almost all the public roads, campgrounds and so forth become fully accessible.

Some facilities will remain closed until early June but most are open now.  Since Sawtooth Country gets so much visitation each year, the Forest Service tries its best to keep people posted on what's open and what's not.  You can click here to see their May 10th report on accessibility.  This link isn't a generic link to access future sporadic reports.  You will need to go to the Sawtooth National Forest main website to find the link for the next and subsequent reports about the status of various facilities up in the Salmon Headwaters.  The graphic below is a screen shot of the Forest's main webpage.  We've circled the correct link for your to click to view the SNRA's various reports.  Here's the main Forest link:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jeff Christenson leaves Salmon Country

BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Jeff Christenson's last day on the job at the Challis Field Office will be Friday, May 24th.  Jeff is leaving Salmon Country to head down to Four Corners Country.  He is taking his same position with the BLM in Dolores, Colorado.

Jeff has been in Challis for 11 years and made a huge impact.  Jeff's a modest guy and he always credits "team work" for making all the good stuff happen.  Well, in our opinion it takes spark plugs to make a complex engine run and Jeff's been the spark plug for outdoor recreation in the BLM's Challis office, especially when it comes to the Salmon River.

Jeff will be remembered for many accomplishments during his tenure.  Of interest to readers of this blog are his contributions directly related to the Salmon River.  He made a huge difference in improving popular river access sites such as Bayhorse, Challis Bridge, Pennal Gulch, Deadman's Hole and the Cottonwood Recreation Site near Ellis.  Jeff helped improve the East Fork Recreation Site and left his mark on many important BLM assets.  Jeff really shined when it came to managing volunteers.  Volunteers who signed up with Jeff have never left.  One, Duane Wilson, is now a legend at the Cottonwood Rec Site, receiving a national award for his service to campers.  Jeff himself won the coveted Director's Spirit of Service Award a few years back.

The blog author and his wife have acted as volunteers for Jeff and we have to say he's one of the Top Two Volunteer Supervisors we've ever had the pleasure to serve.
In the photo at left, the blog author (right) and the Custer County Stampede Queen Samantha Golder present Jeff (left) with an award in November 2007.  We were then Director of the Eastern Idaho Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).  We honored the BLM and Jeff for helping Senior Volunteers serve with respect and dignity.

The BLM Staff and many in the tight-knit Challis community will turn out Friday night for a bowl-a-thon in Jeff's honor.  We sure wish him Best of Success & Many Happy Trails on his new life pathway.  You did a great service to all users and lovers of The Salmon River, Jeff, and you'll be missed by one and all.

Many Cheers!  jp

PS--Last we heard, the vacant position hadn't yet been advertised and it may be months before someone is hired to replace Jeff.

How's the Salmon Run developing?

This will be the first of many reports on the 2012 Salmon Run.  There are so many great and wonderful things to watch on the Salmon River.  The annual chinook salmon run is easily one of Nature's most glorious phenomena.

We are going to be watching the salmon numbers at both Bonneville and Lower Granite Dams.  The real key to a successful salmon season on The Salmon River are the numbers of salmon successfully getting up past Lower Granite Dam.  Bonneville is an early indicator but Lower Granite is the proof of the pudding.

Things have been off to a very slow start this year at Lower Granite.  In fact, the very first chinook didn't even show up until April 23rd.  The 10-year-average normal appearance is April 3rd do the first fish was nearly three weeks late.  Meanwhile, run numbers at Lower Granite have been far, far below normal until the past four days.  In the last four days of record (May 17-20) things changed dramatically and run numbers are 278% above the 10-year average.  In fact, during the May 17-20 period, 14,768 of the year's total of 18,344 fish were counted.  To put it another way, 80% of the fish counted crossing Lower Granite this year have been counted within the past four days.

Even with this recent surge in the run numbers, this year's total of 18,344 fish is still far below the 10-year average of 30,802 at this time.

Below are some graphics and comments to help better understand how this year's Salmon run is beginning to evolve.
 The graphic above shows the chinook run through Bonneville.  Obviously, it's looking great.
 Meanwhile, here's a graphic way of showing how paltry the chinook run has been at Lower Granite.
 Luckily, the Lower Granite numbers have really picked up in the past few days.  The Saturday run of 8425 is very encouraging.  That's more than four times the 10-year-average for that day.
The graphic above shows the statistics for the timing of the chinook run as it evolves.  Generally, only about 10% of the fish have made their appearance by this time of year.  Things should begin to pick up from here on out into the summer-fall calendar.  Click here to go to the website that explains this data.
Here's a screen shot from the IDFG's webpage that tracks the salmon run.  You can click here to go to that page.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Climate Forecast

The current long-range climate forecasts don't look real good.  Below are the 30-day (top) and the three-month (bottom) temperature forecasts.  (Click here for the Climate Prediction Center's website.) Both of them paint a large chunk of The West with above normal temperatures.  Note that Salmon River Country is near the top edge of these forecast graphs.  We're coloring our own perspectives about the Salmon River stream flows with these graphs.  We suspect it's going to be a hot, dry summer here.  We also suspect that fire season is going to start earlier than normal and last longer than usual.  Our recommendation is simple: if you're looking to do any recreational boating on the Salmon River go early.  Mid to late summer could offer unfavorably conditions such as low water and very smokey air.

Was 2009 a similar year?

The USGS has a huge amount of data for stream gaging sites.  We like to look at the annual date and volume of each year's peak flow.  The Salmon at Yankee Fork has two types of annual peak personalities.  The first is a classic single peak with a steady recession until late summer.  The second profile involves an early peak, a sharp drop and then a secondary peak that's not quite high enough to take out the volume of the first peak.

Our year of 2012 here is a peak of the first type.  It's going to be a single peak at modest volume following by a steady drop in daily flows until the salmon run is finished in coincidence with the autumnal equinox.  We check many of the seemingly analogous early peaks for the Salmon.  Most all the recent ones were followed by secondary peaks, usually a month later.

The year that might best fit our study of the 2012 stream flow is 2009, even though that particular peak took place on June 6.  The daily mean flows are shown here with a red "X" to the left of June 6 and a red "Y" for the flow 30 days later.
Note that the stream flow dropped 40% within about two weeks of the peak.  Afterwards, the flow began dropping roughly 50 cfs each and every day during early July.  We think that's what's going to happen this year.  We fully expect the Salmon flow at Yankee Fork to be about 3,000 cfs by May 31 and then to begin losing roughly 50 cfs each following day. If the river drops lower than 3,000 cfs by the end of May, we're going to be looking at mid-August flows below 500 cfs.  Here are our flow predictions for the Salmon at Yankee Fork this season:

May 31 = 3,000
June 15 = 2,250
July 1   =  1,750
July 15 =  1,500
Aug. 1 =   1,000
Aug. 15 =  600
Sept. 1  =  450

These predictions are for normal conditions.  A hotter and dryer than normal summer will reduce the above volumes.  Conversely, an unusual monsoon pattern could increase these flows.

The general recreational rafting and floating season for the Upper Salmon runs from roughly late June through late August, peaking in early July.  Flows appear, at this time, to be more than adequate for commercial and private boating activities to take place as usual.  However, late season float trips could be hampered by both unusually low flows and heavy smoke from a robust fire season.

River's Peaked--What Next?

The Salmon River at Yankee Fork peaked Thursday, May 17th at a flow a few cfs on the high side of 5,000.
As of Sunday, May 20, it's dropping steadily and is now down to about 4,200 cfs at this writing.  There's not much snow left on Galena Summit--the key indicator for the Upper Salmon River.  The Galena Summit SNOTEL site shows 6 inches of snow left with 2.8 inches of water content.  That's not enough to rally a big river like the Salmon up past last week's peak.

For this time period moving forward, the river should drop in an orderly manner, probably going back to a mid-June base flow on the high side of 2,000 cfs, plus or minus a few hundred cfs.  That's a nice flow that's relatively safe to float, providing the paddlers wear adequate river gear in case they take a swim.  Even though the water will be dropping, the actual water temperature won't rise much until the heat of summer begins in July.

We will be doing some research on water temperature trends and will have a report this week.  We will also attempt to summarize what has happened in years with similar early peak flows.  The federal weather people are calling for a hot, dry summer.  If their predictions are accurate, the Salmon will be running pretty low and bony during mid to late summer.  We will also check on the early numbers of the salmon run to get an idea of what fish numbers we're looking at.

So far, this season has all the earmarks of a low water late summer season.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Peak flow near?

Picking the peak flow of any river is tricky business.  It's a lot like betting on a horse race or buying a lottery ticket.  Sometimes you get lucky and look real smart.  Most of the time, you're way off base and look real dumb.  In spite of the risks of looking stupid, we continue to attempt to "peg the peak" on various rivers each year.  It's fun.

We think the Salmon River at Yankee Fork is nearing its peak flow.  In the blog post below, we already went out on a limb and called for the peak on May 20th.  That's only 3 days away.  It's possible the river just might peak before this coming Sunday.

The Galena Summit snowpack peaked on March 18 at a depth of 83 inches.  The water contained inside the snow peaked at 22.5 inches the first week in April.  As of May 17th, we're looking at a mere 13 inches of snow remaining with just 5.3 inches of water.  Rate of loss is about 2-4 inches per day for the snow and 1.0-1.7 inches for the water inside the snow.  As of today, only 15% of the original snowpack remains whereas 23% of the snow water equivalent remains.  If yesterday's rate of water loss were to continue the snow water would be gone in 3-4 days.  Ditto the snow itself.  Chances are that's not going to happen.

Here is a snippet from the morning Pocatello NWS Forecast Discussion:


Yesterday's high temp in Stanley was 73 degrees, 15 degrees above normal and almost 30 degrees warmer that last year's unseasonably cool spring.  Today's high will barely get into the 60's and then a storm will hit the mountains with the snow level dropping as low as 8,000 feet.  That's right smack dab where the remaining snowpack is sitting--at or above 8,000 feet.  So, basically what that does is shot down the rapid rate of loss in the snow and its water content.  It will be like someone turned off a spigot.  POOF, gone.  The river should drop sharply within the next few days.  Meanwhile, the storm will not have deposited enough snow or water to create any kind of rapid future rise.  When the next warm spell ends, the river will already be much lower than today's readings.  The next warm phase and resulting melt of the remaining snow will be too little to bring a secondary peak that could exceed the one that will be in place within the next 12-72 hours.

So, there you have it--The Salmon River's 2012 peak flow is happening right now.  The thing to keep an eye on is the actual gage height.  You can find that by clicking on "Table" instead of "Graph."  As of right now it's 7.75 feet and "fluttering" at this level.  It's struggling to get much higher that that.  It's going to be hard to imagine any kind of a huge surge taking it much higher than the current level.

However, as they say, "Stay Tuned!"

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Galena Summit Snowpack

The Galena Summit SNOTEL is arguably one of the best indicators of the Salmon River's high elevation snowpack.  Having been through the mid and low elevations of the Upper Salmon River last week, we can attest that there isn't enough snow left in those locations to add to the streamflow.  The bulk of the streamflow right now is coming from the high elevation snowpack runoff.  As soon as this snowpack is depleted, the river flows will begin to recede.  The year we are having right now would tend to suggest an impending peak in the streamflow, perhaps as early as this week but almost certainly before the end of May.  Note in the Galena Summit data below the snowpack has lost 50% of both its water content and its snow depth during the past week alone!

In our 30+ years of watching how snow melts and how that melt pattern contributes to stream flow, we have developed a theory that the peak flow actually occurs BEFORE the end of the snow melt.  It has something to do with the density of the snowpack and the momentum generated by the sheer volume of the water coming out of the snow.  Generally, our theory concludes that the last 20% of the snowpack will come off rather slowly unless it affected by a rainstorm.  At the current rate of loss of both snow and water, the next half of the snowpack should be gone within 3-5 days.  By that time, the snowpack will be down to the about 20% of its starting depth and flows should begin to taper off.

If I had to take a Unscientific Wild Anatomy Guess, I'd tend to think the peak flow of the Upper Salmon will occur on May 20--right in time for the solar eclipse.  (This is barring an unusual rainstorm on the remainder of the snowpack.)  Whatever the date of peak flow may be this year, I can virtually guarantee you it will take place prior to May 31.

Mid-May Salmon River Flows

As of May 16, the Salmon River continues to run above normal due to warm temperatures. Here is a screen shot of the mid-May flows. You can click on the summary for a larger version. (Narrative continues below.)
Below are two graphics which tell the tale of the Salmon just below its confluence with the Yankee Fork at Sunbeam, Idaho.  Note that the river has risen two feet in the past week.  Much of this flow is coming from the Yankee Fork itself as we shall see farther below.

Although the Yankee Fork is only a 182 square mile drainage it contains a lot of snow.  When high temperature hit early this snow can come off in a hurry as we are seeing right now.  Below the flow graphic for the Yankee Fork note the temperature graph for this important tributary.  The water is VERY cold now, dropping into the upper 30's each day.  Although the Main Salmon is warmer, it's not enough warmers to notice any difference.  All the runoff now waas snow only a day or two ago.  That's why it is so cold.

With such a robust runoff, it's going to take awhile for the river to drop back to boatable flows.