Page 3 of 3
Although the fishing never picked up during our three days on the river, I finally landed a healthy 16-inch rainbow on a Stimulator, coaxing him from his hiding spot behind a boulder just a few steps upriver from our campsite. It was the last evening of our trip, and I was finally able to provide Renie with the fresh fish dinner I'd promised. But after landing my prize, I had an unexpected change of heart and released it. I don't really know what came over me, whether I did it out of respect for this elder statesman of the river, or because I'd left my manhood at home with my power tools. I just know I shouldn't have mentioned it, because whatever softened my heart toward that fish had not inspired Renie.
No, she wanted meat, and the ribeyes from a previous night were long gone. Chastened, I set out again with my pole and came back with a pathetic 8-inch dink, which I served unpersuasively alongside pasta flavored with antiseptic powder from a foil packet.
Luckily for me, Renie got over it. All it took was a little good-natured ribbing, a rustle of wind, the burble of the river flowing past our campsite, and the twinkle of a million stars above our campfire.
"I really needed to get away," she said.
"Is this far enough?" I asked.
She didn't really need to answer. The treetops nodded in the breeze.
On the way
Picnic at Ross Creek Cedars, four miles west of Highway 56, just south of Bull Lake. Huge old growth cedars, some as much as 500 years old and more than 8 feet in diameter, tower over a garden of ferns and wild ginger. The one-mile interpretive trail makes for a lovely postprandial stroll.
Try the Forest Service campgrounds at Whitetail and Pete Creek. Both offer private, shady sites, but Whitetail's riverside setting makes it the most desirable. Longtime campground host Joe White keeps everybody honest, which we appreciated when some Washington bikers tried to muscle in on our choice river-bank site.
Highway 508 follows the Yaak Valley over the Purcell Mountains to Lake Koocanusa, one of the most remote, lightly traveled stretches of pavement in the Lower 48. An ideal route for cyclists looking to escape traffic, it's also a relaxing, scenic drive. Lingering snow typically keeps the route impassable until June.
If bad weather drenches your camp, just roll into town and order a cozy meal at the Dirty Shame Saloon or Yaak Tavern. You can't miss 'em as they're pretty much the only two buildings there. If Mother Nature throws a really violent tantrum, rent a rustic cabin at the Dirty Shame or hope for a vacancy at the well-appointed Yaak River Lodge, just a short way down the road.