Monday, August 06, 2012

My Favorite 80-mile Stretch

My next route through my native State of Idaho will take me over 10 of that state’s 32 major mountain passes, but not through the very northeast tip of the Yellowstone-Teton nook where I was born and spent my early years on a ranch homesteaded by paternal grandparents and great-grandparents at the edge of the Targhee National Forest.

The quickest route across the 74 miles of Northern Idaho (less than the distance spanning the Piedmont along I-40 from Durham, NC, where I live, to Winston-Salem, NC) is on I-90 west beginning at Lookout Pass and punctuated by Fourth of July Pass before it drops the 11 miles down to the 75-mile Lake Coeur d’Alene, just 30 miles from I began in earnest my now-concluded career in community-destination marketing.

A great 35-mile detour on that route is north from either Wallace, Idaho to Fern Falls (depicted in this blog by a recent photo created by BYU Idaho professor Darren Clark) and about the same distance back down to intercept I 90 at Kingston.  That will add an extremely scenic 3 hours to the one hour trip.

My favorite route across the northern panhandle of Idaho (if you count the Clearwater route as north but not part of the panhandle) begins on US 2 at Libby, Montana, the hometown of Kelly Miller, a friend since Alaska days, who now heads the Tampa FL CVB after a lengthy stint in North Carolina where we also worked together when I formerly represented Durham and he represented Asheville.

The highway reaches Libby following its climb up from Kalispell and the northern end of Flathead Lake along an incredible contiguous stretch along the Lower, Middle and Upper Thompson Lakes. Libby is where its namesake dam creates the spectacular 90-mile Lake Koocanusa, approximately half in Montana and half in British Columbia.

The huge lake intercepts the glacier-fed Kootenai River about 35 miles from where it flows through Northern Idaho before returning to BC, then down into the Columbia before returning to fill the 133-mile Roosevelt Lake (sixth largest in America) near Colville, WA, from which hails another friend, former Durham Mayor Nick Tennyson.

This route through Northern Idaho beginning 35 miles northwest of Libby to Newport, WA is still only 80 miles but it will take an hour and then some time reconnecting from and to I-90.

The areas I mention are natural wonders but they also hide many secrets of unbridled resource exploitation, before the time when sustainability took form, including clear cutting and toxic tailings from mining silver and asbestos.

They are also representative of a time when America invested in infrastructure and balanced it with environmental concerns vs. the partisan, ideological gridlock holding America hostage today.

It may not be wide, and I am clearly biased, but the northern-most panhandle of Idaho is well worth an extensive visit.