Where the Road Ends
Idaho long ago emerged from the frontier; yet many of its roads can still be described as tortuous. And even when they appear to end, they may really only be beginning, taking us to places that still preserve that flavor of the frontier, and where—to paraphrase Robert Frost—the road less traveled can make all the difference.
The Outdoor Idaho crew explores some of Idaho's out-of-the-way places in this hour-long special. Our cameras discover a place called Paradise, high in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. We visit Bay View, a small town perched on the shores of 1,200-foot-deep Lake Pend Oreille. We venture into Big Creek, a community so remote that an airplane is the best way in.
In remote Owyhee County, the 150-year-old Joyce Ranch houses several generations. In eastern Idaho the restored Mormon ghost town of Chesterfield beckons to believers. Near central Idaho’s Sawtooth batholith, the community of Atlanta stands as a symbol of freedom in all its forms; and stately Castle Peak, one of Idaho’s most famous mountains, requires much effort, since no roads are allowed in wilderness.
Where the Road Ends
We explore some unique, out of the way places, where the road ends.
Atlanta is a safe place for those who don't want to live in the real world. From its founding, almost a century and a half ago, it has been a refuge for what could be, rather than what is. Confederate sympathizers unaware the South had lost the battle of Atlanta named it, and initially started its existence outside of reality.
Miners continued that tradition, spreading the infection of gold fever, but seldom was gold found as the fever continued to grow. In the 1960's, hippies and beatniks fled to Atlanta's lax rules and judgment-free attitude. This place at the end of road offered gays a retreat, nestled in the mountains where no one would harass them. And it gave artists who needed an escape from the boundaries of society a place to create. Where the road to Atlanta ends, the magnificent Sawtooth wilderness area begins, continuing a reality unbound by the society.
One of the roads to Idaho's largest lake, Lake Pend Oreille, ends at the town of Bayview. This small community is clustered along the waterfront, not far from Farragut state park, where thousands of sailors trained during World War Two. The Navy still has a presence in the area, using the deep lake for submarine exercises.
Today, Bayview is a center for sports fishing and boating. MacDonald's Hudson Bay resort has been at the hub of the activity for more than 50 years. Dozens of floating homes around the bay make this a unique community, at the end of the road.
Deep in the heart of central Idaho, the isolated community of Big Creek was once the sole province of miners, Forest Service personnel and eccentrics. Today, the hodgepodge collection of homes on the boundary of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness still remains a destination for those who want to get about as far away from city life in Idaho as possible.
We travel the rugged roads to Big Creek to talk with those who have thrived on its remoteness, including 100-year old Wilbur Wiles, who used to live in the area through the deep winters; Carrie Pitts, who "came alive" there; and Colleen Back and Bruce Parker, two pilots who forged a deep relationship over their mutual love for Big Creek.
Standing at 11,815 feet, Castle Peak is the tallest mountain in the White Clouds wilderness of central Idaho. There are higher peaks in Idaho, but none quite as significant in the history of wilderness as Castle Peak. It stands as a monument to the power of people coming together to defend the forests and lands of our state. Had no action been taken, this majestic peak would be a pile of rocks, and a road would cut through the forest to take gigantic truckloads of ore to market.
Today, it towers above the pristine wilderness where no roads are allowed. The only way to get to the mountain is on foot or horseback over 9 miles of trail that switchbacks up and over ridges, until finally reaching Chamberlain Basin, which lies along the western base of the peak. Outdoor Idaho travels to the end of the road and then to the end of the trail to summit Castle Peak in the Wild Clouds, a 2500 foot ascent over 1.2 miles.
In the southeast corner of Idaho, away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, lies the small community of Chesterfield. What makes Chesterfield a true end of the road story is the fact that it's not even a real town anymore. Settled by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800's, it was once a productive farming community at its peak in the 1920's, claiming about 700 people. Hard winters, drought, and the Great Depression eventually drove most of the people away to find work elsewhere.
Chesterfield stood deserted for decades until 1980 when a group of descendants got together and started to restore the buildings. Today the Mormon ghost town is on the National Register of Historic Places, with most of the structures completely renovated and on display for visitors.
This 150 year-old ranch is said to be the oldest family-owned ranch in Idaho. Matthew Joyce, an Irish immigrant, brought his small family to a valley south of Murphy to homestead. He soon realized there was money to be made by raising cattle to feed the miners at Silver City, just over the mountain.
Over the years family members bought up other homesteads in the area to increase the land holdings. Silver City is just a ghost town today, but the family ranch lives on. Taking the Nettleton name through marriage a few generations ago, the family now owns 11,000 acres at the end of road on the remote Owyhee Front of Southern Idaho.
Camping at the end of the road may not be for everyone, but when it's inside a wilderness area and your accommodations include a real bed and private chef, you might just be persuaded. It's called Glamping, or glamour camping, and it's catching on in Idaho. The camp we visit is run by Storm Creek Outfitters in the Selway - Bitterroot and Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Guests awaken to the aroma of coffee and fresh baked bread. After a hearty breakfast, they can take a trail ride, go fishing, hiking, or just relax until lunch. And then there's a social hour at 6:00 pm, followed by a gourmet dinner. Glamping harkens back to the days of the African Safari when wealthy, white hunters were pampered and catered to by the native people. It might not be what we imagine when we think of camping in the wilderness, but for some the extra comfort is worth the extra price.
Behind the Stories
The idea for this show occurred to me one day while looking at a map of Idaho. This particular map had several roads that seemed to abruptly end. Curious, I looked into why the roads ended. What I found seemed worthy of investigation, and voila, a show was born.
Why does the road end there? Who lives there? What do they do? Or maybe nobody lives there - maybe the road just ends. Why? These were all questions which begged for an answer, at least to this producer.
At first it seemed like a no-brainer to find enough roads in the state which ended with an interesting story to tell; but, as we soon learned, very few roads completely and finally end. Some of the places we found at the (supposed) end of the road seemed to have another way out, even if that just meant an old logging road through the forest that nobody used much.
We explore places where people survive independently from hospitals and law enforcement, strip malls and fast food, places like Big Creek, Chesterfield, Paradise, Elk City, Joyce Ranch, Bayview, Castle Peak, and Atlanta. This program shares the inspiring and heart-felt stories of Idahoans who choose to be closer to nature than civilization, and who truly enjoy life where the road ends.