Shelter in Place

By Doug Tims
Semi-retired CEO of Maravia Corporation, owner of Maravia Rafts and Cascade River Gear. Phyllis retired as Dean of the College of Fine Arts and VP for the Arts at the University of Utah. The mentioned Merciless Eden is available HERE

    “Look, Phyllis, an airplane!” It was the first we had seen all day, highly unusual since we are on established air routes to and from Seattle, polar routes from west coast USA to Europe and the Middle East, and freight routes from the Far East to FedEx in Memphis.

    Yes, it is odd to be in the largest forested wilderness in the lower 48 states yet paying attention to air traffic overhead. Years ago I was giving a history talk here at Campbell’s Ferry to a group of boaters who had come up from the Main Salmon when I noticed a flight and commented to the group, “Aren’t you glad we are here and not up there.” To which one of the group replied, “If you want to know who it is get the FlightRadar24 app.”

    So I did. Our evening entertainment on the caretaker cabin terrace has always been watching the evening shadow of the canyon rim creep across the homestead. Now any plane sightings bring a check of my iPhone connected via satellite Internet and allow us to marvel at the global economy humming along overhead. Dubai, Paris, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, San Francisco…. and here we are in the Idaho wilderness watching the daily floor show of deer, elk, bear, fox, whistle pigs, birds and the rare sighting of a wolf or mountain lion.

    These days a contrail over Campbell’s Ferry is an oddity. In a shut down world economy the two of us have found the ultimate shelter in place location to wait out the Coronavirus threat. Getting here in the short or long term was not easy. Thankfully the governor’s shelter order included a provision for Idahoans to return home so my Idaho drivers license and Idaho plates made the trip up from Arizona and backcountry flight to Campbell’s Ferry possible.

    The Ferry, as we call it, has been the perfect answer to the question, “What do a pair of dedicated river runners who have been at it since childhood do when they retire?”

    As we chronicled in our book, Merciless Eden, I heard about this old homestead in 1990 when my friend Brad Janoush was doing appraisal work on the Polly Bemis place for The Trust for Public Land. The Trust owned Campbell’s Ferry and was looking for a conservation buyer to take it and do much needed preservation work. Thirty years later the six partners/owners have the 115-year-old historic cabin in shape to survive another 115 years. The cabin has a small museum that is part of a robust interpretive and educational program for river and trail travelers who want to stop to hear the stories of the pioneers who lived and died here. And the homestead has the water and power systems, living quarters and tools necessary to sustain caretakers to continue the work.

Peach and Cherry trees in bloom at the Ferry. - Doug Tims

    In a normal year we arrive late April and enjoy a couple of months of solitude before summer traffic on the Main brings visitors. On average two or three groups a day will hike up during river season, replaced by near solitude in the fall except for the occasional pack string headed to hunt elk in The Frank. Our most interesting visitors are the Idaho Centennial Trail hikers. About a dozen a year tackle the 900-mile trek from the Idaho/Nevada border to the Canadian border. Located at the halfway point where the trail crosses the Salmon, the Ferry serves as a resupply point and brief respite from the rigors of wilderness travel. They all have great stories and are thankful for the best outdoor shower on the planet, a few cold beers and a real meal.

    This year we arrived April 2nd and after a month of isolation we have only seen Walt Smith on his weekly airmail route from Cascade and two guys from Kooskia and Elk City looking for sheds. We don’t know when river life returns to normal, but recall how Frances Zaunmiller, a Ferry resident from 1940 to 1986, wrote, “Where the River Still Runs Downhill” at the end of columns she wrote for the Idaho County Free Press. The river still flows. Some day the river community will return. And the Ferry will still be here to greet them.

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