Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gravel Road in North Idaho

                                         Winter evening on prairie

                                                        January mud and snow melt on prairie

                                                                                                                                                                     Photos by Ralph Bartholdt

Wyoming Avenue heads west across the Rathdrum Prairie from Huetter Road minutes north of Coeur d'Alene. One of the few remaining gravel roads on the prairie, it passes through agricultural fields between the developments to the south at Post Falls and Hayden, and north at Rathdrum, Idaho.
Walkers, falconers and solitude seekers occasionally use the road that doesn't see much car or truck traffic.

Ralph Bartholdt

View map here:
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another touch of winter (Huetter Road)

Tractor along Huetter Road/Ralph Bartholdt

"Whose woods these are" (Huetter Road)/Ralph Bartholdt

Heading for another record of snow?

Streets, bare a day ago, were snow-filled again in Spirit Lake and throughout Idaho's Panhandle/Ralph Bartholdt

About 21 inches of snow usually accumulates in January outside the average interstate whistle stop in Idaho's Panhandle.
A lot more snow, usually measured in feet, piles at higher elevations and in places farther north and south from the city of Coeur d’Alene, which lies along a lake at 2,200 feet.
A half hour north of Coeur d’Alene, the community of Spirit Lake — at 2,600 feet — is in a snow belt and is known locally for its winter accumulation.
Yesterday, I drove my compact car down Spirit Lake’s streets as my studded tires made a crunching noise on the pavement.
Studded tires, all the rage around Thanksgiving and Christmas when the roads up here filled with slush, snow, ice and cars half in and half out of the ditch, weren’t needed today.
The streets were dry, the pavement gray as a roofing shingle and the only snow lay in big, frozen piles, dirty and scalded by a week’s worth of sun and rain, at intersections.
I cruised slowly.
The speed limit in town is 15 mph.
My tires sounded like boots sneaking down a trail of glass.
Sun lay flat in the yards, warmed the storefronts and when I drove down to the lake where Idaho Fish and Game added a super parking lot for the summer boaters, I watched people lounge on the dock as if summer beckoned and the long shadows of winter were a thing of the past.
Sorry Charlie.
We woke this morning to a dusting of snow, but Cliff Harris, the confounding variable among Idaho weathermen, was right again.
Snow, he had said.
Predictions, predictions.
Sure enough, there it was.
The new seasonal snowfall average for the last decade is close to 70 inches in the lake city, according to Harris, who predicts this season’s total will go over 90 inches.
So far this winter, we’ve seen a lot of blizzard-like storms that blanket the area in snow, which melts, leaving things bare for a while before another front moves in.
So far, we've had around 70 inches of snow this winter, more than we would normally get from November to June.
“This winter's final total should be near my predicted 92.4 inches in Coeur d'Alene,” Harris said. “But, if La Nina continues to strengthen in the Pacific and sunspot activity remains low, we could crack the century mark for the third time in four seasons.”
Time will tell.

Ralph Bartholdt

Sandpoint to St. Maries

 View of St. Joe Valley, a mile west of St. Maries, from surrounding hills in November/Ralph Bartholdt

I crossed the borders of dichotomy yesterday -- at least by North Idaho standards -- when I traveled to Sandpoint and St. Maries on the same day.
In our area, Sandpoint on the north shore of Pend Oreille Lake is the picture of progressive with its coffee shops, wine bars, galleries, car dealerships and aesthetic developments blending into the woods above Sand Creek. A flotilla of sailboats bobs in the harbor during summer and anglers still come from around the continent to catch the big rainbow trout the lake is known for.
Aside from places like Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint is one of the few destinations in the Panhandle where construction hasn't stopped. It has slowed down, a builder told me, but his business remains steady with a stream of orders for the custom homes he specializes in.
Two hours south, St. Maries, which is tucked into the St. Joe River valley not far from the river's confluence with Lake Coeur d'Alene is more retrospective.
The log trucks that once dumped loads of fir, cedar and pine into the river, so they could be wrapped into brails and pushed by tugboats to the mills at Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls are fewer than ever.
The town seems to shrug its shoulders at the fading timber industry and the resulting outward trickle of its populace. Not because it doesn't care, but more likely because it is hard pressed to offset both the job loss and industry's wane.
Two sawmills and a local trucking company are among the biggest employers in this town that boasts a handful of burger joints and a reputation for its place at the gateway to the St. Joe River Valley, an elk hunting and cutthroat trout fishing paradise relatively untapped.
I have lived in both communities and juggle them for their amenities: There is more for the visitor to do and see in Sandpoint, but when your doing and seeing longs to be replaced with some solitude and the rush of good trout water trumped only by an elk bugle in the hills, St. Maries is where you want to be.
After meeting with the publisher and editor at Keokee Press in Sandpoint -- a company known for high quality guidebooks and its well-tuned literary bent in everything from the magazine it publishes to the books it produces -- I sat in Marsha Meury's Mad Mike's Java Joint on Sandpoint's main drag with the sun in the windows and classical music in the sound system.
"What is that music?" I asked sipping an Americano she made from beans roasted in Sandpoint.
"Mozart, I think", she said.
Meury is a former school teacher and the music wasn't rock-a-billy. Although she has that as well.
We watched people trundle by on the sidewalk outside with Starbucks cups and a straw in their mouth, mulling why they didn't support a local business that served locally roasted Java in an environment that includes good gab, Wi-fi, music and wonderful art (My photographs are among the wall decor).
 "Starbucks...That's like from the far coast, right? Like, See-atle?"
Ninety miles south and a few hours later the roads heading into St. Maries wore a skin of ice, sun-melted for a while, but firming up again.
The sun was warm still in the afternoon, its rays flickering in the roadside trees.
I stopped at the Handi Corner cafe on Main Ave. across from the tire shop and talked with a friend about the economy.
Low interest rates, home prices holding steady, buyers and sellers both have an advantage in this market.
He shot a spike bull elk during the October elk season, he said.
I was flanked by a full moon on my way back to Coeur d'Alene.

Ralph Bartholdt

Here's the travel route:,+ID&daddr=47.53502,-116.51426+to:St+Maries,+ID&hl=en&geocode=FW6k4AId4IkN-SlBRf8tM9FjUzF7cenP6zRUqw%3BFaxT1QIdLCIO-SkvOzuPNbVhUzFad0k9Wl-gwQ%3BFSL30QIdREYN-Sm3cgcZGiRgUzHg-Bn7Ziluvg&mra=dpe&mrcr=0&mrsp=1&sz=8&via=1&sll=47.79565,-116.770325&sspn=1.61634,5.388794&ie=UTF8&z=8

Friday, January 14, 2011

Seeing wolves in North Idaho

Highway 41 south of Spirit Lake, Idaho/Ralph Bartholdt

Several years ago I saw a black wolf north of St. Maries, Idaho.
I contacted Idaho Fish and Game and a warden told me that a sighting there was likely.
A few years later, after several incidents of wolf predation and harassment of livestock in the area, a Fish and Game biologist said that the department considers any reported sightings of wolves in North Idaho as valid.
With around 1,000 wolves in the state including close to 100 confirmed packs since canis lupus was officially reintroduced into Idaho in the early 1990s, seeing a wolf in the Panhandle isn't that unusual.
Documented packs include one north of Coeur d'Alene near Blanchard, Idaho.
I wrote an article about wolves for NewWest a couple years ago. It includes interviews with several people on three sides of the aisle.
(View article here: )
Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Tony McDermott of Sagle calls the wolf issue in Idaho the most emotional and contentious issue he has dealt with.
A few weeks ago, as I drove south on Highway 41 from Spirit Lake toward Rathdrum in the early morning as snow fell quietly with little traffic on the road, a gray wolf crossed the highway in a beeline from east to west.
It was a sizeable and fit with a straight tail and a gait that said it wasn't in a hurry, but it wasn't dallying either.
It broke a snow bank on my left, crossed the road easily and slipped over a snowbank to my right disappearing into the young thickly-overgown forest.
I drove past the place where the wolf had been, slowing only to see its trail through the snow, before accelerating south.
The wolf, a Fish and Game official later told me, likely belonged to the Blanchard pack.
The snow kept falling eventually covering my tracks and the wolf's.
North Idaho is one of those places where nature is always near, from elk bedding at the foot of Fourth of July Pass, the eagles that seasonally flock to Wolf Lodge Bay, to wolves like the one that crossed the highway a few miles south of Spirit Lake.
What a place to live!

Ralph Bartholdt

Where I saw the wolf:,-116.868531&sspn=0.025229,0.0842&g=spirit+lake+idaho&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Idaho+41,+Spirit+Lake,+Idaho+83869&ll=47.953145,-116.868439&spn=0.201883,0.673599&z=11

Thursday, January 13, 2011

First property, first home and dream fulfilled

                                     Skis and sunset, Hells Gulch, Benewah County, North Idaho/Ralph Bartholdt

Everyone knows what they want.
I wanted a mountain, trees that opened into a meadow where I could watch the morning sun melt dew from  the grass and deer slipping into the field at dusk.
The mountain was for hiking, skiing in winter, and elk.
I am a hunter and having elk nearby was a big part of my ideal first property.
I wanted it rural, but not too far from a main road and I wanted colorful neighbors.
Everyone knows what they want, and having grown up in northern Minnesota, with long stints in Alaska and Montana, Idaho seemed a good place to settle, to raise kids, a field of hay and trees too - tamaracks, fir and pine on the southern slopes.
And that is what we got, my young family and I.
We settled in Benewah County in Idaho's Panhandle. The place was ideal, a short drive from the St. Joe River, North Idaho's premier blue-ribbon trout water, and the valley was world-renown for its elk hunting.
I found the place while driving around. I was a reporter for the local newspaper and the job took me on sojourns into the hills to chase stories and get a look at the place.
Prices were low back then, similar to what they are now, but interest rates bumped around the 7% mark, quite a bit higher than today.
I went looking, talking to landowners, and finally to real estate agents, but I knew what I wanted. I wanted a place on Hells Gulch at the foot of a mountain called Grassy, across the road from the Hughes Ranch where neighbors talked about cats that didn't eat kibble. The bobcats got into chicken coops here and mountain lions screamed in the stream bottoms at night.
The real estate agent we worked with knew what we wanted too. We told her. She was persistent, but it was almost a year later that she called to say, I think you got it, meaning the For Sale By Owner finally agreed to sell at a fair market price.
That's what Realtors do, help buyers get what they want at a price they can afford.
We still own the place. It has the same magic as it did then.
At night the sky is a blanket of stars over our hay field and timberlands. Sun busts across our field in summer ripening the Timothy hay.
Oh, and the neighbors are colorful too, like the surrounding forests in fall.
As a Realtor with Keller Williams in Coeur d'Alene, I understand dreams and would love to help you meet yours.

Ralph Bartholdt

View Map By Clicking Link:,+Saint+Maries,+ID&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=30.599615,86.220703&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Hells+Gulch+Rd,+St+Maries,+Idaho&ll=47.334053,-116.56713&spn=0.012768,0.0421&z=15