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The Gearboat Chronicles

A Very Special Swimming Hole

Right down to the sugar in the bowl. That’s how I heard the trade described. Two Idaho ranches, one up by Indian Valley, the other along the Lower Salmon River. Furniture stayed where it was in both haciendas, which made perfect sense once I beheld the road to and fro the ranch on the Salmon. It’s considerable steep. Winding. I wouldn’t want to haul a kitchen table, bed frames and chairs up that thing in a wagon.

Doris Johnson was a youngster when her father made this ranch trade and she headed for an idyllic sweep of country miles out from McCall, Idaho, then through the mining town on Warren. Doris was cooking for the family and ranch crew by the time she was nine years old. Horsebacking it for miles to get the mail. Wintering in a canvas tent while the house was being built. Real Little House on the Prairie stuff, if the prairie was a river canyon.

Doris is one of the finest people I’ve crossed paths with. She’s not with us any more, and the occasion for me to see that lower Salmon country I’d heard her describe was a memorial service for Doris and her son, Donny. Their ashes were spread upstream of the ranch. And for a resting place, it’s hard to imagine a finer spot.

I’d heard of the swimming hole. It’s further upstream from the ranch. You walk through a gate, follow the path through pine trees. Climb a rocky rise and there it is on the left. Big, big pool. The water in this stretch of river is ultra clear, but this swimming hole pocket shows dark water from being so deep. I can see spending hours and days there. Kid or adult, it’s an attractive place to be.

And there’s no denying that many people share that impression. There are pictographs on rock walls marking the first people to spend time here. Terraced gardens from what I gather were Chinese settlers. Mining equipment left over from old-time and more recent gold seekers. Telephone wire strung through the trees. Barb wire here and there. An old burned-out cabin site. Foundation and chimney rock remnants. Tin roof panels.

But with all of this imprint on the land, it still comes across as unspoiled. Or did to me, anyway. Lots of folks would disagree with me on that. But I’ll sit tight with my definition that seeing evidence of other people being there just simply didn’t spoil it for me. It’s a special place. And I’m pretty sure most folks who’ve been there put their hands on their hips and looked around, soaked in the river, the sandy beach across the stream, the mature trees, the rocky outcrops, the goodness of the spot, and unless you’re a real hardcase you’d just have to breathe it in, nod to yourself and say, this is good.

So thanks, Jacey, for taking me there. And, Doris, thanks for telling me about it. A person couldn’t help but get attached to that place and I hope to go back sometime, spend a while in that meadow by the swimming hole.

This river travel we enjoy, I’d say it hangs on being around spots like this. I like that about guiding. Coming up to a bend in the river and being able to tell the folks in my raft that they’re going to like what they see in a minute here.

Just like Doris describing that swimming hole.