Signs on the Yaak River

After an evening watching the realty show ‘Mountain Men’, Shelley and I decided that we had to leave our home for the summer at Waitts Lake and find the area where Mountain Man Tom Oar calls home. The reality show is about five individuals who live off the land farming, trapping or hunting for a living or sustenance in primitive areas of Alaska, Montana and North Carolina. Tom Oar lives in a remote area of N.W. Montana called the Yaak Valley. The show portrays Tom trapping and killing animals for their fur or for food to make it through the heavy winters of Montana. The curiosity in me took over and Shelley and I headed north east through Washington, the panhandle of Idaho into Montana to get a look at the region. Our first 100 miles took us through the Washington towns of Usk and Newport before crossing the Pend Oreille River (pronounced Ponderay) into Idaho. Our trip on Highway 2 wound through Coeur D’Alene and picturesque Sandpoint. The highway headed north toward historical Bonners Ferry along the Kootenai River. Those of you who have never seen this part of the country should take the time. N.E. Washington, Idaho and N.W. Montana have numerous rivers and lakes that are breath taking. We reached Bonners Ferry in Idaho and stopped for lunch before proceeding to cross the Kootenai and head east into Montana. Bonners Ferry is named after a gentleman going to the gold fields in Canada. He could not continue due to high water and decided to build a ferry to cross the river. He received more gold and silver as passage on his ferry than he could ever have made in the goldfields. The bridge at Bonners Ferry is quite picturesque and makes a great entry into town.

Dirty Shame Saloon in the Yaak Valley

We continued our trip on Hwy 2 climbing the Purcell Mountain’s through the Idaho panhandle until we reached the Montana state line. We were quite surprised when we reached Hwy 508 expecting a graveled road instead we found a wide lane with posted speed limits of 70 MPH. The drive up the Yaak River road was absolutely gorgeous especially at a slow 35 MPH. A couple of locals passed I’m sure wondering why those two seniors in the white pickup were driving so slowly. We stopped at the Yaak River Falls for a photo opportunity before proceeding on to the Yaak Valley.

Looking down at the bridge crossing Lake Koocanusa near Rexford Montana

Looking down at the bridge crossing Lake Koocanusa near Rexford Montana

The History Channel portrays self-described ‘Mountain Men’ eking out an existence off the rugged lands of our county. There is no doubt the mountains surrounding the Yaak Valley are wild with grizzlies, wolves and other predators but remote never. The valley has two saloons named ‘Dirty Shame Saloon and the Yaak River Tavern plus a small mercantile store and post office. There are three roads leading out of the Yaak Valley to Libby and Eureka Montana where there are larger commercial enterprises. The winters in the Yaak are severe which makes great television. Our closeness to Lake Koocanusa led us to continue our journey toward Eureka. Before reaching the lake we made a short side trip to West Kootenai and an Amish community along the lake. It could be a story unto itself. Lake Koocanusa created by the damming of the wild Kootenai by a large dam at Libby was named by a local resident who won a naming the lake contest. She took the first three letters of the river ‘Koo’, added ‘can’ from Canada and USA calling it Koocanusa. The lake travels 160 miles from Libby to Canada. It is one of the top fishing and recreation sites in Montana and Canada. Our journey to Eureka continued through the small hamlet of Rexford which was relocated because of the rising waters of the lake. Our last stop was the town of Eureka and the Wilderness Club an upscale golfing and recreational development in the pines. The development is run by former Mesquite Recreation Director and Bulldog basketball coach Rich Bohne. My timing was bad as we arrived on Sunday morning so we could not hook up with Rich and his family. That will have to be done another day. The four hour trip back to Waitts Lake was uneventful. Keep on trucking and enjoy this beautiful country we live in.