Friday, August 16, 2013

2013 Idaho--Harriman State Park

Bend in the Henry's Fork of the Snake River at Harriman State Park, Idaho.
We have some friends that spend a great deal of time at Harriman State Park in Island Park, Idaho.  Until yesterday I had never been.  I had driven past the park my whole life (it used to be called the Railroad Ranch and wasn't created as a state park until 1977), but had never stopped.  When I was a kid, we were always in too big of a hurry, either going to the valley for school or going to West Yellowstone for the Playmill.  Since we moved back to the area, we were always going past it to get to Yellowstone.  Always, we said, "Someday we need to see what Harriman State Park is all about."  We have been talking about going there for several weeks and finally we decided that yesterday was someday.

I had a meeting up on campus until the early afternoon so that kind of negated a long trip so Yellowstone was out.  We decided we could check out Harriman since it is only about 45 minutes away.  We invited one of Garrett's friends to go with us, picked up some chicken and some snacks for a picnic and headed up to Harriman State Park.

The Harriman family were railroad barons during the industrial revolution.  They had their hand in developing the Union Pacific Railroad that serviced the west.  They also acquired quite a bit of land as a result, and created the Railroad Ranch as a vacation home.  The ranch was a working ranch, but in reality it was a hobby ranch for the family.

W Averell  Harriman was responsible for the creation of Sun Valley Resort in central Idaho, and he and his brother Roland donated the Railroad Ranch to the state of Idaho with the understanding that it would become a state park and a wildlife refuge.  The Harriman's had already begun work restoring the elk herd to Island Park and also working to attract other wildlife to the area.

Today, the park has about 16,000 acres and twenty miles of trails.  It boasts the largest flock of trumpeter swans in the world and is home to a large population of sandhill cranes.  In addition, hundreds of other bird species call Harriman State Park home.  Dozens of mammals also frequent the park.  We forgot our insect repellent and learned that billions of mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers also inhabit the park.  That is not enough to keep us away, rather we'll remember to bring the essentials next time.

We only walked along about ten percent of the trails yesterday, or rather two miles.  We took the Ranch Loop and headed back along the Henry's Fork of the Snake River.  Really we were trying to get a feel for the park and decide if we wanted to spend more time there in the future.  We decided we do.  We started the afternoon with a picnic and then took a short walk around the picnic area through an interpretive trail talking about the park and it's unique geology/ecology.

Chimene and the boys at the picnic.  Those aren't beer bottles, it's gourmet cream soda in brown bottles.  It's better that way

What the interpretive trail looked like.  There were about a half dozen of these kiosks along the trail.

Island in the bend of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River along the interpretive trail
The Ranch Loop Trail begins at the picnic area (most of the trails do) and heads through the main thoroughfare of the ranch.  About thirty of the old ranch buildings still stand and many of them contain shops during business hours and others can be rented for overnight accommodations.  Each of them had a sign telling the year the building was built and it's original purpose.  After that, the trail wound it's way along the river into the wilder areas of the park.

The trails were well marked along the way and there was a sign at each intersection with a map that showed where you were and where each fork in the trail went.  If you pay attention it should be virtually impossible to get lost at Harriman State Park.  We had decided earlier that we would do the Ranch Loop Trail because is was short and there was a good chance to see some wildlife along it.

We saw dozens of trumpeter swans in the distance and as the trail skirted the river we saw another nesting pair fairly close up.  Shortly after that, the trail cut over to Silver Lake and we went along the east shore trail.  We saw a family of swans along that part of the trail and I did spot and photograph a Parry's Mountain Gentian.  There weren't a lot of wildflowers in bloom on this trip.  I think if we had wanted to see the wildflowers here we would have needed to come in June or the first part of July.  We'll note that for next year.

We also learned that if we want to do a lot of bird watching or photographing we need a bigger lens for our camera.  It would be almost impossible to get close enough with the current lens to get any really good close pictures of the birds.  It's also best to see the birds and other animals early or late in the day.  There are a couple of yurts in the park that can be rented for $55.00 an evening and can sleep six.  We want to do that so we can rise with the sun and see the wildlife and photograph them.

Main thoroughfare of the historic ranch 

One of the ranch buildings

More of the ranch buildings

Ironic that the Railroad Ranch would have fenceposts made of railroad ties

The boys on the trail

Nesting trumpeter swans along the Henry's Fork

I just liked this picture

Second best picture of the day

Best picture of the day

Swan family.  This is why I need a bigger lens

Parry's Mountain Gentian
The last part of the Silver Lake Trail was closed because of deadfalls blocking the path, so we headed over to the river trail to make our way back to the parking area.  It was a beautiful mountain lake, idyllic even.  The trail along the river is where we encountered the irritating flies, chiggers and mosquitos.  With proper repellant it should not be an issue.  The trails we took were very scenic and there was something to see around every bend.  Chimene and I saw a sandhill crane fairly close up, but it flew away before the boys caught up to us.  They are very large birds.  They can stand between four and five feet tall with a six to seven foot wingspan.  Big birds.  It wouldn't hold still long enough for a photo, and even then I didn't have a big enough lens.  Christmas list...hint.

The Hot Chick on the trail

The old forest sentinel.  Just what I called it

An ancient ox-bow lake on the way to becoming a marsh

What the trail looked like for much of the way.  Shaded, serene, peaceful.

The trail along the river.  The mosquitos were really bad right here.

Another view of the river
When we got back to the car, we drove around the rest of the park for awhile, located the yurts because we wish to spend a night there in the future, and then took off across the dirt roads in the back of the park and connected to Antelope Flats Road.  When we got back to the highway, I drove back to Harriman to go walk across the Osborne Bridge.  Scratch another item off the bucket list.  The Osborne Bridge is an old railroad bridge that is one of my childhood landmarks for the road to Yellowstone.

The Osborne Bridge

River weeds around a rock in the river near the bridge

Sunset over the Henry's Fork from the bridge

On the bridge

The boys and me on the Osborne Bridge

One of the concrete pylons in the river, supporting the bridge.
When we drove out, we went past Swan Lake and there were several cars stopped.  I didn't think much of it until I noticed that they were Idaho and Montana cars.  Idahoans and Montanans don't stop for just anything because it's all around us here.  Then my sons shouted, "There's a moose!"  Sure enough there was a moose out in Swan Lake.  We stopped for a photo-shoot, of course.  Rhys and Garrett were more excited that they saw the moose before I did than they were at actually seeing a moose.

The moose at Swan Lake

More of the moose

Another picture of the moose.  A big lens would have been really good here

Sunset over Swan Lake
This was a worthwhile trip.  We want to spend a lot more time at Harriman to see what the other 90% of the park looks like.  If it is anything like the 10% we saw it will be time well spent.  We had a great time as a family and friends.  We'll go back here.

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