Tag Archives: Idaho

Invitation: A View West | Photography Exhibit March 4

The ad Johnston Architects created for the exhibit opening.

This winter I was offered the opportunity to exhibit photographs of my travels throughout the American West. Now, after a couple months of selecting, editing, printing and framing, the show is coming to life.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there:

Open Invitation: A View West
Featuring landscape photography by Jonna Bell

Opening: Friday, March 4 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Exhibit: February 25 through March 25
Johnston Architects, Seattle (map)

View Featured Images

The American West has long sparked our collective imagination. Its expansive landscapes take many forms, frequently succumbing to human presence but resisting occupation. It captivates our senses and defies our comprehension.

The following photographs offer viewpoints of a range of natural forms that endure – rolling prairie hills, a distant mountain range, a frenetic tide – and humble our repeated efforts to intervene. And yet, we persist in engaging. Fields are plowed to the shape of rolling loam, a season of speed waits for water to dissipate, a boardwalk leads to primitive hot springs, a fishing village becomes the backdrop for winter’s churn.

Despite our repeated efforts to negotiate with the land, it persists at setting its own terms… All the while tempting us with an infinite horizon.

In preparing, my respect for those who exhibit regularly has grown significantly. Special thank yous for my exhibit go to:

Mom “Cat” Bell
Anna Bell
Jody Jahn
Richard Beall
David Blair
Stan Laegreid
Sean Watson
Brian Greller
Min Cho
Wyn Bielaska


On the Road: What’s in a Name? Pt 3

This post is part 3 of 3, continued from On the Road: What’s in a Name? Pt 2

A Road

Seeing their peaceful submission slip away in the three days following the attacks, the Nez Perce retreated from the Camas Prairie south to White Bird Canyon and the village. Now a small town at the base of the White Bird Grade, White Bird has a population that rises and falls near the number 100. The town itself is retired under an expansive canyon bridge that hurdles air-conditioned travelers to their desired destination and is just shy of occupying 0.1 miles.

The Old Whitebird Grade winds into White Bird, Idaho across the Whitebird Battlefield, bringing with it Yellow Wolf Road.

In June the canyon of White Bird is just beginning to see the heat of the coming summer. The crickets bellow their lungs and scratch their knees, trees hide in the streams of spring rain and snakes run their bellies across the black rock. Dewy eyes and velvet noses of a rancher’s cattle search for food by the roadside grave of an army calvarymen. We wind down the hairpin turns of the old grade, past the rolling hills of the canyon. Two days from our arrival the White Bird Battlefield, which has its own history, celebrates its 133rd anniversary but we’re more interested in the road signs that pin to narrow gravel lanes that square plots of land: Baker Gulch Road – named for James Baker, a rancher who was killed in the June attacks – and my favorite, Yellow Wolf Road.

Chief Yellow Wolf. Image from the U.S. Forest Service.

The story of Yellow Wolf is as easily known as the tales of his cousin, Chief Joseph so the street sign strikes my fancy for reasons of proportion. Less like a lottery and more like the painter’s wheel the more prominent players get the broader strokes – Chief White Bird was the area’s leader and so gets the town, the battlefield and later still the highway grade as his landmarks. The rest are left with subtle shading by way of street names or knolls such as the case with Yellow Wolf, a Nez Perce scout and then chief. What eludes me in this area, however, is a color for Toolhoolhoolzote which seems odd: Toolhoolhoolzote was considered the Nez Perce nation’s ‘war chief’, a role more influential it seems than Chief Joseph’s role of ‘administrative chief.’ But again, history has a way of writing itself like a sieve, the more compelling stories rest on the surface.  

What’s in a Name?

Curiosity about the entymology of names that give presence to the spaces around us, like a search for truth, plunges a curious mind into a Rubik’s Cube of fact and interpretation. Rather than sussing the truth, I think the adventure is better served by digging into the story and then simply acknowledging that one exists. That the land before you bore witness to a myriad acts of minutia before you alighted. Shortly after leaving the Camas Prairie to head for Hell’s Canyon I contacted my mother to clarify the location of the Nez Perce crossing from Grangeville into the White Bird canyons. We had assumed it was a place similar to the current highway, a seemingly natural path across a Mount Idaho saddle.  Instead, the traditional crossing was the Grangeville-Salmon road. A winding ascent from the edge of the prairie past the now dismantled town of Mount Idaho and into the forest on the edge of the Gospel Hump Wilderness a land of timber and cougars where teens now light bonfires on the service flats. A road that runs right past my former mailbox.


On the Road: What’s in a Name? Pt 2

This post is part 2 of 3, continued from On the Road: What’s in a Name? 

History 

In May of 1877 Nez Perce Chiefs Joseph, White Bird, Looking Glass and Toohoolhoolzote received orders to move onto the reservation designated by the Treaty of 1863 by the middle of June. The Nez Perce had already divided, some consenting to the 1863 agreements, moving their homes onto the grounds centered around Lapwai, and others holding to the tribal norms that no governing body could control an individual’s rights. The treaty had reduced the size of the tribe’s previous agreements with the United States by almost ninety percent – from 7 million acres to just under 800,000. In their place towns and farms sprung up overnight, each with their own hopes and dreams, competing with each other for the dollars of weary travelers and boasting the promise of the new frontier. 

A Town 

From the little town of Fenn to the saddle where it crests Mount Idaho, Hwy 95 makes a sweeping arc around Tolo Lake to include Grangeville, the county seat. If, while traveling legal speeds from Fenn to Grangeville, you happen to glance toward the hills, you might catch the town of Denver. 

Denver Cemetery Road

The intersection of Canyon Road and Denver Cemetery Road marks the way past or through the town of Denver, Idaho, now a field of black loam and wheat.

Located in the exact geographic center of the Camas Prairie, Denver was founded by investors from Moscow, Ida., Pullman, Wash. and the Camas Prairie. 

The investors purchased a total of 2,720 acres from Hon. L.P. Brown of the town of Mount Idaho, selecting 640 acres to be the townsite. In the book The Oregonian’s Handbook of the Pacific Northwest, a mass of information on Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana gathered by the newspaper The Oregonian, Denver is described:

 …it was a necessity, from a commercial standpoint, of a town at this point, that induced its location here. The syndicate, in choosing this point, located a young city that would be easy of access from all points and where it would naturally command the trade of a vast territory that, from its resources alone, must become thickly settled in the near future…The promoters of the new townsite claim that Denver is destined to become the metropolis and commercial center of the Panhandle of Idaho. 

It was hoped that Denver would replace the then county seat of Mount Idaho as “the metropolis and commercial center of the Panhandle of Idaho.” Research into Denver’s dates of creation and demise are unclear but by one account it existed as early as 1863 and as late as 1906. So by all accounts it was well established when the Nez Perce bands agreed to occupy the reservation. It’s hard to stand at the edge of a field and reconcile a town on the GPS with only a canvas of wheat and rape, absent the bustling streets of a metropolis that once claimed its own newspaper, The Denver Tribune, two hotels and a livery stable. Denver’s population reached a bustling 200 when it was just more than a year old. Now the postmaster delivers to addresses designated “rural route” and only a signpost, Denver Cemetery Road, remains. 

Tolo Lake, Camas Prairie, ID

Tolo Lake on the Camas Prairie. The town of Fenn, Idaho, population of around 40, sits about five miles in the distance.

A Lake 

In the twilight of the arrival of settlers and missionaries and left with little alternative, White Bird, Toohoolhoolzote, Joseph and Looking Glass agreed and began to make arrangements to move to the reservation. In early June 1877 a final gathering was organized between members of five non-treaty bands at a traditional camping ground on the Camas Prairie five miles from Grangeville and just eight miles from the reservation border: Tepahlewam or Tolo Lake. 

It was here that White Bird’s band held a tel-lik-leen a traditional, peaceful ceremony in which past triumphs were remembered in salute to a collective history. As night fell on June 14 three young men broke from the band to seek revenge for a father’s murder – a successful outburst that dominoed into more attacks on settlers in areas including Cottonwood, now a town, originally a halfway house, and Grangeville. Of the tel-lik-leen and what caused the men to seek revenge West writes: 

Whatever inspired it, this tel-lik-leen provided the spark that set loose the greatest modern crisis of the Nez Perce people…At some point on the circuit, something happened. By one account, their horse stepped on some drying camas roots; by another, they frightened a child. Someone then taunted Shore Crossing and his honored place in the ceremonial (tel-lik-leen) train: “If you’re so brave, why don’t you go kill the white man who killed your father?”…Overnight, Shore Crossing decided to right the imbalance.

The attacks continued for three days across the praire. Knowing they would soon meet the retaliation of the U.S. Army, the tribes abandoned their move and turned back to the canyon of White Bird’s village. 

Now infamous for its entombment of a resurrected woolly mammoth and a favorite of local fishermen, Tolo Lake is an unassuming spot on the prairie. A small blue watering hole easily overlooked within the vast fields of rape and alfalfa, barbwire fences and stock horses line the oiled gravel roads leading to the lake. The hum of 18-wheelers on Hwy 95 becomes a lull with the sound-offs of robins and ravens. 

Standing on the edge of the lake, placid to an empty sky one can almost see the grasses trampled by hundreds of horses. Looking north to the unhindered horizon it’s not hard to understand the heartbreak and tensions those assembled must have felt and their desire to create a ceremony around their loss. And it’s easy to imagine what the settlers saw and interpreted. Here the prairie is flat to the horizon, a rare place for a state as rugged as Idaho. Horses grazing three miles away can be seen by a standing man. Hundreds of Nez Perce gathered, performing a ritual ceremony that was, in fact, celebrating past battles, may have easily been interpreted as a cry for war. 

Up Next… “A Road, What’s in a Name?” 


On the Road: What’s in a Name?

Notes from the Road: Grangeville, ID – Before leaving on this road trip I was given a book entitled The Last Indian War by Elliott West. A non-fictional account of the year 1877, West reveals a pivotal time in U.S. history when American Indian nations were driven headlong into the unyielding power of the United States government. Specifically, he details the Nez Perce, the events leading to the Nez Perce War and finally the land that resolved to be the tribe’s homeland, the state of Idaho.

Map of Nez Perce War

Map of Nez Perce War. Click to see full size. http://www.nps.gov

Seizing an opportunity to find out more about the landscape on which our teenage years alighted we took West’s book and a knack for asking questions and planned our first leg to follow the Idaho panhandle across the now finite boundaries of the Nez Perce reservation. This path would take us to our hometown of Grangeville 17 miles outside the Nez Perce borders. There we would cross the Camas Prairie, its purple flowers and retired trestles patched with fields of young wheat and furrows of black loam, and follow Hwy 95 to the canyons of the White Bird Battlefield, home to the battle that launched the Nez Perce War.

Deciding on a Story

With West’s book as companion, we decided to skip the 38 historic Nez Perce landmarks in lieu of elsewhere revelations. We were more concerned about Tolo Lake, Yellow Wolf Road, the town of Denver and others. Places where stories embodied the minutia left off the historical markers or out of the mainstream history books due to simple limitations of space and time. In his book, West writes:

Segmenting time, or periodization, is something we have to do if we want to organize the past and give it meaning. But it’s dangerous. By choosing some dominating event and saying that its period starts here and ends there, we run the risk of neglecting other events that don’t fit well into the scheme we’ve created, and that in turn risks distorting our view of how events have worked and built on each other to make the America we have come to know… History is not the same, no matter how you slice it.

I was very aware that even by reading West’s book, centered on 1877, I was in effect “slicing history.” But that’s a risk I was willing to take. It’s easy to know you live near a battlefield when the road to a favorite beach is impregnated with historical markers. Like some giant historical painter’s wheel or even an epic lottery, smaller stories lend their names to sign posts on gravel roads and prairie knolls by edict of the historical society or the simple weight of history.

And these were what we were after.

Up next… “History, a Town, a Lake”


Do: On the Road with a Childhood Friend

Earlier this spring I received an invitation to join one of my closest and oldest friends on a drive between my home and his. With no agenda other than to explore a loose route from metropolis to metropolis we interspersed detours wherever possible and settled on this weekend to pack bags and commence.

Our path from Seattle, WA to Surprise, a town in the suburbs of Scottsdale, AZ, carries us through Idaho, Nevada and Utah. On our first leg we’ll leave the far western coast of Washington and cross the border into Idaho where the Northwest transitions from Pacific to Inland. From there we’ll pass through an area rich with history that includes the Nez Perce tribe and Basque settlers. We’ll pass into Nevada on our second leg and soon travel east toward the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Utah border. Once in Utah we’ll wind our way through the western side of the state toward the hoodoos of Zion and Bryce National Parks, and finally slip into Arizona. Our most concrete destination is Sedona and we plan to spend at least three days exploring the town and surrounding landscape.

Between the two of us we hold a wealth of familiarity with these five states and will each have a chance to travel between shared stories, guide and guest. I’ll update the Vas-y Fille blog with our experiences but you can also tag along via Facebook and Twitter at the links below.

Vas-y!

Jonna

Vas-y Fille Facebook Page

Twitter/vasyfille


Know: Fourteen New National Monuments

Here at Vas-y Fille I’ve decided to mix things up by adding some “know” to the “do”. Because that’s what being curious ultimately boils down to right? Here’s some news that’s continued to catch my eye for some time: 14 potential new national monuments are in the works courtesy of the Obama Administration.

Despite the draft status of the list and its need for further, more serious review, it has managed to incite a backlash among conservatives; particularly the state of Utah in which two of the proposed national monuments are located. But the point here is not to argue politics. I did a little research on each of these to understand why they’ve been nominated. Here’s your chance to learn about these places and maybe put them on your list for summer adventures before the crowds descend.

The San Rafael Swell

The San Rafael Swell. Only one paved road crosses the approximately 600,000 acres. Source: Sanrafaelswell.org

San Rafael Swell, UT

Located in South-Central Utah, the swell is a 75 by 40 mile weather-worn outcropping of sandstone, shale and limestone. Surrounded by the canyons, gorges and mesas that make Utah famous for outlaws and painters the swell holds residence for eight rare plan species alongside ancient rock art.

The Northern Prairie, MT

Few opportunities exist to conserve invaluable grassland ecosystems and their native plant and animal life. If selected, the Northern Prairie would become more than 2.5 million acres of grassland that borders Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area and Grasslands National Park in Canada. The cross-boundary conservation would provide a new bison range and preserve habitat for endangered species like the sage grouse and black-footed ferret.

Northern Montana Prairie

In Montana, the greatest threat to native prairie has been conversion to cropland. Source: Nature.org

Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve, NM

Inhabited by the lesser prairie chicken (more than 30 percent of the population) and the sand dune lizard, the 58,000-acre preserve is a mecca of sand dunes and bluestern grasses. Placing the preserve in monument status is considered the best opportunity to avoid listing the lesser prairie chicken and the sand dune lizard as threatened or endangered.

Berryessa Snow Mountains, CA

In California, this region stretches from the lowlands of Putah Creek, through the remote areas of Cache Creek and up into Goat and Snow Mountains. Nearly 500,000 acres, it sits in the center of California’s inner Coast Ranges and is a prime corridor for migrations and habitats of an expansive list of wildlife. It’s also an unusually rich part of the California Floristic Province, considered by many to be a biological hotspot.
Heart of the Great Basin, NV
The Heart of the Great Basin centers on three mountain ranges that stand from 10,000 to 12,000 feet – the Monitor, the Toquima and the Toiyabe. Vast quantities of petroglyphs and stone artifacts allude to the area’s inhabitants almost 12,000 years ago. The region is also the center of climate change scientific research, notably in relation to the Great Basin Pika (read an article from the Journal of Biogeography on the Great Basin Pika). It includes alpine tundra, aspen groves, numerous rushing creeks and plays home to high desert sage grouse.
Otero Mesa, NM
Deep into southern New Mexico, the 1.2 million-acre mesa is a vast landscape of rolling hills covered with grasslands. Stuck in constant battle between environmental groups and oil and gas developers, the area is one of the largest intact grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert. Summertime monsoons turn the grasslands vivid greens making fall the ideal time to visit. It also plays host to more than 1,000 native wildlife spieces including the only genetically pure herd of pronghorn antelope in New Mexico. Unfortunatly much of the grasslands area has disappeared or reduced to small patches barely able to support native wildlife.
Northwest Sonoran Desert, AZ
West of Phoenix, the Sonoran Desert is largely remote and undeveloped, featuring potential for up to 500,000 acres of new wilderness. The existing Sonoran Desert National Monument protects 487,000 acres – the proposed new monument would protect additional desert to the West. Mostly broad, flat valleys with widely-scattered, small mountain ranges contribute to the landscape including the Pinacate volcanic field. Two visually dominant plants distinguish the Sonoran Desert from other North American deserts: Legume trees and columnar cacti.
OwyheeDesert

Volcanic rock, sagebrush and grass cover an arid region of canyons approximately 14,000 square miles.

Owyhee Desert, OR/NV

Named after the native Hawaiians who accompanied Donald McKenzie on his 1818 exploration into the Idaho, Oregon and Nevada region, the Idaho portion (Owyhee Canyonlands) was designated wilderness in 2009. The proposed monument status would extend protection into Oregon and Nevada. The Owyhee Desert is considered one of the most remote areas in the lower U.S. with natural arches, juniper covered mountains and ancient lava flows. Many of the branching forks of the Owyhee River are pursued by river runners from around the world. The region is also home to the world’s largest heard of California bighorn sheep.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, CA (expansion)
In 2000 the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was created to protect an extraordinarily diverse range of vegetation found in southwestern Oregon. Political constraints established the southern boundary at the California State line so it does not currently include the Klamath River tributaries. More than 50 inches of rain each year creates mountainous slopes forested with conifers – host to rare species such as the Northern Spotted Owl. The most accessible part of the existing monument is the Hyatt Lake area in Oregon.
Vermillion Basin, CO
LIke the Otero Mesa, the Vermillion Basin is also under threat of oil and gas development. Whitewater rivers flowing through petroglyph-filled canyons establish a critical migration corridor and wintering ground for big game. The petroglyphs feature bow hunting, religious figures, footprints and wildlife. One in particular rises over six feet high on a ledge 40 feet above the canyon floor. The region’s name comes from maze of sandstone cliffs and canyons that glow with red-orange rocks
Bodie Hills, CA
The town of Bodie, Calif. is one of the most famous ghost towns in the West. With a population that once reached 10,000 residents its weathered wood buildings are now preserved as part of Bodie State Historic Park. Valued for their mineral wealth, the surrounding hills are now saught for bird-watching and hiking. Uniquely, the establishment of Bodie Hills as a monument provides an opportunity to link both cultural tourism and ecotourism which would benefit the surrounding communities.  
San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands Scenic Byway is unique - its the only state byway that inclludes a marine highway. Source: ExperienceWa.com

San Juan Islands, WA

The San Juan Islands feature 750 islands located along the U.S. / Canada border create deep channels and reef-studded bays that are home to myriad marine species. They also support major migratory routes for Orcas. Currently, 83 of the islands are preserved as part of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge and many are off-limits to visitors. The San Juan Islands are part of the San Juan Archipelago split into two groups defined by national sovereignty – the San Juan Islands belong to the U.S. and the Gulf Islands belong to the Canadian province of British Columbia. The islands are part of the traditional area of the Central Coast Salish or Flathead Nation.

The Modoc Plateau, CA

Spanning close to three million acres of public land, the Modoc Plateau is tucked into California’s northeast corner and extends into Oregon and Nevada. The plateau is thought to have been formed nearly 25 million years ago and now supports several heards of wild horses. It features the Skedaddle Mountains which cover close to a half-million acres between California and Nevada. The California portion alone is considered the second largest area of unprotected wilderness in the state. Lava Bed National Monument sits at the Western edge of the plateau.
Cedar Mesa region, UT
Southwest of Blanding, Utah, the 410,000-acre area of Cedar Mesa sits just south of Natural Bridges National Monument. It also features an impressive 800-year-old ancestral Pueblan village one of thoughsands of prehistoric and historic sites from Paleo-Indian big game hunters to Mormon settlers. Edward Abbey afficionados will recognize the area as the setting for the unforgettable chase scene in The Monkey Wrench Gang.Creating a National Monument
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President of the United States to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments. Its purpose was to allow the president to quickly preserve public land without need to wait for legislation. The end goal is to protect all historic and prehistoric sites on U.S. federal lands.

 

 


Defining Vas-y Fille

Though there’s no experience that sources my desire for adventure, there is one that tells the source of the phrase vas-y fille or ‘go girl’.

It comes from a simple text of encouragement early one morning, from one best girlfriend to another, as I departed to document the harvest season on Idaho’s prairies. An annual trip since college, I travel each August to photograph the burning fields, the ubiquitous columbines and the rythmic towers of hay that become the sole purpose of the prairie’s community. But this time I was barely off crutches from a bouldering accident that left an ankle bruised and torn and a knee battered and twisted. And I would be on my own.

To myself I needed to prove that a part of me which previously spurred my speed in escape, my agility in adventure and my presence when standing would not be forced to now place governance over those very abilities. I had already spent two months fighting the mere existence of crutches and listening to my ankle specialist describe the ‘damage done’ while telling me it was the worst ankle injury he’d seen in his career. But worse, I’d always had the ability to get up and walk it off. And now I simply had to sit and weather.

And so I packed my camera, my cowgirl boots, my sleeping bag, my pillow and I departed. Always one to let someone know my destination status, I sent a quick text “on my way sister, see you Sunday” to one of my best girlfriends. And the response she delivered became a totem phrase that defines these stories, what I hope readers take from them and what life should be for any woman: Go girl.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.