On our 2005 Road trip we took a dirt road across the mountains from Conner MT. to Grangeville ID. There is no route number but it was one of the most interesting drives I had ever experienced. Here is a piece from my journal.
At the beginning of the road there was a ranger station and the road sign recommended that all vehicles check in first! We did and were told that there were 4 forest fires on the road yet the road was open as of now but we must be prepared for delays up to 24 hours. We had our camping gear and a cooler filled with food and drink so what the hell, we went for it! I am so happy we did I never experienced anything like that in my life. I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it again. We were about to have one of those lifetime experiences that etch themselves into your memory never to be forgotten.
This road was a 128 mile long dirt road and most of it we needed 4wd. we had a brand new 3 week old jeep liberty and we put it to good use! The beginning of the road was paved for about the first 10 miles. There were camping areas scattered all along this road until the road ended. Eventually we hit dirt part of the road as it narrowed and eventually became steep. Many hairpin turns often hugging the cliffs high above gulches, valleys and rivers. This was a road without any guard rails. At times it was freaky, reminded me like the Wylie Coyote cartoons. But every minute of every mile was worth the drive. I guess around 60 miles in we came upon a one tent campsite but no one was around. We passed by it and soon after had to stop to take a leak. When nature calls and there are no rest rooms you just have to make do with what you have. While stopped I picked up an interesting shaped rock for a souvenir. LOL My wife just finished pulling up her pants it the middle of the road when a quad bike comes around the corner. The guy who I assumed was a hunter waved as he rode past us. Here we were in the middle of nowhere and once we decided to take a leak we run into people. We started moving again and 2 more hunters on quad bikes ride by us. We saw a number of deer along the way as we went another 20 or so miles. Until we came upon a roadblock!
Remember this was a one-lane dirt road and even the quad bikes had difficulty getting by us. The road had an orange saw-horse in it with a sign telling us to blow the horn. I am sure that was not necessary as you could hear a vehicle approaching a mile way out there. We didn’t hear the quad bikes coming earlier so maybe it was necessary to sound our horn. Over in the distance was a tent and when we blew the horn a forest ranger exited his tent. He approached us while talking on his walkie talkie. He told us his crew was just ahead and making sure the road was clear of snags before we could pass on. I had no idea what he meant by “snags” so I asked. A snag is a fallen tree or rock slide that would block the road of travel. After a few minutes he said go ahead that his crew would meet us a few miles ahead. We continued on and reached the peak of the mountain.
We could see ahead from that view point and saw how the road ahead snakes its way up the next mountain that was engulfed in thick smoke! We could see flames yet we were miles away. We stopped for a few minutes to take some photos. Shortly after we continued on until we met up with a heavy duty duel rear wheeled forestry pick up truck. The guys got out and told us about the situation ahead. We were told it was safe to go on but we must follow them, not to stay to close but stay close enough to see the trucks tail lights because with the dust and smoke visibility would be difficult. He told us to close our windows not to use the air conditioner or to stop for any reason unless they did. He said we would feel strong heat at times from the left side of the road. Again we were told do not stop!
Off we went about 100 feet behind them and we were not even near the fire but visibility was poor. Dust kicked up from the back wheels of their truck and hung in a dense cloud over the road. At times we could not even see the truck we were behind as the dust was that thick. As abundant as the dust was the smoke at times was worse! Soon enough we got to the fire zone. It was incredible! Trees on both sides of the road were burning. With as little as 12 inches of space on the side of our vehicle it was alarming! The fire was not raging as most of the vegetation was already burned out. Still at times we were only a few feet from the flame of a burning tree. On hindsight I would never thought that it would be possible they would let us through something like this but they did. At one point we did reach a spot where the heat could be felt even with the windows closed. That was on a cliff edge where the raging fire was burning a hundred or more feet below. The smoke and heat just funneled up the side of the cliff. It felt as if we were like a tiny insect running across the edge of a smoking chimney top. We could feel the pressure push against us from the heat and smoke. The narrow road only added to the intense situation! Our adrenalin level was very high. That drive through the fire was more exciting than anything I ever experienced before.
This fire went on for miles as we followed the truck along this primitive road. Although the fire’s we passed from this point on were never as intense as what we just past. Eventually coming to a clearing with a wide section of road where another forestry truck was waiting for us. We were out of the fire but still close enough to have smoke around us. All you could smell was the fire! It looked as if they had a base camp set up there as it was a big clearing. Looking around we saw equipment and things covered in aluminum space blankets to protect them from fire, just incase the fire did pick up. We parked and while talking to the forest fighters who lead us through. We thanked them for the help.
They had told us the danger level was minimal and that we were safe at all times as long as we followed their instruction. They had a dozen of fire fighters scattered throughout the area just monitoring the fires. They monitor the fires in many ways but the most helpful to them is the infrared aerial photography they do twice a day. They can tell if the fire grows, spreads or dies out very easy. They were letting them burn as it was both good for the forest and posed no danger to any private homes or business. We were amazed at what we saw yet they treated it as routine. I was told that there were a few more fires we needed to go through but they were scattered and small and not as dangerous as what we had already been through. We thanked them again and followed the next truck through the next section of fires.
The dust was more a problem than the smoke and we eventually had no choice but to open the windows. Doing that was not a good idea as soon our vehicle and everything in it was covered in a thick blanket of dust. Soon we got to the next few sections of fire. These sections were not as active as the other as most of it was already burned out. Still on and off the fire sections were close to 20 miles long. Eventually we reached the end of the fires and were left to ourselves. After we passed all the excitement of fires we realized we hardly took any photos or video. Although we did capture some video we missed the most exciting parts. We were so overwhelmed by the exceptional experience we endured that we that we selfishly enjoyed the moment. I guess it was better to live the moment than record it. What we had experienced was so astonishing it will never be forgotten.