An ‘Oh Wow!’ Weekend – Lolo Pass and Montana

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Have you ever revisited a spot and just been amazed at the beauty you missed (or forgot) the first time?

Last weekend was like that for us.  Two years ago (to the day) we attemped this same ride with our buddy Bill.  That time we encountered a massive storm and battled through the worst rain we’ve ever ridden in.  Although I remembered the Lolo Pass road fondly, for some reason I completely blocked out the beauty of the scenery (or maybe the rain washed it out of my brain?)

Friday evening we drove over to carpenter Nick’s place to see what he’s been up to – amazing changes there, new paint, flooring and other mods really make a difference!  We picked up cinderblock and mud so he could ride over to our place instead of driving and toting supplies.  Our intention was to use the 3 day weekend to finish the inside of the garage, but Nick had cedar delivered to his place and needed to use the time to build a fence.  So driving back home at 10:30pm we saw a 3-day weekend stretching before us with nothing to do.  Hmmm, ride??

Getting home I jumped on the computer, checked weather reports (very good), and looked for rooms (also promising). Waking up bright and early Saturday I called and booked rooms for Saturday night in Riggins Idaho and Sunday night in Stanley Idaho.  This would put us at a little over 400 miles each day.

The sun was shining and high temps were in the 80’s, perfect riding weather, although the furnace effect did warm things up through Oxbow reservoir, it cooled again as elevations increased on the road to Cambridge.

I did remember this road from our last trip – especially the tight twisty climb up the canyon side next to the reservoir – fun, but a little tense for me as I still have a bit of an issue with heights.

Scaling the Wall at Oxbow dam

By 6:30pm we were happy to pull into Riggins and find the Big Iron Motel.  This little spot offers motorcycle discounts, and the owners Scott and Rose have really worked hard to make this a nice place.  Comfortable beds, soft linen, nice pillows, and other amenities really shows the care and hard work they put in here.  Highly recommended!

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Our room at the Big Iron

The next morning we got an early start and headed down the road towards Grangeville and our turn onto Hwy 12 – Lolo Pass.  The road was damp in spots, showing that at some point overnight they’d had rain.  Glad we missed it!

Lolo Pass has the most amazing corners. Long, sweeping, banked, and no reduced radius endings. Some are so long and tight, I swear I’ll meet myself coming the other direction at the exit!  With every heaven there’s a hell – and this road’s bad side it the speed limit. 50mph is just stupid, and aggressively patrolled by a State cop whom we narrowly avoided by chance.

Breakfast of huckleberry pancakes at Lochsa Lodge and from here out we were in new territory we’d never ridden before.  At this point, the road leaves the river valley and raises up to meet Lolo Pass in all its rocky twisty glory.  A tiny bit of snow and a few gravel patches showed the winter didn’t let loose of this one until just a few weeks earlier.

Dropping down the other side, we landed in Montana. The road opened up to sweeping views of open farmland green with new crops and dotted with freshly born foals and calves.  The smell of sweet grass and lilac was nearly overpowering in some spots.

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Riding through old small towns made me wish for more time, museums and vintage buildings flew by though, with no time to stop and smell the roses.  At one point, a sign to Daly Mansion made my head turn in time to see a long shaded lane flanked by maple trees leading to a massive light pink-brick Georgian-style mansion.  The view was gone in an instant, but not before I added it to my mental list of ‘places to see when we have time’.

We did stop for a few minutes in the next town when I spied this old beauty

St. Marys Mission - Circa 1840s -  Stevensville Montana

St. Mary's Mission - Circa 1840's - Stevensville Montana

This quiet spot is still lovingly maintained by the Catholic parrish, and the attached cemetary added a sweet sadness with newly planted flags and flowers in readiness for Memorial day.

We continued on, following the Salmon river through red rock canyons and open valleys.  Such varied, ruggedly beautiful terrain here.

Hard to believe this was all one road, and the pictures were taken within 100 miles of each other – looks like we’re in three different states – well, four if you count the state of elation we’re feeling from being able to ride this!

I was a bit unsure of our Sunday night’s lodgings. Everything in Stanley was over $100 and the Salmon River Motel was $65. I’m always happy to get a deal, but then find myself wondering WHY it’s so cheap? Time would tell. Upon arrival, the motel appeared like a normal 1970’s cracker box, with cabins located to the side.  Opening the door to our room, we were pleasantly surprised to find a full kitchen, large space, two beds, and then sliding open the curtains brought the biggest surprise – the Salmon River, huge and full, racing by not 5 feet off the back deck!  This had to be the most beautiful view we’ve ever had from a motel room.

Million dollar view from our 65 dollar deck

Million dollar view from our 65 dollar deck

Waking up the next morning, we were on the road again early.  The view for the first few miles out of town was dominated by those imposing Sawtooth mountains, then began climbing into a heavily forrested area.  I was worried the road would get boring at this point – just trees and no view.  Boy, was I wrong! Soon we were climbing and negotiating 20mph switchbacks on a road that became increasingly more beautiful and technical.

Breathtaking vista on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway

Breathtaking vista on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway

Even dropping down into Boise the road treats you to views of Lucky Peak Lake surrounded by steep rock walls with beautiful blue water sparkling below.

We did our time on Hwy 84, then happily turned off at Vale for the final leg of our journey.  Arriving home in time to watch the Lakers get trounced, it was good to remove our sore butts from the saddle – 1300 miles in 3 days – definitely not a relaxing weekend, but totally worth the pain!