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Fun, wonder, and home in Idaho

Surely, no one will debate that 2020 has reared its head to present obstacles and challenges to the travel industry. Personally, I experienced a few of them myself. A friend and I were in Tasmania in March when we received word that Virgin Australia had suspended returning flights to our home country, the United States. A few weeks later under the direction of the American Embassy, we were able to switch our departing airport, date, and airlines and make it back home safe and sound. Then in early June an 11 year old grandson and I were scheduled to tour New Orleans and then cruise to the Bahamas. COVID 19 abruptly cancelled those plans. So, back to the drawing board my grandson and I went to figure out just where we should go and what we should do. We thought about a road trip of the California coast but realized that many attractions would be closed due to the pandemic. Finally, we stumbled upon the ideal trip for us: river rafting the Salmon River in Idaho for three days and attaching five more days in McCall to be immersed in the fun, wonder, and lessons of this pristine area. Definitely, the adventure gave us all of this and even more. As a seasoned grandma, I want to leave a legacy to my children and grandchildren. What will they remember of me? How can travelling together strengthen this legacy? Fun, wonder, and notions of home shouted forth at every turn of our vacation.

We chose a family operated rafting company out of Riggins, Idaho, for our rafting adventure: Mountain River Outfitters. Eighteen rafters and six guides made up our group of two families, a grandpa and his six grandkids, my grandson and I, and passionate guides who seemed to know every ripple of the river. We journeyed downstream from just below Hells Canyon Dam. Our trip ended where the two deepest river gorges in North America join forces—the confluence of the Snake and Salmon Rivers in the heart of Hells Canyon. There, we hopped aboard a jet boat for a thrilling ride back to Pittsburg Landing and a shuttle van back to Riggins. (For more information, see

As far as fun goes, Mountain River Outfitters know how to deliver. Their popular oar boats allow the rafters to sit in the boat’s center while the guide does the work. If rafters wish to get into the action with the guide, the stern-mount paddle boats provide this choice. They are perfect for guests who want to experience the thrills of navigating the rapids as part of the crew. Every so often a rafter can “ride the bull,” placing himself front and center on the raft as if in charge and king of the rodeo. Inflatable kayaks and stand up paddle boards are the ticket when no rapid seems big enough to satisfy one’s appetite for adventure. And there’s ample time for jumping into the river to swim downstream and perhaps catch a rapid or two, plus tree logs to jump off into the refreshing water below. Fun doesn’t stop while on the river. It extends to campsites as well. Short hikes to ancient petroglyph writings astound one’s imagination, as if the people of at least the past 8,000 years left their messages to visitors of today. Time to catch a fish or two happens every day, much to the delight of the teens who took pride in their catch and release skills. Talent shows beckon the shyest of the group with campers sharing their abilities from singing and juggling to grasshopper eating. FUN became our acronym: Forever United in Nature.

The wonder aspect became apparent when my grandson, Evan, never spoke of Fortnite or zombies attacking innocent victims at the click of the mouse. No electronics readily leads to the wonders of nature and enjoying that miraculously rare jewel called “conversation.” Eagles inspected us from tree tops. Deer meandered on the cliffs, staring down at us in camp as we laughed together and relished our delicious meals. Vast sandy beaches provided campsites, with the guides setting up tents even before we arrived at our nighttime destinations. The weather in early August was perfect for sleeping outside the tent, gazing above at the canopy of a thousand stars, pointing out the Big Dipper, and thinking we just might catch a falling star or two. Gratefully, I noticed that my grandson’s affinity with the wonders of nature expanded to a wonder of life itself. As a grandmother, I looked on in awe, knowing that life is good.

Being embraced by the Salmon River readily encourages grandparents and folks alike to get a bit preachy. I grabbed hold of the journey of the salmon to sprinkle some thoughts to Evan about the importance of home. In fact, I hope a few tidbits remain with him as my legacy. The baby salmon will never meet its parents as mom dies soon after digging a nest with her tail, laying approximately 4,000 eggs, leaving them to be fertilized by the fish she has picked to be good ol’ dad, and covering them up for their protection. Dad too perishes near this spot where both he and mom had been born about 5-7 years before. Their decomposed bodies will provide nutrients to the water and their young buried in the riverbed. It’s a natural environment along the river to share with our descendants how much we love them, what efforts we would make for them, and that they often mean more to us than life itself.

The young salmon will spend its first few years in the fresh water of the river. They prepare themselves for the long journey to the ocean. Dams, predators, silt, and dirt present dangers to them. Nonetheless, they plunge ahead to the Pacific Ocean where their bodies adapt to salt water and they will struggle against bottlenose dolphins, whales, seals, and fishermen. Another year or two pass and those that survive will turn back to spawn at the birth sites. The long journey back home is far from a cake walk. Prey, bulldozing, bears, dams, and waterfalls attack them at every turn. But relentlessly, they head on toward home. They know innately that their home is good. Scientists believe they use the earth’s magnetic field like a compass to guide them to their destination. Their sense of smell is remarkable. If they wander into a tributary that is not the one of their birth, they recognize the error almost immediately and correct their path. I share with my grandson that I wish him to be salmon-like, accepting that life will be often hard and challenging and that he will take lessons learned from home in his efforts to best survive and thrive. I want him to know that if/when he loses his way, he is to quickly get back on the right path. I share with him my love that he can always return home, that it is a place of destiny. I hug him, and his hug back to me tells me that the trip is a success. This setting has provided a natural place for this bond and this legacy of love and home.

After our three days rafting the Salmon River, we drive an hour down to McCall for five more days filled with fun, wonder, and legacy. It’s a beautiful town along the Payette Lake. For fun, I would have to say that zip lining at Zip McCall won the prize. It’s about half an hour outside of town, part on a gravel road. The lines are adrenaline rushed, one at 55 mph with zillions of trees, dozens of deer, and probably a bear or two gazing up at the crazy folks above. For wonder, hiking in Brundage Mountain and Ponderosa State Park fill the bill with beautiful landscapes at every turn. Hikers are bound to see deer plucked in the middle of lily ponds and lightning-struck trees stretching like scarecrows to reach the clouds. Close competitors come from Ya-Hoo Corrals where we enjoyed a two hour trail ride of beautiful scenery, manageable horses and a delicious bar-b-cue dinner. More mellow but just as beautiful is the afternoon cruise of the lake with McCall Lake Cruises. Huckleberry pancakes melting over the plates are a favorite wonder from Pancake House, and Ice Cream Alley heaps the scoops a mile high to all who know the wait in line will be worth it. One day we drove down to Cascade for Kelly’s Whitewater Park. We rented tubes to hopefully float down a stretch of the Payette River. It was scary descending into the river, surviving the rocks and current, and not getting swept down the river to who knows where. At the end of our afternoon there, Evan hugged me and exclaimed, “I want to go home.” I hugged him back, knowing that “home” had a new meaning to us after our stint on The Salmon River.

Generally speaking, a vacation deserves high marks if it delivers a lot of fun. This trip surely did that. Even better is when a trip shouts of wonder at every turn. Idaho’s natural beauty astounds its visitors with its abundant scenery and wildlife. But when a grandma who simply adores her grandson can plant lessons about life, love, and home, then the vacation is a fisherman’s catch beyond compare.

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