Keeping to the recent pattern, we drive south with the kids to camp at a place in the Owyhees I reconnoitered by motorcycle, stopping along the way to see the Owyhee Museum in Murphy.
“How many more miles?” voices from the back ask in turn, as if the answer will mean much to a six or thirteen-year-old.
“A thousand,” I answer.
“Noooo,” they moan.
“Must be something going on,” I say to Jessica when finally we turn off Highway 78 to the Murphy Museum. Cars are parked everywhere. We’re stopping for a short look inside with the kids before heading on to explore a neat place I saw last week.¹ I hope it gives some context to our trip.
Walking past food vendors to the museum entrance, we are greeted warmly by Ron from Boise.¹ We haven’t met in person but he recognizes us from the tale of Hunter’s last ride.² “You’re famous,” I tell Hunter but he doesn’t seem impressed.
“What’s going on?” I ask the lady behind the gift shop counter at the museum entrance.
“Oh, you don’t know?!” she says, surprised. “It’s Outpost Days. It’s always the first full weekend of June. There’s a lot of fun stuff going on — gold panning for the kids, a horny toad race tomorrow. You should check it out.”
“Neat, we will,” I promise. I guess we’ve lucked out.
In addition to the usual displays within the museum, old-timers are demonstrating a bit of the pioneer life. One is making socks, another in period dress is at the piano and another is weaving the seat of a wooden chair. A couple others seem to be on break.
“Those dolls are creepy,” Jessica suggests as we enter the final museum space.
“Come look at this phone,” Hunter says to me with some excitement. I thought he would be pulled into orbit around the gem and mineral display but today an old phone prevails.
The boys are eager to try gold panning but Hunter returns and says “they’re out of pans.” Instead he wants to let Thornton have a go at dunking him in a dunk booth.
“It’s really sandy where we’re going,” I offer. “Being wet wouldn’t work very well.”
“Awww,” he laments.
We are hit with a trinket tax on the way out. A pewter horny toad for Hunter’s friend Thornton, fake arrowheads for Hunter and jewelry for Brenna. I look through the shelves for a book to identify Owyhee homesteads but come up empty so nothing for Jessica or I.
In spite of Hunter’s pleas to stay longer at Outpost Days, we load up and head down the highway, off through Oreana and up the waterless Birch Creek.
After the kids have run around a bit we let them vote. “We can either stay here for the night,” I offer, “or drive into the mountains.”
“It’s not what I really like for camping,” Jessica comments, “but the kids are having fun.”
“Stay here!” they agree.
Although sandy, it’s not like the beach. The grains are large and dry. It doesn’t stick to anything. Jessica and I set up the tent and fire area while the kids continue exploring.
The borders of Birch Creek are here weathered into whimsical hollows and pillars, like pulled taffy — which is how I remember the technical name for these formations: tafoni. I expected the tafoni would make excellent homes for Brenna’s entourage of My Little Ponies.
Jessica, as usual, is right there climbing with the kids.
“What’s that?” Brenna asks, pointing at a phallic charcoal tracing among names left on the sand wall.
“A weiner,” I answer.
“Eww,” she says. “Why did somebody draw that?”
“I don’t know,” I answer. “Some boys just like to, I guess.”
The kids lead us up the tributary in search of lizards they might enter in tomorrow’s horny toad race at the Murphy Museum.
I sometimes feel burdened to acknowledge our life isn’t just the pretty pictures and poignant moments you might see here. But I guess everyone knows that like they know their own lives.
The kids were excited and impatient on the drive here, as kids are. Requests to “please keep your hands to yourself” had little effect. After an hour, Jessica and I were frazzled.
In such moments, behaviors seem to take on lifelong significance. These kids are screwed if we can’t help them control themselves! Or worse, we feel adversarial and our responses become more vindictive than instructive. You’re ruining it for everyone!
I like to cast myself as a thinker, contemplative, but there are plenty of occasions when I hear cruel thoughts in my head and I just want the kids to shut up. It makes me cringe when I’m credited with being a good dad based on pictures.
Using Hunter’s hat, the kids manage to catch a lizard like none I’ve seen before, large with blue tinged scales. It isn’t a horny toad and definitely not a skink this time.¹ It’s shaped more like one we saw at Sinker Creek.² Perhaps it’s a western fence lizard.
Hunter and Thornton are pretty sure they’ll sleep out in the open somewhere. They’re debating which sandstone hollow will suit them best.
Jessica claims to have seen “a big rabbit with scary ears” but we have to be skeptical since it appeared to no one else.
I take a few minutes to walk around with the tripod while the others settle in around the fire as the day comes to a close.
As it grows dark, the boys change their minds. They’ll sleep with us in the tent. The sky seems clear enough so we leave the rain fly off. We comment on constellations as we drift to sleep, one by one.
It seems well into morning when we wake up. I guess we slept well.
“You wanna get the fire going, Hunter?” I ask. He gets some grass and twigs started then plops on a log.
“I don’t think that will burn until you have more coals,” I suggest while moving the log and adding sticks. Hunter and I clearly need to have more fires. For education.
We break camp then head toward the Browns Creek slot canyon for a last bit of sightseeing before going home.
“Do you want to drive?” I ask Brenna while we’re still on the Birch Creek sand.
“Yeah,” she answers hesitantly, not sure I’m serious. I stop and she comes around and sits on my lap. We intentionally follow the most off-camber lines.
“This is so cool,” she giggles.
“I want to drive,” Hunter says, understandably.
“I think you’re too tall to sit on my lap,” I answer, “but not tall enough to reach the pedals.”
“I can reach the pedals,” he insists. “Can I drive on the road?”
“Well no,” I say, “but if we get to another safe place like this, you can drive.”
Brenna returns to her seat at Oreana Loop Road and I let the GPS direct us to four-wheel-drive trail C700.
The trail is rough, often ambiguous. In several places it seems more like an ATV track and along one knife ridge, it seems little more than a walking trail. It’s marked for four-wheel-drive but apparently doesn’t get a lot of traffic. It makes me think of the woman who died this spring when her boyfriend rolled their Blazer off some ridge out here.¹ It’s fun to drive but doing so safely is my top concern.
Hunter and Brenna are back to pestering each other. So far they’ve ignored all requests to calm down but they take me more seriously when I insist, “you need to be quiet while I drive through this section.”
We reach the Browns Creek overlook with hopes the kids will run around and burn most their energy. Jessica watches while the boys throw rocks and Brenna and I test our echoes.
“Goodbye for the season,” I tell the Owyhees as we drive away. It will be hot and dry for months now. We are fortunate to live where it’s just as easy to get into Idaho’s biggest mountains, where snow will linger for another month. I’m already excited to camp again.