Picking up the Slack

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Coeur d'Alene, ID to Spokane, WA
This morning we drove a few miles east of Coeur d'Alene to an area called Wolf Lodge Bay.  An inlet of Coeur d'Alene Lake, the bay is a popular wintering ground for bald eagles.  When sub-zero temperatures and deep snow invade Canada, the eagles who thrive there in summer have difficulty finding food and move south in search of better winter hunting grounds.  After kokanee salmon were introduced in Coeur d'Alene Lake in the 1930s, bald eagles knew a good thing when they saw it and moved in as annual winter guests. 

Taking about three years to mature, kokanee end their life cycle in November as females lay eggs and males fertilize the eggs.  After spawning, the fish die and float to the surface of the water, providing a generous source of a favorite food for the visiting eagles.

The local office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, an arm of the Department of Interior, maintains a weekly count of eagles sighted around Wolf Lodge Bay (pictured above) once the birds migrate into the area each fall.  Figures from the 2011 count make it clear that word spreads quickly among the eagles when the salmon begin to float.  During the week of November 22 last year, only 12 eagles were observed around the bay.  A month later, the salmon feast had been spread before them, and the number of eagles sighted had surged to 273.

Our hopes that the eagles might arrive a couple of weeks early this year were dashed when we arrived at the bay and found no salmon afloat and no hunters soaring above the water, nor perched in the trees nearby.  So what else could we do but search for a few letterboxes as a consolation prize.  We were seeking a series of five boxes planted along a forest service road near Wolf Lodge Bay.

The tranquility of a forest service road

Though the road was initially fairly clear, within a couple of miles, the slush and ice were growing thicker, and light snow was falling.  Believing discretion the better part of boxing, we settled for the two boxes we had found, left the forest road, and began to search for a place to hide the letterbox we brought to leave in Idaho.

We didn't have to go far.  The nearby Mineral Ridge nature trail, a BLM recreation site, proved to be an ideal location.  Not only does it offer an interesting environment with diverse, lush vegetation, the trail climbs up a hill opposite Wolf Lodge Bay, offering a spectacular view of the lake and any visiting eagles from the ridge.

Have any idea what's under that SPOR?  (Suspicious Pile Of Rocks)
Having completed our letterboxing activities in Idaho and with no other sightseeing locations targeted to visit on this narrow neck of the panhandle, we headed west toward Washington.  On the way, we couldn't resist a little additional letterboxing.  Since it was cold and alternately raining and snowing, we took turns "slack-boxing"—waiting in the car while someone else goes to find the letterbox and brings it to you.

The dummy method at work
Although searching in the snow can present some different kinds of challenges, we did discover an advantage to snowy ground today while looking for a box in Rathdrum, Idaho.  While Ken was slack-boxing, I was walking around a cemetery in search of a box that was supposed to be hidden at the base of a pine tree surrounded by a lilac hedge.  Finding no such combination in the small cemetery, I reverted to what we call the dummy method.  I just began examining the base of every pine tree in the area.  Since the snow was ankle deep, I had no difficulty remembering which trees I had already checked.  My footprints made it quite clear.  Alas, we never did find the box, but since we did learn a valuable lesson, all was not lost.

Entering Washington this afternoon, we checked off our 41st state that we've visited this year—seven more to go to complete the Great 48.  After we have visited those final 7—and found and planted letterboxes in each—our goal will still not be quite concluded.  There are five states further east that we have found letterboxes in this year but we still need to place one of our boxes in those states:  Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Since we've given ourselves until the end of the year to accomplish this goal (and we have all the letterboxes prepared and waiting in our car), we're pretty optimistic about getting it done.

  • Miles driven:  86
  • Letterboxes:  F 4, P 1
  • Weather:  32° to 42°, cloudy, rain, snow
  • States:  2 (ID, WA)
  • Eagles spotted:  0
  • Footprints left in the snow:  854