The Magruder Road Corridor (MRC) is a 101-mile gravel road through wilderness spanning the Idaho-Montana border. The road travels between the Selway-Bitterrot Wilderness in the north and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in the south. These two wilderness areas make up the largest block of land with no roads in the contiguous US. The actual road was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's. The MRC was created when the Central Idaho Wilderness Act was passed in 1980 creating the corridor through the two wilderness areas.
The MRC spans from Elk City, Idaho to Darby, Montana. Along the way there are numerous campgrounds, lookout towers and other waypoints. The real draw of traveling this road is the difficulty is high enough most people either can't drive it or won't want to. The road is one-lane most of the way with limited turn outs for passing. You need a high clearance vehicle with 4WD, a dirt- or mountain bike or OHV. The average speed is 12-15 miles per hour in a vehicle.
Fire season is here again. Rainy spring weather transitioned into beautiful summer days and then all of a sudden everything was crispy, smoky and the mountains disappeared behind a haze. Enjoying the outdoors during fire season can be tricky. Often the places you want to go are near a fire, or the air quality is bad enough medical professionals recommend people stay inside. However, Montana is a big place and there is usually somewhere you can go to escape the heat and smoke. Fire season is also the time when those enjoying the outdoors need to take extra precautions with fire safety.
Wildland Fires in Numbers
As of today for 2017, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, there have been 42,185 fires in the US covering 6,350,711 acres and we are just in August! Active wildfires are located in California (7 fires), Florida (1 fire), Idaho (3 fires), Montana (12 fires), Oregon (16 fires), Washington (5 fires), and Wyoming (1 fire). Of the 45 active fires only four are contained. 2016 had a total of 38,010 fires covering 3,954,866 acres. The costs of suppression in 2016 was almost $2 billion. I am assuming with the increase in fires during 2017 we will be way over the $2 billion mark by the end of the year. The cost is not just monetary; 2016 saw 15 wildland firefighter deaths. Keep these numbers in mind while camping this summer to keep yourself and others safe.
Planning your Trip
The first thing you should do when planning your camping trip during fire season is check to see if there are active fires in the area you want to travel including near roads or highways. InciWeb has lists of active fires by state, or you can see wildfires in map view on the US Wildfire Activity Web Map. If there is an active fire in the area you want to travel, change your plans. If you will be camping in public lands (National Parks, National Forests, BLM, State Parks, etc.) call the local agency office to find out if there are closures due to fires or fire restrictions and plan accordingly. Many times fire restrictions are simple including campfires restricted to designated fire rings and limited smoking, but sometimes camp stoves are restricted which could put a damper on any gourmet camp meals you had planned. If you do not follow these restrictions you could be fined or jailed so it is worth the effort to find out any relevant information.
Last month Jon and I, along with our pup Piper, needed to get from our home in Livingston, Montana to Boulder, Colorado for an event. Heading straight there we could do the drive in +9 hours, but the route travels through some uninspiring landscapes. We were able to get a few days off work to extend the trip. While we have explored many areas of the west, including the Pacific Northwest and Southwest, we somehow had missed most of Wyoming and Colorado.
Our route began in Livingston traveling south to Jackson, Wyoming on Highway 287, then Highway 20. We skipped traveling through Yellowstone National Park because we needed to make good time. Tourism in the summer keeps the park roads congested, but if you've never been there don't miss Yellowstone. It is one of the most amazing places in the west. Once we hit Jackson we continued heading south on Highway 191.
The first night we camped at Granite Creek just outside Jackson. Our timing was perfect to see the wildflowers and we were able to find a nice camp spot on the creek. If you continue up Granite Creek Road there is a developed hot spring called Granite Hot Springs. You can drive directly to the hot springs and there is camping within 1/2 mile. While we did not partake this time I will definitely be going back!
From Granite Creek we headed to the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area. The best way to experience this area is to go to Green River, Wyoming and head south on Highway 530. From this road there are many Forest Service roads accessing the reservoir which means free camping! We discovered many people set up their RVs and leave them for the week, so while it appeared to be crowded there were not a lot of people around in at least some areas. We camped right on the water which was warm and great to swim in. The air temperatures were peaking in the low 100s during the day so we were ready for some relief!