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Fort Henry Historic Byway


By Bill Schiess

Two cow elk trailing two calves busted across the road in front of me as I traveled the Fort Henry Historical Byway on my way to Rexburg.  A short time later I spotted a Ruffed grouse sunning itself on an aspen log.

The scene of the Camas Meadows Battleground covers several acres with some of the original rifle pits are still visible.

These are just some of the sights one might observe as they travel the 81 miles of the Fort Henry Historical Byway from Elk Creek Station to Rexburg passing through Fremont, Clark and Madison Counties.

In 2006 the State of Idaho along with several federal agencies produced a guide to Idaho’s scenic, historical and back country byways.  Of the 27 identified in Idaho, six of them are in or near Island Park. 

The recommended time for the trip is two hours, but as one who loves to stop, hike, observe and enjoy the smells, sights and sounds of the outdoors, four hours was short.

Starting out at Elk Creek Station, located on Highway 20 in Island Park, I traveled west on A-2 Road toward Kilgore to begin the day trip.

Pavement is nice to drive on at 50 miles per hour, but speed takes you past most interesting things.  After stopping and backing up; whatever you thought was worth stopping to see is gone.  So poking along at 25 mph, caused some speeding through life to greet me with shouts and hand gestures.  My answer was to smile at them and take several diversions. 

Forest Road 046 is gated 2.9 from the A-2 Road.  By driving slow and taking two short hikes I observed the four elk, the ruffed grouse and numerous flowers and songbirds.  A dying fir tree mixed with quaking aspen, lodgepole pines and other spruce and firs along the banks of Willow Creek is home of many interest things.

Keg Springs Road was another side trip that delayed me.  With a four-wheel drive vehicle, this road will take you to the top of the Centennial Range and within hiking distance of Blair Lake.  ven with the recent rains, I made it far enough to observe three more elk, several Red-tailed hawks and a white-tailed deer.  Songbirds once again kept the woods ringing with their songs on another short hike.

Back on the “flying-by-life” road I flew past the historical Sheridan Ranch and Lake.

A few miles past Sheridan Lake is the scene of the Camas Meadow Battleground between the U.S. Calvary and the Nez Perce in 1877.  Here three soldiers were killed before the Nez Perce fled to Henrys Lake.  Metal figures of Indians on horseback decorate a ridge near where the battle took place.  A half-mile hike will take you to the actual battleground where rock “rifle circles” created by the cavalry can still be seen.

Entering the meadows around Kilgore, I observed two ravens chasing a golden eagle over the sagebrush and between to aspen groves.

One of the original rifle pits located at the Camas Meadows Battle ground where the Nez Perce Indians killed some of the U.S. Calvary in 1877.

Time for an ice cream cone at the Kilgore Store, called “The Mall” by the locals.  Four visitors were listening to two young campers with their dad were enjoying ice cream outside on the bench.  A woman frustrated because she could not get reception on her cell phone was complaining about getting back to Rexburg and civilization.

Heading back to the Red Road I passed an old homestead.  On a garage and a sign was encouragement to kill all wolves.  This is cattle and sheep country and no place for wayward canines chasing the livelihood.

Thundershowers on the high desert with gale force winds, sand, dust and rain spotting my window and put most of the animals and birds in hiding.  The trip down the Red Road was uneventful except for the occasional Northern Harrier or Short-eared owl hunting with their dives and swirls over the sage and bitter brush.

After crossing the Salem Bridge decorated by a dead Belted Kingfisher, I stopped at the plaque announcing the site of Fort Henry built by Andrew Henry and his men.

As I ended my journey I thought of Andrew Henry and his men slowly making their way along the many streams, of Chief Joseph and his band trying to escape the U.S. Calvary and of the origins of the stream names I had crossed.

I travel the route often, taking time for a picnic on one of the streams, take a couple of short hikes and drive slowly to enjoy the wildlife and the vistas of the Centennial Range.  Happy to travel both pavement and the 15 miles of the gravel road where most of the wildlife and flowers are seen.

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