Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Crossing the Continental Divide via Montana, Idaho's Centennial Mountains

CENTENNIAL VALLEY, Montana -- I long wondered whether there is a route across the Centennial Mountains, a unique east-west-trending Continental Divide range that rises more than 3,000 feet above the valleys that flank it along the Idaho-Montana border.

My goal has been to cross from the Idaho side to connect with Montana's scenic Red Rock Pass Road (in the photo), in Centennial Valley. The valley is the locale of the beautiful Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

Recently, an adventure-motorcycling companion from St. Anthony, Idaho, showed me a legal motorcycle and ATV trail (apologies to those of you in SUVs and pickups) across the range. We were on motorcycles.

From St. Anthony, in Fremont County, we followed a network of small, high-desert roads north into Clark County, through the hamlet of Kilgore, and onward toward the mountains.

After following West Camas Creek Road (006 in Caribou-Targhee National Forest) for a few miles, we turned north onto Pete Creek Road (010). This appealing little dirt road took us several miles to a locked gate.

We rode around the gate, then followed a twisty, undulating forest trail that four-wheeled ATVs had made wide and smooth enough to suit me. It included one uneventful, minor downhill stream crossing (keep to the right).

The trail led us over Pete Creek Divide. After perhaps less than 2 miles from the gate (I didn't check my odometer), we popped out at the trail's northern portal, at Price-Peet Road.

This lovely, meandering little forest road of hard-packed dirt deadends farther up in the mountains, but we went left, and followed it down to Centennial Valley, past vista points that provided sweeping views north into southwestern Montana.

It brought us to Red Rock Pass Road, a beautiful little dirt-and-gravel east-west road that runs along the base of the Centennials between I-15 at the ghost town of Monida, and Idaho's Henrys (sic) Lake at U.S. 20.

How difficult is this trail?

We both were on 650cc motorcycles. His is a "barely street-legal" off-road-oriented Honda. Mine is a piggy, heavy Kawasaki KLR that wasn't made for mountain trails.

He is a highly skilled rider with 40-plus years' experience, and he made the crossing with ease, as he had in the past. I'm a noobie to motorcycling, and to that trail, and I'm definitely not a trail rider. Yet I rode it without a problem.

For me, it was challenge enough.

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