Back in 1983, Lyle Points’ pop, Vernon, started to worry about the elk on his land. These were wild animals. And in harsh winters, they were doing badly.
“No elk is going to starve on my place,” he declared.
Why not give them a bit of help?
So he started dragging bags of hay out, sometimes breaking trail through five feet of snow, to give the elk a bit more food when food was REALLY hard to find.
Thus began a family legacy which has now stretched to three generations.
These days, the public helps. For $20 (less for kids) you climb into a sleigh, sit on bales of hay and go out to the nearby woods where the herd of Rocky Mountain Elk are patiently waiting. They, meaning the elk, not Lyle, have worked out a system. They actually take turns, some coming to nibble the hay from right under your rump, others sitting a few yards away until the next sleigh comes along.
Sometimes, it’s three sleigh loads a day. Sometimes only one. Sometimes none. But they still don’t go hungry because, as Lyle explained, “This is just the appetizer. Later, I will go out with more bales, cut them into chunks and drop them in a line.”
Like crumbs on the floor.
This winter is the snowiest, the coldest, the harshest in 30 years. Food is even harder to find than normal. And there are the wolves.
“I figure giving the elk some extra food is an extra bit of help to survive,” Lyle explains. As it is, the herd is down to 180 elk from previous years when it could sometimes reach 300.
So, my friends and I climb into Lyle’s sleigh, pulled by his two handsome, coal black Percheron horses and head for the nearby woods. We sit on fresh bales of hay and it doesn’t take long for the elk to come over. It’s the cows (females) and young males with tiny antlers that nudge in. There ARE bulls, some with seven point antlers (yes, that’s a LARGE rack). But the bulls just sit back, keeping watch. Okay, it is truly a bit strange to have a large wild animal nibble eagerly at something your rump is resting on. You can actually feel them chew. And certainly hear them as they crunch.
There’s a temptation to reach out and pet their furry heads, maybe stroke the small antlers of “teenage” males. But don’t. Lyle has rules. You don’t touch. You don’t get up. You certainly don’t feed them snacks you brought for the kids.
Meanwhile, during the ride, Lyle talks about elk, about how they eat and digest in their four-part stomach, what they eat on their own (any plant they can find), how many bales he takes out a day (16 - 20) and how his family got into the elk feeding thing because, well, they couldn’t bear to see such beautiful animals suffer.
SNOWMOBILE TO HOT SPRINGS
Turns out, Idaho has the most usable hot springs in the entire US…130 springs are, as they say here, “soakable,” out of the state’s 340 hot springs.
Yes, it’s warm down there underground. The state apparently sits above a massive hot spot that fuels not only this but the springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park. So, locals have their pick from rustic pools that are run like swimming holes of the 1950s to private (sneak in spots) to elaborate places that have been visited for well over a century.
In winter, many folk just rent a snowmobile and thrash their way around...something that could be risky if you don’t know where you are going or how to get there. A new option is the guided snowmobile trek out of Brundage Mountain ski resort through Brundage Snowmobile Adventures.
Upon learning about Brundage, my friends Mark and Lisa and I sign up. We met our guide, Brad, and are outfitted in warm snowmobile jackets and bibs, plus helmets, then climb aboard 800 cc Skidoos (twice as powerful as anything I’ve been on before) and take off. That machine could climb vertical walls. It took a bit to figure out just how much gas to give it, but soon enough, we are motoring along, cutting into a forest thick with pine, firs and Tamaracks.
The light snow gave the landscape an ethereal glow, as if we were traveling through a Christmas card during the snowiest winter in 30 years.
The trail takes us up the local foothills, where we stop a bit at an overlook, then down, finally, to an old pioneer trail, Warren Wagon Road.
I get my machine up to 50 mph on the open stretch, but wonder what will happen if I bounce off. Mark, a fearless soul, gets his up to 65. And, 35 miles after leaving Brundage, we turn into Burgdorf Hot Springs.
This place is a legend, owned by a local family and operating since 1865. It’s rustic, but has just about anything you want. You can rent a cabin overnight for $40 per person, there’s a simple cafe for food and, of course, the hot spring.
In winter, the place really does look like a Hallmark scene. Rustic cabins are picturesquely scattered around the rolling property and in the middle is the spring ... actually a large, rectangular pool with gravel bottom, two smaller VERY hot pools, a simple cafe with a building to change into bathing suits off to the side. Inside the main building, caretaker Caroline Huntley chats about the springs’ history...how Fred Burgdorf built a simple hotel in the l800s and people would come by horseback to stay and soak.
In summer, you get here by car, but in winter the only way in is by snowmobile. You can buy a snack and pet the two resident (very friendly) dogs, then slide out of your travel duds and hit the water. The main pool is a soothing 100 degrees. The two small pools at the end hit a scalding 108 degrees or so. Good for maybe five minutes while you peer between window icicles at the snowy landscape.
As we make our way back to the resort, we experience one last adventure on the final stretch of road. Four skiers and a snowboarder freefall down the mountainside, cutting between trees through the thick powder and sliding onto the road directly ahead of us.
We wave as we speed past them to the lodge. That’s how it goes in Idaho.
Elk - http://www.hfpsleighrides.com. Call the 208-325-8783 number. It’s $20 for adults, less for children. This is strictly winter. You ride out on a sleigh, sitting on hay bales.
Snowmobile - Brundage Snowmobile Adventures - snowmobile bibs, jackets and helmets are provided but not gloves or boots. https://brundage.com/on-the-mountain/winter/snowmobile/
Burgdorf Hot Springs - http://www.burgdorfhotsprings.com. Open year round.
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