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Sulfur Creek Ranch - Click for fullsizeSulfur (or Sulphur) Creek Ranch

N44 - 32.19 / W115 - 21.06

30 miles E. of Cascade, Idaho

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We had stopped in at this ranch for breakfast during a previous airplane camping trip and planned to come back for an overnight stay, so when our friends Dave & Christina mentioned they would enjoy such a weekend, we were ready.  As they are still paying members of the working class, we could only make it a three-day weekend jaunt.  Skypark neighbors Doug & Beth also pre-positioned themselves to join us, flying their Bonanza to Cascade, ID, the night before and checking into a motel.

The ranch is about 550 NM from our home base, so we launched promptly at 06:00 on June 19th (2004) and cruised our way across the never-never land of central Nevada to Battle Mountain for a fuel & comfort stop.  Battle Mountain is right on our straight-line course and Harless Aviation has an old but serviceable courtesy car which we borrowed for a run into town and a 9 AM-ish breakfast.  Following this we climbed northward across the Snake River Valley and entered the beautiful mountains of central Idaho, still snow-capped in late June.

Located in a canyon down which Sulfur Creek winds on its way to join the Middle Fork of the Salmon, Sulfur Creek Ranch is actually within the River of No Return Wilderness, meaning there are is no road access and all supplies must be either packed or flown in.  Constructed using native log timber in the late 1940's, the ranch centers on a lodge or great house containing the kitchen, dining and lounging facilities plus quarters for several of the staff of four.  Guests are housed in  single & double cabins strung out downhill from the main lodge.  The 3100 foot airstrip is well maintained, but is gravel, fairly narrow, and may be a bit rough for delicate aircraft (Doug & Beth left their Bonanza 30 miles west in Cascade and we ferried them in and out in the C-182).

A mere $65 per person per night buys meals plus lodging (2004 price).  The guest cabins are quite comfortable and each unit has bath with hot shower and either a wood stove or electric heater to keep the night chill off.  Each sleeps four or more in single beds which can be pulled together if you prefer more sociable sleeping (most hunters probably don't).  Each bed has an electric blanket, keeping you toasty warm and leading into the next subject.

Being desert dwellers, we tend to find the amount of water available in the Idaho mountains to be almost surreal.  The ranch boasts 24-hour electricity courtesy of a spring-fed stream which drops down a canyon behind the main lodge.  Tapped by a pipeline extending back up the streambed, water at 150psi is delivered to a water turbine driving a 40KW generator.  Taps off this line supply domestic water and sprinklers which keep the lawns green, with the remainder channeled to a pair of ponds which support catch-and-release fishing for those so inclined (no license needed, bring your own gear).  The $200+ monthly water bills I pay to keep my lawn alive during summer...if there were just some way....

During late summer and fall, the ranch caters primarily to elk and deer hunters.  During the early season when we were there, the primary activities were relaxing, jawboning, eating, wandering the trails and horseback riding.  You can arrange any sort of riding trip you wish, from a few hours to all-day with lunch or even overnighters further into the hills.  Riding is not covered by your $65/day lodging & meals charge, figure $120 and up.

Family style meals are served in the lodge and food is basic but plentiful.  Hearty breakfasts are a tradition and many mornings aircraft arrive from surrounding locations bringing extra mouths to join in.  Our dinners were probably typical; spaghetti with meat sauce and salad one night, pot roast, mashed potatoes & gravy plus green beans the next, both followed by homemade dessert.  Coffee, iced tea and Tang-type juices are served and kept available in the lodge during the day.

Speaking of drinks, when we previously dropped in for breakfast I had noted a bar setup in the main lodge, but failed to discover it was non-functional in a commercial sense.  In other words, if you want soft drinks, beer, wine or hard liquor during your stay, you must bring your own!  Being responsible for this oversight, I caught a bit of flack.

In spite of this faux pas on my part, the weekend went very well.  Weather was great with just a couple of brief showers during the evening hours, and everyone got to unwind, socialize and enjoy the spectacular scenery.  Dani, emboldened by a successful trail ride in Baja a few weeks back, reprised her success with a couple of hours downstream and back on Pepper.  Dave brought along a QRP (low power) Ham radio rig, strung an antenna in the trees and was able to do some limited communicating.  I got in some more mountain flying.  We shall return, bringing drinks and a better antenna rig (or power amp?) next time!

A few points to remember:

  • Personal check is the preferred payment method, credit cards are assessed a surcharge.
  • Bring any desired soft drinks and/or alcoholic beverages with you!  None are available at the Ranch.
  • There are "usually" vacancies but it is best to call  to verify they are not fully booked.   Season is June through first week in November.
  • Only emergency communications are available from the Ranch.  If you think you need to be on-call at all times, bring a sat-phone!
  • For the pilot, bear in mind that the Ranch is at 5800 feet and density altitude can rise toward 8000 feet on a warm afternoon.  Also, the strip is one-way, landing up-canyon to the west (26)and departing down-canyon to the east (08).  I wouldn't want to try a late go-around, even in the do-anything C-182.  The airport identifier is ID74, if not in your database you can enter it as a 'user waypoint' at 44-32.19 North, 115-21.06 West.