Lancaster farming. (Lancaster, Pa., etc.) 1955-current, September 04, 1993, Image 50

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    B2<Lancaster Farming, Saturday, September 4, 1993
Hells Canyon
Agriculture In An Unlikely Environment
York County Correspondent
“River time” they call it here.
Clocks become unimportant
when you live by river time. Days
begin early, with the rising of the
sun over the canyon’s Idaho rim,
and end in the fading light of a
pastel sunset sliding behind a
mountain meadow in the rugged
Oregon peaks.
There are no TV’s, no compu
ters, no meetings, no newspapers,
no malls, no interstate highways,
no telephones. There are only
mountains endless mountains
craggy, rocky cliffs that drop
hundreds of feet to the’ river
below, interspersed ’with steeply
sloping sweeps of grass and
shrubby trees.
And always, there is the river.
The river is the Snake, rising
out of the Tetons in Wyoming and
slicing its way north through some
of the Northwest’s most rugged
wilderness, to eventually join with
the majestic Columbia River.
Over the eons, the Snake has
carved out of ancient volcanic
deposits the deepest gorge in
North America Hells Canyon.
Hells Canyon National Recrea
tion Area is part of the Wallowa-
Whitman National Forest, more
than 650,000 acres of wilderness
in western Idaho and eastern Ore
gon. Terrain ranges from flat bars
of sandy soil deposits along the
Snake River to alpine meadows
reaching well over 8,000 feet high
in the Seven Devils Mountains.
Herds of elk, mule deer, cougar,
bobcats, rattlesnakes, and numer
ous small species are at home in
the Hells Canyon wilderness.
Birds and waterfowl of numerous
species follow the river on their
annual migration.
Because of its relative inacces
sibility, the isolation and primi
tiveness of Hells Canyon remains
much as it has been over the cen
turies. Only a few dirt roads
traverse the lower canyon’s nearly
100 miles-stretch, most of them
winding, steep and dangerous in
bad weather. Foot and horse trails
are narrow paths carved out along
the sheer rock and steep slopes
along the canyon walls and are
not-easily traveled.
Still, thousands of visitors each
year enjoy the unique beauty and
recreational opportunities of
Hell’s Canyon. And whether, they
raft the miles of white-water
rapids, bounce through them by
jetboats or hike through by trail,
most at least make a brief stop at
Kirkwood Historic Ranch.
Though it seems unlikely at
first introduction to the canyon,
what the visitors who stop on
Kirkwood Bar come to see is a tri
bute to agriculture.
The 10-acre Kirkwood Bar was
once home to a thriving ranch,
running up to 4,000 head of sheep
on this rugged and unfriendly ter
rain. In fact, about 100 families
homesteaded the canyon area in
the late 1800 s and early 1900 s,
carving out a nearly self-sufficient
lifestyle far removed from the rest
of the world. Nearly every one of
the numerous river bars, some an
acre or two, others much larger,
supported canyon agriculture. v
Though cattle were run by some
canyon ranches, sheep proved bet
ter adapted to the rugged f
environment W
Welcoming Hells Canyon A v*
tors to Kirkwood Historic Ranch j L
for the past two summers have W UAipV
been two former York cguntians,
Patricia Bupp Bacha and her bus-
band, Andrew Bacha. Patty
is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
Leroy Bupp, Seven Valleys, and
AJ. is the son of Mr. and Mrs.
Andrew Bacha, Red Lion. Both
are teaching graduates of the Uni
versity of Idaho, Moscow.
“I cried most of the way the first
time we walked to Kirkwood,"
laughs Patty in remembrance of
her first trip along the six-mile,
cliffside hike from the downrive.
trailhead at Pittsburg Landing.
Even the journey to the trailhead
itself is an adventure, an 18-mile
drive from the main highway,
along narrow gravel roads across
high, rugged mountains, with
steep, straight-down, dropoffs.
After making the hike in and
out several times in this second
summer, the former dairy farm
daughter casually relates that she
only saw one rattlesnake the last
time - and just went around it
During the grazing heydays of
Hells Canyon, flocks of sheep
were herded to the lush grass high
country of the mountains through
the summer months, to graze as
far away as Montana. Livestock
was brought back to winter in the
relatively mild, river-tempered
shelter of the canyon floor. Alfalfa
and grass hay was grown on the
Hat sandy bars, watered through
the summers’ 100-degree temper
atures with hand-dug ditch irriga
tion channels carrying gravity
flowed water from the Snake and
feeder creeks of high country
Kirkwood became the best
known of the canyon’s ranches,
made famous in the book HOME
Grace Jordan. Grace and Len Jor
dan spent the depression years,
1932 through 1943, in the
canyon’s isolation, raising three
children, improving the ranch
facilities and expanding their
flock to 3,000 head grazing
17,000 acres of rangeland. Jordan
spent much time away from the
ranch during the summer grazing
season, while his wife, family and
farmhands kept Kirkwood run
ning in his absence.
The ranch was sold in 1943
when the Jordans moved “out
side” the canyon, so their children
could attend public schools. Dur
ing their early school years, Grace
Jordan taught them with a Balti
more, Maryland, based correspon
dence school curriculum. Len Jor
dan later b'ecame politically
active, served as the governor of
Idaho for a term, then represented
Idaho as a Senator in Washington,
D.C. for more than 10 years.
Bud and Helen Wilson, who
purchased Kirkwood from the Jor
dans, increased the sheep flock to
4,800 head. Then, in 1973, the
United States Department of Agri
culture acquired the ranch for part
of a national recreation area.
While a few active ranches still
exist in the Hell’s Canyon, most of
Kirkwood remains today as it was
when the sheep grazing era ended.
The crumbling timber remains of
a large feeding bam and lambing
shed, the round, galvanized-metal
grain bins still intact, testify to the
riverbar’s thriving ranching years.
Old haying equipment, with
explanatory markers and pictures,
tells visitors how each piece was
used to farm Kirkwood’s alfalfa
' Water still tumbles down Kirk
wood Creek, which slices through
the center of the 10-acre bar, and
can be diverted into the irrigation
system canals by pulling a few
metal slides. And remnants of the
old stands of alfalfa still bloom,
enjoyed today by wide-eyed mule
deer with playful fawns by their
The administering U.S. Forest
Service has restored a former
bunkhouse, built while Kirkwood
was under Wilson ownership, by
ranchhand Dick Sterling. Named
in his memory, the long, low,
expertly-crafted structure is con
structed, of lodgepole pine.
“There were no nails used in the
sides or the roof,” relates AJ.
Bacha of the Sterling Museum
where he and Patty welcome visi
tors and tell them about the ranch
and canyon history. “Nails were
used only to fasten down roofing
Three display sections of the
museum focus on various aspects
of ranching and canyon history.
One includes various old imple
ments and tools of ranching, with
a numbered guessing-game for
visitors to match the artifacts to
their use.
“Usually a couple of our ranch
cats are curled up on the old
wooden wheelbarrow,” Patty
(Turn to Pagt B 3)
“HI! Wt jome to. irkwood,” Is how Patty and A.J. Bacha greet visitors to the his
toric sheep ranch on the Snake River In the Hells Canyon Wilderness. Ranch and
canyon artifacts are housed In the Sterling Cabin museum behind them.
The lodgepole pine-built Sterling Cabin, In the foreground, is a former bunkhouse
now converted for museum use to depict the agriculture and Indian history of Hell’s
Canyon and Kirkwood Historic Ranch. The Jordan House In the background serves
as a private residence for ranch hosts and Is on the National Historic Register.
•* ‘
Kirkwood Historic Ranch is located on a 10-acre river bar
80 miles upstream (south) on the Snake River from Lewis
town, Idaho. At the left of the upper bar are remains of the
sheep sheds and lambing pens. Alfalfa, Irrigated from Kirk
wood Creek which crosses the riverbar, was grown on the
lower portion of the ranch for winter hay needs.
t *•