Sunday drive to Thorn Creek Butte

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”                 (Henry Miller)

With winter still yet to settle in, another Sunday has presented itself with opportunity for another daily adventure …. so, today I decide to drive the loop over Thorn Creek Butte with my sights fixed on the fire lookout tower that rests on top of it’s 7500ft peak.

Driving up Hwy 21 out of East Boise, I make my turn along the Atlanta/Middle Fork Road. The first site of significance is the old Arrowrock Dam. Being one of three, Arrowrock is a concrete arched structure built back in 1912, the project intentions were of flood control for the Boise Basin and improved irrigation for downstream farmers.

-Arrowrock Dam-


“Arrowrock Dam is a concrete arch dam on the Boise River, in the U.S. state of Idaho. It opened in 1915 and is located on the border between Boise County and Elmore County, upstream of the Lucky Peak Dam and reservoir. The spillway elevation for Arrowrock is 3,219 feet (981 m) above sea level and its primary purpose is to provide irrigation water for agriculture”

(Wikipedia, Arrowrock Dam)

-Pavement ends-



-Controlled flow-

… on display is an old retired gate valve ….



Once past the dam, the road winds precariously along the lakes edge before making the connection to Cotton Wood Rd …. at least once a year a vehicle plunges from the road to the water body below …. volcanic cliffs exposed along the opposite shore detail the geologic diversity of the area.


-Cotton Wood Road-


Cotton Wood Road continues north past the old Cotton Wood Ranger Station. It used to make the connection over Cotton Wood Summit to Hwy 21, but a number of years back a slide blocked the road with the USFS electing not to reopen to vehicle traffic. It does however remain passable by bike and ATV.

-Cotton Wood Ranger Station-


The road continuing up towards the ridge junction …. is in surprising good condition ….


….. but does start to get a bit more primitive once past the ridge junction and heading up the ridge towards the peak.


Overcast skies with some low hanging clouds down in the valley …. The road continues to narrow as it climbs up the ridge …. with spectacular views  opening up to the south.


As the top nears the timber starts to appear …..


-Scary water crossing-


-Destination Thorn Creek-


-The hobbit forest-


After passing a few tent cities (Hunting Camps) …. the final stretch.


Thorn Creek Lookout … Built in 1933, this lookout is staffed each year.


The wind was howling, so I made a quick lap around the observation deck before making a quick retreat back to the warmth of the truck.

-View north-


-View west-


-View south-


-View east-


Working my way back down to Hwy 21 ….



-Ponderosa forest-


As I make my way down I pass two trucks on their way up that are fully chained …. we’ve had a few days of rain, so I guess they are preparing for the worst since they were also pulling large trailers.

I near the bottom and round a corner to find three pickups stopped. One is pulling a full sized hard side camp trailer that is starting to slide towards the downhill side of the road, which also presents a significant drop …. pulling his truck in the same direction. Now I understand why the previous trucks were chained up.

Myself and a couple of guys who came in behind me walk down to eyeball the situation. The road surface is so slimy it is difficult to walk across. With the number of rigs already on the scene I determine that I do not really have any assistance to offer. It is obvious that this group is going to be in full recovery mode for some time, so I backtrack my way back up to the ridge and nervously head over to Meadow Creek not knowing if I might find similar sections of mud.

The road over to Meadow Creek is windy and narrow, too narrow for trailers, limiting traffic to zero. The road conditions along this track end up being excellent … no mud to be found. I continue over Rabbit Creek Summit and make my way down to Idaho City, then Hwy 21 back home …. my day only to be delayed 45 min by my required reroute.


Swanholm – Part 4

While walking the perimeter observation deck enjoying the view I take notice that someone before me has pried the lock mechanism from the door jam. My curiosity gets the better of me, so I take a quick look inside.


The interior is simple and tidy. Obviously cleaned up and organized after it’s last occupant …. which my guess was some time ago. Area maps still in place  ….. although the turntable has long since been removed. The aged interior makes one take thought of decades of summers past when this lookout was staffed. What was life like on top of this peak. Did the people who staffed this lookout appreciate every sunset and sunrise, or did it turn into just another monotonous task that had to be done?

I close and re-secure the door ….


View down the roads final stretch just below the peak ….



Even in the day when the road was probably a bit more maintained I can’t imagine it being a very fun drive up …. only visited by ATV’s and Motorcycles these days.

I enjoy a bit more of the view before contemplating my accent …



My ride down from the peak is quick and uneventful … Right below the peak there is a trail that peels off the road on the north side. I’ve ridden up this trail once. It was super fun, but does have some exposure that would make any kind of incident while riding solo problematic, so I remain true to the road.

Bottom …


Deer Park …


I make my way past Deer Park and along the North Fork Boise to Barber Flat … from Barber Flat you can either ride back over the mountain to Alexander Flat or over Rabbit Creek Summit into Idaho City.



I point the direction of Rd 327 to Rabbit Creek Summit and Idaho City ….


Idaho City below


Reconnecting with Hwy 21 and refueling in Idaho City…. I enjoy a nice paced ride back to Robie Creek, over Rocky Canyon, and back to Boise ….. ride time was right around 6 hrs with a daily mileage at approx. 150 miles…. an easy day ride from town.





Swanholm – Part 3

After the bike cooled down enough to allow the expanded coolant to transfer back into its radiators …. I continued my way back up the trail, around switchbacks … and over loose rock.

The lookout comes into view ….



Big sky ….


The Middle Fork of the Boise river drainage (image center) that I rode up this day ….


I turn the corner and attack the last stretch of loose rock to the lookout …

IMG_6274 (2)

Swanholm Peak  …. originally built in 1922, is currently unmanned, but at the ready should it need to be recommissioned into service.

Deck view to the west ….




Southeast towards Warrior Peak


East towards the Sawtooth’s and Graham below


Graham Guard Station and airstrip



Panoramic sequence from Northeast to Southeast …






Spectacular country …..To be continued …..

Swanholm – Part 2

The Middle Fork Rd twists and turns always alongside the rivers edge acting as a divider between tall granite walls…..


Soft luggage by OBR ADV Gear

Alexander Flat …..


A quick link somewhat related to the flat as it was used as a camp spot for the CCC right at the tail end of the depression ….

Continuing up stream to Swanholm Rd…



The road up to Swanholm is a few miles up Swanholm Creek Rd, very unassuming, not well marked, and turning off eastward through a series of old logging roads turned ATV trails ….. right before the Barber Flat trail.



Today with an open gate ….

Sun bleached sign warning of a not so maintained road ….


The start of the climb is as I remember, but the further I ascend I take note to how loose and rocky the track has become …. obvious in spots to be more of a creek during the Spring run off. I try my best to maintain some essence of momentum to keep cooling air flowing through my radiators in hopes to avoid any boil over.

The inevitable ….


The bike eventually starts to hiss, so I chose to stop for a cool down in hopes to avoid any actual coolant loss.

While the bike cools I wander about taking in the view as it starts to present itself …


Up trail …






The “rolling over loose softball sized rock” climb up thus far reminds me very much of a ride into Goat Lake taken last season with a friend of mine … Jason.

The bike cools and the summit calls …..


Swanholm – Part 1

Rewind exactly a year back to a sunny Fall day in October 2014, I set out on a day loop with my sights on Swanholm Peak Lookout only to be denied by a seasonally locked gate …. missing access by only a few days. I told myself that this season I would make another attempt, but much earlier in the season, which brings us up to July 2015.

Denied …


My route this day begins with a few miles of tire warming pavement along Hwy 21 through East Boise to connect RD 268, the Atlanta/Middle Fork Road that runs along Lucky Peak and Arrowrock Reservoirs.

Lucky Peak …





A break in our mid summer heat wave makes for a cool morning and a nice ride along the waters edge …



Middle Fork/South Fork Confluence …


Rd 268 twists and winds along the lakes edge eventually making the flowing current of the Middle Fork Boise River …




As Rd 268 makes it’s way towards Atlanta, it works it’s way through jagged canyons, remnants of the Idaho Batholith. Within the Batholith is the presence of Gold and past sites of attempts to extract such gold.


No entry …


Water access only ….



To be continued …..