Priest Lake, On a Cool Fall Day


Launch:Priest Lake State Park, Indian Creek Unit. East side of Priest Lake.

Nearby campsites: At the State Park

Comments: A $25 annual Idaho State Park permit allows entrance, day use, and launching. There is a $5/night fee for parking at the boat ramp. The ramp is exposed to the dominant southerly wind, so if the winds are strong this can be a difficult launch.


-----Priest Lake is way up near the top end of Idaho's Panhandle. It is nineteen miles long and about four miles across at its widest point. There are homes along some of the shore, but it is mostly a natural lake surrounded by the forested green hills of the Kaniksu National Forest. These northern Idaho lakes are not often visited by trailer boaters -- in fact, the locals were adamant about us "not telling anyone about these lakes. But," he said lowering his voice as though sharing a secret, "Upper Priest Lake is the real gem of the north and most folks either don't know that or can't get there since the entrance is so shallow."

Priest Lake , from the Boat Launch

-----There is some excellent fishing for Bull, Cutthroat, and Lake Trout and for Kokanee Salmon and White Fish. We can attest to the marvelous light flavor of the Lake Trout.


-----"Why do they call the lake 'Priest'?," we asked the lady at the Kaniksu National Forest Visitor Center Information desk.

-----"Darned if I know. Hey, Joe, where did the name Priest come from?" she asked the faceless hunk dressed in brown, hunkered behind a desk in a side room.

-----"Darned if I know", came the bored-sounding voice from the side room. "Always been called that. Nobody every asked that question before, and I thought I'd heard them all." He squinted out the door running his eyes over me like I was a terrorist or something.

-----I should have known better. I discovered in early childhood that most adults hated one word above all others -- 'why?' I was a fortunate kid - my Dad loved the word, why?. "Let's figure it out, " he'd say to me with a smile. Some of my best childhood memories are 'figuring it out' with Dad. In fact, thinking back, his answer to my 'why' set a tone throughout my entire life to this day. I soon learned that I could test the 'stuff' of a new teacher by simply asking 'why?' Few could pass that test. I became a teacher because of my insatiable curiosity, and my introductory Geology class became famous at the University. "He won't answer anything -- all he'll do is ask why." That class always had a waiting list of students who wanted to figure out 'why.'

-----Anyway, its a good thing I didn't ask those 'information' people why they called the National Forest Kaniksu. I'm sure they wouldn't have known that either, and the answer turns out to be the same for either question. Kaniksu in the Native Salish language roughly means 'black robe.' This is the term the Natives gave to the French Catholic missionaries who built missions among the Natives. So, the lake was called Kaniksu and someone (presumably who asked why) translated that to the present lake name, Priest.

-----Fur trappers and missionaries were the first Europeans to settle amongst the natives.

-----Toward the end of the 19th century, mining became a major economy in the Idaho Panhandle. Later, in the early 20th century, logging became important, and the lake was used for transporting logs.


'Twitching' logs; the Tyee II, a Steam-Powered Tug used To Tow Logs on Priest Lake; Abandoned Hull of the Tyee II

-----The town of Priest Lake slowly grew from these economic ventures.


The Studio

-----In 1921, there was a movie studio at Priest Lake! Nell Shipman was a talented actress who starred in the silent film, Back to God's Country. She was also a writer, and became a producer with her own Shipman Studio.


-----Discovering she required outdoor scenes for her feature length silent movie, The Grubstake, she found "Priest Lake is the lovliest, wildest, and most perfect spot of all." So, she moved her studio from Hollywood to the lake. Unfortunately, costs were high and her lack of business acumen soon forced her into bankruptcy, although the silent film, The Grubstake, was eventually a successful movie with global showing. She left Priest Lake and became a successful writer. She died in 1970 at the age of 77.



-----Back in the Precambrian, about 600 million years ago, the Panhandle of Idaho lay along the margin of a shallow ocean bordering North America to the west. The ancient sea was devoid of all but the most primitive life forms. Sands and muds accumulated over the area. Slowly they were buried and altered by the heat and pressure of depth. Large disjunct terranes moved against the continental margin through subsequent millions of years, crushing, buckling and exerting enormous pressures as they lodged against the edge of the continent (adding Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia). The ancient sediments along the continental margin (of Idaho) were baked into 'new' rock -- metamorphic ('meta' - change; 'morph' - form) rocks, such as gneiss and schist. Some fractures extended deep into the crust and lavas moved upward through the breaks and poured over the land as lava flows. Thus it was until the recent arrival of the Ice Ages.

-----About 2 million years ago, the planet became sharply colder and the first of many Ice Ages began. Great masses of ice piled up on the land when more snow fell in winter than could melt in summer. The ice masses began flowing outward in all directions from their own weight. As the continental glaciers flowed over the land, they scoured any soft rock below, molded and shaped the resisting rock, and moved the resulting great piles of loose debris to their margins.

-----To the south of Priest Lake, large ice dams blocked the westward drainage of the meltwaters of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, impounding Glacial Lake Missoula. When the ice dams ruptured, massive flooding roared westward across Washington forming the Channeled Scablands.

-----AA large tongue of ice extended southerly from the Cordilleral Ice Sheet, during the last ice age around 7-10,000 years ago, scouring out the valley now occupied by Priest Lake. The glacial debris (terminal moraine), left at the southern end of the valley, blocked the drainage and impounded today's lake.


-----Upper Priest Lake is connected to Priest Lake by a two-mile long stream locally called the Thorofare. The entrance to this shallow route is marked by red and green bouys and depths that drop to about two feet.

Two Feet? Yikes! That Looks Like 0.0 ft.

-- --The winding route is through a marvelous passage traversing the north woods. Wildlife here includes wolves, brown and black bears, deer, caribou, moose and cougar. The slow cruise along the Thorofare is like a treasure hunt through the northern forest, and you're on your boat.


Starting up the Thorofare; Residents of the Thorofare


-----The shores of Upper Priest are all National Forest lands -- wild and beautiful. There are no developments on the lake and it is an isolated treasure. We counted four moose the first evening on Upper Priest Lake, and we weren't looking for them -- just for a quiet anchorage.


Daydream and the Dawn; On Anchor in Upper Priest Lake:

-----We slowly cruised the shores of Upper Priest Lake -- wild and beautiful. The occasional sand beach had a picnic table or campsite provided by the National Forest Service.


-----There were few boats, the occasional canoe, and a small group of touring kayaks. We spotted deer and moose along the shores.


Doe and Two Spotted Fawns; Cow and Calf


-----Our cruising 'fleet' was down to two boats - Halcyon and Daydream. As dusk approached, we decided to anchor off the lake and out of the slight chop from the south wind. The Priest River flows into Upper Priest Lake at the north end, and we slowly manuevered our way across the rock ledge at the mouth of the river and up into the stream. The water was crystal clear, the bottom sand, and El could keep a watch for any stray rocks or logs from her perch in the bow.

-------------------------------Anderson Photo

El, in the Bow - Note the two Moose on the Beach

-----Depths ranged from two to three feet as we slowly wended our way, about a half mile northerly, up the beautiful and shallow stream. We dropped our hook in a foot and a half of water (even with a seven to one ratio, that meant our mooring line was our twenty feet of chain).


Up the Priest River; Hook Down In The Clear Stream

-----Daydream rafted to us and we had a delightful evening sharing drinks, dinner and stories.

---------------------------------Anderson Photo

Snuggled Up On The Priest River

-----The sun slowly crept up the eastern mountains and the hush of twilight fell on the Priest River Valley. Beavers crossed the stream on their way to succulent twigs and a muskrat patrolled the shore for edibles. The half-moon slowly set behind the spruce and fir of the mountain ridge. As darkness enveloped us, we retired into our v-berths and curled up for a peaceful rest.


-----Dawn slowly filled the northern valley. We watched the mist rise from the river and filter through the trees on the mountain slopes surrounding us. The beaver retreated to their burrows after a busy night on the prowl. We lifted our anchor, engines up and still rafted, and drifted lazily down the Priest River and back out into Upper Priest Lake. We sipped our coffee in the cockpit and listened to the morning calls of drowzy birds. A Bald Eagle floated off his perch and lifted on the rising dawn air currents.


Dawn on the River , the Eagle, and the Upper Priest Lake

-----Eventually a faint movement of air drifted us through the weeds extending off the lakeshore. We came gently into the sandy shore, and Bill hopped out to hold us off the beach.

Bill, Holding Us Off - Note Moose on Shore Over his Right Hand

-----"Yikes," El said. "Lookout, Bill. Here comes a Moose."

-----"He doesn't look like he plans to stop coming, either," I quickly added. "What do you do when a Moose is getting too friendly?"

-----Without a moments hesitation, El had an answer. "Head to the V-berth and curl up!!"-Saying that, she began her retreat.

---- "Is there room for us both, if the Moose is pawing at the door?" I ventured.

---- "Looks like we might just find out," she retorted. Then she got that determined look on her face -- the one she got just before she strangled a rodent attacking one of our little kids. Another time, kayaking down the Missouri River, we had set up camp on the shore. A herd of hundreds of cows came over the hill, curious but potentially destructive. I grabbed a long branch and charged them shouting. They stood their ground, and in fact, continued more aggressively toward us. El got that look -- picked up a twig -- waved it at them once, with a confident "shoo" -- those cows stampeded away and we could see the dust rise, from their pell-mell retreat, over the distant hills, for half an hour.

----This time it was a Moose. "Shoo, Moose. Shoo!" She sounded serious, even to me, and apparently to the Moose as well since, just before the Moose put our marital relationship to a test, it veered and retreated into the woods.


Retreat! --Whew!

-----Shortly thereafter Daydream had to leave for home. Now knowing that Moose can be bluffed (or at least that A Moose can be bluffed) we decided to merely drift into deeper water, drop a hook, and stay the day watching Moose. -

-----All the neighborhood Moose soon became accustomed to our 'benign' presence. They waded out to within a few feet of Halcyon while they contentedly munched greenery pulled from the lake bottom. We spent the day and that night in their salad garden -- the 'squeesh, squeesh' of their munching teeth and the 'whoooosh' of exhaled air as they lifted their heads up from the water was about the only sound to fill our day and evening. A Moose was seldom more than a few feet from us, and they had learned a lesson. El never had to 'shoo' another.


Coming up the Ladder For a Spot of Tea?---Or do you Prefer Either a Kiss or a Bit of Salad?-----

-----When the Canada Geese settled unto their grounded log for the night, out in the lake near us,we knew dusk was fast approaching. We settled in for dinner (lunch, of course, was a salad) and soon the veil of darkness descended over us and Upper Priest Lake.



-----Dawn arrived and a light mist was rising around us from our anchorage in Upper Priest Lake. The Canada Geese were preening out their summer plumage and 'talking' with each other about the approaching long flight south for winter. Their plucked feathers drifted slowly by us as we sipped our morning coffee, while sitting in the cockpit.

-----Mama Moose was munching her morning salad beside us in the misty water. Five Moose (three cows and two calves) walked the shoreline thirty yards off. And -- surprise -- the first bull (a young 'un) with antlers walked out from shore and began feeding in the deeper water outside Halcyon. What a way for us to start a day!


-----And we still had the Thorofare to traverse! We moseyed down the lake, eating breakfast at 5 knots, and turned into the narrow channel, displacing a few feeding American Mergansers by our passage.

-----A short way down the passage we met a beautiful cow Moose and her young calf, feeding in the shallows. They were undisturbed by our quiet presence and moved to within a few feet of El on the bow.l


-----What a way to end a marvelous trip to the Priest Lakes!


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