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Brownlee Summit

Roads climb out of Hells Canyon into opposite directions, into Oregon and into Idaho, and they make an interesting comparison. While Salt Creek Summit in Oregon reaches over 6000ft, here on the Idaho side the road climbs to 4331ft to reach a divide on Brownlee Summit. Over on the Oregon side the scenery remains true to the symbols on the license plates: trees, trees, trees as far as the eye can see, as soon as you get away from the river. Over here on the Idaho side, curtain like grassy slopes reach much greater heights, before the tree cover takes over.

During my visit in September there was very little traffic. But I think this area has the potential for heavy boat trailer traffic on the road.

1.(1820ft,mile00.0)START-END EAST: Id71 crosses Snake River/Hell's Canyon below reservoir
2.(2200ft,mile4.3)last turnoff to reservoir on left
3.(4130ft,mile13.2)TOP: Brownlee Summit
4.(2650ft,mile28.2)START-END WEST: Cambridge


From West. Riding along the Snake River can be many different things. Here in Hell Canyon it means riding through a linear camping town along a river with a heavily controlled flow, grassy mountains rising thousands of feet above.

But the relaxed riding without climbing ends at the Brownlee Dam, and that's where the profile starts. The first little climb just gets the road to the top of the dam, and then the road continues at water level again - now a lake. The character of the road changes - now following curvacious contours of artificial bays. I thought that this passage along the lake was the most scenic part of the ride. During the morning the folds in the green hills are lit to perfection, making them look like countless waves in curtain. Then during late afternoon, frontal light makes the lake appear like a reflector.

But back to the climb. The road enters a narrow canyon and it looks like the top can't be far away. But that perception is quickly corrected after the first 1000ft climb. On top there is far view of mountains to the west in Oregon. The summit has an elevation sign without a name. A few unofficial signs in the area name the summit.

top left: view west into Oregon from summit
top right: procession of historic farm equipment before entering Cambridge

left: starting the roll down to Brownlee Reservoir                right: leaving from Brownlee Reservoir in clear morning light

From East. (described downwards). This quickly turns into a road through a generic progression of sage brush hills, passing quickly during a shallow downhill. An added bonus to the ride is a regular procession of antique farming equipment, all labeled, on a field next to the road, just before entering Cambridge.

"Population 300" reads the sign. 300 people can be a considerable population in this part of the west, where cartographers have sometimes bestowed names onto imaginary or historical locations. This is a real town with businesses, cafes and gas stations. Actually, it seems to have quite a bit more than 300 people. Just the school looks like it could fit 400 students, and the two church buildings seem worthy of a city congregation, one for the baptists and one for the Mormons.

I was told in town, the sign only gets updated after a census, that is every 10 years, and even that may have been forgotten a couple of times. The pawn shop in town also seems to take pride in the offensiveness of its anti Obama displays. But this should not reflect on the town as a whole, even though it probably does.


Dayride with tis point as highest summit:


( FR39 s(u) -2 on Salt Creek Summit page | Elba Pass > )
Brownlee Summit x2: Brownlee Damn <> Id71 north <> Brownlee Summit <> turnaround point Cambridge with somd detours around town >> <> separate out and back Id71 south <> turnaround point after 4.3miles one way: 68.8miles with 4640ft of climbing in 5:32hrs (VDO MC1.0 m5:13.9.19)