The 2.3 million acres of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area (The Frank) is nestled in the heart of Idaho. It is separated by a thin, dirt road, from another 1.3 million-acre wilderness—the Selway-Bitterroot, and buffered by an additional one-million, contiguous acres of roadless Forest Service land. Imagine New Jersey plunked into the center of Idaho’s chimney shape and you get a feel for why north-south transportation is a challenge in this state. This massive region is filled with not much but forest, rock, and stair-climber-steep mountains, wildlife, and a handful of inholdings that once catered to early mining interests but have morphed into recreational havens for hunters, fishermen, river rats, back country pilots, and horseback riders.
The Frank’s lengthy moniker is well deserved. The River of No Return refers to the famous retreat and detour forced upon the Lewis and Clark Expedition when they encountered the nearly vertical, five thousand-foot banks of rock on both sides of the class III-V, rapid-laden Salmon River. Senator Frank Church worked tirelessly for the establishment of the 1964 Wilderness Act and then to establish the then Idaho Primitive Area as the River of No Return Wilderness Area. After Church’s untimely death in 1984, his name was added to the River of No Return Wilderness Area to honor the champion of wild and scenic places.
Located where Brush Creek drains snowmelt from 9,000-foot peaks into the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the Flying B Ranch traces back to western pioneers in the 1890s. Its history is as racy and laced with intrigue as the stories of old prospectors who dreamed big, worked hard, and usually died broke. Originally established to provide miners with beef, fruit, and vegetables, it got its current name from a legendary backcountry pilot, A.A. Bennett, who owned the property for about ten years. The ranch is now owned and operated by Flying Resort Ranches, Inc. Clientele are mostly corporation owners and their friends and family. The B also caters to a steady stream of whitewater boating parties eager to replenish beer supplies, luxuriate in an upscale (by groover standards) outhouse, and ice cream! It is important to remember that everything that you see at The B arrived by boat or by plane. It’s an exercise in logistics.
Recently I was fortunate to be the lucky guest of owners, Bruce and Victoria Thomas, at The B.
Thanks to Bruce Thomas for the history of the Flying B.