When traveling with James Overstreet, ESPN Outdoors photographer and Duck Trek mainstay, there's not a whole lot of A to B.
We flew into Salt Lake City, so I knew I was in trouble before this trip ever started. Overstreet hates to fly.
"Man, you miss a lot of America from 40,000 feet," he's fond of saying in his deep southern drawl.
The plan was to hunt two days in Utah, make a 375-mile drive to Idaho, hunt a day or two and fly back. At least that was the plan on paper -- that was not Overstreet's plan.
"Man, [everything starts with man] don't get some rinky-dink car, we need something that can go off road," he said as I walked up to the Avis counter.
They gave us a Hummer. Fifteen years ago, that would have been sweet, but this was an H3 -- built for soccer moms. I guess because they feel obligated, they did give it four-wheel drive, so it was good enough. We packed my bag and 15 boxes of Overstreet's camera gear in the back and hit the road.
City of Rocks
We would have hunted for a little longer on the second hunt, but we had to take a half hour to give everyone a chance to hold and shoot the new Remington Versamax shotgun they hooked us up with for the trek. I know that sounds like a shameless plug, but it's true. The Thompson family we hunted with were as interested in testing out that gun as they were shooting birds.
Because of the gun demonstration and lunch, we didn't hit the road until around 1 p.m. with -- if we were going A to B -- about a three and a half hour drive ahead.
An hour into the trip, as soon as we crossed the Idaho border, Overstreet stopped at a gas station to get a map -- a paper, can't-ever-fold-it-right map. Call me young (27), but I don't know the last time I've held one of those. My dad used to make the whole family, one by one, go into the Texas Welcome Center every time we crossed back into the state to get a free Texas map. What did he do with five copies of the same map?
Regardless, this paper map came in quite handy, mainly because cell service was horrible so pulling up a map on my iPhone was impossible.
It also makes it easy to find state parks and landmarks. After some studying and a little debate, we decided on our first detour: the City of Rocks.
It was a gamble. The name didn't do a lot to excite and we hadn't seen it promoted on any of the Idaho "come visit us" material we'd seen around. The main reason it won our vote of confidence was a.) There was nothing else around and b.) It was, in a twisted sense, on the way.
Instead of going north and west on highways, we went southwest and then north on tiny back roads. About an hour and a half of driving through nothing but desert, we saw a sign for Castle Rock.
I'm not sure if it was because the previous 60 miles had been depressingly boring or if, subconsciously, you don't want to admit you just drove three hours out of the way for something that sucks, but I can say first-hand that Castle Rock was impressive.
If nothing else, it was just out of place. In the middle of a dark red and black desert stood a group of tall, really odd, white rock formations.
A few more miles down the road, City of Rocks was just as cool. It was a landmark for emigrants on the California Trail and Salt Lake Alternate Trail back in the day, but now it's a campsite and hot spot for rock climbers.
I took a photo on my phone and sent it to my wife with the message "Check this out!" She responded with, "Wow. Rocks. I guess I'll have to take your word for it."
Good point. Luckily, Overstreet is a little better at capturing the moment than I am with my phone. We hung around there for about an hour with Overstreet taking photos and me trying to find a rock to climb (which I did
), and then moved on toward the hotel.
The first time we saw the Snake River, we were unimpressed.
Overstreet, as only he can do, referred to it as a "dump." To Overstreet, if something is not serving his interest at that moment, or sometimes even if it is, he refers to it as a "dump." For example, "I'm driving around this dump" or "I just dropped your computer off at your dump" or "is there a restaurant in this dump?"
The Snake River got its name because of the way it snakes all around, up down and everywhere. When we first crossed it, it was in some small town and it didn't look like much.
The second time we crossed it, driving west on Highway 84, we both gasped. It was awesome. There were huge, steep banks on both sides and since the Snake is about the only water around, the trees around it offered color we hadn't seen for miles and made everything look alive.
We hunted the Snake the next morning (that story is coming), and it was just as awesome to be on the river. Something you don't notice from the bridge is how many islands there are along the river. You also don't notice that it is one of the few rivers in America that flows north. Between all the snaking around and the north flow, it's really hard to figure out where the river is coming and going.
Jeff Heaton, one of the guys we hunted with, said they do a lot of deer hunting on the islands. That's how big these things are. They are long and skinny, and deer actually swim or walk across shallow parts of the river and get on these islands.
This story was too long to get into the hunt feature, but Heaton said he was deer hunting on one of the islands and came across a large gang cooking meth. He said he just kept walking in because it took him a while to realize what was going on. By the time he put it all together, it was almost too late. Luckily, he was decked out in camo (and they were cooking meth), so he was able to slip out undetected.
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When his hunting partner, Bryce Roberts, saw Heaton sprinting down the edge of the island toward their boat, he said he thought maybe Heaton was being chased by bees.
They contacted the police who raided the lab a day later, but nobody was there.
After we hunted with Heaton and Roberts, all Overstreet and I had left to do was drive the 100 miles to Boise where we would fly out the next morning.
Again, instead of taking the straight path, we decided to snake with the Snake and follow it all the way into Oregon. There were 30-minute blocks where you couldn't see the river, but for the most part roads and towns crowded the only real water supply for miles.
All that driving left us with three thoughts: 1.) Those islands are everywhere, 2.) There are piles of ducks on every island and 3.) For that number of ducks, there weren't many duck hunters.
It felt like there was a launch ramp every 5 miles on the river, but hardly any boats. Like Utah, Idaho has a 107-day season and, like Utah, it was warm and not conducive to duck hunting. Still, ducks were everywhere, it was the weekend and there was nobody at the ramps.
Late in the evening, well behind schedule, we pulled into Boise and found a hotel near the airport. We'd been four days in and out of "dumps," been on three hunts, in two states, used one paper map and put about 600 extra miles on the Hummer.
A day after Overstreet landed back in Arkansas, he loaded up his truck and headed for Nebraska. Welcome to life on the road with the Duck Trek.