Friday, August 14, 2009

Pahsimeroi: Central Idaho's "other" mountain valley

Published in the Post Register in August, 2009.
Photo to right courtesy John Parsons

MAY – Syd and Karen Dowton have been ranching in the Pahsimeroi Valley area for decades now, but it was only this spring that they decided to expand into the restaurant business.

So now, in the tiny town of May a few miles off of U.S. Highway 93, you can stop at the Cowboy Up Café for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In their spare time the Dowtons run a 350-head cow-calf operation about five miles away.

“We kind of felt like the valley needed a nice family spot to eat,” said Karen Dowton. They hope to stay open year-round, even when the snow isolates the region from a lot of outside travel.

The Pasimeroi (techically, it's called the Little Lost River Valley southeast of Pass Creek and Pashsimoroi to the northwest) is the middle of three spectacular valleys running from the southeast to the northwest, providing drainage for the Big and Little Lost Rivers, the Salmon River, the Lemhi River and Birch Creek, among others.

The valleys created by the Lost River Range on the south and the Lemhi Range on the north, the Pahsimeroi and Little Lost River require a commitment to see. There is no highway allowing for a speedy drive, and the middle 26 miles of the road is gravel. Your only opportunities to gas up and get supplies are in Howe at the southern entrance to the valley or after you hook up with U.S. 93 at the northern exit.

In between are ranches and farms, vast open spaces and the same kind of spectacular Idaho country as the more familiar parallel valleys on either side. Since you’ll likely want to make your trip a loop, you’ll travel back home by picking up U.S. 93 at the end of the Pahsimeroi Valley and heading either north to Challis or south to Salmon, then back to the Snake River Plain.

There are numerous other Forest Service roads that provide access to the mountains on either side of the valley, the most popular of which is Sawmill Canyon. Watch for that turnoff a few miles south of Summit Creek Pass about halfway through the valley.

Just beyond Howe the road comes alongside the Little Lost River (before it disappears into the sinks), which provides the best scenery on the trip. Your duty on this part of the drive is to gawk without steering your car off the road.

Just short of Summit Creek Pass the Bureau of Land Management maintains a simple but pleasant recreation spot with picnic tables and a shockingly clean pit toilet along the willows and wildflowers of Summit Creek. We spent a relaxing hour there, long enough to polish off a picnic lunch and watch the birds. During this time not a single car came past the spot. Just beyond here, we officially pass from the Little Lost River Valley into the Pahsimeroi.

Pahsimeroi means “tall grass” in the Shoshoni language, but there’s not a lot of grass left in the valley. In fact, considering its remoteness, the predominance of agriculture is a little surprising, particularly on the northern side of the Summit Creek Pass. Here, a significant portion of the Pahsimeroi River is diverted for agricultural use.

We also ran across several herds of pronghorn antelope, and there are many springs in the area as you approach the Salmon River, emerging at Ellis, which is essentially a post office at the spot where the Pahsimeroi River empties into the Salmon. With numerous stops, the drive from Howe to Ellis took us about four hours, and worth every minute.


  1. Thank-you for the informative info. I have been wondering about this paticular valley for sometime. I would be interested in more about fishing access, camping, and hiking. Already my 3 boys and I spend time each fall and spring fishing at Ellis for steelhead.
    Thankyou again, Kwrfishman66

  2. I am interested in the Pahsimeroi Valley because my father, who was from Arco, worked on a ranch as a young man - probably between 1933 and 1936. The ranch was owned by Lawrence Taylor. I have a picture (more recent) of him in front of the old log bunkhouse. I would like to find the location of the ranch and perhaps visit it sometime.

    Larry Clucas, Star, Idaho

  3. To Larry Clucas--I, too, would like to find the ranch. Lawrence Taylor is a distant relative of mine and my own grandfather worked on the ranch back in the '20's. I have a very cool picture of several men on horseback in the Pahsimeroi. If you are successful in your search I would like to hear from you!
    LuAnn Burgmuller, Montana,

  4. My dad claimed (from sagebrush) a few hundred acres on the south end of the valley near Patterson - it was a hard-scrabble existence for a few years...

  5. Anyone out there have any knowledge of early (1910 - 1930's) placer mining,or sheep ranching ?

  6. my Grandfather Robert H. Kenner lived in the Pahsimeroi Valley area in the early 1900's he would snowshoe over the pass for medical supplies during the winter. I went about 35 years ago sure it hasn't change much. I remember visiting the the wiggens mine that my grandfather told me about