There's a fine line between playing the harmonica and nails scratching on a chalkboard. Hand any 8-year-old a brand new harmonica and you'll hear what I mean. But in the hands of a master, it can be one of the most versatile instruments around. And to fully appreciate the diversity of the instrument, it's time to take a daytrip to the Yellowpine Harmonica Festival.
This annual festival, held in Yellow Pine (population 40), is a three day affair beginning Friday, August 5. While DAY-trips by definition are there and back during daylight hours, hardcore mouthharp fans may consider camping out all weekend. If you had to pick one day, go for Saturday's full lineup. You might miss the pancake breakfast, but get an early start to make it for the beginning of the harmonica contest at 9 a.m. The whole event has open mikes, harmonica lessons (if you don't know the difference between a chromatic and a diatonic harp) and contests in a variety of categories. What's unique about this festival is that competitors who make more than 50 percent of their income from playing the harmonica professionally are not allowed to compete, which amounts to about three or four people in the world. Some events at the festival charge admission and there's really too much to do in one day. (See www.harmonicacontest.com for all the information (including camping) that you'll need.)
But it's about the destination, not the journey. From Boise, go north on Highway 55 to Cascade. In Cascade, get gas-there will be no more! Turn east on Warm Lake Road looping around Warm Lake on Forest Road 579. These are mountain roads so take it slow and easy. If you want, take a dip in the lake as a nice rest stop, but we've heard the leeches are a little bad this year, so bring some salt.
When Forest Road 579 ends at Johnson Creek Road (FR 413), go north (left) until you get to Yellow Pine. There is a short cut on FR 467 but it is listed as an unimproved road. Inquire locally about road conditions if you are concerned. Mapquest says this 130-mile journey from downtown Boise will take a little over four hours to get there, but with sight-seeing and rest stops, we say take a little time to enjoy yourself.
Returning to Boise, take a different route east out of Yellow Pine on the East Fork Road (FR 48) along the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River, which would take you back to McCall. But when you get to FR 674, where the river joins the main South Fork of the Salmon, go upstream like the Chinook do until you return to Warm Lake. Along the way, take a dip in the river in one of the many swimming holes or stop by the Mile-16 hot springs for a soak.