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'Yonder Lies the Idaho Wilderness'

One man's stories of the Salmon River

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Marty Morache, 88, shows off 126 photos of the Salmon River he took in the 1960s. He plans to keep showing people Idaho's stunning backcountry until he dies. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Marty Morache, 88, shows off 126 photos of the Salmon River he took in the 1960s. He plans to keep showing people Idaho's stunning backcountry until he dies.

When Marty Morache traveled throughout Idaho's wilderness, his "magic carpets" took the form of helicopters, small aircrafts, trail bikes, horses and on foot, carrying a hefty backpack. Working for 30 years as an officer and field biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, he explored more backcountry than most Idahoans ever see in their lives.

MARTY MORACHE
  • Marty Morache
At 88 years old, Morache still delights in showing off his hundreds of pictures from the state's wilder side. His most recent presentation drew two dozen rafters and kayakers to the loft at North End restaurant Lucky 13, where they leaned in close as he clicked through a dusty carousel of 126 photos of the Salmon River, most of which he took in the 1960s.

His presentation's narrative followed the course of the river downstream, but he talked in the same meandering way the river weaves through canyons. Many slides seemed to surprise him.

"Oh, and I wanted to mention this to you," he told the crowd again and again as forgotten pictures popped up before him. 

Morache's experiences in the Idaho backcountry are enough for two lifetimes—he worked to help create the Sawtooth National Recreation Area as well as achieve the Frank Church Wilderness designation. Throughout his travels, he saw impacts on the lands that "left the valleys upside down," from exploitative activities like dredge mining.

He also enforced the very first "catch and release" program on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in 1970. He climbed to the highest
A foot bridge constructed in 1902 that's still standing today. - MARTY MORACHE
  • Marty Morache
  • A foot bridge constructed in 1902 that's still standing today.
peaks of the mountains in the Salmon River drainage and visited the highest fire lookout in the state—at 10,300 feet. He still shows admiration for those who lived through the hardships of the harsh wilderness winters.

His presentation was peppered with two- or three-sentence-long stories about the individuals he encountered during his time along the Salmon River, including miners, trappers, ranchers, outfitters, backcountry pilots and "crusty, old mountain men."

He described one of the last mountain men surviving in the wilderness as the type of fellow who, "if he needed a tooth being pulled, he pulled it himself."

One trapper he met would take 10 days to walk his trapline along a steep, snowy mountain ridge.

"He didn't have a down sleeping bag. None of this fancy equipment," Morache said. "He still did it in January."

He also ran across two academics from the University of Idaho who were in the woods to study cougars. One man would shoot the treed cougar with a tranquilizer, while it was the other man's job to climb up the tree and make sure the cougar was completely unconscious before pulling it down to study it. 

"He'd be 50 feet up a tree right next to that cougar," Morache said. "He'd better hope its eyes were closed."

These two men studied cougars, and even climbed up into the trees with them. - MARTY MORACHE
  • Marty Morache
  • These two men studied cougars, and even climbed up into the trees with them.

Morache walked his audience through the history of the land he he knew in the early '60s. He talked about a gold prospector named John Stanley and his comrades, who one day showed up in the Sawtooths on horseback. He talked about the fish ladder built around Dagger Falls to help keep the Westslope cutthroat trout populations healthy. He talked about the first cabin developments to take place along the Middle Fork of the Salmon in 1962, which triggered the need for higher protection of the area. 

Most boaters who tackled the Middle Fork of the Salmon River did so in sweep rafts. - MARTY MORACHE
  • Marty Morache
  • Most boaters who tackled the Middle Fork of the Salmon River did so in sweep rafts.
He showed photos of his peers struggling through the Salmon River's Class IV rapids in sweep rafts and drift boats. He showed pictures of a foot bridge constructed in 1902 that's still standing today.

Morache started giving these presentations in the mid-1960s and never stopped. He retired from Fish and Game 30 years ago, but still gives one or two a month. He has 15 different slideshows representing the state, but doesn't advertise his presentations. By word of mouth, he finds people interested in listening to him.

He said he likes to do presentations about the rivers he explored, like the Salmon, the Hells Canyon portion of the Snake, and Bruneau, so that people know what it was like way back when. 

His summer plans, he said with a wry sense of humor, include staying alive.