Lemhi County Citizen Journalism

When we approached the first mail stop, Ray Arnold rolled his Cessna 206 up on its left wing and spiraled down inside the narrow canyon that funnels Big Creek past Taylor Ranch. Bare ground the color of a cougar’s hide filled the front window. The airspeed was slow, the bank was steep, and my senses were on high alert: One bad turn and we could hit the mountain, or fall into the creek. But Arnold’s hand was steady and he rolled out just above the rushing water. Another turn revealed a smaller creek and the twisted grass strip of the University of Idaho’s Taylor Wilderness Research Station.

Arnold touched down and rolled toward the bend in the runway where caretakers Meg and Peter Gag waited for us by their mailbox with their six-year-old daughter Tehya, their dog Bitsy, and a pile of cargo: the recyclables they were sending back; a cooler, for transporting perishables from the grocery store; and a few pieces of luggage for their day trip to Boise, where Tehya had a doctor’s appointment.

Arnold and the Gags off-loaded the bright orange mailbag, a stack of eight-foot lumber, a furnace, a week’s groceries, and other supplies. Gag strapped his daughter’s car seat into the Cessna as she rooted through the mailbag for birthday cards and presents from grandma.

To reach Taylor Ranch from Cascade, we flew 70 miles above central Idaho’s nine- and ten-thousand-foot peaks, snow-covered national forests, and fire-ravaged slopes. Arnold pointed out backcountry landing spots as we passed; some snowy white stripes in a sea of evergreens, others no more than dirt scratches on the face of bare hills.

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