It was time to leave our beloved Minam Lodge until the next visit. Our wedding, with all of its excitement and minor mishaps turned out better than we could have ever hoped. It certainly was something to remember and being that it will be eight years this August, we still remember even the little details!
Dick, our pilot, flew in that morning and was invited up to the lodge for breakfast, which is usually the case for the pilots who fly lodge guests in and out. A well fed pilot is a happy pilot! Breakfast was terrific as usual – fresh bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, pancakes, juice and coffee. In fact, it ran a little later than usual due to the large number of folks who had arrived the previous afternoon. Otis also made a deal with Dick to fly out some additional items, which took a little more time.
In the high summer, which is August for this area, flights in and out of the Minam are done preferably in the early morning. The reason for this is that when flying out of a box canyon, a plane needs all the lift it can get. Hot air is less dense than cool air, and does not provide good lift for planes. In the early morning, before the air has a chance to heat up is ideal for flying small planes in these types of conditions. With the late breakfast and Otis’ extra request of Dick, it was nearly 10:00. We had to get going – it was going to be a very hot day and it was already quite warm.
We said our goodbyes at the lodge and then Otis and Teresa walked us down to the plane. As we were loading up, we mentioned to Dick that Otis made the perfect preacher for our wedding ceremony. Otis heard this and immediately interjected that Dick was not to mention any of this around town – Otis had a reputation as a tough, backcountry guide to uphold and he wasn’t going to take any ribbing about getting into the wedding business. We had a good chuckle and boarded the plane.
Dick was again flying the small Cessna we flew in on as the larger turbo prop was still in maintenance. He explained that we would taxi to the spot where we touched down flying in, take off toward the box end of the canyon, hop over the small hill that separated the Minam airstrip from Red’s airstrip, and land at Red’s. Then we would turn around and take off from Red’s toward the open end of the canyon. With the heat and the lift needed, we wouldn’t have to worry about clearing the trees at the box end of the canyon. He radioed Red’s to raise any pilots and their planes that might be on the landing strip – making sure it was clear for us to land and take off again. There was no response, which was an indication that no one was there. Its standard protocol that radios must be kept on if planes are on the landing strip at Red’s and/or the Minam.
Mr. Squash was up front and I was in the rear seat. We taxied down to the river, Dick throttled the plane into power, made the hop over the hill and what did we see below, but a plane with two horses and riders next to it – right where we were to land! The stall warning on the plane squealed loudly in protest, indicating we were losing lift – remember – we were only making a hop over the hill, so we were barely in the air. Mercy. There were only two options at this point – crash into the plane and horses, or pull up and try to make it out of the boxed end. Of course, Dick deployed the latter option. He pulled up, we were heavy with Otis’ extra load, the morning had grown quite warm and the trees loomed up quickly in front of us. I saw Mr. Squash open the air flow above him – he was sweating bullets. I remember looking down and thinking if I put my hand out the window, I could touch the trees. Was this the end? Had all of this been for nothing? Dick throttled the engine as hard as he could, put as much bank into the plane as possible; we ratcheted our way along the tree line. Just a little more lift was all we needed – and maybe a prayer or two. Finally, after what seemed like eons, we cleared the trees. The look of relief on both Dick and Mr. Squash’s faces was priceless. We were going to make it - and we did!
I’m sure glad you’ve enjoyed this story. It was a lot of fun to tell. Otis and Teresa retired from running the Minam Lodge several years ago, however it is still in operation and quite a few changes have been made – you can now sleep in a teepee if you wish, and they’ve even added a hot tub! Sadly, Dick passed away two years later. I’ve included a few links below if you’re interested. The first is a blog post about the horse ride into the Minam which I talked about in Part 3 and includes some great pictures. The second is an article about the history of Red’s Horse Ranch and the third is the website for Minam Lodge.