It's impossible not to feel the weight of history as you descend into Joseph Canyon. The tall grass was white with the changing season, the river a darkness far below. Once I got ahead of my companions and the only sound was the breath of the wind, gathering strength as it combed through the ponderosas, climbed the finger ridges and swept down the canyon.
The Precious Lands are the result of a cooperative effort that has the Nez Perce tribe managing this wildlife area in the heart of where their vast lands used to be. The story of their removal and flight and eventual dispersion to places like Oklahoma is a tragic one. Nothing can make up for it, but the land remembers and heals, always.
It is two thousand feet to the river, a steep tumble that has us dreading the ascent, but we are drawn to it, hoping to discover some of the mysteries of this unknown place. Most access to this canyon is closely guarded; it is either private land or too rugged to navigate. In a gracious gesture, the tribe allows limited recreation use; I descend with respect.
At the river I am delighted to find a secret hot springs.
We sit in the grass in our T-shirts; it is back to summer at this elevation. Nobody else is around; this place isn't advertised. I will never know the deep tie to a landscape that the Nez Perce know. A gypsy, I never have lived anywhere long and the idea of a country handed down by your grandparents and those before them is foreign to me. Because of gold and an idea of supremacy, harsh battles were waged over this place. It is precious indeed and back where it should be.