This remote gravel ride through the Zumwalt Prairie was extremely pretty and diverse. We took our mountain bikes on this one because the route we planned was pretty rough and chunky. Our out and back was 24 miles with 3372′ of climbing.
The Chief Joseph band of the Nez Perce were the original human inhabitants of the Zumwalt Prairie. The Preserve represents the last remaining, relatively undisturbed, grassland ecosystem of bunch grass in the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, the prairie escaped major cultivation because the shallow rocky soils, high altitude, and rugged canyons made it unsuitable for crops. It’s big at 330,000 acres and pretty quite. We saw another car out there so keep this in mind if you’re out and about. There is no cell service and if you have a mishap you could be on your own for awhile.
To some it might just look like mountains of grass but there is so much more to it. The Zumwalt supports the largest population of breeding raptors in the world, diverse populations of songbirds, 48 varieties of butterflies, and 430 plant species. We started our ride from the Duckett Barn and headed out across the grassland. After only a couple miles or so we started to drop down into forest. We were shocked to see aspens, firs, pines, and all manner of color. It was amazing to see the towering hills and rocky canyons as we dropped, and dropped and dropped all the way to the tiny community of Imnaha.
We sat on the bridge spanning the Imnaha River and ate our sandwiches before starting the long haul back up to our start. Not far in we were delighted to come across a big herd of mountain goats crossing the gravel. We stopped to watch and give them their space and then up we climbed. It’s steep in parts and slow going. The views make it worth it and just about the time we wanted the climbing to end, it did and we were back into the grasslands and at our start.
Wild and scenic.