An outing with Huckleberry Hound

Julie Painter gets purple stained fingers picking huckleberries on Saturday in the hills north of Kelly Canyon. (Jerry Painter photo)

Sunny, a golden retriever, tastes a few huckleberries directly off the bush during a berry-picking outing on Saturday north of Kelly Canyon. (Jerry Painter photo)

My dog Sunny generally wants to do whatever I’m doing — or at least hang around and supervise.

On Saturday, the plan was to head up into the hills past Kelly Canyon to hunt huckleberries.

This area is popular with campers, ATVers, hikers and mountain bikers, and you can add berry pickers to the list this time of year. We drove and hiked around and drove and hiked around some more until we landed on an area we had found last year.

After we hiked back a bit farther than we thought we should, we found a good patch that hadn’t been picked over. Sunny followed along and watched for a bit, then I heard some lip-smacking and turned to see my dog munching berries straight from the bush — he’s a regular Huckleberry Hound. (When I was about 7 years old I joined the Huckleberry Hound Club — a silly cartoon that still can be seen on YouTube. I think I still have the official membership card in a box in the basement along with a C-average report card from first grade.)

Now is the time to thrash the hills in search of those tiny purple huckleberries that work so well in milkshakes and as syrup on top of pancakes. The berries freeze well and are the perfect surprise treat in the middle of winter.

The rule of thumb for when to hunt huckleberries is around Pioneer Day (July 24) — at least for the elevation of the Kelly Canyon area. Generally people are closed-mouth about where to find the berries. (I’d tell you where my favorite patch is, but then I’d have to kill you.)

The berries ripen later in the summer for higher elevation areas such as the Teton Range or Sawtooths. If you’re hiking in Grand Teton National Park, look for berries in Death Canyon, along the horse trail in Cascade Canyon and there are acres of berry bushes a couple miles up the trail from Lupine Meadows — on the way to Garnet Canyon or Surprise Lake. I have seen bears munching away along the trail a few times, especially in mid to late August.

Years ago, while backpacking with my daughters in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, we made “Backpacker’s Cheese Cake.” We found a cream cheese snack bar in the dairy section of the grocery store and carried it with us. When we found a patch of huckleberries, we stopped and picked until we had about a cup. After eating our fine dinner of Mountain House freeze-dried spaghetti, we opened our snack bars and mashed berries on top for fresh huckleberry “cheese cake.” It was awesome. (The things a dad will do for his daughters.) Poor Sunny didn’t get a bite.

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The Edge Climbing and Fitness Gym is holding rock climbing classes for beginners to sort-of-new climbers on Thursday evenings. Classes will teach the basics of safety and skills, as well as prepare climbers to transition to outside climbing. The gym also offers a lead climbing class. If you’re interested, contact the gym at 208-552-7625 or visit www.edgeclimbinggym.com.

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