"We'll just find a place to land on the river," Jeff the pilot says. He likes to drop us off in scenic spots while he is out dropping water on fires, so at least we have something to look at while he is gone.
"Will this work for you?" he asks, hovering over a gravel beach. The other helitack crew, visitors from Wyoming, are already there, so we will have people to talk to. As soon as the skids are on the ground, we leap into action, attaching the bucket, taking off doors, and unloading our gear. The helicopter takes off, and we look around.
We are at the junction of several trails. A patrol cabin sits just down river. A deep swimming hole is perfect for skipping stones. We have no other tasks other than to communicate with the pilots by radio and wait for them to return. This place, we decide, ranks right up there on the good helispot list.
Good helispots often become legendary. We land in a lot of gravel pits and pastures, so we remember the places that have some shade, maybe no mosquitoes, and a lack of suspicious, sometimes scary locals wandering by. High, lonely alpine ridges are always good, as are lakes and fire lookouts. One time we landed right on the railroad, our skids straddling the tracks; another day we touched down in someone's garlic field and everything smelled like Italian food for the rest of the day.
We usually never go back; these spots are mostly used for a day at the most, a place to hook up the bucket and drop off a couple firefighters who will then hike out. Some of them remain as waypoints in my GPS, a glimpse out of the corner of my eye as we fly by in search of another fire. They wait out there in the mountains and in the forest like half-forgotten memories. Maybe one day we will land there and once again eat huckleberries and watch the sun on the water and it will be familiar, like seeing an old friend. One day we might be back.