Tag Archives: Sawtooth Mountains

Two weeks ago, Day 3

Woke up in an utterly peaceful place. Didn’t stay there long…

The Sawtooth Mountains early in the morning weren’t quite what they’d been the evening before, mostly because I was looking at them from the wrong direction. Still beautiful, however. I ate breakfast on the same porch I’d sat on the previous evening, then packed up and headed back south again.

Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, Idaho.
Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, Idaho.

Stanley, Idaho, is a few miles to the right of the tip of two highways forming a sharp V shape, and a large part of the righthand section, down which I aimed to drive today, is within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, a place I suspect would have been a national park had the locals not been seriously agin’ the idea (after having watched what happened when David Rockefeller bought up most of Jackson Hole and given it to the feds for a national park).

As it is, a large chunk of the Sawtooth NRA is designated as wilderness, and the rest is much less regulated.   And beautiful. The Sawtooths are amazing, just as jagged as their namesake and still partially snow-covered even in late June.   My first stop was at Redfish Lake, the name (after the sockeye salmon which used to spawn here) of which I remembered from a trip my parents and I made here when I was somewhere between eight and ten.

Redfish Lake, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho.
Redfish Lake, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho.
Sawtooth Mountains above Redfish Lake.
Sawtooth Mountains above Redfish Lake.
Clear water at Redfish Lake.  I love this texture.
Clear water at Redfish Lake. I love this texture.

When I last spoke with my mother, her primary memories of the place involved mosquitoes the size of small helicopters, but even though I spent some time walking along the lakeshore and out onto a pier, I didn’t run across a single one.

I did, however, see some lovely wildflowers.

They're penstemons, and I can't get any more specific than that, alas.  They're much more electric blue than in the photo.
They’re penstemons, and I can’t get any more specific than that, alas. They’re much more electric blue than in the photo.
Some things are just too weird to believe without a photo -- just north of Galena Pass.
Some things are just too weird to believe without a photo — just north of Galena Summit.

After a couple of hours, I headed south, down the valley, where the mountains weren’t the only view, and up over Galena Summit.

The view from Galena Pass.
The view from Galena Summit.

It was a terrific place to admire the view, and only a few miles down the road was a lodge where I ate a delicious lamb burger for lunch.  After that, it was on down to Ketchum and Sun Valley, the world-famous ski area and home of the U.S.’s first chairlift, built back in the 1930s. Unfortunately, Sun Valley looks like someone took a chunk of Southern California and dropped it into Idaho. So about all I did was go find the Ernest Hemingway Memorial (not that I’m a huge Hemingway fan, but I was an English major), and got back out on the road.

The Ernest Hemingway Memorial, Sun Valley, Idaho.
The Ernest Hemingway Memorial, Sun Valley, Idaho.

I left the mountains behind not long after that, and had to make a decision, whether to go to Craters of the Moon National Monument, which I’ve visited twice before, or to head down into Utah to visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site, which I hadn’t. Golden Spike won out.   But that was too far for one day, so once I reached I-84 again I started looking for a motel without much success. One of the few disadvantages of not deciding where you’re going until the last minute is that you can’t make reservations. Most of the time it’s worth it. But this time I was beginning to wonder what the heck I was going to do if I didn’t find something.

At last I saw a sign off the freeway in the town of Heyburn and went to check it out. It looked reasonable enough, and the price was right, but most of the rooms were full of road construction workers, and while that didn’t bother me, the manager went to great lengths to reassure me that he and his family lived on the premises, and that the construction workers were harmless. It was all rather amusing.   And that was the end of the third day!

Two weeks ago today, Day 2

In which our traveler spent a morning with flowers and an afternoon wondering if she was ever going to get there.

It was already getting hot when I left Ontario, Oregon, and crossed into Idaho. Heat shimmering off the pavement and all that. But I stopped at the first rest area along the interstate, doubling as a welcome center, and stepped out to take a look at a nicely full Snake River, wending its way across southern Idaho on its way to meet up with the Columbia. It’s always good to see a river with plenty of water in this part of the country (east of the Cascades, west of the Rockies). The Snake was a lifeline for the pioneers on the Oregon Trail, too.

Snake River west of Boise, Idaho.
Snake River west of Boise, Idaho.

It was only an hour’s drive that morning to Boise, the state capital, a pleasant town along the Snake that has a great deal in common with many other western state capitols; while Boise is the largest city in Idaho, unlike Salem or Olympia or Helena or Carson City, it’s got that “we’re the seat of government because of some historical accident, not because this is where things happen” sort of vibe down pat.

On the other hand, it’s also the home of the Idaho Botanical Garden.

The Idaho Botanical Garden is situated on the grounds of the old state penitentiary, of all things, and the ruins of the 19th century stone buildings look almost like some sort of antique backdrop to the acres of beautiful landscaping.

Rose garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden, with the old penitentiary as a backdrop.
Rose garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden, with the old penitentiary as a backdrop.

The trouble with visiting places like this in other climates is that they grow things I would love to be able to grow but can’t. I realize I live in a very favored climate where many choice plants flourish with abandon, but it still makes me jealous that flax, for instance, its flowers looking like bits of the sky fallen to earth, won’t make it through our rainy winters. Then again, I wouldn’t appreciate botanical gardens in other climates so much if it did.

Blue flax and pink Clarkia, named after you-know-who.
Blue flax and pink Clarkia, named after you-know-who.

The highlight of the Idaho Botanical Garden was the Lewis and Clark Garden, featuring plants that L&C discovered while they were in Idaho, each labeled by name with where they were found. The garden path wandered back and forth up the hillside to a statue of Sacagawea and a view across Boise to the Snake River and beyond. Quite lovely.

Native rose along the path in the Lewis and Clark garden.
Native rose along the path in the Lewis and Clark garden.
Statue of Sacagawea at the top of the path in the Lewis and Clark garden.
Statue of Sacagawea at the top of the path in the Lewis and Clark garden.

I filled the gas tank for a second time in Boise, and ate lunch while trying to choose whether I wanted to drive 300 miles down to Great Basin National Park in Nevada or northeast up into the Idaho mountains. I decided on the latter. Great Basin NP will have to wait for another year.

The road up through the dusty desert foothills into the Sawtooth Mountains was steep and winding. And seemingly endless. At first I wondered if there were going to be mountains at all, as I passed by a dam that made me laugh:

*What* forests???
*What* forests???

But as I went farther on pine trees started to appear and the hills were covered in mock orange (Idaho’s state flower) in full bloom.

Mock-orange was everywhere.
Mock-orange was everywhere.

I stopped in Idaho City, one of Idaho’s earliest settlements and a gold mining town (of course), and visited the Boise Basin Museum  which told all about its history, including a 10-minute film narrated by, of all people, Tennessee Ernie Ford, who spent some of his later years here.

Self-evident.
Self-evident.

After that entertaining interlude, I kept going, thinking I’d spend the night in Stanley, one of the most remote towns in the Northwest but only about a hundred miles on. I must admit that was the case — that it’s one of the most remote towns, if you can call it a town with a population of 63. I drove and drove and drove that afternoon, up through a canyon and into the mountains. I was stopped at one point by a traffic accident involving a motorcycle that seemed to have been going around one of the many sharp curves too fast. The motorcycle was lying on its side, and its rider was on the ground with it as if he were still riding it. I was assured by one of the many people standing around that the ambulance was on its way. I suspect it took a while to get there, and I hope the rider wasn’t too badly off.

At last I reached Real Mountains ™, snowcapped and jagged and glorious. I also reached miles and miles of roadside covered in bundles of dead trees. I found out later that the cause was pine bark beetles.

But when I finally reached Stanley, in a lovely broad meadow surrounded by mountain peaks, I found a sweet little log cabin with my name on it, and sat out on its porch for the evening enjoying the peace and the beauty. It was so quiet there that I could hear a car coming for miles before it passed by. Perhaps half a dozen of them passed by that evening before the stars came out, it got chilly (I’d gained a few thousand feet in elevation from Boise), and I finally went inside.

Beautiful (and I do mean beautiful) downtown Stanley, Idaho.
Beautiful (and I do mean beautiful) downtown Stanley, Idaho.