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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.