When I passed through the northern panhandle of Idaho a few weeks previous, it didn’t make that great of an impression. There was no “Welcome to Idaho” sign on the interstate, and while the towns and national forests I passed through were pleasant, they were not necessarily memorable. This time around, headed East, crossing into Idaho from Oregon, I at least got a welcome sign, and this Southern stretch of the state presented me with more miles, and more time to transverse it.
My first order of business was “business”. One of the schools I’ve worked with for several years both as travel planner and tour guide, is Cole Valley Christian School in Boise (suburb Meridian). Their 9th grade class travels to Colonial Virginia and Washington, DC every year and are one of the best schools I work with. Great students, staff, and parents. I went to their chapel service and I got a big cheer from all their upper classmen who went on the previous three trips with me. Then after chapel, I met with this year’s 9th grade who will be traveling next spring. I spoke with them about the DC trip, as well as my current road trip. I even brought El Gaupo in for them to meet. I thought that I should take after SNL’s Matt Foley and open my motivational speech with the words… “My name is Isaiah Mosteller, and I am a motivational tour guide, and I live in Prius down by the river!” It’s true most nights of this trip I’ve spent in my car parked by rivers or lakes, which I also bathe in, but since this was a “business” trip I used the company credit card to be a bit more professional for one night – I stayed at a dog-friendly Motel 6. It was great to see the students and staff on their home turf and I look forward to seeing them next spring.
Before leaving “the city”, I had a crack in my windshield repaired (flying rock on the highway) and was pleased to find the process fairly easy through my insurance. I also stopped briefly to see the state capitol and Boise State’s blue football field. Heading East on highway 21, the city promptly gave way to empty valleys and countryside with no cell reception. At sunset I made it to Stanley, and stopped for dinner at what seemed to be the only restaurant in town. I immediately got a good vibe from the place. Though the town has a low year round population and relies heavily on tourism, it felt more like a local place. The bearded server guy working that night was really laid back and friendly. He gave good tips on where I could soak in a natural hot spring that night, and find waysides to spend the night.
I slept well on a country road pull-off near Sunbeam, though it got cold. It started raining steadily on my rooftop in the middle of the night. When I woke up with first light, I thought the rain had stopped since I couldn’t hear it on my roof anymore, but I looked out to see that it had actually turned to snow and had left a muffling layer of slush on my car. It wasn’t below freezing, so the snow didn’t really accumulate much, but once I got a view of the higher elevation summits of the Sawtooth range, I could see they had a lovely white dusting on them that was not there the night before. Before getting into my day, I visited another hot spring “boat box” to get a nice hot soak from the cold night.
I got ahold of a basic hiking guide pamphlet, and decided that I would spend the afternoon hiking/running a loop trail that goes to Alice Lake and Towaway Lake, among other smaller lakes. Feeling confident from the 20 mile run that I did a few days previous at Lake Waldo in Oregon, I figured I could easily do this 12 mile, 1,500 foot climb route in 2.5 hours and I set off with El Guapo and no food or water apart from a packet of eight jelly beans. Once I got into the run, I realized I misunderstood the trail description. It was actually an 18 mile route with 3,000 feet climb. We still did the whole thing, despite my lack of prep, and weather that vacillated between rain and sun, and it took me 5.5 hours. I don’t regret the unexpected extra miles at all, nor that it took me a lot longer. It was an incredibly beautiful hike and I was constantly stopping to take pictures.
I can say confidently that Stanley and the Sawtooth Mountains were my favorite part of the road trip thus far. I appreciated this national forest area in that it felt lived in – local people and nature mixing, unlike the National Parks which preserve nature by removing human enterprise. There were ranches still in obvious use. Local people worked at the restaurant rather than in-sourced foreign students. The trails were dog friendly. Road side camping and parking was plentiful and cheap (or free), and there’s always hot water to get refreshed in. Stanley wasn’t on my radar coming into this trip, but I’m so glad that I went there.
When I finally got off the trail and back on the road, I headed to Ketchum and Sun Valley. As I entered town, I could tell immediately in the shop-fronts on the main streets, this town catered to a high end tourist. I drove a few blocks off the main streets, and happened upon Lefty’s Bar that had an outdoor patio with people and dogs who definitely looked local. I ate there and had a drink. Turns out Boise State’s opening game of the season was going on and most of the place was glued to the TV. I chatted with some local folks, including the guy who appeared to be the town’s drunken good-will ambassador, who told me his name was “Bunker Hill”. I tried to impress upon him that I also come from a really festive mountain town, but I lost all credibility in his eyes when I told him I didn’t know who Bob Weir was. He took both disgust and pity on me, and gave me good tips on where some hot springs and car-camping spots were outside of town. I also learned that the next day (Saturday) there was a big festival in town called “Wagon Days” with a pioneer theme and a parade of horses and wagons/carriages.
After sleeping in the national forest on the outskirts of town and soaking in another hot spring, I came back into Ketchum and took advantage of the community pancake breakfast. El Gupao and I walked around and then watch the Wagon Days parade. I don’t’ know if it was just for this holiday festival, but a lot of people were dressed in cowboy attire. This wasn’t however the garb of “country bumpkin folk.” These were the same people shop who at those high end shops. So while they had cowboy boots on their feet and Stetsons on their heads, it was yoga pants and North Face down jackets in between.
Once the parade ended, I headed out of town passing through less noteworthy towns. I did make a stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument, which is a massive lava field made of mounds, rock formations and craters. I don’t know if it was just the weather that day, or the high desert plain is always this way, but it was some of the strongest winds I’ve ever braved. It seemed to add to the desolate mood of the place. Some National Parks had to be preserved and protected from the interests of man in its natural resources, but this landscape seemed to be devoid of life, not by mandate but by the sheer inhospitably barrenness of the earth.
I continued East through Idaho Falls with barely a stop, trying to get to Jackson, Wyoming while there was still a bit of “Saturday Night” left to be enjoyed. An amazing sunset bade me farewell from Idaho. From the warm welcome at Cole Valley to the warm waters and friendliness of the people in Stanley and Ketchum, I really enjoyed Idaho and I felt like it represented more the “idea” of my road trip than how I’d spent my time in other states. A much better balance of people interaction and landscape exploration. In some ways, it may seem that Idaho got the shaft, since it has no famous National Park like all its neighbors do, but I get the impression that’s something they might be proud of, the way locals often like to hoard their favorite haunts from invasions of tourists. Idaho has an enormous amount of federal and state lands for the public to enjoy, but since they don’t have the renowned distinction of being National Parks, they’re a bit under the national radar, and thus had a charm that made me want to stick around for a spell, beyond taking the obligatory photo and moving on.