(**Note** – All photos including ones of me were taken by yours truly. Traveling solo has developed my skill of setting a camera on anything – tree branches, rocks, etc. Also, local libraries are the way to go for free wifi).
It’s understandable if you thought the only thing noteworthy about Idaho was potatoes. After all, Idahoans throw it right out there with the tagline “Famous Potatoes” on their license plates. But, I always had a suspicion that there was much more to this state and though I spent far too short a time here, I’m hooked and will surely come again.
Highway 21 runs about 130 miles beginning in Boise and ends in the town of Stanley – right in the teeth of the Sawtooth (get it?) Recreation Area. It’s a beautiful and winding drive. Entering Stanley, the town sign tells you 100 people live here. (It does get touristy in the summer months). But what the town lacks in population, it more than makes up for with its charm.
Entering Stanley is like stepping back in time. Mountains, lakes, and rivers dominate the landscape, wildlife is ever present, and wood buildings and homes are the only kind. Kids should send Flat Stanley here not only cause he shares the town’s name, but so he can see its beauty too.
I’d come to Stanley for the scenery of course, but also with the plan to do the 10 mile round trip hike to Sawtooth Lake. After a night of camping next to the Salmon River, I woke rearing to go. I’d heard the road to the trailhead was closed due to snow, so I would need to hike a couple miles in first. Armed with snowshoes and a new pair of gaiters I bought, I felt ready despite the abundant amount of snow still present. Clearly, that was ignorant of me as it didn’t take me long to realize that Sawtooth Lake was not a practical destination. Even with snowshoes, I was potholing down over a foot regularly. It was exhausting and very time consuming just to reach the trailhead, which ended up being a good three miles away. It didn’t help that hail/rain started falling right after I started.
In the end, I simply snowshoed around appreciating having the vast, gorgeous wilderness to myself. Other than animal tracks, there was nothing. I kept hoping to see a snow fox or the Abominable Snowman but to no avail. Fortunately, the local lodge in Stanley had coin-operated driers cause I was in need of one when I got back. After drying my clothes and eating a good meal at the only open restaurant in town, I made the 1.5 hour drive to the Sun Valley area.
Sun Valley is a popular ski area with a yuppie vibe (and a good microbrewery by the way). I checked my email in a local hotel lobby before heading out of town to camp for the night. Wifi to camping in 10 minutes; how crazy our technology has become! I had the entire campground to myself. This isolated camping is becoming a common theme on this trip. It doesn’t bother me as long as no crazy Blair Witch stuff happens…
Craters of the Moon. My last destination in Idaho is really a place you have to see for yourself, so I’ll keep it brief. It’s like something straight out of Tim Burton’s mind. The landscape is an eerie, endless sea of black volcanic rock.
The best part is that the park boasts several caves, which you are free to explore on your own! Still low season for most parks, there was no one else around as I descended into five different caves.
Accompanied by my headlight and camera, I walked, hopped, climbed, and crawled through the caves occasionally wondering if the creatures from the movie The Descent would pop out at me. (What’s with me and fictional monsters?) It is an exhilarating experience to be underground, in total darkness by yourself. I turned off my light a couple times to experience the pitch blackness. It’s so rare in today’s light-polluted world to truly be in total darkness.
And with that, Idaho is done, for now. Now it’s off to arguably our country’s most famous National Park – Yellowstone. It is still low season as I mentioned though, so the amount of people shouldn’t be too bad.