From Pendleton, I headed southeast and into Idaho. Still dry and holy shit hot (115 degrees at one point). I drove 525 miles (putting the 3 day total at 1280 miles) past Boise and into the most incredible scenery yet – the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. I didn’t know stuff like this existed in the US. Stunning is the only word I can think of to describe it.
The Sawtooths are a series of 7-12,000′ peaks with jagged peaks, caramel brown with dried vegetation, but spotted with green fir and sage bush. It’s harsh land – hot, dry and a little lonely looking, but absolutely majestic, with flat plains of grassland, cows and rivers (including the Salmon, the longest running river in the US) meeting the mountains at their base. It’s the closest thing to what I imagine as the old West that I’ve ever seen.
After crossing up and down the park on Rts. 21 and 75, I ended in Sun Valley, my proposed stop for the next two days. After finding a lot of golf carts and jewelry shops, I decided it was mountains and solitude I was after, not Starbucks. A cool town, but not quite right for this trip. I turned around and drove back into the Sawtooths, and, after setting up camp at the base of one of the nearby hills, headed into Stanley, ID, which turns out to be one of the coolest little towns I’ve ever seen.
Every building in the “town” (a mix of about 15-20 single level structures) is made of either logs or clapboard wood. A dead wringer for an old settlement/mining town back in the day. The roads are dirt/gravel and the look is rough. All exposed in the sun in one of the plains at the base of the mountains. With stunning views and outdoor playground as it’s backdrop, a saloon, a bakery/cafe and a pizza place, it has just about all any mountain man could hope for.
Felt like Shangri-la at the time. As if that weren’t enough, I discovered that I’d rolled into town for the 2nd annual Sawtooth Music Festival, taking place up on the plateau above town. With the Sawtooths providing the backdrop, the entire community (what seem like all young outdoor types, families and dogs) gathered for a day long fest in the grass. There was one beer vendor, one food vendor and one stage. As I rolled up, the sun was setting and the moon was rising – providing an unreal view.
Free Peoples (anyone heard of ’em?) was the last band and the only one I got to see – but they were incredible. Awesome drummer and a ton of fun. Check ’em out at www.freepeoples.com.
I spent the next day eating breakfast at the coffeehouse (amazing food and live music, prayer flags blowing in the wind), doing laundry at the most disgusting laundromat I’ve ever seen (remind me to tell you about the two guys sitting out front. Okay, I’ll just tell you now and make these parentheses earn their keep. They’d just spent 7 days in the mountains working on fisheries for the gov’t. After drinking beer all night on the steps of the laundromat, they decided it would make a good place to sleep – on the folding tables. Next morning, they resumed drinking and laughing on the very same steps. That’s where I met them – before they headed back out into the woods for another long stretch. Something very Brokeback Mtn. about the whole thing..), roaming around the mountains, exploring little dirt fire roads here and there and enjoying the solitude and spectacular scenery of the place. I think I’ll be back some time..